Recently, I was invited to present to a group of B2B marketers who wanted to tap into the unique power of social media. What was refreshing was that they didn’t want me to cover the usual topics found in most “Social media 101” sessions — i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.. Because they had done some research about their market (i.e. businesses with revenues of $10-50 million), they concluded that the best way to truly connect with their current and future clients meant leveraging the only social media tool that continues to experience exponential growth: podcasts.

Because the issues covered in that discussion are applicable to every business evaluating how to best use podcasts to engage key decisions makers and influencers, here is a summary of the most frequently asked questions and the corresponding answers.

Q: What kind of results can we expect from leveraging a targeted, well-planned and well-executed podcast?

A: You can expect customers to take action. In fact, 90% of loyal podcast listeners take some sort of action based on the sponsors and product content found in podcasts. What’s even more astonishing is that for 40% of loyal podcast listeners, that action translates into actual purchase behaviour. That’s why podcasts are growing at a tremendous rate and why podcast advertising will approach $500 million within the next 18 months.

Q: What is it that makes for an effective podcast?

A: If we define effective as consistently engaging targeted listeners, then the key component is content. Specifically, the content needs to be relevant, focused and delivered in a timely fashion. At the same time, there is a new complexity. Specifically, since podcasts are downloaded multiple times over a long period of time, it is very common for people to listen to episodes several months after it was originally produced. This extended lifespan serves podcast sponsors very well since they want to see their products, services and brand have virtually limitless mentions. But it also means that podcast content should be developed with a long “shelf-life” in mind.

Q: What length should podcasts be?

A: Ultimately, the answer comes down to the market-specific research that you gather as to when your intended/current podcast listeners are engaging in the content. For example, many podcast producers find that their episodes are being listened to during commutes to and from work. It is also very common for podcast listeners to turn on their favourite shows during work-outs, walks, lunch breaks and “quiet times”.

Q: Should we start our own podcast or leverage the success of another podcast?

A: The key question really is, “do you have the time and resources to develop and sustain good content, distribute it and promote it?” Many marketers simply don’t have the time to sustain current social media efforts (i.e. blogs, Facebook updates, Twitter conversations, etc.). Unfortunately, there are few if any agencies that have developed a strong grounding in producing and measuring podcasts. As a result, it often makes sense to look to the topics/industry issues that your audience faces. Then, begin by piggy-backing on an existing podcast. You can always look to develop your own podcast once you’ve achieved some success working with a podcast that has established its credibility within key subject areas or with specific audiences.

Q: Since we haven’t seen any tangible success with our other social media efforts, should we reduce our involvement with those tools (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and replace them with podcasts?

A: First, confirm the metrics of success and the methods by which you are collecting and analyzing the results of your current social media efforts. If after analyzing your results, you are confident that your results are not worth your efforts (i.e. time and resources), go back to your audience and conduct research to determine if and how they want to engage with you, your product and your brand. It also makes sense to test receptivity before eliminating your current tools. It’s quite possible, depending on the audience, that successful customer engagement will require leveraging podcasts because they can be listened to rather than calling upon customers to read.

If you have any questions — or want to share any insights — about how to make your podcast a successful customer engagement tool, please let me know.

Andrew Brown – Co-Producer/Co-Host, The BusinessCast