October 17, 2022
You can get basic information like listen dates, rough locations, and devices used, but you cannot get the email and other specifics of listeners.
- It all begins with radio when it comes to understanding listeners
- Radio adds meters to surveys to improve accuracy
- Strengths and limitations of podcasts
- Apple makes concessions and adds Apple Podcast Connect
- Privacy and podcasting trends
Last week a company asked me how many listeners to my podcast work for the Department of Defense.
The podcast answer: You can get general information, but no specifics
This is not the first time people have asked about listening habits. People have been asking that question to radio stations for almost one hundred years!
The radio answer: Different details than podcasts, but just general information as well
Commercial radio was popularized in the 1920s. Before a soap manufacturer would advertise, they wanted to know who was listening to their ad. Companies like Neilsen responded by handing out surveys to people and presenting the results to stations that, in turn, would use data derived for that to sell ads.
There is a myriad of problems with self-reported surveys. For example, how accurate was the detail in listening habits? How would they select the people to keep those journals?
In response to that, around 2011 Nielsen began an additional way listeners were measured. People were selected to carry around a small device, about the size of a pager, and it would sense a wave form that was included in the radio signal. Much better than a paper survey, but it has flaws as well.
What happens if you are sitting in a dentist’s office listening to the music piped in? The “beeper” technology could give you the duration of the listen and some basic characteristics, like county or city. Today we can see meters as well as surveys being used to determine who is listening to a radio station.
This information from surveys or devices is presented in segments of 15 minutes.
Why 15 minutes? In the 1920s soap operas on the radio were 15 minutes.
The fifteen minutes became formalized in Average Quarter-Hours (AQH) per person. When four are put together in a month, it is called Cumulative/accumulated audience or CUME for commercial radio audiences.
Every month, radio managers take these results and crunch them to be able to sell ads, or, in the case of public radio, get donations. Battles are fought every day with large radio stations about CUME.
What about podcasts?
Most podcasts are on Apple, and they are serious about protecting the privacy of listeners. Podcasting hosting companies, like Libsyn, can give you rough information.
- Number of downloads per show
- Dates when listened to
- Geographic locations (country)
- User agents (Chrome, Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Mozilla, Spotify, etc.)
In 2021, Apple released a tool called Apple Podcast Connect. It can sample an Apple podcast and tell you how long a specific episode was listened to. They label this “consumption.”
Podcast analytics companies like Listen Notes have algorithms to produce something they call a “Listen Score.” They use a proprietary algorithm to look at the communication method for podcasts, an RSS feed. They rank these podcasts from 0 – one hundred, with one hundred as the most popular.
Same problem as one hundred years ago
We have already mentioned the problems with self-reporting surveys. Some podcasts will ask listeners to fill out a survey. Who, exactly, will give their email address to a podcast? Who will complete surveys via email? Finally, would the answers be accurate?
Let us say 100% of your listeners know there is a survey on your show notes page and 100% go to the page and give 100% accurate answers. From there, you may be able to look at email addresses and ask the question that precipitated this article: How many people from the DoD listen to your podcast?
For example, you could look at the email addresses. If the email ends in a “.gov” or “.mil” you could surmise they work for the federal government. Not the Pentagon, the 2.85 million employee federal government.
Also, an estimated 3,000 contractors are working inside the Pentagon who would not fit this analysis because they have email that ends in a “.com.” Today, everybody has a business email and a Gmail address. Which one are they going to use for the survey? How accurate would this method be?
My high school statistics teacher would be able to tear that survey methodology to pieces.
Podcasting vs. the Digital Promise
Digital advertising promised that an advertiser finally knew exactly where their ad dollars went. Rather than “spray and pray,” the attraction was you could target your advertising spend.
This concept is accurate with a company blog. A web administrator could place a bit of code on their site and get a great idea of who was reading the blog. This information could be aggregated in a free tool Google offers called Google Analytics.
The people who ask the question about podcast listeners may be quite familiar with Google Analytics and radio CUME. As a result, they ask how many people from the DoD listen to your podcast. Because of hearing terms from web analytics and radio marketers, they assume they can have that level of knowledge of listeners.
Alas, these marketing people are applying the wrong terms to podcasting. A radio station cannot tell you how many people from the Department of Defense listen to their station, they can make a guess. If the radio station or podcast has a website, they may be able to get email from visitors and extrapolate. They may try to make approximate deductions.
The digital promise of knowing exactly where each dollar is spent may work for Google, Facebook, blogs, and even email. Podcasting is a different beast.
You can get a clear idea of the number of downloads. But think about it. If you subscribe to six podcasts, they will be delivered. Is a download a listen? How much did they listen to?
Radio was in its infancy in The Roaring Twenties; podcasting is in its infancy in the 2020s.
Be wary of radio stations or podcasts who offers specific percentages of who listens. Ask some basic questions so you can make decisions based on data.
Today’s environment of protecting privacy does not bode well for people trying to get detailed information about listeners.
For a company, a podcast is a great tool for brand awareness and increasing reach.
Has been in front of a microphone since 1991. He can help you structure, launch, and promote your company podcast. firstname.lastname@example.org