Social Media Marketing

This article was one of my MicroSoft Small Business Forum pieces.  

I really enjoy stepping outside my comfort zone. For me, this can take the shape of taking a class in a subject area quite orthogonal to my career, or attending a random event or starting a project in a realm in which I hold minimal to no expertise.

Along those lines, I recently attended a little known event called “Podcasters Across Borders” (PAB), which is a cozy affair traditionally held in Kingston, Ontario, that attracts independent podcasters from across the world, though mostly from Canada and the USA. For those not in the know, a podcast is essentially internet radio (or sometimes video) usually “broadcast” in the form of streaming audio from a website or as a downloadable MP3 file.

Many mainstream media providers, such as the CBC in Canada and NPR in the USA, produce their own professionally rendered podcasts. Indeed, I had the very good fortune of having been recently interviewed on two CBC podcasts: the technology show “Spark”, and Radio Canada International’s “Indo-Canadian Report”. Both shows are also broadcast on regular radio, but service a fair chunk of their audience through online downloads.

A new business partner and I have decided to try our hand at creating a high quality, regular podcast. The details will have to wait for another time, lest this unnamed partner beat me senseless for letting the cat out of the bag too early. But the important thing here is that I know nothing about the medium or the tradition of podcasting; that’s her thing.

And that’s what brought me to PAB. As someone who spends a great deal of time at conferences and public meetings relevant to my discipline, usually behind a microphone, it was a thrill to attend such an event as a complete naive newbie, with no expectations placed upon me for either expertise or vocal participation. So this is what relaxation feels like?

The content and participants of the PAB event are irrelevant to this article. Rest assured, it was a fascinating event in which I learned a great deal about technology, unseen electronic social networks, and a global phenomenon of private citizens sharing their personal tales with the faceless masses of the internet; and where I met some very nice people. In short, non-professional podcasting in its present niche format seems like blogging with a lot more effort.

What was curious, though, was how a presentation on the monetization of this free user-generated content was received. An interesting model was put forward wherein income could be effectively generated by selling ad space in around one’s podcasts, supported by some sophisticated market research and product marketing. I could see where the podcasting purists might object to this seeming taint on the altruism of their efforts. But the fact remains that the sector likely will not evolve without considering its economic aspects.
And that’s where my mind got going. I think there’s an opportunity here to meld small business practices, regardless of one’s sector, with the social media interactivity and subtle marketing of podcasting. I already lightly tie my business practices in with my day job as a university professor, and heavily tie them in with my extensive online activities, which are ostensibly pursued for fun. My Facebook and Twitter feeds, for example, are essentially silliness, but both drive traffic to my blog, which is sometimes a tad more serious. That in turn drives attention to other elements on my website, and generates enthusiasm from me to explore thoughts and avenues that may or may not end up being financial profitable, but always result in an interesting outcome.
In short, I’m now wondering how podcasting and other such rich media social networking can assist the process. Stay tuned, I’m sure I’ll work it out eventually!