As someone who finds there are never enough hours in the day, I value the time I do have and appreciate every morning’s moments. I begin each day in a similar fashion: wake up, open my window, put in my headphones and turn on my favorite podcast.
“From the New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily!” fills my ears. The intro music alone pulls me in and piques my interest. I enjoy hearing the headlines for the day followed by interviews with other reporters, family members of those in the headlines or the headline stars themselves.
These days, I find that getting the news in an engaging, conversational way makes it slightly easier to bear. For a half hour, this podcast captures my full attention, from beginning to end. Most mornings, I’ll share what I heard with my colleagues when I arrive at the office or fire off a quick email to friends urging them to listen too.
The era of audio storytelling is upon us. The accessibility, mobility and authenticity of podcasts help explain why people are repeatedly tuning in and incorporating them into their daily routines. The Pew Research Center found that 24 percent of Americans ages 12 and older have listened to a podcast in the past month. Additionally, the average weekly unique users who download NPR podcasts, which include some of the most popular podcasts in the iTunes library, increased from 2.5 million in 2015 to 3.5 million in 2016, according to NPR data from Splunk. Not only are people tuning in, but they are paying attention. Adweek reports that 42 percent of listeners make it to the very end of the podcast.
With the popularity of podcasts at an all-time high, it makes sense that communicators are turning to this medium to disseminate information to audiences. From obtaining your daily news intake to becoming enthralled with an investigative journalism series like Serial to listening to a couple of charismatic, hysterical friends dish and host standup comedians on 2 Dope Queens, there is a podcast out there for almost anyone.
The popularity of podcasts isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
So, what does this mean for professional communicators like us?
At Spitfire, where storytelling is frequently found at the epicenter of our work, podcasts offer us a strategic way to get to know our audiences and inspire them to take action. We already know that people are more likely to care and identify with an issue when it’s shared in story form – and listening to stories can garner more interest than reading or seeing them, according to a recent report in The Atlantic. The wide array of podcast topics at our fingertips gives us the ability to access new spaces that tap into people’s values and align with their interests.
For example, we can reach a broader audience by tapping into the narratives shared on This American Life. The self-proclaimed nerd who loves learning may be found listening to Freakonomics. And those who are looking for an outlet for their frustration with the current political malaise are likely tuning in to Pod Save America.
Spitfires have already put this into practice, connecting organizations with podcasts to get their message in front of the right ears. For example, when the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) was looking to activate Indianans to urge Sen. Joe Donnelly to oppose the Anti-Menu Labeling Bill, our team connected the organization with Indiana Public Radio’s Earth Eats, a weekly podcast providing news and recipes inspired by local food and sustainable agriculture. Earth Eats featured an interview with CSPI’s Colin Schwartz about the issue: “Menu Labeling is Here to Stay.” The fit was seamless.
The rapid growth of technology has opened even more doors for using podcasts to connect with specific audiences. Soon, podcast creators will be able to pull analytics that provide insights into the demographics of their listeners. This knowledge will allow more accurate targeting, which is especially important at a time when messages can so easily get lost in the volatile news environment unless they find the right avenue.
The podcast is a powerful tool to consider when crafting narratives to capture an audience. But no matter the technology, the goal is the same: to present the information in a way that ignites a deeper curiosity within and inspires people to take action.
Tips for using podcasts to spread your message:
- If you haven’t already, find a few podcasts that you like. Consider: what is it about them that keeps you coming back?
- Look for podcasters who are covering your issues already, or who might be interested in learning more about your work. Chances are there are podcasts reaching the niche audiences you most need to engage.
- Build podcasts into your communication strategy from the start.
What podcasts are Spitfires listening to?
- We’re fans of Radio Menea, a bilingual Latinx music podcast where two queer women explore new music as well as classics and share anecdotes about Latinx life.
- Obsessed with political podcasts? Pod Save America, Vox’s the Weeds or Hellbent Podcast to hear the latest news and banter about what’s happening in Washington.
- Director Jen Thom enjoys NPR’s Code Switch hosted by Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji. The 30 minutes are filled with conversations about race, politics and pop culture.
- We love StoryCorps. The unscripted conversations cover a range of topics that affect people’s lives such as love, loss, family and friendship.
- Vice President Mark Dessauer loves Hidden Brain, a podcast that combines science with storytelling. Shankar Vedantam provides updates and perspectives to help curious people gain a better understanding of the world around them.