Thinking about adding podcasting to your business’ overall social media marketing mix?  If you are, you’re either looking at the beginning of great things or something that will eventually be too easily filed under the heading of “learning experience.”

Podcasts — done well — can be great.  They build loyalty to your business or brand.  They establish you as an authority in your field.  They personalize your business or brand by putting an accessible and relatable face (or voice) behind the product.  But let’s get down to the brass tacks:  they’re work, and they are exactly whatever you’re willing to make of them.  Before you make that commitment, here are thirteen simple questions you should ask yourself before doing a podcast:

Do I know what I podcast even is?If the answer to this is no, chances are you’re considering doing it for the wrong reasons.  These reasons could include “it’s the thing to do,” or even “my social media consultant told me I need to do one.”  Do you listen to podcasts yourself, or even know how to do so?  To be a successful podcaster, you really need to partake in the medium to see the real value and potential in it.  Learn what they are, and take the time to find some that interest you.  The podcast directory on iTunes is your best starting point.  Being a podcast consumer may also go a long way to informing what yours could become.
Why am I going to podcast?Podcasts created without a purpose, a passion or a unique point of view are most often the deadliest to listen to, and the most forgettable.  Having a general idea of why you’re going to start a podcast is a pretty important prerequisite.  If you’re looking at doing it solely to round out your social media marketing efforts, you’re going to waste a lot of resources solely in order to please yourself.  Think of it in terms of what it will offer your customers — your potential audience.  What are you going to focus on?  What can you include that sets you apart from your competitors?  Are you going to be able to sustain an ongoing series of episodes?  Do you have a unique voice or perspective to bring the world on your subject, and how can you express that?
Who is my audience?If you’re doing a podcast for your business, your answer may simply be “my customers.”  But you also want it to be your potential customers.  Do you want to zero in your main customer base, or are you looking to attract a totally different swath of clientele?  A good podcast with great content and a unique voice can be a great way to broaden your usual base of customers.  Identify who you’re aiming for, and stay focused.
Why would people want to listen to this?Don’t give your listeners information they don’t want.  Don’t be an audible brochure for your business.  Give them something fresh and new about your business.  Give them your perspective on industry trends.  Give them a window into the company that a visit to your location may not typically afford them.  Give them tips.  Give them a taste of you and your passion for what you do.

Look at the podcast from the listener’s perspective.  Why would I want to not only listen to the first episode, but subscribe to it?  Why would I take the time to sync this to my iPod or download it to my phone?  What makes me want to fill my daily commute with this show as opposed to another podcast or the traditional radio?  Entertain them.  Inform them.  Let them into your world.  Give them an opinion.  Make it personal.
Who is going to be involved?Now we’re starting to get into the logistics of this thing called podcasting.  Identify who’s going to be involved in the podcast, both in front of the microphone and behind.  For most small businesses, there probably aren’t separate people wearing those hats.  Who’s going to “host?”  Is there more than one?  There’s no right or wrong answer here, but there are reasons to answer this question early.  If you’re not one who can espouse ideas or topics freely, perhaps you may want to pair up with someone you can play off of.  Nailing down this question will also help us further down the line when it comes to figuring out what gear — if any — you’ll need to obtain to start.
What form is this podcast going to take?You may have an idea already.  You may not.  Again, there’s no right or wrong answer here.  That’s the freedom of a podcast — there’s no rules.  It is whatever you want it to be.  It most often takes on the guise of a talk radio show, but that’s not to say that’s what you need to do.  Make it a simple conversation with your audience.  Answer questions.  Conduct interviews with members of your team, customers you do business with, or key figures in your industry.  Do “theater of the mind.”  It really can be whatever you want it to be and what you’re comfortable doing.

Bear in mind, also, that a “podcast” doesn’t necessarily have to be long-winded monologues to be effective.  Short, meaningful bites on a regular basis can be just as enjoyable for your audience.  Maybe a daily or weekly “quick tip” or perspective on an industry trend would be an achievable goal.
How often am I going to do episodes?A podcast is a series of episodes, and maintaining an engaged audience requires a certain amount of regularity.  Set a goal that’s realistic and attainable in the short term.  Change it if you need to.  If things are going well and you’re getting good results and feedback, consider upping the regularity, or adding “bonus content.”  If it’s becoming a burden, don’t be so quick to give up.  Scale back if you need to in order to keep your commitment.  Just don’t go months between episodes.  Engaged listeners will quickly tune out if you leave them wanting.
Will this be audio or video?If you’re going to make a video podcast, have a good reason to do so.  Whatever amount of work it takes to do a successful audio podcast doubles with video.  Have a reason and make the commitment.  What are you going to offer your audience in video form that cannot be done in audio?  If you’re simply going to be a “talking head” without giving the audience any useful or relevant visual information, simply do audio.  Podcasting is a medium that requires the audience to actively seek out what they consume, and most will do so when and where they can.  If you’re doing a video podcast, make an audio version available.  It cuts down on download time for those with weak connections and fits into the lifestyles of the more “casual” consumers who listen while driving or doing other things.
What do I need to get to make this podcast?This will largely depend on what your show is and how many players are involved.  Podcasts can be as simple as recording audio on your laptop’s built-in microphone to larger-scale setups with multiple participants and a mixer full of microphones.  This is an area where a competant social media pro, preferably with a background in multimedia production, comes in handy.  You may be able to do it with stuff you already own, or you may need to purchase gear to suppliment.  Generally speaking, the more ambitious you are, the more stuff you need.  Take the time and make the investment to be adaquately-equipped and trained to do a high quality product.  It really sets you apart from the rest of the pack and reflects your commitment to your audience.

That said, there are lots of non-traditional ways to equip yourself for podcasting without spending a lot of money.  I come from the school of guerilla media.  Sometimes you have to make do with what you have.  I like to equip clients with the best gear for what they can afford.  That doesn’t mean pricey.  It can often mean taking the time to do a lot of homework on what’s available so you make the right choices to keep yourself flexible.

For example, instead of spending a lot on both a camcorder for video and audio gear for doing an audio podcast, you can achieve both!  Get a good camcorder with a microphone input and a decent lavaliere or handheld microphone.  Use the camcorder as your audio recording device with the microphone.  Then you just open it up in your video editor of choice, trim or embellish as needed and save only an MP3.
Where will this podcast live?There are many ways to podcast, and equally as many places where your podcast can live.  If you have a website, you may already have the tools in place to host a podcast.  If your website is based in a popular open-source content management system like WordPress or Drupal, there are fantastic plug-ins available that put the necessary infrastructure in place to do it yourself.  Otherwise, there are plenty of great services out there that can host your podcast and provide the syndication mechanisms to make it available to podcast clients like iTunes.  We like Liberated Syndication and Pod-O-Matic.   Some are free.  Some cost money.  Those that cost money may offer varying additional benefits like smartphone apps and statistics.
How committed am I to making this work?If you’re on the fence, don’t know what to say, or have your time divided amongst too many other endeavors, now may not be the best time to start a podcast.  It may also be a matter of not having your concept honed to the point where you’re excited enough to make it work.  If that’s the way you’re feeling, keep working on it!  Expect to commit time to create the show, to get it running, to come up with topics to talk about or to book guests to interview.  Don’t forget the time to upload media to the web, the time to promote it, and it doesn’t stop there.  Successful podcasts are nurtured, and they’re needy animals.  Don’t half-ass it.  Don’t expect it to build itself.  It takes work, and commitment from you.  Make it or don’t, but don’t waffle.
How will I promote this, or tie it into my other social media endeavors?Cross-promotion is key.  Promote new episodes on Facebook and Twitter.  Link to it on your website.  Tell your customers about it.  There’s lots of ways to get the word out.  It may be a mere component of your overall marketing, but to make it take off, it takes a fair amount of promotion in and of itself.  Sell it as you would any of your core products.  Find circles of similar interest online, participate in them and get the word out there.  Take it to the people, slowly build an audience and encourage them to help you spread the word.  Don’t make your podcast a one-way street.  Encourage interaction from your audience.  Give them avenues for feedback or to solicit answers from you.  Make it conversational and engaging!
How will I measure success?
With something this time consuming, you’re bound to get into it and wonder why you’re doing it.  Make realistic goals and set your expectations before you start.  How will you know it’s working?  Will it be your direct audience feedback?  Will it be the number of downloads you receive?  Will it be increased traffic or sales?  How can you tie one to the other so you know the podcast is causing it?  Know what you want out of this before going into it in the first place.  Set realistic short-term goals and build on them as you go along.But most of all, don’t let negatives get you down.  Like anything else online, there will be those that either simply don’t like what you’re doing or make it their mission to cut you down.  Sadly, they can sometimes be the most vocal.  Don’t get discouraged.  Take it as constructive feedback.  You can’t please everybody.  Sure, some people may tell you that you don’t have a professional radio voice or say “umm” or “uhh” too much.  Don’t sweat the piddly stuff, but always strive to do something you’re proud of and shows the genuine you.