This article was originally printed in Auctioneer Magazine. Used by permission.
One of the hottest shows in 2014 was the one nobody watched. It didn’t run on CBS, HBO or Netflix. It was a podcast called Serial, which was nothing more than a whodunit created by a radio producer who decided to tell a story about a 15-year-old murder case.
In short, it was a 12-episode serialized mystery like the ones our grandparents grew up listening to before the explosion of TV. And its success offers a lot of lessons for many types of businesses.
Think, for a moment, about our obsession with brevity. I’ve been preaching it for years: People these days have a short attention span. They won’t read much. You have to get your message across quickly, in as few words as possible.
That remains mostly true – as long as we’re talking about reaching people’s eyes. But what about their ears? For a long time, hearing was our forgotten sense. We became obsessed with how our web sites and brochures looked, and we agonized over every word we wrote for them.
But when we focus on the ears, the rules change dramatically, because people can listen and do other things. We all look for things to inform and entertain us while we drive, exercise, mow the lawn or sit in an airport lobby. That’s why more than 1.5 million people – including me – spent six hours apiece listening to a radio drama.
With audio, we’re discovering the same thing we’ve discovered with TV – that we don’t have to be stuck with what’s airing at nine o’clock on Thursday nights. We can watch our favorite shows whenever we like via Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other services (not to mention old fashioned DVR). Some of 2014’s most talked-about shows included Marco Polo, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black – all created by Netflix. Amazon has created its own hits, including the political comedy, Alpha House.
That same trend has taken hold more quietly with audio. Rather than punch buttons looking for some live radio worth listening to, many people now plug their phones into the car stereo and listen to audiobooks or podcasts.
How big is this trend? Huge. Audiobook sales grew by 28 percent during the first eight months of the past year. During that same time, e-books rose only 6 percent, and hardcover print sales were down 2 percent, according to the Association of American Publishers. Podcasts have exploded in a way that reminds me of web sites in the mid 1990s. I personally listen to five or six podcasts a week, covering topics ranging from news to my favorite hobbies.
Most companies can make use of this trend by offering podcasts and audio clips in which they talk about the business and about what they’re selling.
The cost of entry is low, and the uses are limited only by your imagination. You can make a decent audio with nothing more than a quality USB microphone and some free editing software. If you want to go portable, you’ll need a good recorder – preferably something better than the $50 unit you bought 10 years ago for dictating notes. (Please don’t try to do this with your phone!) Carry your recorder with you and you’ll see chances to interview sellers about their property, record conversations with your agents and capture other audio that you can edit into suitable form for the web.
Here are a few tips for using audio:
- Use the interview format to get a conversational feel to it. It’s very hard to just sit in front of a microphone and talk.
- It’s great if you have a broadcast-quality voice with no regional accent, but it’s not mandatory. As long as you’re clear and confident, you can probably embrace your dialect and pull it off just fine. Just sit up and breathe deeply!
- Resist the temptation to “add video.” The beauty of audio is that you don’t have to watch it. As soon as you mess with that, you’re having to deal with lighting, cameras, and demands on people’s eyeballs. There’s a place for video, but it’s a different animal.
- Tell stories. The Serial podcast exploded because the producer is a great story teller. The art of telling stories with sound alone is much older than you or me, and it’s as effective as ever.
- Use one of the commercial “podcasting” services to stream your audio. These are inexpensive and will provide you with a link you can use on your web site, in email, and on social media.
- Use professional help for editing if you need it. There’s good audio editing software available free or at a nominal cost, but there is a fairly steep learning curve. You may find it worth paying someone by the hour to do your editing and final production.
- Keep it simple. If you want to put a little music at the beginning or end, that’s fine, but some of the best podcasts around simply start with somebody talking. As we learned with web design, people are impressed with content, not fancy stuff.