Nearly 90 million Americans are listening to podcasts each week, according to Edison Research. And while the media type has been on the scene for more than a decade, monitoring capabilities have appeared much more recently amid growing demand.
"There's been pent up demand for some time from brand and PR professionals to better understand and measure the value that podcast exposure delivers," says Brendon O'Donovan, Cision's global head of product marketing.
Ben Chodor, president of Intrado Digital Media, notes that the podcasting industry has grown exponentially in recent years, calling it "a medium that PR professionals can't afford to ignore."
"For that reason, PR tech vendors have very recently started to add podcast monitoring to their service offerings," he says.
At least four major communications technology companies have introduced podcast monitoring in the last several months: Cision, Meltwater, Burrelles and Intrado. Johnny Vance, global head of product marketing and partnerships at Meltwater, notes that his company is seeing "a lot of interest and initial success," although the product offering is somewhat new to the market.
"Recent advances in speech-to-text and transcription technology have made podcast monitoring scalable and affordable," explains O'Donovan. Although podcast monitoring is not part of the base monitoring package of any of these providers, he says that it will become a must have for customers as listenership increases and podcast monitoring becomes more readily available.
Platform providers that offer podcast monitoring see clients using the tools in different ways. Cision's O'Donovan finds a two-fold use: to offer a more complete picture for PR pros' monitoring and to identify new and emerging outlets to target for campaigns.
"By monitoring for product categories, competitors, industry themes and trends, communicators can expand their reach to new, highly attentive audiences listening to podcasts that fit with their campaign strategies," he explains.
Burrelles president Cathy Del Colle notes that podcast listeners are a valuable target audience for brands, saying they are "young, educated and have purchasing power" and give brands a powerful target beyond gaining insight into what's being said about a brand.
"[Podcast monitoring] opens a new door of opportunity for brands. Marketers can now understand and reach a whole new target audience, and public relations professionals gain a new media outlet to pitch for their clients," say Del Colle.
Vance finds that Meltwater's podcast monitoring tool is being used in a number of ways. "For many customers, the starting point is simply understanding how their own brand is being mentioned on this 'new' medium where they previously had very little visibility," he says. "From there, customers can begin building a strategy for podcasts where they didn't really have one before."
For customers who do have a robust podcast strategy, Vance finds that monitoring enables them to identify guest opportunities for thought leaders.
The primary goal of podcast monitoring at Intrado is to "ensure that customers have access to the entire media ecosystem: online news, print, social media broadcast, podcasts, all within a single platform," Chodor says. Like other forms of monitoring, podcast monitoring enables PR pros to stay abreast of relevant topics, identify when brands are mentioned and opportunities to pitch stories or spokespeople to particular podcasts.
"Our mission is to arm customers with the data and insights they need to make informed decisions about their campaign strategies," he explains.
Danti Chen, head of applied data science and insights in Weber Shandwick's global intelligence team, notes that "podcasts have been a core part of our monitoring, and we have noticed an increasing number of inquiries in this medium."
"In addition to keeping track of consumer interest, benchmarking brand reputation and alerting for issues, we find podcast monitoring effective in surfacing key opinion leaders," she says. "As podcasts are usually theme-based, the audience tends to already have a strong interest in the subject and reacts well to the content, which can help inform KOL-based campaigns."
Chen notes that Weber is most interested in this natural surfacing of KOLs, explaining that they have seen some successful podcast hosts become influencers in their own rights, particularly in the healthcare, automotive, technology and lifestyle spaces.
As with any new tool, there are limitations. Greg Brown, VP at FleishmanHillard, notes that his agency is not dedicated to a particular tool or service, as capabilities are continually evolving, saying, "There's very little visibility into total listeners and downloads, as a podcast is often posted across multiple platforms."
"Second, it's challenging to determine the follow-up actions taken by the listener, such as increased traffic to a URL," he adds. "For the monitoring that exists, most tools only crawl and index the podcast description, not a transcript. Some tools are beginning to enlist the help of AI to identify keywords in programs, then providing a timestamp to where the word was mentioned in the episode."
Fleishman is relying on the fact that the most newsworthy discussions from a podcast will break through to other channels, thereby enabling the firm to rely on more straightforward social monitoring tools to pick it up.
Chen points to a related challenge: the lack of uniformity of standards of podcast monitoring tools. "Despite the significant advancement in the various metrics provided by each platform, the granularity and depth of the metrics can vary," she says.
O'Donovan agrees. "Podcasts don't have a standardized publicized equivalent of 'reach' and don't conform to other PR metrics like circulation or [unique visitors per month]," he says. "Some powerhouses of broadcast measurement are starting to measure listenership, and when numbers become more widely available, this will add even more value to podcast monitoring for communicators."
Providers see their own set of challenges and areas where monitoring can improve. All of them mention the number of podcasts that they capture, which, while numbering in the tens of thousands, is not exhaustive. Chodor notes that it will be important to expand Intrado's offering to cover other languages and more niche content. Vance underlines that podcast metadata is relatively limited, while Del Colle says that they need new metrics to develop deeper, more valuable insights to facilitate better decision making for their customers.
Expanding the capabilities of these monitoring tools will also improve actionability. Meltwater hopes this could include "information about popularity of the podcasts and audience demographics, contact information of the podcasters and anything else that would help a customer illustrate tangible ROI as a result of being mentioned across thousands of podcasts from all over the world," Vance says.
"Podcast monitoring will need to stack up to traditional media monitoring to be considered effective," Chodor argues.