In this episode of BrandTalks, we talk to Jim Nico about how challenging and beautiful the process of producing podcasts can be. Jim is the founder and CEO of Social Network Intermedia and the Social Network Association. He also co-hosts the Social Network Show. As the leader of SNI and Social Network Association, Jim has already developed strategic partnership with Dun & Bradstreet, PR Newswire, Velocity and others. He implemented his mission for faster growth and best practices among online social network, as they evolve.
Host: I’m very excited about the topic we’re going to discuss, which is ‘Podcast’, as you’re an expert in the field. We’ve noticed that lately, we have a growing number of podcasts and I wonder…. Why do you think they are growing so fast? Why are they so popular now?
Jim: Well, there’s a couple of reasons. I think one of them is that having a podcast can really help grow a business. I think that, in the old days people listened to the radio and radio is still interesting and everything, but now, with podcasts, you can sound like radio but it doesn’t cost as much to produce the shows. It’s audio on demand. When we look at albums it’s the same thing. We can always hear concerts but when we want to hear music when we want to hear it, we create albums and then cassettes and CDs. People want to hear these shows when they want to hear them. And they’re more convenient on demand.
Host: Do you think that in your nearest or maybe even far future people will choose a podcast over the radio?
Jim: I think radio will always exist but I think that radio is definitely changing. I mean, I think that just like people always go to concerts and they want to listen to live music, they also want to buy CDs or listen to music on demand. Other think about podcast is that it’s prerecorded. Once it’s finished, you’ll be able to send podcast to anyone in the world just through email or even a text for them to listen to it. That is something that radio just can’t do.
Host: Where should we start if we want to run a podcast for personal purposes. There are so many schools, so many ways to record it, so what would you recommend?
Jim: Well, first of all, I produce podcasts, so I would recommend people start with our company. I’ll tell you why… because, we started with no experience in media. About 5 years ago, the three of us – one professor, Terry (with a Master’s in public health) and I created the company. When we started we had to learn everything from scratch. So we understand what other people need to learn and so I think going to someone who has the experience like we do is a very good idea. The reason I say that if the podcast gets really popular, there’s ways to monetize that podcast. And if you’re with professionals like us, we know how to do that.
Host: Maybe you can just tell us about some good practices that always work. Of course, it is best to hire a good company like yours, to be sure that the podcast will be done professionally and everything will be just set, but if you could just share some practices that you think work in that branch.
Jim: Sure! One thing is that you should avoid at all time is something called dead air. That means that there is silence. Just to show you, I’ll just be quiet for a second…. that’s dead air. You don’t want to have that when you’re doing a podcast. You want to be talking all the time – that’s one rule. The other, I think, is you want to keep things conversational. In other words, you want to have questions and answers. Short answers are generally good. You always want to give your host the chance to ask you another question. You don’t want to talk too long.
Host: Frankly speaking, personally, I’m okay when my guests talk longer, because I appreciate things that they want to tell me. I think what you mean is for it to be more balanced. In other words, the host shouldn’t let the guest talk non stop, but rather be in control of the conversation.
Jim: What I mean is that it’s kind of like dancing with someone. You want to be able to sense that they’re with you, that there’s a rhythm. I think the more you work with people and gain experience as a host, the more you realize that there’s timing. To some extend, you want it to sound like we’re sitting and having coffee. It is a professional conversation, but it should feel as if we’re sitting in a coffee shop looking at each other and talking with each other. That’s all I mean.
Host: What a beautiful metaphor to dancing! I really like what you said, that’s a good point. It’s also nice you mentioned dead air. I know you have already had many, many interesting guests on your podcasts. I wonder though if you have you ever had a person that was not very eager to share their insights? Have you ever had that situation when you asked a question and had a one word answer?
Jim: Oh yeah, not all of our guests are as interesting as you are.
Host: Oh, thank you!
Jim: We’ve had some guests that when asked a question, they’d spend about 30 seconds thinking about the question. So there’s the dead air, the silence and it gets really awkward. You feel like you want to tell them ‘you know, we are recording this’. There are also people who give these very short answers, one or two words. Then, the other extreme is that you’d ask them a question and they never stop, they just go on and on. It happens that the answer isn’t that interesting and you know that, but not them – they just kept going. As if they were giving you a lecture that we’re recording. They’re not talking to the host like, for example, we’re talking.
Host: So what did you do when you had the person who stopped after one sentence?
Jim: I stopped recording. We’re sound engineers with our recordings so I just said ‘Listen, Ryan, we want to stop for a second’. Then I simply talked to the guest and said ‘Look, you know, we’re just asking you simple questions, which means we want you to give answers that you don’t have to think about for like 2 or 3 years’ (laughing). I’m trying to be nice and kind of guide them. Their reaction is usually ‘Oh, I didn’t realize I was going out that long, I’ll try and make it a shorter answer’ or something like that. You just stop recording, guide them and then go back and record.
Host: I think you need to be really experienced to know how to handle such a situation. I am lucky enought to have spoken to people like you, people who are generally good in podcasting, so I’ve had no such problem. I am trying to imagine how not to offend your guest when he’s talking for too long. For example, he thinks he’s talking about very interesting things, but you know that you have to cut in and tell him ‘Sorry, it’s not working’. It think it’s vital to know the way to communicate it in a nice and polite manner.
Now I’d like to slightly change the topic and focus on success. What do you think is your biggest achievement?
Jim: I think, my biggest achievement is working with really top innovators from top companies. We had somebody from Google, LinkedIn, IBM, the United Nations and other national companies that have good reputation. We know that they could go on any TV show or radio programme but they chose to come on ours. I think that’s the biggest accomplishment. The other one is, I think, that we have had really top innovators that are working towards online safety for children, for women etc. So we’re always featuring people that are trying to make social networking safer. In that way, we deal with a lot of education, we get a lot of professors, a lot of authors. I think the fact that our shows are important, that people can learn from them and be safer online, I think that’s a big thing.
Host: Would you say that your podcasts have their own mission? It’s not only a form of entertainment, it’s not only a way of getting to know something, but you always have a goal to accomplish. Am I right?
Jim: Yes. Our kind a of approach is always trying to keep in mind who might be listening. I ask myself these questions when we’re doing our show. Like this one, while we’re talking, I’m thinking about who might listen to this. Am I trying to entertain them or am I trying to educate them? So good to keep that in mind. For example, when we had you on the hashtag show, I was fascinated by how you told me about Brand24, what it does for the marketplace and the stories that you told me – they were educational and they were also entertaining ( – like the pizza story). It was also very informative. I learnt the power of Brand24, which really helped me.
Host: Hence, in one podcasts we can deliver many messages to the audience in both, entertaining and educative way. By the way, I didn’t even realize that I was that interesting to you, I just talked about our case study. Speaking of the hashtag podcast, can you tell me and the listeners where we can find it?
Jim: In the United States, the UK and Australia people can listen to that show, and other shows we produce, on Apple news. What it means is that anyone who has an iPhone and lies in one of those countries can just go to the app – they have an app on their phone – and they just go to the Apple news and type into the search bar what our channel is called. There’s no spaces, it’s just theSocialNetworkStation. And once they get to the station on Apple news on their phone, they can listen to our shows and make us a favorite, so they can keep up. That’s one way. If people don’t have an iPhone or an iPad or other Apple device, they can go to thesocialnetworkstation.com and listen to all our shows there, as that’s our website in the United States.
Host: I strongly recommend to go and listen to the interview with me about Brand24 (laughing) or other guests, so it’s not only myself I’m advertising. I really recommend to go there and listen to how experts do their podcasts. We were talking about your success but I am also curious about the biggest fights that you had to win. What is the hardest thing when it comes to podcasts?
Jim: I think the hardest thing is really reaching the right audience. It’s difficult because, as podcasts are easy to produce in the amateur set, like in a hobby set, there’s around 325 thousand podcasts on iTunes. All these podcasts are trying to reach an audience and get listeners and all that. There’s a lot of competition. I think part of the problem is that people really don’t know where to go to listen to the real quality podcast. That’s why we continue to educate and entertain, and to some extent I guess educate and inform. Sometimes even enchant. One of the literary philosophers always said that one of the things you need to try to do with your writing is to enchant people. It has to be somewhat magical, that’s what I meant by the dance a little bit.
Host: To sum up, we know what is hard when it comes to podcasts and we know a bit on how to do it, but how would you describe the moment when you can say ‘OK, I think I’ve achieved success’. Is it the number of the listeners? Or is it the moment when guests want to be invited to your podcast? Or what would you describe as success of the podcast?
Jim: Excellent question. I think you actually answered it in some ways. I think that the amount of listeners of course is important, especially if your information is important to them. In other words, If we do a podcast on cyberbullying and someone in Poland hears that show or someone in the US hears that show and they’re able to take the information we give them, our guests talk about and help their kids be safer from cyberbullies. It’s really important to reach an audience, anyone that your show could help with the topic. That’s one. And then the other one is really true. You definitely hit on that point. If people want to be on your show, that tells you a lot, because that means that they listen to it and they think it would be really good for them or their business. So we’re lucky there. We have people trying to get on our shows all the time. And very few people say ‘no’. I can’t even remember anyone who said they didn’t want to be on one of our shows.
Host: I think you made a good point about the thing that by podcasts people deliver a value to their audience. Maybe because there are some people who do their own podcasts purely out of vanity. What I mean is that they don’t think about who they want to talk to or what they want to tell to the people or if it has any value for them. ‘I just want to be shown, I just want to tell them something’ – Do you ever come across such approach?
Jim: Let’s just take a simple example, let’s say there’s a phone number that parents, teachers, grandparents, stepparents, people that care about kids safety would need to have. Let’s say that I have the phone number, a brand new phone number and these people don’t. It’s very important that I reach those people and one of the best ways is really through podcasts. It’s one of the things we love about Apple news. I believe, though I don’t have any proof of this, that Apple news will expand to other countries. What’s excellent is that people can acces our shows and I can reach them and help learn about how to keep their kids safe, for example. Also, as we talked about Brand24 services, another very interesting podcast that they can just access on their phone in a matter of seconds. They know where to find our shows and, what’s more, they can go back and listen to it again. They can listen to it over and over. They can send it to their friends even from Apple news, for example.
Host: I think that you are thinking about the same thing, about giving something instead of just showing off. One last question I have to you, how do you see the future of podcasts? Do you think it will stop or will it be growing faster and faster?
Jim: I think it’s going to grow, but I think it’s going to be like anything else. There are going to be really popular, top podcasts, like popular TV shows or popular movies. There are going to be those that people talk about and listen to. But as with anything else, there’ll be those that we never hear of. There are going to be famous ones and there are going to be more niche oriented. The best will be at the top, the worst will be at the bottom.
Host: I think it’s a great sentence for nearly an end. I wanted to ask you about one more thing. Podcast that was funny, original, surprising. Do you have any podcast like that in mind?
Jim: I actually tend to be more serious in a podcast but there are a few funny ones. This may sound a little crazy but some of the funniest ones are just names that we thought of. I just like some of the funny titles. There’s plenty of comedy podcasts, which I don’t quite listen to, but we’ve had some funny moments on our podcasts that just kind of happened. I think one of the funniest ones was when we invited a professor from Harvard. Her name was Maria Tatar, she’s a German literature professor at Harvard, and she deals with children’s books and children’s literature. When she got on the show, her and I just started talking about things like Alice in Wonderland and other fantasy subjects. What was really funny, for me, is the way Doctor Jay, our co-host, reacted. She was so surprised that we were just talking about those crazy fantasy stuff, about Peter Pan flying through the air for example. We’d never talked with the professor before, so it happened unexpectedly. We’ve had tragedies as well. One woman told us about the suicide of her daughter because of cyberbullying. So it goes both ways. A lot of humor – unexpected, tragedy – unexpected.
Host: So one podcast can bring out many different emotions.
Jim: Yes! Laughter, tears, frustration, you name it.
Host: Ok, I just hope that this podcast won’t bring any frustration to you.
Jim: No, you’re really a good host, you have a beautiful voice and you speak English really well. I think the more you’re going to realize that, the more it will be like dancing for you. And if you dance really well with someone, it is going to come out really meaningful. I think you do really well.
Host: Thank you very much. It’s very motivating and I really love the comparison to dance. It’s truly beautiful. Thank you very much for this talk, it’s been a big pleasure to talk with you and I hope that everybody will take your insights to their hearts and make use of it, as I’ll surely do. Thank you very much Jim.