Podcasting_body.jpgby Erin O’Donnell.

Small businesses often sell more than just a product or a service. They are merchants of experiences and tutorials. They offer thought leadership and expertise. If this sounds like your small firm, then podcasting may be a smart addition to your content marketing strategy.

More Americans are plugging into podcasts every year. According to the Pew Research Center, 17 percent of Americans have listened to a podcast in the past month; that's almost double the number from 2008.

Podcasting experts say the most successful business podcasts help customers connect personally to a brand—not through a sales pitch, but through useful tips, an engaging personality, and a distinct point of view. "It's worth the time and investment because of the amount of traffic it can bring you and the traction you'll get," says Kevin Jordan of Redpoint Marketing Consultants in Virginia.

Getting started

Podcasting can establish you as an expert in your field. A local pest-control service may not have much content to work with, Jordan says, but a professional coach or trainer would. The same holds true for an online retailer who isn't restricted to a geographic area, or a business that focuses on a niche customer base such as veterans, new moms, or athletes.

For an initial investment of a few hundred dollars, you can get a quality microphone for your computer and audio editing software (Blubrry is a popular platform and resource). Keep it simple to start—Jordan’s typical runtime is two to five minutes. Decide on a schedule, and stick to it. Find out how to be included in directories such as iTunes and Stitcher. And if you aren't already, become an active podcast listener and find some favorites to emulate.

Podcasting_PQ.jpgCreating great material

Your podcast should answer an unmet need or question for your customer, says Joe Pulizzi, author of Content Inc.: How Entrepreneurs Use Content to Build Massive Audiences and Create Radically Successful Businesses. Pulizzi also finds that listeners tune out self-promotion. When his Content Marketing Institute publishes any type of content about itself, it generates only one quarter of the page views and social shares they get from an educational piece. "The more you talk about yourself, the less people will share and spread your story," Pulizzi says.

A steady stream of fresh ideas is the lifeblood of a content marketing strategy. Jordan recommends turning to your own customers or clients. "Start with your frequently-asked questions, or your should-ask questions, and use them as topics," he says.

Podcasts are also a great format for interviews. Invite people you admire in your industry to come on your show. Keep the focus on promoting this individual, Jordan says, rather than yourself. As your podcast gains followers, you can attract bigger interview subjects.

Repurpose content throughout your media channels

If you're already doing some form of content marketing, adding a podcast shouldn't take up many more resources or time. It's easy to repurpose content from audio or video to text, and vice versa. Then, be sure to promote it on your social media channels.

The podcasting world is much less saturated than YouTube and blogging, Jordan says, so it's easier to find a niche and own it. His podcast—the Small Business Marketing Minute—evolved from a video blog that had struggled to find an audience on YouTube. Once he converted his videos to audio files, he got dramatically different results.

"For the same video that got two or three views on YouTube, I would get hundreds or thousands of downloads on iTunes."

Set realistic goals

Jason Rothman, a Google AdWords expert at Rothman PPC, says gaining thousands of listeners shouldn't be the primary goal of a podcast. Rather, it's a tool to help business owners deepen their connections with existing customers to keep them coming back, and to help new customers find you.

Jordan originally turned to podcasting to generate leads for his Duct Tape Marketing consulting business. And it did provide him with one more piece of content to share with prospects. But the podcast was more successful at helping him to network with others in his industry. In turn, those people linked to his podcast from their websites, and his SEO ranking went up. Now, he's starting to book speaking engagements.

"I am pleased with the results, but it's very different from what I was expecting," he said.

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