Steve Goldstein: What Podcasters Can Do During A Pandemic

Steve Goldstein’s Amplifi Media works with media companies and podcasters in developing audio content strategies. Goldstein writes frequently at Blogstein, the Amplifi blog.

How will podcasts do during these strange times with schools shut, gyms closed, March Madness cancelled, commutes eliminated and employees on furlough? After Americans have cleaned out their local Kroger’s of toilet paper, what will they do and will podcasts be a part of it?

I saw one study released this week from a large media measurement company illustrating listening and viewing changes after hurricanes and blizzards. Sure, those were bad, but this is different in just about every way. We have not seen anything like this in terms of life and economic disruption on a massive scale. After 9/11 we were told to go out to restaurants and take a trip to DisneyWorld to get the economy moving. Today the conversation is about sheltering in place. Comparisons to World War II might be more apt with so many who sacrificed so much, but talk about being quarantined, well that is new for us all. So, we are writing this one in real time. No playbook to guide us.

Pacific Content’s Dan Misener assembled a great post about the ascension of podcasts about Coronavirus. Here.

Podcast shows and episodes focused on Coronavirus have risen rapidly. The accompanying chart from Pacific Content illustrates the surge in podcasts about Coronavirus. CNN, for example, said their daily podcast update has had over 1 million downloads. Issue-oriented podcasts are in a good position to benefit from the quest for reliable information and spin, at least for now. What we are learning, however, is that this pandemic is likely to be protracted. Medical experts say we are in the “emergence” phase with new cases being identified and not yet in the “crisis” phase of shortages of hospital beds, ventilators and an accelerated loss of life. It sounds like we are far from done.

Three Of The Often Talked About Hallmarks Of Great Podcasts Are Companionship, Connection And Authenticity

The longer this goes on, the more people will be anxious – they already are. Many will likely experience social isolation – remember the good old days of water cooler conversations and dinner with friends? This is where podcasts can truly shine. Three of the often talked about hallmarks of great podcasts are companionship, connection and authenticity. In a time when the breaking news is coming at us at a head spinning rate from antiseptic websites and cable news channels, one coping mechanism is likely to be podcasts from trusted hosts.

The Longer We Are Forced To Practice “Social Distancing,” The More Likely Connection Is What People Will Crave.

If you are a podcaster and your content is not focused on the news cycle, you are likely seeing disruption in listening patterns. Sure. Hey, Saturday Night Live is on hiatus, Jimmy Fallon is doing his show from home, Al Roker is doing the weather on an iPad in his kitchen, your local bar is closed, casinos are closed and unemployment lines are skyrocketing. Everything is disrupted.

The Washington Post had its most-viewed article ever, and TV news is exploding. Nothing is typical or normal.

The longer we are forced to practice “social distancing,” however, the more likely connection is what people will crave. That’s where great podcasts come in. The best ones make “eye contact” with their listeners.

For a long time, I oversaw programming for a large group of radio stations and during turbulent times we adjusted the content and host banter to reflect the moment while working to preserve the essence of the brand. It was never a one-size-fits-all solution, the cadence for each host, show and station was different. Changes were made with a focus on credibility, authenticity and the aforementioned “eye contact.”

We advise our podcast clients similarly. Podcast shows need to be dependable, true to their audience, relatable and most of all, flexible. Importantly, during this pandemic, they need to be relevant and give people a show worth listening to all without veering too far from their lane. Some content is escapist and should stay that way. A crime show will be a crime show, but a history show might pivot to something topical. A comedy show will certainly need to adjust and might be less caustic and more empathetic, but we can all use some levity about now.

All new territory to be sure.

Be nimble.

And keep this mind – most podcast listening is done at home, and that’s where people might be for some time. That could be a bright spot for podcasters.

Stay safe out there ……….. and listen to a podcast.

Steve Goldstein