It's been interesting reading some of the reactions by business bloggers to General Motors' first experiment with podcasting last week. This Technorati list has lots of blog commentaries, mostly positive, although most don't discuss the podcasts from the specific communication point of view.
Quick recap: GM produced two MP3 files that they mentioned in a post last Thursday relating to new-model car launches at the Chicago Auto Show. Both files were made available via an RSS feed from the GM Fastlane Blog. And both audio files were the sound portion of audio-visual webcasts, ie, not audio shows produced specifically for podcasting.
Among the bloggers whose posts I read, I saw that Christopher Carfi gives it a big thumbs down. My colleague (and fellow podcaster) Shel Holtz says the podcast is a bust. In contrast, Steve Rubel sees it as more innovation from GM. Jon Froda likes the fact that GM experiments. That's how I see it, too - while it does remain to be seen how successful this will be (it was only last week!), GM has taken a great step forward with this experiment in trying out the medium.
There can't be any doubt about it - this represents the start-up phase of business podcasting, both in producing and delivering podcasts as well as being associated with podcasts as sponsors. There is at least one example of focused business podcasting - Christopher's company, Cerado, announced a week ago that it will start delivering podcasts to customers as part of the company's business offering, claiming to be the first to do so. Paul Chaney at Radiant Marketing is getting into podcasting. Then there was news last Friday that Volvo is sponsoring the first podcast from Autoblog.
If you want more evidence that podcasting (in general) is attracting more attention and really taking off, take a look at this, from FeedBurner. It measures the growing number of podcast RSS feeds that FeedBurner's SmartCast service handles:
We launched SmartCast in October of 2004, and by the end of the year, we were managing about 750 podcasts via the SmartCast service. That total is now up to 1,750. This chart breaks down growth by week since service launch.
[...] We measured 13,500 listeners to podcasts that FeedBurner managed at the beginning of January and 24,000 listeners at the beginning of February. Doing the math from the chart, you can see that this runs at a steady average of about 14-15 listeners per podcast. When you plot the curve of listeners across all the podcasts we manage, it looks like the characteristic "long tail" power curve that we see for blog feed subscribers.
See FeedBurner's post last Thursday for detailed commentary on these stats.
While there aren't yet any clear conclusions you can draw on how many podcasts are truly business-focused (unlike, say, Adam Curry's show the Daily Source Code, which is consumer-focused, like popular radio), I think it is a safe bet to say that business use is rapidly growing.
Indeed, I can give you one small example from my direct experience.
Shel Holtz and I started For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report podcast at the beginning of January. Each weekly show (twice weekly, from this week) is 100% business focused - we talk about business communication and technology, and interview interesting people in most shows. During January, downloads of the MP3 file for each show have been showing steady volume increase, to a little over 300 for the whole of January including the two additional specials we did at the New Communications Forum 2005 conference (so averaging about 40 downloads per show).
But we're seeing strong growth - including last week's show, for instance, we've already hit nearly 620 downloads in February, with half the month still to go.
Whether that's just a spike, we'll find out soon enough. Hopefully it means people like listening to what we have to offer, rather than having subscribed in error to the RSS feed or downloaded it by mistake ;) And we don't know if all those MP3s translate into actual listeners.
Doing a podcast is quite simple and requires little in the way of equipment or expense. It is very easy indeed for literally anyone to give it a go.
Whichever way you look at it, podcasting is getting serious attention as a business communication tool.