Social marketing techniques such as blogging, wikis, podcasts, twitter, and virtual worlds have given marketers an extraordinary range of opportunities to reach out to audiences. But do these techniques really pay off—or are they just trendy alternatives that offer no measurable return on marketing investment?

Each of these new disciplines has advocates; however, podcasting in particular has seen remarkable growth over the past two years and is becoming a standout because of its multilevel benefits.

Despite the name, one does not need an iPod or any sort of MP3 player to listen to a podcast; in fact, nearly half of podcast listeners use their computers. A videocast (or v-cast) is a podcast with an accompanying video or slide show.

Podcasts and videocasts can be listened to or watched live, at a predetermined time, similar to a radio show, but they are available to be downloaded any time.

Podcasting requires a commitment of time and budget to become a successful part of a company's marketing plan. A successful podcast strategy includes a podcast or v-cast full of solid content, presented in an entertaining way, on a regular basis.

Podcasts provide a vehicle for sharing information and opinions with current and potential customers—information that reinforces a brand and positions one as an industry expert. Though it might be tempting to use a podcast to advertise a company or service, the point is to enable a podcast to be an ongoing promotion by providing useful information.

Podcasting as Art

Gary Vaynerchuk is the owner of Wine Library, a wine store that caters to collectors but is also a resource for customers who need wine recommendations. Vaynerchuk thought to spread the word about his passion for wine through a weekly podcast. Not even "Gary Vee," as he has become known, could predict that his high-energy podcasts would help him become something of a media star.

His podcast segments have generated so much buzz that he has been invited to appear on popular television programs, including Ellen and Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Through his unique approach, he has taken the art of podcasts to a whole new level.

Vaynerchuk's podcasts are successful in part because they are highly engaging and entertaining. Dubbed The Thunder Show... "the Internet's most passionate wine program," they appeal to a variety of market segments, including collectors, novices, and people who just enjoy a good bottle of wine now and again.

Because they give relevant information, the podcasts brand Gary Vee as the resource for wine. As a result, his business is prospering and he is quickly emerging as a highly regarded wine expert in a crowded industry.

The idea behind podcasting or v-casting is to take a company's marketing efforts and amplify the effects to reach multiple, yet distinct, market segments. A company's core competency is what differentiates it from competitors. Podcasting can help to leverage an organization's expertise.

So, is podcasting here to stay, or is it a passing trend? A recent survey by Arbitron/Edison Media Research found that the audience for podcasts has gone way up. Their 2008 study, The Podcast Consumer Revealed, published in April, found as follows:

  • Awareness of the term "podcasting" increased from 22% to 37% in the past year.
  • The audience for audio podcasts grew 18% in the past year.
  • The audience for video podcasts grew 10% in the past year.
  • Podcast listeners are well educated, have higher-than-average household incomes, and are an attractive advertising target.
  • Though podcast listeners are much more likely to block unwelcome advertising than the general public, they are no less likely to click on relevant advertising than other Internet consumers.
  • About 30% of regular Internet users have downloaded a podcast.
  • Some 49% of podcast consumers watch or listen to podcasts on their computers.

Podcasting is undergoing substantial growth, and with good reason. Podcasting and v-casting help position a company or brand as expert in an industry, maximize branding efforts, and—because podcasting is Web-based vehicle—increase a company Web site's search engine rankings.

Best Practices Revealed

Here are three quick tips for those eager to start podcasting.

1. Content determines length

Content should dictate everything, including podcast length. An audience will determine the length of broadcast. The length of a podcast designed primarily for entertainment value can be as long as 30 minutes. When people download podcasts, they often listen to them while in the car or exercising. A 30-minute podcast is digestible; any longer and it's easy to lose listeners' attention. More technical podcasts can be shorter; 10 minutes is often cited as a good length—sufficient to impart valuable information.

2. Focus on single topic

One reason many good podcasts are short is that they focus on a single, specific topic. Single-topic podcasts are not the only way to go but also the best way to enter into the world of podcasting. Potential listeners eyeing podcast titles generally will give a new provider a whirl if the topic of the podcast is very specific. What's more, focusing on a single topic leaves other topics for subsequent podcasts.

3. Make responding easy

Podcasting is a direct-response vehicle. Mention a Web site or reference an article and make it easy for listeners to find that material after they stop listening. Smart marketers make sure that listeners know what action to take (visit a Web site, make a call, etc.) and offer a variety of ways to be contacted.

* * *

As with all marketing efforts, podcasting requires a strategy tied to business goals if it is to be effective. A regularly scheduled podcast is essential, as well as a commitment to publicizing podcasts and v-casts.

And remember that podcasting should be regarded as any other direct marketing channel. It is important to know the target audience... to provide relevant messaging... to test and measure... and to continually refine efforts.

With knowledge and perseverance, it is possible to reap the benefits and enjoy the power of podcasting.

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Lisa Formica is VP of fmi direct, inc. (, a direct mail and fulfillment company in Philadelphia. She is also chairperson of the Philadelphia Direct Marketing Association. Reach her via 215-464-0111 or