Even if you’ve never heard one, you probably know about podcasts – downloadable audio files on a variety of topics, from crime to comedy, politics to pop culture. A recent New York magazine cover story on the podcast phenomenon estimated there are now about 660,000 podcasts in production, reaching more than 60 million listeners.

Podcasting was born in the mid-2000s, shortly after the first portable mp3 players hit the market. The word “podcast” is a portmanteau of “broadcast” and “iPod,” making it a somewhat archaic term, as nowadays most of us listen to them on smartphones, not iPods.

Associations have begun discovering the power of podcasts as a tool to reach members, other stakeholders and the public. We don’t expect them to replace other communications media, but they can go places where others can’t – literally.

Unlike videos and webinars that are best watched, and newsletters that must be read, podcasts don’t require eyeballs – just ears. They can be consumed in the car, on the job, at the gym and anywhere else a smartphone can go.

Podcasts are not only portable; they’re flexible. They can be any length, from a few minutes to an hour or more. The format can be adjusted to suit the content – lecture, conversation, interview, documentary or whatever your imagination can come up with.

Podcast listeners are highly engaged. They are actively listening to the material, not using it as the spoken-word equivalent of background music. And they act on what they hear: In a 2016 survey of podcast listeners by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Edison Research, 65 percent said they would be willing to purchase a product or service advertised on a favorite podcast. Another survey by Midroll Media, which owns a podcasting network and a podcast ad sales company, found that 63 percent had actually purchased something advertised on a podcast.

As for content, associations have discovered multiple uses for podcasts:

Sharing association news and views: interviews or conversations with officers, board members, committee chairs, staff, sponsors and others about new developments, upcoming events, new business relationships and other issues pertinent to the membership

Disseminating industry news, such as new laws and technologies affecting members’ day-to-day operations and news stories relevant to the work they do

Public information: “ask the expert” segments, behind-the-scenes stories from the industry or profession the association represents, pointers on choosing a dealer or provider, and reasons to choose an association member

All of the above. Some industry insider podcasts attract attention from listeners who are not the target audience. In an article for the American Society of Association Executives, Mark Athitakis cites “Convenience Matters,” a podcast by the National Association of Convenience Stores that encompasses both shop talk and general interest material.

“ ‘Convenience Matters’ has done a deep dive into the naming of convenience stores — why all those odd spellings of ‘quick’ and ‘easy’? — and interviewed a man who successfully maintained a healthy diet for a month on convenience-store food alone,” he writes. “That mix of eclectic but relevant fare has earned NACS a steady audience for its weekly podcast, which draws about 2,000 downloads every month.”

For Dr. Vincent Racaniello, a microbiologist at Columbia University, the numbers are even more impressive. In partnership with the American Society for Microbiology, Racaniello hosts three weekly podcasts, “This Week in Virology,” “This Week in Microbiology” and “This Week in Parasitism.” Each new episode gets about 5,000 downloads on the day it is released, up to around 20,000 a month.

Those aren’t all scientists or ASM members either – in fact, they account for only a third of his listeners, he tells Athitakis. “We get lots of laborers. We get truck drivers, mail delivery people, we get policemen.”

If you’re interested in taking your association down the podcast path, familiarizing yourself with other podcasts related to your field is a good starting point. The iPhone has a podcast app that lets you search for content as well as play it. Android users can find podcasts in the Google Play store. Music apps such as Spotify and iHeartRadio also host them.

Listen with a critical ear – ask yourself what you like and dislike about each podcast, how valuable you find the content, and how your association’s podcast could supplement the content that’s already out there.

Once you’re ready to get started, has a wealth of information, including this article that covers everything from determining your podcast’s mission and target audience to choosing hardware and software and uploading your podcast to the internet.

Share the finished product with us on ADG’s social media – we’ll help you get the word out.