Why Marketers Can No Longer Ignore Audio Content

In a new study on content formats, Edison Research found that interest in Facebook content is still in steady decline. In fact, in their published report, “The Infinite Dial,” the researchers state that 15 million users have stopped using the social media platform since 2017. Perhaps less surprisingly, the drop-off in usage is most obvious with people under age 55. Far and away, Facebook remains the most often used platform, but it’s not necessarily growing.

So what is everyone younger than 55 doing online instead? Twitter and Pinterest usage remains unchanged, but Instagram and Snapchat have each seen a steady increase the last few years, especially with users between ages 15 and 35. That all tracks with the common understanding of young people and their online habits—they’re more comfortable with ephemeral content and multimedia, and they’re way more likely to share content they enjoy.

However, in addition to preferring platforms other than Facebook, most users 12 and older demonstrate a growing interest in audio content. Not just podcasts, but online radio, audiobooks, and content through smart speakers too. In fact, time spent listening to any kind of online audio content is at a record high. On average, people take in 17 hours of it per week, and the researchers describe “an estimated 14 million new humans [having made] podcasts a weekly habit” in the last year.

All this data says a few choice things about content preferences. As we move toward the 2020s, brands and publishers need to seriously consider adjusting their strategies if they’re too reliant on a Facebook audience. Additionally, getting your brand into the audio content game is starting to look less like a luxury offering and more like a necessity. A disparate range of brands have already gotten started, including Barneys New York, Verizon, and General Electric, but results have been hit or miss. As one Verizon store manager told The Washington Post, “I’ve listened to [Verizon’s podcast]. Do I listen to it regularly? No.”

As attractive as a branded podcast might look, considering how many listeners are hungry for more content, it’s definitely not worth producing a new series that’s boring.

Spreading awareness through audio

People who enjoy audio content are a part of a passionate culture that encourages brand affinity. Audio is intimate, and “tuning in” to listen to the same person muse on different topics will eventually start to feel like the host and listeners have a personal relationship. Though the majority of online users still don’t listen to podcasts, the ones who do are die-hard fans. Once your audience breaks the seal and begins getting into podcasts, the habit is a lot like eating potato chips—they’re not going to stop after one or two.

Podcasting fits easily into a healthy content strategy because the form requires the same things successful content marketers value: trust, loyalty, and an audience that returns for more. A single good episode isn’t enough to drive up subscription and download numbers, and you can’t rely on listener shares if you’ve only produced a single piece of content.

We always say content marketing is a long game. Podcasting, even more so than blogging, fits that description. Once you develop a great idea for a series, there are a few tried-and-true ways to prove ROI.

Think beyond the podcast

Podcasting inspires a lot of buzz, but it’s not the only way to create standout audio content. Brands can play around with interactive smart speaker content by developing educational audio content. Neil Patel and Eric Siu created an educational content hub specifically for Alexa, which spits out a list of actionable insights every morning, and Purina recorded their own audio content for smart speakers in 2016, which users can interact with by asking Alexa questions about dog food.

If you publish an e-book, consider recording an audiobook version. If you want to produce a podcast, consider airing episodes live on online FM radio and then archiving them on iTunes and Spotify a few days after release. If you employ subject matter experts who are great at explaining your company’s complex products and services, incorporate radio shows and podcasts into your public relations strategy. Treat audio “appearances” for your executives like the far-reaching opportunities they are—landing a guest spot on a popular B2B podcast is like presenting at a trade show. If anything, it can be even more of an intimate experience with prospects.

To dig into these insights and more, read 2019’s full edition of The Infinite Dial here.

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