Podcasting is an easy route for Irish companies to broadcast online and as a result influence their market and drum up sales.
What do VHI, Cadbury, Rabodirect and Enterprise Ireland have in common? Apart from being pivotal players in the local economy, these companies are also spearheading a new trend which allows executives to inform, educate and market by being broadcasters in their own right.
Chocolate maker Cadbury, for example, uses podcasting in conjunction with ezines to better market to its tech-savvy customer base, while technology firm Calyx is harnessing podcasting for internal communications among a growing workforce due to recent acquisitions.
Podcasting is one of the many new second-generation internet (Web 2.0) practices which amateurs have taken to with gusto but which companies regard cautiously, not wanting to be left behind but uncertain how to proceed.
Podcasting is effectively DIY radio. It refers to the practice of releasing recorded material for downloading or streaming on the internet, rather than broadcasting on the traditional radio spectrum.
It is to radio what blogging is to print media, a way of using the internet to cheaply get your message across. Just as business has lagged behind amateurs when it comes to blogging, the most dedicated podcasters in Ireland are amateurs, with few firms dipping their toes in the waters.
This may be about to change, however. While the first businesses to take to podcasting were media or technology companies which had both the content and the means to produce the format, signs are that your common-or-garden business is finally looking to get in on the action.
“In 2007, we began to see changes in advertising budgets with companies looking to increase spend on digital media,” says Helen Shaw, managing director, Athena Media, creator of www.podcastingireland.ie. “A lot of firms are in experimental mode. They’re looking at how they can use podcasting to their advantage.”
Shaw believes the next six months will see dramatic growth in Irish corporate podcasts. “There are so many key companies in this exploratory mode and with the broadband issue being resolved, there will be a tipping point quite shortly.”
Irish business is behind the curve internationally when it comes to podcasting. It’s in its interests to get up to speed quickly, however. Podcast audiences are expected to grow 450pc to reach 55 million people by 2011, according to analyst firm eMarketer. Revenue from podcast advertising is forecast to grow 400pc to $400m in this period.
The rise in podcasting is driven by the increased propensity for people to source information and entertainment online and by the proliferation of MP3 players permitting consumption of digital audio content on the go. The term podcasting actually originates from ‘iPod’.
Regular audiences for podcasts in the UK are already at an impressive three million. And generally, what happens in the US and Europe will eventually happen here. The question for Irish business is how to leverage podcasting to serve its own interests.
There are a few ways to market a business using podcasts. One is to use them as straightforward ads or infomercials to help sell products and services.
The problem with this approach is podcasts are opt-in. People must actively choose to listen to them and few are likely to jump at the prospect of downloading traditional radio-style ads.
Value-added content is necessary to make business podcasts attractive. Indirect marketing, where a company associates itself with a podcast of general interest, is a popular method. Businesses can sponsor a third-party’s podcast or create its own content.
Due to the small audience in Ireland for podcasts, several communications experts believe Irish companies are better off creating their own content.
Examples of this include VHI’s series of podcasts on health issues or Rabodirect’s podcasts giving financial advice.
An important element of podcasting is its use of RSS feeds for dissemination. This means content is delivered to the user regularly so the podcasts aren’t just sitting on a company’s website waiting for somebody to click play.
Podcasts don’t have to mirror traditional broadcasting in being a one-way communication medium, either. Incorporating them into blogs adds the interactive element which defines the Web 2.0 concept.
Indeed, companies using podcasts usually do so as part of a wider digital strategy that can encompass blogging, ezines, video, mobile and social networking sites.
Another way to add value for customers is by using podcasting in an after-sales capacity, such as audio instruction manuals to assemble recently purchased products.
One of the business uses for podcasting with most potential has nothing to do with reaching the end customer at all. Companies are beginning to use podcasting internally for training purposes.
“One of the constraints against training in the SME sector is time, much more so than cost,” says Tom Trainor, chief executive of the Marketing Institute of Ireland. “It’s difficult to get people off the job. There’s massive scope to use podcasting for education and training. You can effectively take a lesson while you’re on the move.”
One of the dilemmas for a company embarking on a podcasting strategy is whether it should go it alone or outsource production to professionals.
“If you’re a small business, you may want to do it all yourself but you have to be clear if you really want to take on all that responsibility,” says Krishna De (pictured), expert in brand engagement and social media communications. “It’s not so much about cost but about time.
“There’s very low investment required: you need a microphone, a PC with a soundcard, you can use free software to record and edit and take advantage of free Podsafe music.”
A lot of amateur podcasters are comfortable with digital tools and are producing good stuff but businesses may not be as adept, says De.
While content is the most important aspect of a podcast, the potential audience is used to professional radio and will not accept shoddy production values. The basic technical skills need to be in place.
“A one-hour rambling, unedited, off-microphone discussion is not going to be good for anything. Map it, script it and produce it to the best quality,” De advises.
Podcast downloaders will only listen to reason
It’s not a hard sell. Having gone to the trouble of subscribing to a firm’s podcast, anybody listening will likely have an interest in the subject matter and will associate the company with the good advice offered.
And while less people will hear a podcast than a radio ad, those who do are more likely to purchase.
“The key thing with podcasts is to engage with the audience and be entertaining,” says Tom Trainor, chief executive, Marketing Institute of Ireland. “Whatever it is you’re trying to get across, it can’t be turgid stuff.
The ease with which podcasts can be produced can be a trap in a sense, warns Trainor. There’s no point recording an AGM or irrelevant material just for the sake of it. “You’ve got to make it engaging. Sometimes that requires professional input.”
Trainor doesn’t believe we are about to see an explosive growth in podcasting in Ireland. It’s niche and will stay niche, he maintains, and therein lies its strength.
“It’s a self-selecting medium, where a listener chooses to listen.”
Peas in a podcast: Irish businesses embrace the technology
Chocolate maker Cadbury uses podcasting as part of its sponsorship of the under-21 Gaelic football championship. The company records interviews with star players and hosts them on a specially created website, www.cadburygaau21.com.
“Cadbury uses a lot of elements to drive awareness of its sponsorship – ezines, voting polls, competitions. The more a combined campaign you have, the better,” says John McGuinness, a spokesman for Cadbury.
“The audience the podcasts are aimed at would be quite tech-savvy, so using a podcast or an ezine is very effective.”
Heineken, in conjunction with Newstalk, is hosting a series of rugby podcasts based on its sponsorship of the Heineken Cup. They take the form of 30 minute-long interviews exclusively available as podcasts.
With its tie-in with Newstalk and the popularity of the Heineken Cup, the podcasts are of professional radio quality and feature high-profile pundits such as Gerry Thornley.
While Cadbury uses podcasts as part of an overall campaign to raise awareness, Heineken is primarily using podcasts to give existing fans a little extra.
ICT services provider Calyx renamed nine recently acquired subsidiaries under the Calyx brand.
As part of the rebranding campaign, the company intends to roll out a series of podcasts to all employees across the group over the coming months to keep them informed of company changes.
“The larger the organisation, the more useful it may be to leverage podcasts for internal communication. Calyx has 12 locations across Ireland and the UK so a podcast is a very direct form of communication to each,” says a spokesman for the company.
By Niall Byrne