FT: Social Networking: podcasts reach a nouveau niche

Do not be fooled by the name: podcasting is a big opportunity for companies. It is often defined as a version of broadcasting, which suggests a certain grandeur of scale. But what is the scale?

Rajar, the official body responsible for measuring radio audiences in the UK, recently issued its latest statistics for the second quarter of 2007. It reported that 28.8 per cent of people said they owned an MP3 player and of those, 18.3 per cent had at some stage used it for listening to podcasts. That means more than 2.6m people use their MP3 players to listen to podcasts. This is steady growth from previous quarterly figures.

The Rajar figures are interesting but only cover podcast use on MP3 players. They can also be played directly from web pages, which constitutes a large proportion of podcast listening. The mobile phone is also likely to become a big conveyor of podcasts as faster connectivity and flat-rate data plans remove current barriers.

Traditional broadcasters, such as the BBC, are producing podcasts, and its efforts may well qualify as broadcasting – general productions aimed at wide audiences. But there is also much niche content being made aimed at specific audiences – for example, the FT’s own stable of podcasts covering topics such as the arts, personal finance, and Digital Business.

There are podcasts on all sorts of specific subjects, aimed at lawyers, affiliate marketers, Arsenal football fans, anglers – even CIOs and CFOs. Podcasting is ideally suited to this “narrowcasting”, and it offers a great opportunity to target narrow interest groups and to reach specific audiences with specific interests.

These niches are interesting because they consitute core target audiences – the best audience, not necessarily the biggest – who are often difficult to reach by conventional means.

Edison Media Research, the market research body, has found that podcast users are 36 per cent more likely than others to have made online purchases, and four times more likely to have purchased songs online; that podcast users spend 50 per cent more time online; and more than 37 per cent of podcast users click on relevant advertising.

The podcast’s appeal to listeners and the businesses making them is that they are portable, easily accessible, can cover almost any topic, and they give business a personal touch and voice which helps the listener feel connected to the business.

For businesses, the number of plays or downloads can be measured; they can be used to engage existing customers and recruit new ones; they can help with brand building by associating a brand with exciting content; and can be used for internal communications and training.

An interesting byproduct of podcasts are theme tunes and music that sum up a brand’s values and are powerful communicators across language, territory and other boundaries.

So companies have a great opportunity to look at ways podcasting can target specific audiences. With the right creative thinking, it can be a powerful way to reach a nouveau niche.

Martin Talks is chief executive of Blue Barracuda, a London-based digital agency and host of http://www.thetomcast.com

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