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Listen up: how podcasts can create regular museum goers

The power of the podcast is not to be ignored. With the rise and rise of digital platforms over the past two decades, the popularity of recorded discussions, conversations and insights has skyrocketed.

While so many aspects of the Internet appear to have shortened attention spans and encouraged content consumers to indulge in soundbites and click-bait, podcasts have provide that there is still a place for long-form content and that there remains an appetite for a more thorough investigation of a subject matter.

Nowadays, podcasts scan pretty much every topic and every viewpoint, from politics to cooking to dating to sports. With a click of a button, listeners can choose to tune in to something funny, something inspiring, something educational or something informative. Whatever you find yourself craving, chances are there’s a podcast for it.

And the arts are no exception to this rule. More and more museums are dipping their toe into the big wide world of podcasts, many with successful results. But how does the museum experience translate to a purely audible format, and can a museum podcast help to develop more invested and loyal museum goers?

Just how popular are podcasts?

Firstly, it is pertinent to note that the term “Podcast” is something of an umbrella term, as there are so many different kinds of podcasts spanning the entire spectrum of possible subject matters. Tuning into a podcast can feel like attending an academic lecture, or it can feel like listening in on a casual conversation between a group of friends. And while this might make the prospect of creating a podcast daunting, it also provides the opportunity to create something truly reflective of your voice, style and subject.

And podcast domination isn’t going anywhere any time soon. On Spotify – one of the top streaming platforms in the world – there are more than half a million podcasts available across 75 countries and territories. More than half (51%) of Americans aged 12 or older have listened to a podcast, and in 2019 144 million US adults listened to a podcast. That’s a rise of 20 million on 2018’s number.

In the UK, nearly six million people tune into a podcast every week, and the number of weekly podcast listeners grew from 7% of the adult population in 2013 to 11% in 2018, and has continued to grow since.

While comedy remains the most popular podcast genre overall, podcasts specialising in areas like business, self-care, self-improvement and success have also seen a significant global audience growth. However, one of the areas seeing the most significant growth is art and culture, providing an opportunity for museum spaces.

What benefits can podcasts offer museums?

One of the main benefits of the podcast format for museums is that it is cheap to make. All you need is a willing host and a strong niche that has plenty of potential for exploration over time. What’s more, listening to a podcast is, by its very nature, an intimate experience. It creates a direct bond between speaker and listener.

This can be particularly beneficial for museums. Two of the greatest challenges to museums are time and attention spans. Most people don’t have nearly enough time on their hands to uncover everything that a museum has to offer during their visit, but a podcast allows them to tune in and make discovering a museum’s secrets part of their daily lives. While walking the dog, doing the shopping or preparing the dinner, they can also be strengthening their understanding of a particular institution’s fascinating collection.

And this is where the crux of the benefit of podcast lies for museums. By nurturing that relationship between listener and institution alive, museums have the opportunity to create not only loyal podcast followers but also more engaged advocates who will visit the museum themselves and encourage others to do so in the process.

The Brooklyn Historical Society

The key to a successful museum podcast is being true to the museum itself – finding a voice and an angle that reflects the institution and what its visitors value most.

In some cases, this might mean engaging with the local area and community. The Brooklyn Historical Society is a fantastic example of this. The organisation has a podcast called Flatbush & Main, which uses interviews and archived content in order to share fascinating stories from Brooklyn’s history.

By doing this, the society has helped to cement itself as a staple of Brooklyn culture – a place that shows love for its habitat and, in return, receives love and loyalty back.

The Minneapolis Institute of Art

Another option for museums is to keep the focus of their podcast very much internal. After all, people visit museums to see artworks and artefacts on display, but few are able to glean the full story behind every exhibit in one visit.

This is certainly the approach taken by The Minneapolis Institute of Art, who found great success with their podcast series simply titled The Object. Each episode looks at a particular item housed within the museum, going into detail about its aesthetics, its cultural significance, its history, its connections to other objects and its wider meaning.

This technique helps to keep the fire of curiosity alive for visitors. Co-chief art critic for The New York Times, Holland Cotter, wrote in 2016 that museums need to reclaim their role as tellers of truth and explainers of history. People come to museums to be informed, to be inspired, and giving each item in an exhibition its own individual focus and spotlight is a fantastic way to provide this.

Strategy and passion are key to engagement

There is no right or wrong way to create a museum podcast, only a requirement to add value and maintain authenticity. A museum podcast can provide a complementary or supplementary service to museum goers; it can be seen as an educational tool for listeners around the world; and it can, of course, act as a form of online PR that ultimately serves to drive future footfall.

Podcasting helps museums engage directly with their public, but it also offers the public a more direct and regular line of communication and engagement with museums. A podcast provides not just a platform for providing information, but a chance to start a conversation, one which can lead to stronger relationships all round.

About the author – Rebecca Carlsson

Rebecca Carlsson is a journalist writing extensively about the arts. She has a passion for modern art and when she’s not writing about museums, she can be found spending her weekends in them.

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