This month's issue addresses using technology at retail, harnessing audio and video distribution and display to help your clients get their message across or increase sales. A noble idea, indeed, and certainly a concept that, while not exactly new, is something that can help expand your business. Look a little deeper, however, if this is such a good idea, why aren't you using it yourself? Much like the old cliché about doctors being the last ones to consult a physician when something ails them and then being the worst patients when they do, are you using the same technology you sell to help expand your own business?
If not, you should!
One of the easiest ways to do this is through the use of podcasting, the latest incarnation of what was once hyped as push media. However, unlike the more intrusive "spyware" driven children of push media, podcasts are almost always requested by the user/listener, thus avoiding the claim that un-requested content is sent to someone's computer. If you've been in a cave for the last year or so, or simply not up on this sort of thing, podcasts are not limited to use by those with Apple iPods, though it is the connection to iPods as a means of playing back the distributed content that has led to the logarithmic growth of the concept and technology.
At the most basic level, podcasting involves the automated distribution of audio (and now, video) content files so that once the user subscribes to a podcast, an application will automatically search for any new versions of the 'casts each time there is a web connection, download them and store them. Once that is done, the podcasts may be played directly on the client (hmm, here that word is used both literally and figuratively) computer using virtually any media player, they may be burned to audio CD (using either built-in software or an optional add-in, depending on your computer and operating system), or in the case of their namesake, the file may be downloaded into an iPod, or for that matter, virtually any other portable audio device. If the mechanics are in place on both sides of the chain, it is really rather simple.
The key here is the automation that lets users request to receive any updated content from a specific source only once, but then have it delivered when available or until stopped. Nothing more need be done to check for new 'casts. Can your business benefit from delivering short product announcements, your own reports from trade shows, "helpful hints" or "how-to's" or other information best absorbed orally, rather than by reading? If so, some form of podcasting may be just what that terrible patient, the doctor, ordered.
You can do some or all of it yourself, but don't let the technology get in the way of the messaging. That's something only you can do. Are you providing helpful hints or the latest on new gear to clients? Are you offering an "audio white paper" on new technology? Are you delivering a training or compliance program that employees must listen to? Are you just having a bit of fun by letting the employees distribute their latest garage-band efforts? It's all up to you, but the potential for outreach is significant.
There are many resources available to help you get started in podcasting. Any of the popular search engines can guide you to the many options, so perhaps the best thing to do here is to discuss the types of products and services you may need rather than concentrate on specific brands or companies.
Of course, a means of recording the program or message is required, but if you need help with that, you probably shouldn't be reading this magazine in the first place! With that done, you need to have the file hosted on a server somewhere and create the links and mechanisms required to have the client software on your customers' or employees' computers automatically receive the new programming when they connect to the internet. From there the file is downloaded and may be listened to directly from the computer, sync'd to a portable player (that's where the iPod comes in) or even burned out to a CD-ROM.
If you want to go beyond a true "do it yourself" podcast effort, two service companies do deserve mention. One is Feedburner, which offers a mix of free and fee-based services that help you with the "syndication" side of podcasting. Used by some of the top podcasters, a check of the resources on their website is a good way to get some background on what you might do yourself and what you prefer to hand off to others.
Another resource is Loudish, a U.K.-based firm that specializes in business applications of podcasts, including assists with the content aggregation and hosting, as well as working with those on the receiving end of things to deal with it all. If the podcast idea sounds good, but some of your clients are a bit technophobic, or if you don't have the energy to do it all yourself, Loudish is an interesting group to investigate.
Of course, no mention of podcasting would be complete without a mention of www.ipodder.org, the website started by Adam Curry, one of the three or four folks most responsible for creating the software that began the podcast revolution and making it visible to the world. If nothing else, ipodder is not only a website, it is one of the most popular independent client-side tools for receiving podcast content. It is available for free download for a variety of different hardware and operating system platforms.
Mentioning ipodder is a good segue to another relatively simple tool you can use to distribute content to clients without too much fuss or bother. It was the application of Really Simple Syndication, or RSS tools to audio files by Adam Curry, Dave Winer, one of the people responsible for parts of RSS, and others that led to the development of the ipodder software. What gets lost in the hype about podcasting, however, is that the original RSS technology itself may be all that you need to send content to selected client or prospect lists in a manner that pops up in the same place rather than get ignored or lost as a file attached to an e-mail blast.
Using RSS tools, again something easily implemented using readily available software, once someone signs up, it is easy to send text, document, pdf or video files for automated delivery. Although it may seem as though getting someone to actively sign up for the content, that may be a benefit in disguise, as it not only gets you on the right side of any anti-spam legislation since the recipient had to take a positive action to get the content, it also identifies them as a qualified and interested party. What more could you ask for?