Business people often ask me what social media tools they should use. I advise them to consider two issues: 1) Where do your customers hang out?, and 2) What tools make you feel the most comfortable?
The former is of course, paramount. You need to be where you can find customers and prospects or social media makes no sense. The latter is almost equal in importance, because if you don’t enjoy the conversational platforms you use, you just won’t be any good at it.
I can think of no business, large or small, whose customers and prospects do not spend some time listening to audio—making podcasts a good social platform to consider.
Shel Holtz, a well-known and respected social media practitioner, makes most of his living as a communications consultant. You can say exactly the same thing about Canada’s Donna Papacosta.
Holtz teams up with British consultant Neville Hobson for the long-running weekly Hobson&Holtz Report, which is part of a series of audio programs under their For Immediate Release podcasting umbrella. They just completed their 615th show.
Papacosta recently completed her 104th episode of Trafcom and the show has been around about as long as it has been possible to upload for free to the Apple iTunes Store, the most popular distributor.
Both feel that their respectively successful careers have been helped by podcasting as much as anything either of these two diverse and prolific communications professionals have done.
Both are small business practitioners themselves and they urge other small business people to try podcasting. But they both caution, that if you are going to try it, you should stick with it for a while.
Papacosta also suggests starting small, with a limited series of six or 10 podcasts on a particular topic—whether that's real estate or fitness or parenting.
“To YOU it's a pilot project, but to your audience it's a discrete set of useful audio programs that can establish you as an expert in your business niche,” she said.
Holtz added, “the marketing value is huge. Most of the clients who come to me are well aware of our podcast,” he said, but the value goes beyond that. “Doing the show forces me to keep up with what's going on in the space where I consult.”
He said that the program lets him feel like he’s giving back to a community that has been generous to him. “FIR makes me feel like I'm part of something much larger than a show Neville and I crank out,” he said.
Podcasting is less time consuming than you might think. Holtz estimates that he and his partner invest only 5-6 hours a week, nearly one-third of it in research.
Holtz advises, “Be interesting. Involve your audience as much as you can. Also, be local in your coverage. Cover what your listeners want you to cover, not what you want to tell them.
“And above all, have fun.” This last piece, it seems to me, is fundamental. Fun is often underestimated in its business value.
Papacosta emphasized that the tools you use are not the most important part of the equation. “Everyone asks ‘what microphone should I buy’—but it's not about the gear.”
“First: you need to have a goal in producing your podcast. What's the point of it? How does the podcast work with your other marketing/communications efforts? How will you measure success?”
In many ways, a podcast requires precisely the same qualities as a blog or a Twitter campaign, Holtz noted. “If you produce great content, people will share it, link to it and talk with one another about it.”
There is, however, one essential difference, Holtz pointed out: “Audio is the only medium people can pay attention to while they're doing something else. “
“There's also the value of hearing real human voices having real, unscripted conversations,” he added. “It's more authentic and believable” than other media platforms.”
Other than the time commitment that Holtz noted, the costs of entry are near zero. Using BlogTalkRadio and other recording, publishing platforms you can conduct you interviews by phone and distribute through iTunes. You can use other social media tools such as a blog, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to spread the word.
I think anyone who's good at conversations can become quite skilled at podcast interviews. It doesn't matter whether your topic is communications or storm windows or aardvarks. One if four Americans has listened to a podcast and it is unlikely that number will get smaller.
There is an audience for you and that audience can make a great deal of difference for your business.