Final essay

Final reflections on Podcasting for Business.

To answer, in a word, the classic class evaluation question:” What did I get out of this class?

Demystification.

I entered the class as a social-media knuckle-dragger, with nothing more evolved than a whispy presence on LinkedIn. A skeptic who’s been watching the blogisphere pass me by, while I wondered, Who has time to write all these blogs, and especially, who has time to read them?

I asked the same questions about podcasting, but that medium has always had more natural appeal for me.  Podcasting looked like more fun than blogging, surely because I write for a living. Whenever I’ve previously contemplated blogging, my first thought was that the last thing I needed was another rapidly looping writing deadline.  Podcasting at least involved audio recording, something I’ve done for fun in the past and at which I have some proficiency.  But the obstacle to tackling a podcast until now has been that rapidly looping deadline, because the essential characteristic of both the blog and the podcast is regularity.

It turned out to be quite illuminating for me to simultaneously tackle the group podcast and my personal podcast. A fundamental discipline of my profession —  advertising — is to try to make every pixel of communication speak to what the customer wants, in the effort to position the widget I’m flogging as the thing that can satisfy that want.  Our group podcast, the South Lake Union walking tour, effectively had two audiences: Vulcan Real Estate, to whom we’d theoretically be pitching the project, and the prospective tenants, businesses and visitors to the neighborhood who would be consuming the end-product podcasts.

While our proposal necessarily involved an evaluation of the feasibility of producing the concept on a regular basis, our primary focus was on satisfying the wants of Vulcan and their prospects.

I initially approached the personal podcast with the question: What does my potential audience want? What could I do that could possibly acquire a listenership? My first inclination was to do the obvious attempt at “thought leadership”: a business podcast about the business of advertising.  I’d found a few ad podcasts out there while surfing the podcast ocean, but none that I’d listened to more than once. Yes, I could do better, I believed.

Then came the real question:

Even if I could do better, will I want to do it again and again and again?  Hell no! It will quickly become the relentlessly looping deadline I dread.  I’ll be the mailman eternally going for a walk on my day off.

I realized that, for once, I had the opportunity to say “The audience be damned.” This being the early, wild-west days of podcasting, the audience is nothing more than a concept. Podcasters have the precious luxury of being able to fail with abandon until an audience finds them.  Production and distribution of the product are dirt cheap — an unprecedented creative advantage in the history of multimedia.  Podcasters, whether focused on personal or business objectives, can pay most of their attention to developing a concept that meets the essential prerequisite of podcasting, which also pertains to blogging:

Will I want to do this again and again and again?

If a podcaster can’t answer that question emphatically in the affirmative, all other criteria are irrelevant.  Without sustainable, core enthusiasm for the concept and the process, no amount of discipline will prevent the podcast from succumbing to creative fatigue.  Like the untold numbers of zombie blogs out there that haven’t been refreshed for months, a podcast undertaken with more consideration for the potential audience than for the soul of the podcaster is doomed to be abandoned, like the puppy that seemed like a good idea at the time but soon started snarling at the kids.

Another agreeable characteristic of podcasts over blogs is that they are just enough trouble to produce that I’d never be tempted to churn out “podtent” they way many bloggers feel compelled to spew forth regular content, whether they have something worth posting or not.  The effort required for podcasting is a gatekeeper of sorts. This may explain why I always feel more optimistic about what I’m about to hear when I click on a new podcast than I do when I look at a new blog.

The production hurdle is also just high enough that it has sobered me up from the initial enthusiasm I had for recommending podcasts to my clients.   What was I thinking?  I can barely stay awake through a meeting with this guy, and I was going to recommend that I produce a bi-weekly podcast with him as the star.

The ultimate upside of demystification is realism. I’m confident that I will produce a business podcast for a client any day now.  And quite confidant that, when I do get around to it, I’ll still be producing it six months later.

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