1. Podcasting allows for intimate one-on-one engagement with your audience.
As Noelle Acheson wrote a few years ago, “Podcasts fill in the gaps in your days with intimacy. Of all the media available at the moment, podcasting is the most like a relationship.”
This is one of the biggest commonalities between the huge diversity of podcast sub-genres. Whether you are listening to Marc Maron ramble on about his cats on WTF with Marc Maron, breathlessly waiting for the plot reveal in your favorite audio drama, or visualizing land art with the MoMA’s Raw Material, podcasts are a comforting voice in your ear, filling your day with new information, humor, drama, empathy, and more.
It’s so easy to quickly become attached to those voices in your ear. My own podcast, Museums in Strange Places, is successful but nowhere near making me eligible for celebrity-sighting status. Still, I’ve had listeners I met in real life say how fun it was to actually speak to me after hearing my voice so much. You can’t help but imagine who is on the other side, and the proximity of their voice (usually going straight from your earbuds into your ear) makes it easy to feel like they are your friend, someone who cares about you and is creating this show for you.
How many museums, history organizations, and other cultural nonprofits would give anything to engender that kind of deep attachment in their audience and visitors? If you’ve ever wished you could speak to each visitor or potential visitor personally and help them find their connection point to your institution, podcasting is your wish come true.
2. Museums are already rich with the content, stories, and creativity needed to make great podcasts.
The best museums tell stories. They help us navigate complicated historical events through careful use of characters, scenes, and plot. They tell stories about artists exploring the world in new ways and, through that art, stories about a world that may only exist in our imagination (for now). They tell us stories about how our bodies work and how we came to be as humans.
That’s why museums are the best at teaching empathy. As Princeton neuroscientist Uri Hasson has shown, “a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.” Through the stories we tell at museum, visitors can deeply understand our shared human experience.
This is something the best podcasts do as well. Think of everyone’s favorite, This American Life. They tell stories around a theme that ask big questions about who we are as Americans and people: “What happens when unadventurous people end up in adventurous situations” or what does it mean to be a high-schooler living “in the midst of all this gun violence?”
Museums have struggled to share their stories (and the excitement of having that part of your brain activated by meaningful stories) through blogs and social media. But how do you generate empathy and connection and inspiration through a Tweet or a Facebook post? It can be done, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a small ripple compared to the deep waves that can be created with a great podcast.
In other words, there has never been a medium better suited to the needs of great museums than podcasting!
3. It’s where the people are, and where they are spending time.
There’s at least one podcast fan in 50% of US homes, and 48 million Americans listen to a podcasts at least once a week (source). That’s a lot of podcast listeners, and the number is growing…fast. The number of weekly podcasting listeners is up 15% from last year. And that’s not even factoring in the fact that podcasts finally got mainstream enough to blip onto Kim Kardashian’s radar this month.
And while you are struggling to get your audience to read more than 80 characters–1/3 of a tweet–on Facebook, 80% of podcast fans listen to all or most of every episode they start. When you consider that they are listening to even more shows than last year (up from 5 to 7).
So what is your institution waiting for? What stories could you be sharing through the powerful medium of podcasting? Why let all the finance bros hog the iTunes airwaves?
Unsure of where to start? Schedule a free call with me–a museum/public history pro and award-winning podcaster– to discuss how your museum can start meaningfully engaging your audience with a podcast.
And don’t forget to grab a copy of my new book, Your Museum Needs a Podcast: A Step-By-Step Guide to Podcasting on a Budget for Museums, History Organizations, and Cultural Nonprofits, available as an e-book, paperback, or audiobook.