Why podcasts won’t help promote your business

I know a lot of people involved with the blogosphere are avid podcast enthusiasts, in fact, some of my best friends are, yes, podcasters, but I have to say that I just can’t find any enthusiasm for podcasting, though I’m hugely bullish on blogging as a business communications tool.
Frankly, I think podcasting is just a fad and will shortly vanish from the proverbial radar screen, particularly for savvy businesses and entrepreneurs seeking smart and effective methods of promoting their business or service.
Allow me to explain…

But first, quickly, how many of you are reading this because you’ve subscribed to the RSS feed on the weblog? Ah, lots of raised hands. I thought so.
Those of you that aren’t and are reading this on a standalone Web page, how many of you came across it because of a link from another site or as a search engine result, either from someone like feedburner or technorati or a more traditional search engine like Google or MSN? More hands up, eh? Yeah, I kinda thought so.
Ya see, reading individual web pages and going back to sites time and again and even bookmarking sites is rather quaint and, yes, obsolete. Every day I keep up on over 150 different RSS feeds, from a widely diverse set of sources ranging from this very weblog to the United Nations, BBC World Service, Reuters, and dozens upon dozens of different bloggers. There’s no way that I’d visit 150 different Web sites every day and I bet you couldn’t do it either unless that was your full-time job.
Aggregation, automatic analysis of content and findability are all key concepts that are driving the evolution of the World Wide Web and the Internet itself. Search engine optimization is of interest purely because more findable material is more frequently seen than hidden content.
Into this growing, surprisingly efficient and effective hurricane of textual information, a veritable tsunami of data that never stops building, surfboard at hand or not, comes new communications media, media that do not enjoy these same efficiencies of consumption. Namely, podcasts.
And podcasts really just don’t work.
Until we have high quality automated audio parsing and transcription systems to instantly index new audio content, we’re stuck with the highly inefficient mechanism of actually listening to the material to determine if it’s of value or not.
This means that if I tell you “Hey, Molly has a superb interview with the W3C team about standardization” you then have to figure out where in the MP3 download her interview is, then listen ‘real time’ to find the nuggets that will hopefully be of value to you. Doable, but consider how inefficient it is when compared to my excerpting a paragraph of a text interview and linking to Molly’s site for the remainder? You can scan the excerpt visually – in your RSS aggregation of my feed – in seconds and determine if it’s worth consuming or not.
That’s the efficiency side of my problems with podcasting. The other side is whether it’s engaging or not.
And to share that, let me say that a good friend of mine emailed me excitedly, saying “Dave, Dave! Download this podcast interview: I was the guest!” So I did, copied it onto my iPod, got onto the bus from my office to go home, and pressed PLAY. Five minutes later I was asleep and I actually came within seconds of sleeping through my busstop entirely.
Yes, while a lot of people are darn interesting one on one, few have the stage presence to be in front of a crowd and engage them and fewer still have the ability to sit behind a microphone and talk into a computer recording device while sounding exciting, engaging and interesting. There’s a reason that the number of nationally known radio talk show hosts can be written on a cocktail napkin, and it’s not because there aren’t thousands of people trying to get on the short list…
In a word, I think that podcasts are boring and are just not useful additions to my data library. I can’t excerpt them, I can’t pull pithy stats out of a transcript, I can’t forward it along to colleagues or clients, and I can’t even store them for later relistening (one 30 minute podcast takes as much disk space as thousands of blog articles).
But weblogs, well, weblogs are a natural, just made for effective business communication, whether you’re one of a three person firm, solo, or a member of a Fortune 50 corporation. And that’s why I’m taking the first day of the Blog Business Summit to share with everyone exactly how to get the very most out of blogging for their own corporate needs, from competitive intelligence to customer communications. And, no, we won’t be podcasting it. 🙂
So what do you think? Am I blowing steam and totally clueless about the revolution in audio broadcasting, or on target with my criticism of the current podcasting hype?
Update: Here are some additional articles that I think are worth reading:

31 comments on “Why podcasts won’t help promote your business

  1. People retain something they hear better than something they read. That’s where I see the real value of podcasting as a business technology — for high stakes messages and topics. Preferably integrated with written materials and generally much shorter than the early stage podcasts we see now. The longer shows won’t go away per se, but they are more for niche audiences. And as you point out, the technology to distribute these things has got to be easier for it to become a mass market tool.

  2. Good points all, Dave. Like everything else, though, it’s hard to put podcasting into an all or nothing slot. Some work. Some don’t.
    The jury’s still out for me. I’m open-minded, but my gut tells me this is a new form of one-to-many communications and, therefore, at enmity with the two-way architecture of the Web.
    We’ll see.

  3. We are working on solving all these issues with the videoblogging community, mainly the ability to easily quote and excerpt people’s works and post them back to your blog. It’s ESSENTIAL to maintaining conversation and annotating, which is what the blogosphere is all about. Podcasting has missed the boat in this regard, which is a shame. Podcasting is truely a different animal from videoblogging and blogging.
    We are also working on linking from inside our movies (Quicktime supports this, don’t think Windows Media does). This allows us to easily send you to a text or other video entry you need to see and keep building the web.

  4. You don’t (usually?) follow links while you’re in the car, jogging, or while you’re working on something else – at least not usually. So, *good* Podcasts fit into this attentional niche. That is, commute time or “on in the background” time. Podcasts are gradually filling the time during which I used to listen to the radio. And, hell, you don’t really get nice indexing or hyperlinks from NPR anyway.
    90% of Podcasts are crud, but that’s just natural. There’s still a 10% that’s worth paying attention to. You just need to find good people who trudge through the crap and offer decent recommendations, but again, that’s the natural state of all wide open media channels (like RSS feeds and blogs).
    I might be an outlier, but I’m working to get more intentional about my media consumption. I’d rather have Netflix and download episodes of TV shows than keep a cable TV subscription. I’d rather pay than watch ads, unless the ads are well-targeted to what I actually care about. To me, Podcasts fit right into all of this.

  5. Good points all the way around, especially the ones that (my inference) point to MP3s as an inadequate medium. Clint mentions Quicktime as an alternative, but Windows Media does in fact support linking deep into the files (click here to start at the part where Fred speaks), as well as the ability to embed instructions to control external links from inside the “show.” And WMV/WMA is typically a lot smaller than the other file options, with better quality for the same size file.
    The reason “podcasting” is such a bad term (IMHO) is because the iPod supports the least-capable of the file formats when it comes to annotating, linking, indexing, etc. It’s a self-limiting technology.
    Shorter is better. Segmented is better. The technology needs to grow to meet the real-world needs. In very-bad-analogy style, you could say podcasting is in its infancy, and hopefully people won’t kill the baby before it thrives. There’s several *good* uses for these chunks of technology, and they can be useful in a variety of places, but they don’t replace written word any more than television replaced radio.

  6. I think the assumption that people use podcasts in the same way that they use blogs is the basic flaw with your reasoning. To say that podcasting isn’t useful to promoting a business simply because you can’t treat audio in the same way as you treat text is the equivalent of saying that radio isn’t effective whereas print is. And after 35 years in radio, I heartily disagree.
    LMOrchard hit it on the head – I don’t use podcasts in the same way as I use blogs. I live in LA, and I now look forward to my sometimes 1.5 hour trips to auditions and shoots as well as the downtime between scenes to consume not only written material, but podcasts as well.
    You haven’t seen the new AAC bookmarkable and linkable podcasts yet, either, or you’d have excised some of what you wrote. Apple gets it, and if producers put thought into what they do, they’ll get it too. For an example, checkout the iTunes New Music Tuesday podcast.
    Having said all that, your comments on being engaging are dead on. There is a certain segment of the podcatching community that currently eschews anything that is highly produced as being overly commercialized. They prefer the grunginess of a podcast that is sloppily put together as righteous proof that they are not paying any attention to the established broadcast community and their professional standards, and are giving their precious time and attention to the much more deserving and unheard “indie” podcaster.
    Good luck to them. Those people will either get better or die. And the blame should fall squarely on podcasters that decide that improving their voices, presentation, production skills and overall creative vision doesn’t matter. One of the reasons I and others read your posts is because you purchased or were given a clue long ago as to how to put together a sentence, graf and thence a book. Developing your skills in any area is paramount to longevity and success, and if podcasters don’t do that, they will lose whatever audience they gained through novelty.
    Now…my podcasts are also very commercial in nature, so take what I say here with that in mind: the Personal Netcast is at http://feeds.feedburner.com/pn, and the Net Music Countdown podcast is at http://feeds.feedburner.com/nmc – I also help people to be better podcasters at the site linked to my name below. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Dave.

  7. aren’t podcasts just talk shows in mp3? I never thought of them as a business show, just something to listen to if you like that podcast’s subject.

  8. I agree, generally, with you, Dave. But I think this gets to the point I was trying to get people to discuss at Gnomedex: There is a fixation on the idea of producing a show, as though we are all Andy Hardy and just discovered there is a barn out back where we can show off our talent to the whole town and save the farm before the movie ends.
    We won’t call “podcasting” podcasting, because it is just another date type for communication between people. “Cast” implies that there must be an audience for the “show,” but most of this communication will happen in more prosaic exchanges, such as between families, between colleagues and in other situations where the talent and quality of the voices is irrelevant. We want to hear or need to hear from family, friends and co-workers, and audio allows us to do so in venues where text is inconvenient.
    In the long run, the idea that a “show” is distributed to an audience will be only a tiny aspect of the audio environment, but it’s all the rage right now because talented audio producers have discovered a unique distribution channel.

  9. Dave, I don’t find this sort of argument compelling, because it rests on the idea that the current situation will never change, that innovation and invention will not occur. Tools for parsing and indexing audio are already starting to show up, and I was just listening to John Udell on The Gillmor Gang discussing a method he’s exploring for linking to specific points in an audio file.
    Beyond that, even we never invented our way out of the efficiency problems you describe, podcasting still, in it’s present form, offers a way for businesses and individuals alike to narrowcast unique and compelling audio content to interested audiences. Podcasting, even in its current form, can be another tool in a business’s marketing arsenal, one that levels the playing field somewhat by removing the cost of entry barrier inherent in traditional media. The fact that you also need content that captures your audience’s attention will no doubt spur more creativity.
    I guess I’d agree with you to the extent that just having a podcast won’t automatically help your business. But the proper use of any medium can be a boon, and podcasting is no exception.

  10. Your argument on podcasting and business is persuasive as well as provocative.
    I’m having a bet each way. I would not like to wake up down the track and say ‘Gee, I coulda….’

  11. I am not so certain that the ability to sort and search business promotional materials is all that important to podcasting. We still have success with radio and television ads that could loosely fall into the category of a ‘podcast’ genre…and I have absolutle no desire to have that particular genre indexed for me. For sure, it is NOT a one-size-fits all situation and business podcasting applications, particularly for promotion, may fall off the charts in terms of effectiveness. For now, I am OK with finding out all of the ways that podcasting doesn’t work. For now, I believe that it is more important to look at who the audience is that is driving podcasting…and let them tell you how effective your message is (or isn’t).
    ‘So many good points in your post, it is good to read well considered and rational thoughts!

  12. Interesting thoughts, thanks for sharing them. I listen to one podcast (the Dawn and Drew Show) and haven’t been interested in hearing any more since I seldom even listen to radio. But for long drives, I was mighty glad to have a ton of Dawn and Drew shows on my iPod.
    Maybe a different breed for different reasons want the Podcasts. When I worked in college radio, few wanted to write, but all wanted to get their hands on that microphone.

  13. Interesting theory David. But a blog can’t showcase indie bands or provide sound seeing tours.
    Maybe it’s just an artifact of your preferred method of communicating? I’d be interested to know which shows you’ve listened to. Maybe you haven’t found one that meets your interests.

  14. When was the last time you read a blog while commuting to work or while jogging? Its silly to think that podcasts and weblogs occupy the same market.
    Saying why listen to podcasts when reading blogs is much more efficient is a bit like asking why call teach support when you can just RTFM.

  15. (just back from a road trip, sorry for the delay in responding)
    Lots of GREAT comments here, both agreeing and disagreeing. Very nice stuff. I also notice that this discussion was picked up on the BusinessWeek blog too. On that site, I added the following comment, which I’ll add here too (slightly edited):
    I keep reading responses about “technology will fix this” and “it’s not comparable to a blog” but I keep thinking about the fact that if podcasting is the next AM radio, if you will, then how are we going to navigate all the channels?
    More importantly, notice how there’s no “General Electric Hour” or “Ford Says…” program on the radio? It’s because radio isn’t a good promotional tool for businesses. It’s a good advertising venue and it’s worth pursuing mention from radio personalities (think Rush Limbaugh). But as a promotional tool for businesses, I believe that the number of companies that see long-term success will be able to be counted on one hand.
    This isn’t to say that some folk won’t pull together some solid business talk programs where they comment on GE or Ford, and some might even get execs from the companies to appear, but, again, that’s not how most podcasts are being created at this point, at least. Instead, it’s much more about “listen to me!” just as most bloggers seem to be about “read what I think!”
    Ah, well, you can read what I think about this anytime, right? 🙂

  16. Another facet to consider when talking about whether blogs can be consumed while jogging or commuting to work, well, two thoughts. 1. arguably that’s a “technology will solve this” because all you’d need is a decent text to speech solution and 2. man, am I the only one who seeks a little tiny corner of quiet now and then? Can you say “information over overload”?
    Seriously, though, Brian, I don’t agree with your analogy at all. Podcasts are being positioned in many circles as the logical successor to blogs and while I am convinced that in a year or two we won’t be talking about blogging, we will still be using tools to analyze, bookmark, disseminate and otherwise consume text far more than audio or video.
    Even if not, tech support = bloggers (or, if you will, podcasters) who are focused on teaching or explaining, while RTFM = news wire stories or typical corporate Web sites or radio advertising. It’s no different to the standard differentiator in tech books: reference or user’s guide?
    But my primary point here is that the very nature of audio makes it less accessible. Getting back from my trip, I’m slamming through a few hundred new RSS entries in my NewsGator Online service, skimming material in just a second or two. There’s no way I could come close to that with audio or video, even with fancy new technologies. Even the podcasts with blogged notes (think Shel and Neville) are still too complex for a really fast skim, so I skip over content instead.
    As I said earlier, in a lot of ways, this comes down to the Battle of the Efficient Media. The medium that’s going to let people navigate through their information space fastest and easiest is going to be the winner long-term.
    Yes, there are different modes of processing information (I’ve studied NLP, I know all about modality. I hear/feel/see what you mean) but I suggest that it’s the automation of that processing that’s what’s interesting to explore here, not the delivery mechanism of the post-process, post-analysis results.

  17. “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
    -Eleanor Roosevelt
    Indeed, the best way to predict the future is to invent it …
    Thanks Dave

  18. have to say i disagree here DaveT.
    while i agree, the ability to scan / excerpt / find / classify podcasts is more limited, i believe this is easily solved by several capabilities on the near-term horizon:
    1) vertical search for podcasts with summary info
    2) tagging
    3) ratings
    while i might not be able to scan podcasts as fast as i can text articles or links, i’ll certainly spend a LOT of attention on podcasts that are of high quality and relevance.
    so the issue becomes one of a) findability, and 2) ranking & relevance.
    assuming the technologies to accomplish these 2 tasks are within reach in the near-term (and i believe they are), and assuming i can create podcasts of high relevance to my audience (which we think we can), then your argument breaks down substantially.
    in short, you’re wrong on this one dude 🙂
    – dave mcclure

  19. Dave, and all commenters,
    Great discussion! Dave, thanks for clarifying my thoughts on this topic!
    {:^O I am such a newbie to the blogsphere that I my tongue got wraped
    around my eye teeth and I couldn’t see what I was saying about it.
    After this great education (from all), I have determined that, IMHO,
    podcasting is like your own, cheap to implement radio stream. The
    question of value comes in when you start to consider questions like:
    1) How much attention will the listener pay when your message is
    ‘playing in the background’?
    2) Can the listener ‘rewind’ to replay a ‘crucial’ piece (the nugget in
    the stream)?
    3) How will you attract your audience?
    4) How expensive will attracting the right audience be?
    5) How crucial is the content and how will it be preserved?
    My guess is that it will leave the vast majority underwhelmed by it’s

  20. I completely understand your points, Dave. And in the context of “promoting” a business, you probably have mostly valid points. However, your almost 100% dismissive attitude strikes me as the result of comparing apples to oranges.
    There is a quality to audio that is not found in text. I would not be nearly as interested in “Le Show” (Harry Shearer) if it was only text on a screen. I can say the same of music, sounds of nature, sounds of almost any sort …. they are fundamentally different from text.
    But … bringing this back to the issue of “business communication,” I believe a *lot* can be discovered about an author by hearing them speak, or hearing them be interviewed, or hearing them interview a guest. The key word again is … hearing.
    Complaining that you can’t index and clip and send audio (like you can text) is a little bit like complaining that you need a VCR or DVD recorder to share a video clip with a friend. Too bad. That’s the nature of the medium. It’s like complaining that a photograph requires eyes, or that a television requires a transmitter.

  21. Your comment about spoken-word podcasts being boring when they’re too long is supported by listener stats at the audio journal site, What’s Working in Biz (www.whatsworking.biz). We found that short, pithy clips of actionable business advice are far more popular than long interviews (we have some of those, too).

  22. “It’s because radio isn’t a good promotional tool for businesses.”
    Only if you view it or podcast as a venue for outright, blatant promotion along the lines of “buy my product”. However, that’s not particularly effective in ANY medium.
    When interviewed as an expert in your field on the radio, the response typically dwarfs the response to most advertising. The message needs to be tailored to the medium. Shoehorning the annual report into blog format didn’t work either for companies, so why would shoehorning blog content into audio format work either?
    Your reactions (and the reactions of many others) is in how the things are being done “currently”. If we used that criteria on blogs in 2002, when most of them were about getting too drunk to stand and waking up next to a stranger, we would have completely avoided blogging as a valid business tool. The same can be said of web sites, etc.
    Technologies frequently go through a phase of frivolity and “amateur hour” before they become completely valid tools. Early television was just people doing radio in front of a camera. Early radio was just people playing records into the microphone. Early internet content hardly resembles the business uses today. Advertising and promotion have changed their messages to suit each new medium.
    Much of the use of blogs AND podcasting is in secondary promotional effects, much like the brand-based advertising, awareness advertising or public relations. By giving away useful content (text and audio) related to my business, my reputation increases and so does my business.
    Research study after research study has shown that it takes repeated, positive contact with a customer (though there is also some that indicates that as long as the last interaction is positive, the previous ones don’t matter) to convert them from a potential into a buyer.
    That’s why blogs (and email newsletters before them) are starting to be seen as a powerful business tool. By setting up regular contact, you are grooming them to be customers. And, the best blogs for this are the ones that do this by genuinely seeking to help them out.
    When I send out tips on building your business via Internet technologies to my potential web development clients, one could argue that I’m just giving them ideas to take to another developer. That I should instead bombard them with promotional messages about how well we build web solutions. However, the reality is that these tips just become the basis for our intial consultation after they’ve gotten enough of them from me.
    The same holds true for podcasts. The format and the technology itself are valid business tools. For me, whether a medium can be useful for business comes down to this: are my customers available via that medium. That’s it. If they are, the tool can be valid. If not, it’s not, but only for me. My customers are business owners. If yours are 14 year old boys, the list of valid media changes pretty dramatically. However, regardless of which media are valid for your business, you have to figure out what to send out over each to make them effective.

  23. Dave,
    This is a great discussion on the validity of Podcasting as a business tool. IMHO, I may have a unique way of using the technology.
    I broadcast my marketing message from my car to those that want to listen on their radios. It’s opt-in commercial radio, if you will.
    Using an iPod with the iTunes transmitter, I broadcast a looped 60 second marketing message about my company, services and testimonials while driving in rush-hour traffic.
    A magnetic business sign on the sides of my car lets others know the name of my company and that I’m Podcasting on 87.9FM.
    I found that with the volume control pushed all the way up on the iPod, cars as far away as 14 lengths can listen to my marketing story.
    While I’m brushing up on my Spanish language tapes or listenting to the radio, drivers in other cars can hear about my services by tuning-in their radios.
    It has generated not only interest in my business from other traffic-bound drivers, but revenues as well.
    Keep up the great work on the blog.

  24. I have to disagree at least in part. It depends on what type of business you are talking about. Media related businesses will BOOM due to podcasting. True you can’t quickly scan the content.. but television has been such a medium for decades, so are movies, and music. Perhaps I’m missing your point.. but I think you left out a very important clause. Media related businesses will thrive in this new arena. Comedy, shock jocks, political speeches, I can think of countless important types of media content that are just plain better being audio and video and NOT text. As for using a blogfeeder for push content- blogs can be used to promote you podcast.. as in – “the new podcast is up! Click here to download.” Also imagine better rating systems in better podcast directories. Yeah – your friend gave you a bad tip.. but a podcast that has been rated 1,000 times and gets 4 stars will probably not be a bad bet.

  25. Have you ever tried to learn to speak Chinese by reading a blog? Or by listening to the podcast version?
    Also, some things are better heard than read (i.e., jokes with sound effects, stories with ambient music)
    And what about blog visitors who are sight impaired? Can their text-to-speech software laugh or sigh as naturally as the blog writer?

  26. I’m current doing some research for customers who are interested in podcasting as a potential marketing tool. I noticed this article was written in July of 2005 and it’s now August 2008. Maybe in 2005 this was more the case but since then podcasts were added to the iTunes store and more and more mobile devices like the iPhone, iPod Touch and their competitors on the market and really taken off.
    I do agree that it will always be easier to scan and forward bits of text. Blogging should definitely be a priority, then audio podcasts and finally video podcasts. Each of those in that order than what seems an exponentially longer time to produces and manage but they are times when a downloadable audio or video podcast has definite advantages. We like to tell our customers we can help take their message beyond the web as you don’t have to be sitting down in front of a computer to listen to a podcast.
    Podcasts and to a greater extent, portable digital audio files can be listened to in the car while driving on a long trip, at the gym while working out, while doing chores around the house, etc. Definitely a better use of time.
    Maybe a company doesn’t need to have their own dedicated podcast but I bet they are a lot of local new media people like myself who are willing to interview local business people. Most podcast I see can also be listened to directly on a web page so links can be forwarded and then will often combine text on the web site associated with the podcast in the form of “show notes” or directly in the mp3 file itself.
    I think the real trick is producing something people want to here. I don’t think most people want to listen to a direct marketing sales pitch but they might be interested in news related to your industry or tips you can do yourself. You can also be your own sponsor. Something you can’t really do in the “old media.”
    However one of my favorite “old media” shows that could easily be translated or emulated in podcast form is This Old House. I love that show and it gives me a lot of ideas for projects I could do myself or consider asking someone to do (like one of their advertisers.)

  27. Dave, no matter how good the technology becomes, most people jumping on the podcast bandwagon are as dry as dirt. I’d rather ride or drive in silence and use that time for thinking.

  28. Dear Dave,
    I was just reading about podcasts and relevance to PR, and I found your article. You made some good points. But I think that it also depends on the content of the podcast and the type of business you’re doing, whether you grab attention or not.
    And also I have a slightly critical thing to mention, and I hope you won’t mind…you say that podcasts don’t help you promote your business, but then on the descrition at the top of the page it says:
    “Dave is an award-winning speaker, sought after conference and workshop participant and frequent guest on radio and podcast programs.” Thus, you are using podcast.
    If I’m wrong, please correct me.

  29. I feel podcast is a brilliant idea! Few weeks ago I had a business meeting and I forgot almost everything we said there. Later he supplied an audio piece and I got back to the ideas again.
    It’s great medium for blind people who can’t read the text or see the video. Podcast is good for people on the go, they can consume information while riding the train or sitting on a place.

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