Not Enough People Listen to Thinking Religion (or Why I Despise Facebook)

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With the mass hysteria around the Serial podcast at the end of 2014 and the continued excellence of other NPR shows such as This American Life or RadioLab, it’s no surprise that the press and media were eager to claim a “return of the podcast” early in 2015.

Podcasts are nothing new and have been delivering content to folks like me for over a decade since they were first implemented by Dave Winer and Adam Curry. Podcasts have, for better and for worse, always been seen as something of a geeky pursuit. They were never difficult to actually make or listen to, but it just felt as if the technology for mass adoption wasn’t there. We lovers and makers of podcasts sat by while the music industry was transformed first by Napster then iTunes and now streaming, and then the visual media industry was transformed by YouTube and Netflix. We watched promising companies like Ev Williams’ Odeo pivot from podcast transformer to Twitter parent company. We knew we had something good and our time would come.

However, it felt like 2015 was going to be the year of the podcast in terms of mass adoption. It makes sense… technology has finally caught up to the medium. Almost everyone has a mobile device of some sort, more often than they have computers in 2014 and beyond. Most of those mobile device owners are comfortable enough to find media and apps via Netflix or Spotify. There’s been a growing acceptance of the notion of “on demand” media consumption whether it’s House of Cards or the latest comic book on Comixology. Data rates have gotten faster and cheaper (somewhat) and people are more comfortable with downloading or streaming media rather than having it delivered passively by TV and radio. Serial was the siren song of podcasting’s new era. A time when podcasts stopped being just about tech and finally ventured into other mediums. We have Adam Corolla, after all. Surely, if you make “good stuff” and put it out there in your niche, people would find and start listening in 2014. Right?

Short answer: No.

It’s not anymore difficult to make a podcast than it is to make a blog post or even a Facebook post for those willing to trade their digital souls for even more comfort and supposed eyeballs. However, it is still difficult to find an audience for your podcast that makes you “feel” like it’s worth doing.

I have this conversation often with clients who are interested in podcasting as a form of marketing their church, product, startup idea, service etc. “Let’s do this,” I say, “but be aware that this is not going to make it onto any iTunes top charts and you’ll be lucky to have a dozen consistent listeners after a few months if you make it that long.”

That’s because it’s hard to show up week after week (if you’re doing a weekly show, which is what I’d recommend since that’s the accepted format at this point) for months at a time and record yourself talk either solo or with a group, do the post recording work of either editing but definitely uploading, posting it somewhere, and attempting getting the word out only to see that you have 11 listeners to a show four months in. Clients, like all of us, want fast results whether they say it or not. It’s human nature. It’s why we like using Facebook instead of a personal blog to post details of our lives or businesses… people “Like” us there and we get tangible feedback for our time or work or thoughts. “I am important because people listen to me!” is Facebook’s psychology 101.

Podcasting is different. There is little in the way of the gratification machine at work to tell you that you’re doing a good job, even months or perhaps years, into your show. Excellent podcasters like Dan Benjamin will tell you to show up and keep showing up. He’s right. But what about if you’re just starting out. “Is it really worth all that time, then?” my clients ask.

I should have a good answer to that question prepared given how much I hear it and that I’ve ran a podcast network called Thinking.FM since 2011. I came up with the idea in 2009 after I started podcasting in 2008. I did a 22 minute daily show for almost six months. When that show ended, it had a few thousand listeners. “I’m important because people listen to me!” I thought after doing the very hard work of not just talking about something I thought interesting for 22 minutes every day, but also the pre and post work that was required to do a daily show in 2008 (not to mention I was working from home with my newborn daughter who ended up being a frequent guest on the show inadvertently).

Podcasting is still figuring itself out and the mass majority of consumers are still figuring out the medium as well. Sure, there’s an Apple Podcasts app that comes pre-installed on all iPhones now but how many people ever tap on “Tips” or “Newstand” either?

My answer is yes, you should podcast. It is fun. It is hard. It is cost and time intensive. Eventually, it does pay off in ways not measured by Likes or retweets.

For example, my friend Thomas Whitley and I do a podcast called Thinking Religion. It’s an amazing show (I can say that because I’ve been listening to podcasts for a while and we talk about amazingly interesting things from two different perspectives). Our latest show (29th episode) was by far our best:

Prof. Thomas Whitley and Sam Harrelson attempt to bring some thoughtfulness to the topic of religion again this week with a discussion of presidential politics and religion, metaphysics in the public sphere, ISIS and the antiquities black market, and whether we can recover lost texts.

Thinking Religion: Is There An Original New Testament? | Thinking.FM

 

You can listen by clicking on this player. Go ahead.

After doing the show weekly for almost thirty weeks now, we’re lucky if we have a few hundred listeners. Most times, it’s much less than that.

“But Sam,” you say, “it’s a podcast by two history / religion dorks talking about God knows what for 90 minutes. Why would anybody listen to that?”

Good point if you’re looking to get huge CPM advertising deals from Ford or use your podcast to market your church or your service or your products to millions!

But that’s more than likely not realistic. Moreover, it’s not the best use of your time, money, and resources to go for that goal. Instead, think long term. Think about possible connections and implications of your recorded word and the effects they may have on someone interested in you, your group, your product, your church etc. Think about how you can make someone’s life better, give them hope, solve their problem, or make them dream.

It pays off. Trust me.

Millions of listens and huge advertising payoffs are not the intent of Thinking Religion or Thinking.FM in general. It’s also not the point of any of the podcasts I help my clients do and promote. Instead, quality means more than quantity. That’s the reason I personally despise Facebook as both a personal medium and as a marketing medium for churches and non-profits and startups… it reinforces the notion of immediacy when it comes to Likes and feedback response. It’s a Skinner box (that’s a podcast I did with my wife, Merianna) with no sense of permanence or longevity. In my practice of marketing, permanence and longevity mean everything.

That’s why I podcast. I want to plant sequoias and say that my main crop is the forest I did not plant. Go and do likewise.

Mobilegeddon for Websites

Honestly, most of the sites that are going to be adversely affected by Google’s algorithm change to favor mobile-friendly sites don’t rank well already.

I see it everyday in my work with churches and non-profits whose sites date back to 2006 or 2007 and are mostly using static designs or a host that charges extra for mobile-friendliness. They don’t rank well in Google and want to know why.

So, do your due diligence and you’ll be fine…

THE timing is awkward, to say the least. On April 21st Google, the world’s biggest online-search engine, will start implementing another major overhaul of its mobile-search algorithm. This is likely to penalise many websites, which is why some have called the change “mobilegeddon”. This comes less than a week after the European Union accused the firm’s search engine of systematically giving favourable treatment to Google Shopping, its price-comparison service.

via Google: Mobilegeddon | The Economist.

This Could Be the Year

This could be the year. Seeing the team rush the field after a hard fought 11th inning win and hearing the fans singing “Go Cubs Go” is huge this early in the year!

“Last year and the year before, we lost a lot of games like that,” Castro said. “We played a lot of extra-inning games and lost. We play more than nine and we keep fighting and try to win.”

via Cubs walk off on Starlin’s single in 11th | cubs.com.

Kerning Matters

Ladies and Gentlemen: Your Marco Rubio for President logo.

A photo posted by Ed O’Keefe (@edatpost) on

Kerning. You probably haven’t heard of it, but oh does it matter. It’s why you hire professionals to make your logo. Like myself. *cough* And don’t get me started on why this logo doesn’t include Hawaii or Alaska…

What we have here is a kerning problem. “Kerning” refers to the spacing between letters. It’s easy to see when you have slanted letters like A and W right next to each other. Here’s an example I made in Microsoft Word without kerning.

Rubio’s odd-looking campaign logo is teaching us an important lesson about typography – Vox.

Who Do You Say I Am?

My old (well he’s not old, but our friendship is) friend Thomas wrote a great piece in response to a question about why he still blogs in 2015 given that we have tools such as Facebook, Twitter etc to make our points.

What he says is not only applicable to academics, but also to non-profits, religious orgs, and for profit companies. Whether we like to grapple with the issue, you or your company or your group or your church has a “brand” that is being perceived by those who come into contact with you. Being aware of that is crucial.

You should be thinking of these things if you or your group wants to participate on the internet (beyond a Facebook page):

Related to this is the larger idea of controlling my “brand.” Though many academics have resisted the move toward “branding,” it has long been a part of academia. One’s credentials, what they’ve written, and where they’ve taught make up their brand and determine, to a large extent, who reads them, who assigns them, and who thinks of them for panel invitations and professional society nominations. Branding has only become more important with the ubiquity of information readily available on the internet. It is important for me, as an academic in general but also as someone on the job market, that when someone searches for me on the internet, they find me and find what I want them to find about me (namely, my website, my work for other outlets, etc.). Moreover, as I think about my personal brand, it forces me to think about where my priorities are and what impression I want people to get of me. This is, of course, no different than how we should be thinking even sans internet (the same thinking goes into job application materials, for instance).

via Why I Blog — Thomas J. Whitley.

Ad Agencies Are In Real Trouble

Mad-Men

Advertising agencies haven’t changed very much since the 1950’s. Sure, most of the larger agencies have tacked on “digital” departments and made a number of acquisitions in the past decade to make themselves more agile and responsive to evolving client needs.

However, I was watching MadMen with my wife last night, and I remarked on how similar some of the agencies I work with act as if they were Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce rather than an agency responsive to 2015 needs. The “rebate” is just one of a number of issues facing larger agencies and their feeder smaller agencies in the coming decade as clients and marketers wise up and demand more transparencies…

The rebates stem from the arrangements that some agencies have in place with media sellers that reward them for spending more. If the agency chooses to direct more of their clients’ budgets to specific vendors, the agency may receive lower ad rates, free ad space or even cash.

“Emerging concerns among marketers around different forms of agency rebates in the United States causes us to partially (if slightly) re-assess some of our views on long-term holding company growth,” Mr. Wieser wrote in the research note. “With a drumbeat of negativity to come from marketers only now learning about the issue, we recommend investors move to sidelines or exit the sector for the time being.”

via Ad Agencies Downgraded by Pivotal Research on Rebate Concerns – CMO Today – WSJ.

Oddly, Microsoft and Dropbox Just Made It Easier to Use My Chromebook

My team primarily uses Dropbox for our file storage and sharing. It was a back-and-forth battle for a while between Google Drive (since we use Google Apps for email, calendars etc) and Dropbox, and we still do use Drive for some project management. Even a few of our clients prefer it as they are already using Drive and Google Apps themselves.

However, our official party line is on the Dropbox side now because of its integration with other apps that we also rely on to get things done like Podio, Slack, and Freshbooks.

The biggest downside of going with Dropbox over Drive for me (#firstworldproblem) has been when I’m traveling or doing some quick catch up work at home outside of the office. That’s because I typically take my Chromebook (currently a Toshiba Chromebook 2 but that new Pixel is wearing on my will power) during those times. Editing a Word document or Excel sheet from a client or team member is definitely not as smooth on a Chromebook as working on a shared Google Doc or Sheet. So, I would resort to downloading the document from Dropbox and opening it as a Google Doc then redownloading when I was finished and reuploading it to the appropriate Dropbox folder. I also kept a zombie copy of many working docs in my Google Drive just so I could access them on the road, but they weren’t always up-to-date and current. It was a subtle pain that always annoyed me.

Until this announcement this week. I’ve tried it a few times now and it’s seamless and works great.

Thanks, Dropbox and Microsoft, you solved my workflow issue! Looks like I’ll be using Office Online a great deal more in the coming months…

What does that mean for you? For starters, you don’t need the desktop versions of Microsoft Office — or even your own computer — to update any Office files stored in your Dropbox. Just click the ‘Open’ button when you’re previewing a Dropbox file on the web, and you can edit the file right from your browser via Office Online. Any changes will automatically be saved back to your Dropbox.

You’ll also be able to access your Dropbox directly from Office Online, so you can open any of your Dropbox files — and save new files to Dropbox — without leaving Office Online.

via Dropbox launches integration with Microsoft Office Online | Dropbox Blog.

Growing Your Business with Email

We handle dozens of email marketing campaigns every week. It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of marketing for me, to be honest (I got my start in marketing doing email in 2003 or so). Email marketing is part science, part art, part analytics overload, part psychology, and part gut intuition. When done right, it’s an amazing augment to a wider marketing plan.

Even the popular payment taker Square is getting in on the act.

Here’s a nice intro to email marketing for businesses and groups that are looking to get started…

More than 90 percent of the world’s 2.4 billion email users checked their email at least once a day last year and received over 180 billion emails, according to vero. How are you going to make sure you stand out from the crowd? Marketing is a science and email marketing gives you access to a wealth of data that you can use to grow your results.

Every step in the process – including database segmentation, send number, time of send, subject line, content of email and landing page – is up for testing and analysis.

via How To Hack Your Email For Growth.