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WHAT IS PODCASTING AND CAN IT HELP YOUR BUSINESS?

Great. Just as you were finally wrapping your head around blogging and how your business could use it as a powerful communications tool to attract prospects and retain customers, the kid down the street/your brother-in-law/the local news media starts talking about podcasting.

Put down that quill pen, set aside your typewriter, and quit hiding behind your abacus. The future isn’t as scary as you think. I’m here to give you the 411 (information) on podcasting. What you choose to do with this information is up to you.

What is podcasting?
Podcasting is downloadable audio from the Internet. Despite its name, you don’t need an iPod, or even an mp3 player. You just need a computer capable of sound.

Hasn’t downloadable audio been available for a while?
Yes, but podcasting is different. Podcasts, like blogs, use RSS (Real Simple Syndication) to syndicate the content. People can subscribe to these Internet radio shows and have them automatically downloaded to their computer (and their iPod if they wish) whenever a new program is uploaded.

Why is this so exciting…or should I ask, why are people so excited about this?
It’s the idea of “time shift:” the ability for someone to listen to or watch a program on her schedule, not at a specific time and date dictated by old media conventions. Precursors to podcasting include the VCR and TiVo.

Who’s creating these podcasts?
Everyone. Media organizations as diverse as NPR and Fox News syndicate their content through podcasts. Hobbyists create podcasts on photography, local sports teams, business, and, of course, sex.

Since the FCC (thankfully) doesn’t regulate podcasts, anything goes, and it often does. If Howard Stern wasn’t moving to satellite radio, I’m sure he’d find a home in podcasting.

Where can I download some podcasts to listen to?
Although there are several Web sites dedicated to organizing and promoting podcasts, Apple’s iTunes Music Store (ITMS) is perhaps the easiest to use. I’ve created a little movie of how you can subscribe to podcasts through ITMS (4.3MB)…specifically, flyte’s own flytecast: web strategies for small business.

I strongly recommend checking out Adam Curry’s (yes, of MTV VJ fame) PodFinder podcast at the ITMS. It provides 60 second snippets of a wide variety of podcasts. In one show you might learn to speak some Chinese, get information on prostate cancer, hear from roller coaster enthusiasts, and listen to new music that isn’t getting airplay anywhere else.

What do I need to get started in podcasting?
A topic, time, and a (very) small initial investment in software and hardware.

Topic: Podcasting is in many ways like blogging or writing an email newsletter. You need to write on topics that are of interest to your target audience. Of course, if you’re doing this as a hobbyist, you can podcast on any subject you find interesting.

Time: I found that creating and editing a podcast took much longer than I expected. The first podcast, which was only 18 minutes long, took me about 5 – 6 hours of work. The second one took about half that, but I’m not sure that I can shave off too much more time. For 2 – 3 hours of work every two weeks (my publishing schedule), I haven’t decided yet if this is a cost-effective marketing tool for flyte. Other podcasts are updated weekly, and some every day!

Software and Hardware: There are too many options for software and hardware to review or even mention here. The least expensive route is to use the internal microphone that probably came with your computer and some free audio recording and editing software.

For software, many podcasters prefer a free product called Audacity that works on both Macs and PC’s. On my Mac, I’m using GarageBand, audio software that came included on my computer.

For hardware, I bought a headset microphone at RadioShack for less than $30 and a USB microphone port called iMic for another $30 or so. On the other end of the spectrum are people who build entire recording studios in their home or office for their podcast.

And just last week an all-in-one product called Podcast Factory was released for $179.95 list price.

I’d start small, if I were you.

How do I get my shows to the Internet?
To start, I’d recommend using a hosting service that specializes in podcasts. I’ve been using Liberated Syndication with decidedly mixed results. (Earlier this week they were down for 24 hours, and their up time has been spotty.)

A Google search on “Podcast Hosting” will show you a number of other options worth looking into. Because audio shows can take up so much server space, it’s good to look into hosting companies that specialize in podcasts.

How do I promote my podcast?
Like blogging, you’ll want to make sure your podcast offers an RSS feed; this way listeners can subscribe to your show to make sure they don’t miss an episode. If you choose a podcast- or blogging-centric hosting company, they’ll handle this for you.

Like blogging, you’ll want to “ping” or alert aggregator services that you have a new episode. I recommend using Pingoat for this. [Here's more information on Pingoat and how to use it to promote your blog or podcast.]

Like blogging, you’ll also want to submit your site to podcast directories so that people can find you. Podfeed, Odeo, Podcasting News, and of course the iTunes Music Store (through the iTunes software) are just a few places to start.

OK, my head’s about to explode. What else is coming up that’s going to make me want to hide in my cave?
Can you say “video podcasting?” With the release of the new video iPods, many news stations and hobbyists are starting to release video podcasts that can be downloaded and watched on a computer or everyone’s favorite fashion accessory.

If you’d like any more information on podcasting, or other Web marketing tools to help you grow your business, talk to flyte new media today.

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media

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