This year, an estimated 424.2 million people will listen to a podcast. That's about one in five internet users – more than ever before, and the number is still expected to grow.
But just because people listen to podcasts, it doesn't mean that they're going to listen to yours. Discovery and audience-building remain top challenges and, even if you successfully find a following, the payout isn't huge – even an episode with 5,000 downloads can typically net only $100 per ad.
What this podcast boom has created, however, is a familiarity with the medium and listening habits that aren't going away. Now, small business owners are looking to a new corner of the market, focused on premium content for niche customers, rather than amassing huge audiences: private podcasts.
With hybrid work unlikely to go away, companies need new ways to communicate and engage with remote employees – and Zoom fatigue is a thing, says Seraina Silja Hürlimann, co-founder of Pager, which provides private podcasting software for businesses. ‘You can empower employees to take a break, go for a walk, listen on [their] commute on a bike or whatever – you don't have to be glued to a screen,’ she says.
She founded Pager after she started her own business podcast and discovered how engaging the medium could be, while also realizing that current podcasting methods aren't serving business needs. Pager provides secure uploads – in researching the space, the brand found that businesses want the same sort of privacy standards that they'd expect from other internal communications – as well as listening analytics to track employee engagement. So far, businesses have used it for town hall meetings, investor updates and showcasing employee work from around the world.
Better than a Rolex
A big driver of podcasts' popularity is more than just the information they provide – it's about the storytelling and the narrative structure that makes them worthy of a binge listen. TJ Morgan aims to bring that feeling to everyone with Lifelong Audio. The company pairs customers with professional audio editors, who then guide clients through interviews with their own friends, family and colleagues, before editing a personal podcast series centered around their life. TJ had the idea for the business after his father was diagnosed with cancer and he wanted to record his life story to share with family and friends. While celebration and remembrance are big drivers of the business, he's also found that biographical podcasts have reached a new niche – CEOs have been a growth area.
‘We pitched it as: this is something to celebrate your business journey, as opposed to getting a gold Rolex and having your portrait done,’ he says. ‘You have this commemoration, but then you can also involve your family and friends – we saw that it was also a tool for people to connect.’
Get stuck in your community's head
Creating community is the new currency – especially as changing platform algorithms mean that influence and following aren't guaranteed on the feed. Angie Trueblood, founder of podcast consultancy The Podwize Group, is seeing private podcast feeds being used by small businesses and creators as an extra perk for those who are a part of a brand's community, or for lead generation. Private podcast services such as Hello Audio can integrate this extra content into platforms like Apple Podcasts.
‘Whereas once private content was often housed in newsletters delivered via email, many consumers now prefer audio content that they can listen to on the go,’ she says. ‘Listeners will offer up their email address in exchange for access to behind-the-scenes content, less produced content, or additional, more in-depth training.’
A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more insights, analysis and inspiration, sign up here.