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Podcasting has been a hot topic lately. In existence only for about two years, its been covered by the press, both large and small. The Washington Post’s column about radio did a profile of it, the Charlottesville Daily Progress has had two articles about local podcasters, and the Richmond Times Dispatch has run three articles, one of them on the front page. Apple’s recent release of iTunes 5.0 (Sept. ‘05) supports podcasting. Yahoo launched a new podcasting section of their website Oct ‘05.

Its probably the hottest thing on the Internet you’ve never heard of. What we hope to do is give you a brief overview of what podcasting is, and how it can be of use to you.

What is it?

Podcasting comes from the words iPod and Brodacasting – it’s a term that’s both accurate and confusing. You don’t really need an iPod or any other kind of MP3 portable – just a computer and Internet access.

A podcast is an audio file that’s downloaded to your computer (or iPod) for listening at your convenience. What makes it different from other kinds of audio files you find on websites is that a podcast is one in a series of programs updated with some regularity – like a radio show.

How does it work?

The concept is much like that of listening to a radio program – which is why podcasting borrows part of the word broadcasting. If you listen to a radio program (such as Car Talk, Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh), you know that if your revisit that radio station at the same time each day, you’ll hear a different edition of that same show.

So too with podcasts. Listeners revisit websites with podcasts to download the latest program. But you don’t have to do that yourself – there are simple computer programs called RSS readers, or aggregators that can do it for you. In fact, these programs are now being bundled in with web browsers such as Mozilla and Yahoo. iTunes has one built in as well.

Just give the reader the web address of the podcast, and it will automatically check that site daily (or at the frequency you set). Whenever it finds a new show, it downloads it to your media player on your PC, and notifies you that a new download is waiting for you to listen to.

This is known as “subscribing.” Usually there’s no charge to subscribe to a podcast. The reader downloads the show and places it in your computer’s media player program –such as iTunes or Windows Media Player. Now the show is available to listen to at your convenience – you can play it on the computer, or move it to a portable MP3 player.How do I know what’s out there?

There are a number of podcast directories where you can search by keywords, subjects or other criteria. These directories have links so you can easily subscribe to the podcasts that interest you.

Google searches will find them, too. You can type in a subject and the term podcast and see what comes up. And once you get into it, you’ll discover that podcasts will promote other related podcasts, which can be a way of getting deeper into a field.

So what is out there?

Anything and everything. Podcasts can be very simple to produce – you just need a microphone, a recording program, and little Internet savvy. One of the most popular podcasts world-wide is the “Dawn and Drew Show.” Two married ex-punk rockers who have a daily conversation that is both hip and charming – that’s it. But they have over 10,00 subscribers.

WineCast is a program about the subject of wine; vineyards, tasting, vintages, serving. One of my favorites is the Dorktones Podcast – a three-piece garage band from Holland has a weekly program playing garage, surf, punk, ska and other cool music primarily from the ‘60s. The BBC offers several programs, as does NPR, Public Radio International and Minnesota Public Radio. There are religious broadcasts, and, as you might expect, quite a lot about technology, and computers. This Week in Tech is another popular podcast, along with iLounge’s Week in Review (for all things Apple, and especially the iPod).

So what does that mean to me?

There are two ways businesses, governments and schools can make podcasts work for them – as producers, or as advertisers.

As a producer - What’s the advantage?

A podcast reaches an international audience. If your business is concentrated in a local market, then podcasting isn’t an effective way to get the message out. If, though, you’re a realtor who’s doing a podcast about tips on selling a home, then it can be a way to bring outside attention to you.

A podcast reaches a highly specialized audience. C Squared Communications specializes in media production and printing. Our podcasts are for people interested in learning more about that subject. So too with the Wine Podcast, or This Week in Tech, or most of the other podcasts. Cable TV has specialty channels, like the Food Network that appeal to a small, specialized audience. Podcasting is even more so.

Podcasts can effectively bring traffic to your website – especially if its part of the message of your podcast.

What makes a good podcast?

A podcast can be a great way to get your name out, and to bring traffic to your site. Its important to remember, though, that a podcast isn’t an electronic brochure – its more like an audio newsletter. A podcast should have:

1) Compelling content. Whether its factual or entertaining, talk or music – whatever the subject, it should be valuable to the target audience.

2) Structure. Like a radio program, it should have a beginning, middle and ending. The beginning and ending should have some consistency, as should the middle. Coverville, for example, (a podcast about cover songs) has a catchphrase to open and close the show, and always has six songs. Subscribers become comfortable with a show’s structure.

3) Sound quality. Anybody can make a podcast with a lapel mike – and anyone can make a newsletter in a wordprocessing program. Just as newsletters that are well-laid out and incorporate graphic design concepts are more likely to be read than a poorly-produced Xerox, so too with a podcast. While you don’t necessarily need a studio, the better the audio quality, and the more production values you have, the more likely people are to listen and subscribe.

4) Regular schedule for posts. Regular does not necessarily mean daily or weekly. Some shows, like the “Tartanpodcast” post three times a week. Others, such as the BBC’s “In Our Time,” once every two weeks. While the reader will catch your show whenever its posted, if your schedule’s too erratic, listeners will soon unsubscribe.

5) Supporting information. Here’s where a podcast differs substantially from a radio program. There is a visual component to a podcast. On the media player, there are fields for artist/title/album that you can use to have a web address – you can even show us the album art field to display a logo. Most podcasts have a page on their site for “show notes.” This has supplemental information, links to topics referred to, and so on. Even if a podcast is sitting unheard on your media player, it should still be telling you something.As an advertiser

Because a podcast is going to a very specialized audience, its possible to precisely match message to audience. Plus, podcasts are currently unregulated – your message should be structured to match the audience, without worrying about FCC rules.

What’s the advantage?

It gets your message out to your core audience – Coverville, for example, is sponsored by Tower Records – where the host gets all his music.
No rules – usually the host reads the announcement, and it can run over a minute, and sound more like an authentic endorsement than radio is allowed to do.

Its inexpensive – right now there are no standard rates. Everything’s negociable, and since production costs are so low, its possible to get a years’ worth of sponsorship for a few hundred dollars.

Its multi-media. Remember, a podcast isn’t just verbal. There can be a link to your website from the podcaster’s show notes. There can even be more than a link – you could have a banner ad, or something more elaborate.Conclusion:

Podcasting is only about a year and half old, yet it already has about several thousand programs listened to by over millions. While it isn’t for everyone, if used correctly, it can be an effective way to reach a highly specialized audience that wouldn’t otherwise have known about you.



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