Podcasting has sealed itself as a unique and note-worthy media - not surprising since it was declared 2005’s ‘Word of the Year’ by the New Oxford American Dictionary.

A podcast is a multimedia file distributed over the Internet using syndication feeds, for playback on mobile devices and personal computers. Though podcasters' web sites may also offer direct download or streaming of their content, a podcast is distinguished from other digital audio formats by its ability to be downloaded automatically using software capable of reading feeds like RSS, the same technology that enables you to subscribe to your favorite news sites and Weblogs. While RSS was at one point only considered to be a means to deliver news headlines, RSS has quickly become a powerful medium to disseminate all kinds of information.

Podcasting is well on its way of becoming a mainstream form of communication, In October of 2004 a Google search returned less than 6,000 results for the term "podcasting". Today, a similar search yields more than 857,000 results. Like the blogging phenomenon, podcasting has come out of nowhere and attracted an enthusiastic following.

With its growing popularity, it’s no wonder then that publishers and marketers around the world are asking themselves how to monetize this content channel and make delivering audio content via RSS profitable.

What makes podcasting interesting and important to businesses is that the potential business uses of podcasting are limited only by a smart marketers’ imagination. If used well, it can deliver and achieve the goals’ of a company’s marketing plan.

There are many valid reasons why corporations may want to embrace and leverage podcasting. Corporations can set up internal or public facing podcasts. By podcasting, corporations and businesses of all sizes have an opportunity to create a loyal listener audience that can extend their brand as well as communicate to the target audience.

Businesses can also use this technology both externally & internally as a communication medium to keep local, virtual and world wide groups of clients or employees informed, for example, sales and marketing meetings for companies that have employees in worldwide locations. It is also an effective medium for distance learning. In addition, consultants could use podcasting to interview clients, convey success stories, interview other thought leaders, expose business trends, and become a trusted advisor and source of valuable information. This can produce additional clients, increase an organization’s reputation within a specific community, and extend valuable brand perception with customers and prospects.

Most business users use podcasting for two primary reasons:

  • To establish themselves as an expert in their field
  • To drive visitors to their website

On the other side of the coin, listeners benefit from podcasting because like RSS, podcasting publishes content that ultimately gives the recipient the control over the information they want to see or hear. Once the podcasting content is downloaded, it can be listened to and viewed anywhere and anytime the recipient prefers, at their time of convenience.

Ultimately, it is the podcast subscribers themselves who maintain control and decide what podcasts are successful. This in turn intrinsically builds in a quality control level that will ensure that more innovative, instructional and interesting podcasts feeds are created.

While a relatively new technology, podcasting is definitely evolving extremely rapidly since its first mention in 2000. Right now, there already exists Mobilecasts and MMS podcasts. A mobilecast is a podcast designed to be downloaded by a mobile phone. Listening to podcasts on mobile phones is fast becoming even more attractive as the quality and speed of mobile networks improves, and mobile phones themselves become more useful audio devices by adding storage capacity and stereo capability. While podcasts are primarily designed for transfer from PCs to connected portable devices, because more and more people are using their mobile phones as portable audio players, some podcasts are made specifically for mobile phones. These are shorter and in many cases focused on a single topic or designed to communicate quick information like a short movie, restaurant reviews, news headlines and summaries. However, at the moment, challenges such as lack of network speed and interoperability issues still abound.

Another new kid on the block is the MMS podcast, which are shows/clips distributed via the Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) protocol to mobile phones. The content makes use of MMS features such as being split into random-access chapters. This content can be fetched on demand by the user, or pushed to the user on a subscription basis.

There is certainly no looking back for podcasting. However, while podcasting is a great new medium, it is important to remember that creating a podcast is only half of the work. Promoting it is equally critical to its success. Doing this well will make it a very effective marketing tool for your business. Companies have little to lose but much to gain when adding podcasting as a communications channel.

By Shanti Anne Morais