Your members are on the go, and you want to keep up with them. And while your strategy is built on proven methods like in-depth articles, timely webinars and can’t-miss in-person events, there’s still a good percentage of your audience not engaging.
The reality is time is limited, and proving the value of membership often comes down to meeting your members where they are.
Podcasts – while by no means a new medium – offer all the creativity and flexibility associations need to overcome this connectivity concern. But, before you dive headfirst into finding hosts, buying software and recording episodes you’re sure will rival Serial, it’s important to know what you’re getting into.
According to data from Satista, over 82 million people listened to podcasts in 2021, with estimates to increase to 100 million in 2024. Of that group, 66% of podcast listeners in America are aged 12-34 – an important metric for associations looking to grow their young professional audience.
For many, podcast listening has turned into a routine, with 82.4% of respondents saying they listen to over seven hours of content on a weekly basis. And while podcast consumption is often for entertainment, 60% of listeners tune in to podcasts to educate themselves.
Interestingly, research done by Spotify found that 81% of listeners take action after hearing audio, including connecting with the brand on social media, telling others about it or eventually making a purchase.
So, yes, chances are your members are listening to podcasts, doing so multiple times a week, using their listening for education and sharing content with others – hitting every aspect of an association's growth strategy.
We know that podcasts can provide unique opportunities for associations to engage their members and create valuable content, but what do organizations need to know before diving in?
We sat down with Jake Toohey and Benjamin Muscolino of The Association Podcast to find out and came away with seven key takeaways.
As your members become more informed and socially conscious, they increasingly value transparency, relatability and genuine engagement – particularly from organizations they spend money with. The casual and conversational nature of podcasting allows for more authentic discussions and storytelling, something Toohey and Muscolino learned early on.
At the height of the pandemic, they leaned into webinars as a content publishing strategy. And while they were extremely successful, they were ridged in their need for preparation and production. "We found ourselves having prep meetings, which took a little bit of the luster away of what podcast can bring to the table with the authenticity,” said Muscolino.
With a podcast, they were able to talk to industry experts and thought leaders in a way that encapsulated the authentic real-time version of the content, a particularly important characteristic with the rise of artificial intelligence.
“You could probably pick something like a blog, pop it into one of these AI tools, and have it read it like it's an actual human, but it loses the authenticity,” says Toohey. “The conversations require a human for it to be interesting.”
As we mentioned up top, your member availability is always changing. And if your content is dependent on a screen and reading time, chances are they’re missing a lot of what makes their membership valuable.
"The nice thing about podcasts is you can kind of pick them up and can stop and start whenever,” says Toohey. “You can do the same with video, but with video, you've got to be sitting down at a computer or watching on your phone. Podcasts are just easier to multitask with.”
By providing a platform for industry experts, vendors and members to share their experiences and insights, podcasts can help create meaningful connections within the association community. For The Association Podcast, this was a lesson they learned early on.
In Episode 38, they had a chance to speak with Chris Buskey from the Infectious Diseases Society of America as they addressed some of the first cases of COVID-19. “He was with one of their physicians that was the first to go to Seattle, and he said ‘I gotta get on a plane and deal with this thing that seems like it might be a big deal,’” said Toohey. “I always think about just how interesting a story that was and really appreciated it.”
“The level of accessibility combined with the lack of prep needed to be able to get the CEO of IDSA on our podcast for an hour in the middle of COVID, when none of his staff has slept for more than four hours a night...and he didn't have to fly to New York to get in the studio with us and do this whole thing, was really cool,” Muscolino added.
Many organizations have these unique stories and experiences, and leveraging a podcast to share them and empower members can have a lasting impact.
Not all podcasts need to be dependent on hosts and interviews. “It's really about having a vision for what you want to do, even if it's just getting an expert on for 15 minutes,” says Toohey. “There are some podcasts that are 3 hours long and we started this by wanting to be 30 minutes, so it's like a commute.”
Like any platform, your podcast will include metrics, which will allow organizations to adjust their podcast strategy based on the needs and interests of their audiences. For associations with a backlog of content – like webinar replays and in-depth articles – converting them into audio format can be an easy lift when launching a new podcast.
And even if you want a hosted podcast, that shouldn’t be a barrier either. “Associations have so many people that are so willing to be involved and donate their time,” says Toohey. So, whether you’re pairing a later career professional with a young professional to talk through the career differences or letting a member share their experience at a recent event, make your membership a part of the journey.
For associations, one of the biggest questions you’ll need to answer early on is whether this podcast will be member gated. “If I was in the room at an association, and someone says to me, ‘we talked about things that should be members only in this episode, do we gate the content,’ I would say you're onto something,” Muscolino says.
It’s ok to be protective of the content you’re creating, but for associations, leveraging this exclusivity to drive engagement is the better strategy. One suggestion is to clip these longer recordings in a way that still provides value but encourages listeners to visit your membership site.
“Use social media and content publishing that's broader, like Apple Podcasts and Spotify, that the whole world has access to, and use those as the appropriate tactical funnels to benefit your organization," Muscolino says. “When you talk about whether they gate it or not, there's a happy medium there that can drive innovation, scarcity and membership value.”
For associations, member feedback is often limited to generic quarterly or annual surveys. However, if your members aren't engaging, how much can you gain from them? By limiting feedback to a specific offering, associations can get a better handle on the value of their content.
“That's the listening tour that associations have been struggling to go on for years. When you're just asking them generally, ‘How are we serving you as an association,’ versus producing something that's really relevant and then saying, ‘What do you guys think,’” says Muscolino.
This feedback can inform whether the content is the right fit for your members or whom it’s impacting the most. From there, you can easily adjust segmentation or create content that can empower every facet of your membership.
“The audience talks back if people are listening and they find what you're doing relevant,” says Toohey. “And that's motivating for us. We start seeing downloads spike because people are enjoying what they're hearing – it feels good.”
Lastly, and most importantly, launching an association podcast doesn’t need to be a major undertaking – you just need to be committed and get started.
"It's pretty low fidelity. It's not that tough to do if you carve out the time to do it, and it's not like putting on a webinar or a presentation or a session at a conference,” says Toohey. “Associations in general have such great volunteers and their members want to be involved – you can find just about anybody to have a conversation.”
And for associations focused on having a polished product before publishing – perfection shouldn’t get in the way of progress.
“Don't let the barrier of making decisions get in the way because it [the podcast] can morph a little bit if you want it to,” says Muscolino. “If people sit in a room and think, ‘all right, we got to storyboard what this is going to look like for the next two years and how are we going to brand it.’ You're overthinking this. Just run a couple of episodes, chop them up a little bit, and put them out there and start going with it.”
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Jose Triana joined the Sidecar team as the Content Manager in 2021. He is a writer and creative focused on helping purpose-driven organizations learn and find value online. When he isn't working on content, you can catch him going for a run or resting with a good book.
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