Why is this important? Here are two reasons: first, audio storytelling is our core competency, it’s how we built our radio audience of millions of listeners; and second, as mobile use of our sites increases (as of October 2013, it’s 29% of traffic across all stations), we’re seeing signs of increasing consumption of audio. Mobile devices appear to be bringing larger audiences to our audio stories.
Matt Berger, Digital Director for Marketplace, outlined his “audio everywhere” strategy in an NPR Digital Services webinar (below). While Marketplace enjoys some advantages that many stations don’t have - like high profile relationships with platforms like Stitcher and Flipboard, and CMS tools to make simplify workflows - Berger presented five lessons from the Marketplace strategy that any station should consider as it tries to grow its digital audience for compelling audio.
Give the Digital Audience What it Wants, Not What You’ve Got to Give Them (watch)
Most of the well-produced, sound-rich stories we create for radio can succeed with the online audience. But we need to consider packaging. For instance, we would never start a reporter’s story without some kind of introduction on the radio, and the digital presentation also requires an introduction to provide context. Berger recommends stations either have a host pre-record an introduction to be attached to the digital piece, or use an aircheck recording of the story being broadcast, including the on-air host’s introduction.
Here’s another important packaging consideration: if your program or talk show is a magazine format, you should offer your digital listeners the individual show segments, even if you also offer the the complete show. Breaking your two-hour show into two one-hour podcasts is nice for people who want to re-create the radio listening experience, perhaps while driving. But the audience that wants to browse and select specific stories or topics has no way to find what interests them easily. In the end, they either delete the episodes without listening to them or they unsubscribe. Offering two versions is a compromise to reach both types of listeners. If you don’t have time to do both? Segmented audio is most closely aligned with how digital users interact with stories. Most podcast apps can play discrete audio pieces continuously, creating a radio-like flow from one story to the next.
Adapt Your Editorial and Production Process to Meet Audience Needs (watch)
Many stations have seen digital audience grow by reporting text-based news as it’s happening, updating stories multiple times as new information becomes available. News is even more of an iterative process on digital than on radio.
How might that approach apply to our well-established and time-consuming workflow for audio stories and features? Berger offers an idea: Is there a brief, memorable quote or short section of audio that you could post immediately? It would enliven a text story, allow you to promote the larger feature ahead of time on social media and attract audience even before you’re ready to post the finished audio piece. Berger says that our digital audience wants more from us and we should do our best to deliver, within our capabilities. (And remember, these shorter bits need an intro, too!)
Stop Doing Things That Don’t Work But First Make Sure You’re Doing Them Right (watch)
Berger calls it shovelware: we made it for radio, so let’s pile it on the web, too. If that content doesn’t succeed online, it’s not necessarily because the audience isn’t interested, but rather because it’s not packaged in an interesting way for digital audiences. Also related: we’ve always done it this way. At Marketplace, Berger and his team carefully evaluated the workflow for audio and either automated steps or found cost-effective tools that made life easier for the reporters and producers. They made the difficult decision to discontinue transcripts: there wasn’t enough of an audience need for this time-consuming and expensive service.
There are things we do because we’ve always done them, or because there’s a small audience for them or because three years ago they made sense. In a world of limited resources and staff, we must carefully assess everything we do and how well it serves our audience. We don’t have time to waste on things that aren’t working.
Pay Attention to the Data as Best You Can (watch)
We’re getting much better data about streaming audio than ever before. But that’s not the case with audio downloads. The analytics for on-demand audio is sparse. An mp3 file can’t shed light on how much of a podcast or story someone listened to, or if the listener skipped a section. But Google Analytics can provide data for downloads from your website.
There are some techniques to learn about your download audience. For example, most platform publishers can access data to find out total downloads. And Berger recommends installing event tracking tags on your website audio player; they can track when a user clicks the play button or another function on the player, like fast forward or rewind. This data can give you useful insights into which podcasts and audio stories are resonating with your audience. (DS has a tag management system with event tracking available to all DS members.)
Bonus Lesson #5: It’s About Priorities
We cannot decide to do everything - that's impossible. Nor should we throw up our hands and give up on digital - that’s turning our back on our audience. We need to put our content on the platforms where our listeners are so we can serve them well. This requires a careful balancing of priorities based on the capabilities and size of your team. Berger says you don’t need to do everything, but you need to do the right things.