Voicemail and podcasting have made for strange bedfellows since the beginning of podcasting. I remember when K7.net (now defunct) numbers were all the rage. I set up a bunch for all the podcasts I was hosting back in 2005. Ah, the old days!
Back then, voicemail for podcasts was used to gather feedback from our listeners. Because live streaming wasn't yet a thing, it was as close as we could get to taking calls from our audience. Today, many podcasters still use voicemail to give their listeners a chance to talk back to the podcast.
Given that most podcast listening takes place on mobile phones, that sounds like something that should be incredibly easy, right? But alas, we serious podcasters know it's anything but
PodInbox is trying to change all that. They're using the power of voice—both for the listener and the podcaster—to actually increase podcast engagement. PodInbox is the Branded Benefit Sponsor for today's episode, and I asked the founder, Pat Cheung, how PodInbox will make podcasting better:
Pat Cheung: The way I see it, podcasting is a very one-sided conversation, normally. When a podcaster jumps on the mic, they're just speaking into the void. The trend of podcasting these days is for audience engagement, right? And there's a lot of technologies tackling this with live and social audio. But we have a little bit of a different way we're approaching it in that [PodInbox is] letting fans interact with the podcaster asynchronously through audio messages.
Evo Terra: How does the information get back to the podcaster and how do other listeners/users of PodInbox interact with the content?
Pat: Every podcaster gets a PodInbox page where their fans go and interact with them by leaving audio messages. All the messages are public, right now at least. Our philosophy is let's keep all the messages public to make it a little bit more of a fun and social atmosphere to share messages.
Evo: So we make podcasting better by allowing an audience member to talk back to the podcaster, and to have that shared comment—in voice—available to other people who might also want to listen to that podcast via the podcast PodInbox page. Am I capturing things properly?
Pat: Yeah, I think you said it better than me.
Evo: So, if we look at SpeakPipe and Community and Google Voice, and you compare those to PodInbox, what does PodInbox do differently than the other solutions in the market right now?
Pat: One of the big differentiators we started with is what if we made these voicemails public? That's already very different. It seems so simple, but that nuanced difference is important because when someone comes to your page, let's say, there's not much social proof of what you do there. You don't really get to listen to other fans. You don't get to meet other fans. So we like to say ours is a lot easier and a lot more fun.
I'm always curious who else is listening to this podcast? Through our app, you can actually see who are the other super fans interacting with that podcaster. And we have these social profiles, too, similar to what you might see on Instagram or Twitter, these little profile cards that you can actually learn a little bit about the other fans, too. So we think that's interesting and different.
Evo: You're almost combining reviews with voicemails. Those reviews are public and they act as really good social proof. I see many podcasters, I am one of them, who, if I get a nice review, I will share that across my social channels. Do you see something similar for PodInbox?
Pat: Reviews is a good analogy, but I think we go a little bit beyond reviews. We really think about it as engagement because when a fan leaves a message, you as a podcaster can also leave a text or an audio reply.
So we really believe that slight touchpoint of engagement can really get that fan excited. When the fan gets really excited, that's when they become a super fan, and that's when they actually spread the news about your show with their spheres of influence or whatnot. So a reply is very different, right?
Let's say you got a voicemail, you can't actually leave a voicemail reply to the person who gave you a voicemail. You have to call them back. So it's way too involved for a lot of podcasters. We really designed this whole product with the podcaster in mind, like how much time they have, how manageable these voicemails will be. So in their dashboard, we give them tools to download the audio clip to play on their show.
We see a lot of podcasters do this to spark this fan engagement. And that's one of the downsides of, you mentioned this other tool, Google Voice. It's actually really hard to download an audio file from Google Voice. We see a lot of people still saying, "Email me your audio clip." We've heard that many times and we're like, wow, people are still doing this?
Then, of course, there's this weird exchange where people say, "Well, how do we email you an audio clip? There's no record function on email." And then, the podcaster has to reply and say, "Download an audio app and you record your audio, you download it into your Drive or whatever, and then you add it as an attachment."
That's a little cumbersome, obviously.
Evo: What's on the roadmap? You've got a great system, nice and easy. But what can podcasters look forward to with PodInbox in the coming units of time?
Pat: The feature we're really excited about is helping podcasters monetize their audience. So if you think of the Patreons of the world, or the Buy Me A Coffees of the world, we want to add that functionality to PodInbox. The reason why we're excited about it, and a lot of our users are excited about it is our philosophy is that at the point of engagements, that might be a good place to ask for monetary support. A lot of times we hear podcasters asking them to go there, to go do something, which is, maybe not the most natural thing, right? You have to go there to give money.
And what we think might be a little bit more natural—we study Twitter a lot and other places—when they're already engaging, when they're finding that value, I know you talked a lot about value for value, when they're getting value directly from that podcaster, then they might be inclined to say, wow, this podcaster actually puts a lot of work into this. I want to support this podcaster with a tip or a donation or whatever. They might be inclined to do that.
So if you imagine, they leave you a voicemail and maybe they really want you to hear it, maybe seeing a donation that comes along with that might be very eyecatching. A lot of the creator economy is based off of this notion of being appreciative for what creators do. That's what we're trending towards because there's a lot of ways to monetize, right? Sometimes there's an expectation of getting something when you give. We think that Patreon is a little bit built on that premise where you get content and things like that.
Evo: Right, support me, and I will give you access to these things, a t-shirt, a sticker. Buy something to get something, yes.
Pat: And we're not too sure how well or not well that works in the podcasting industry. A lot of podcasters have a lot of things to give, like t-shirts, and they have the time to do that, but a lot of podcasters don't. We think a lot of times fans are just so excited even to engage, that is reward enough.
Evo: Right, just having that connection, enabling that engagement and then finding clever ways to have some sort of monetary value attached to it as an option is an interesting way for them when you might want to take the next step.
A special thanks, again, to Pat for his insights here, and to PodInbox for being the Branded Benefits Sponsor for today's episode.
Engagement is at the center of everything that Pat mentioned during this short interview. And I tend to agree with Pat that making voicemails public could really change the entire landscape of feedback and reviews in general. This concept might be the better reviews we've all been looking for.
Try it out and see for yourself. If you enter "Evo" into the promo code box at sign up you'll save 30%. That gets your PodInbox down to less than six bucks a month.
Want to see it in action? There is PodInbox page for Podcast Pontifications!. Just go to PodInbox.com/evoterra, and you can listen to the messages people have already left me. And leave your own as well!
After that chat with Pat, my mind was doing what it tends to do: noodle on a variety of points made. So noodling is just what I'll do for the rest of this week.
Tomorrow, I'm going to dig deep into engagement and the power differential that exists between listeners and podcasters. Then I'll dig into the ethics behind non-standard monetization options, and I'll wrap the week by wax poetically about a world where all of the data of all podcasts was made public. That should be fun!
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.
Podcast Pontifications is written and narrated by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy, corrected the transcript, and edited the video. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.