A reader sent in the following question recently in regards to podcasting:
"I'm in the process of launching an internet-based business. I'm looking for some inexpensive ways to promote my business to tech-savvy customers, and I've been hearing some buzz lately about podcasting. Forgive me, but when I think of iPods, I think of teenagers listening to Eminem, and they're not my market. How does podcasting work, and how would it benefit my business?"
While podcasting obviously takes its name from Apple's popular iPod line of products, it isn't limited at all to iPod listeners and can indeed be an exciting and creative new way for you to promote your business. But first, a quick definition: A "podcast" is a pre-recorded audio program that's posted to a website and is made available for download so people can listen to them on personal computers or mobile devices (including, yes, iPod products).
According to Oren Shachal, a podcast producer for software maker Intuit Corp., what distinguishes a podcast from other types of audio products on the internet is that a podcaster can solicit subscriptions from listeners, so that when new podcasts are released, they can automatically be delivered, or "fed", to a subscriber's computer or mobile device. Usually, the podcast features an audio "show" with new episodes that are fed to your computer either sporadically or at planned intervals, such as daily or weekly. Just like the old radio serials of the 1930s and 40s, this format encourages listeners to subscribe so they can find out "what happens next."
Shachal says that podcasts are to audio what TiVO is to video: "You can automatically receive the programming you want and listen to it whenever and wherever you want".
As long as you listen to podcasts only on your computer (as Shachal indicates the vast majority of podcast subscribers do), you don't need any special software other than the audio player, such as a Windows Media Player or RealPlayer, you already have on our computer. But if you want to subscribe to a podcast feed, you'll need to install "podcatcher" software on your computer. The most popular podcatcher software is iTunes, which is available as a free download from www.apple.com/itunes/download .
Should you be getting into podcasting as a way to promote your business? It's definitely an innovative way to promote your business. "Podcasting goes a big step further than printed text on a web page," says Shachal, explaining that "if someone's actually talking to you, you have to listen. You can't ignore or skim over it, so it's a far better call to action and much more personal because you're listening to another human being's voice."
So how do you go about creating a podcast? According to Shachal, there are four basic steps.
First, to record a podcast on your computer, you'll need a USB microphone and special podcast studio software to help you record and edit your podcasts. For Apple Macintosh computers, the software is called GarageBand and is part of the iLife software package . You can purchase iLife from Apple's website for $79, but if you bought a Macintosh recently, it may already be installed on your computer so check that first. The most popular podcast studio software for Windows computers is Audacity, which is available as a free download from the company's website .
Second, you'll need to record your podcast carefully. Try to keep your podcast around 12 minutes, Shachal advises, adding that you should speak clearly and prepare a script in advance to keep the editing time as short as possible. And whatever you do, learn to soften your consonants, because a lot of your listeners are using earphones. If you "pop your Ps," it's a lot more irritating than when somebody does it on the radio.
Third, once your podcast has been recorded, you'll have to post it to a website. If you have your own website, you might be tempted to post it there, but Shachal advises you to first call your web hosting service and find out the fees. Podcasts use up a lot of bandwidth, and most web hosting services charge serious money for the extra bandwidth you'll use if hundreds of people are downloading your podcast feeds. Instead, Shachal advises you to use a website that specializes in hosting podcasts, such as Liberated Syndication.com : "These services charge fees based on how much data you store, not how much traffic goes back and forth, and you're likely to save significant money".
Finally, once your podcast is posted on the web, you'll need to list it in one of the popular podcast directories, such as www.apple.com/itunes/podcasts or http://podcasts.yahoo.com . Right now, these directories will list your podcasts for free, because your podcasts aren't taking up space on their sites. As Shachal explains, "Listeners download or subscribe to your podcasts through iTunes, and iTunes grabs the podcast from your site. Listeners think they're getting the podcast from Apple, but they're really not."
If you're thinking you'll make money from your podcasts, you won't, Shachal warns. That's because, at least today, podcasters don't typically charge for subscriptions. "Most podcasters today are enthusiasts about one subject or another and are just looking for the exposure," Shachal says. But Shachal adds that if you have a podcast with compelling content that's attracting lots of subscriptions on iTunes, you might be contacted by a company offering to buy advertising on your podcasts. My advice? Don't sell cheap.
Cliff Ennico is a syndicated columnist and author of several books on small business, including Small Business Survival Guide and The eBay Business Answer Book. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.