Podcasting basics for MICE professionals — Interview with Valerie Wagner, founder of Hotel-O-Motion

Valerie’s updates were constantly visible on my Twitter feed in the past one and a half years, and she is notably active in the digital space when it comes to hotels, hospitality and MICE. Her podcast Stimmen für die Hotellerie and her blog Hotel-O-Motion offer weekly interviews with various experts from hotels, event planners and attendees about the latest trends in this industry, with a key focus on digitalisation, particularly digital hotel management. She helps hoteliers digitalise their processes for increased guest satisfaction, higher employee retention and improving the bottom line. She tackles the daily challenges and looks at how they can be solved with practical tips and the digital tools available.

After meeting ‘online’, we met face to face at the mbt meetingplace in Frankfurt last year and kept in touch afterwards. Valerie launched her podcast less than two years ago and it has already secured a remarkable reputation in the MICE industry. Because we share a joint passion for social media and digital marketing, a topic that interests us a great deal is influencer marketing, and therefore we also recently recorded a podcast about this area in relation to the MICE industry. As a result, we’ve decided to continue producing a short podcast series of five episodes, focusing specifically on the aspect of hotels and MICE.

Podcasting is growing in popularity, with more individuals and businesses recording, listening to and talking about podcasting. There are not enough corporates in our industry yet, but clearly a change is occurring. Podcasting is effective because it goes directly into the ear of your listeners. But why is podcasting important for business and who is listening? 

According to Valerie, podcasts have begun to attract increased attention in the past year. Everybody is talking about podcasts and more and more people are starting to record one. This shift can be also seen on the front of technology providers. For example, the music streaming service Spotify bought Gimlet and Anchor (two podcast companies) earlier this year, demonstrating this shift and how important podcasts have become. Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, has formulated the goal of becoming the leading platform for podcast developers. Apple is also attempting to improve their tools on iTunes, for example by finally adding statistics. Facebook also moved into the audio area in 2017, offering users to choose between live video or audio on its platform, although that work has not subsequently continued. Whether Facebook will try it again is currently unknown.   

And who is listening? Firstly, you need to define your target audience — for MICE professionals, these are the people who want to book a venue, hotel guests or event attendees (i.e. those who are looking for what to do in the area and how to enhance their event/ travel experience). The question is: Who is your target group and what do they want to hear? And what is your goal with your podcast?

Today, podcasts are similar to listening to a radio program. Everyone can listen to podcasts because there are various apps for iOS and Android as well as streaming services, such as iTunes, Google Play, Spotify or TuneIn. Even Alexa can play podcasts if it is listed on Alexa Skill (one is called fyyd), for example. And Siri can play podcasts because it is connected with iTunes of course.

Do you see it as a way to prolong the event lifecycle?  For example, recording an episode with a speaker, or even recording the full presentation and afterwards publishing it as a podcast?

Yes. You can make all aspects of your events audible. For example, I’ve recorded two such episodes at an event. Once, I talked to the organisers about their event and asked how the event idea came about, and regarding the topics they chose for their conference. Another time I interviewed the keynote speaker, event participants and a content creator. By way of doing this, I was able to bring the event to my listeners. 

Testimonials are excellent for a podcast about the event, too. Or another example ‘behind the scenes’ impressions: an organiser’s story from idea inception to execution. There are no limits to creativity. I remember one example where the speaker on stage talked about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for podcasts at a conference, and this live session was also recorded for a podcast. This is an example of how to prolong event lifecycle for those who weren’t there, and possibly create a desire to attend in the future. But things like that shouldn’t be left to chance. This requires good sound quality and must be incorporated into the organisation of the event. The same as you would do with video. A good podcast is about 20–30 minutes long. Listeners often listen when they can’t look at something and that captures their full attention. 

Is podcasting the new ’sponsorship’ platform for event sponsors? How can event sponsors use it effectively?

Podcasts go straight to the ear. They’re listened to on the way to work, in the car, in the bathroom in the morning and so on. The human voice is very personal and creates trust, and as a result increases engagement. Therefore, it makes the transmitter of information, the podcaster, tangible, authentic and real. This is an organiser’s chance to give more ‘personality’ to their sponsors.

There are two ways to involve your event sponsors in the podcast. First, the possibility to host an interview about their involvement with the event: how they contribute (e.g., content sessions, equipment). Second, sponsored placements in the podcast, disclosed as ‘advertising.’ For example, I also offer three different sponsor packages. Most importantly, sponsored placements must fit the target group and offer the listener added value. 

Let’s look at the technical part: is it difficult to start with a podcast? What are the barriers for entry? (time, money, technical skills etc.)

Starting a podcast takes time. If you can’t outsource it, you have to learn the technical part by yourself. You need to familiarise yourself with the various recording tools, microphone, sound. I recorded my first podcast on 18 November 2017 and have since made major improvements. 

I started with Skype and got myself a small recording tool. But Skype compresses the soundtracks to a high extent so that in the end you have very bad sound quality, which you can’t improve with any programme. Then, I worked with zencastr but found it unstable. After gaining this experience, I’ve decided to upgrade my tool kit and found a solution that provides me with a virtual recording studio. The quality is excellent! I have the possibility to virtually invite my guests into my show and can edit the audio tracks afterwards! I can play music in between and bring in up to six guests in remote mode. Great! This new tool, Ultraschall, is not free and costs 65 EUR, but the quality and possibilities to work on a soundtrack are worth it. But it also takes time to learn how to use it by yourself. Therefore, you need passion and willingness to learn it. The good thing is that Ultraschall developers have a forum where you can always get help with all your questions about podcasting. The community is great!

What are your thoughts on podcasting vs. YouTube? 

Both formats have their advantages and disadvantages. Podcasts are an addition to an existing mix of your current marketing activities. Personally, I will watch a video for 4–5 minutes but will listen to a podcast for longer. Content producers need to understand how their audience consumes the information. Also, for those who can’t see or hear, podcasts are more accessible.

Voice search is not yet developed, how do you get your podcast discovered?

According to marketing experts, voice search will have a search volume of 50% by 2020. That’s next year! Currently, Alexa gets information about Yelp, Siri will find search queries through Bing and Google Assistant will find search queries through Google. But behind it we still have text, that’s why you need a description. And that means text will always be necessary. That’s why I transcribe every episode and publish it online as a blog post on my site. I host my podcast on my own. That means I am not on a platform but upload the soundtrack directly into WordPress — the content management system I use. From there, I distribute it to the different platforms via a plugin. So, it’s always my content, I don’t give the rights to Spotify or any other service. The Podcast Services get the content via an RSS feed and the listeners can listen to it via their preferred app.

If you look at the digital landscape, let’s say you are an event organiser who uses social media, newsletters, video and now want to start a podcast. Where does it fit in this mix? 

A podcast should be used as content on your own website or blog. It should complement the existing content and provide added value. That’s why I decided to use an interview format for my podcast. In my blog posts, I write about digital hotel management, giving tips and ideas to my readers. In the podcast, I would like to hear different opinions and get into conversations. There, I talk to software providers, event planners or hoteliers about the industry. In my series ‘Stimmen für die Hotellerie’, I talk to hoteliers about their challenges and how they can solve them. 

For MICE professionals, I can imagine talking about the challenges of event planners — how they plan events, what challenges there are and what the solution is, as well as how an event is created, which steps follow, what the purpose of the event is, which marketing formats are used, and so on. Or just on-site feedback from participants, speakers or organisers. The same applies to destinations. 

In addition, ambassadors can be invited for conversations with citizens living in the region, owners of museums, wineries or other local venues. There are no limits to creativity. 

Who will you be targeting (the young audience, the same audience as the other platform — meaning you need to produce new content, the commuters etc.) and what will a possible podcasting strategy look like (in a nutshell!)? 

A strategy is absolutely necessary. Simply ‘doing it’ is basically right, but it has to be done with sense, understanding and a goal. Should it be voices from the industry for the industry or testimonials, tips for event planners, presentation of tools or providers? There are so-called ‘babbling’ podcasts, in which two event planners can talk, simply for entertainment. There are a few of them. 

How long should an episode be? There are podcasts that go over two hours. Yes, there really are. That’s like midnight television — perhaps rather unsuitable for a corporate podcast. It is important that the podcast is authentic and that the listeners identify with the podcaster and its message. Similar to blogging, it may not be too commercial, but must always offer an increase in value. Podcast hosts need to be clear regarding what their target group needs and what they want to achieve with the podcast.

The following are questions to ask prior to starting a podcast and defining a strategy: 

  • Who do I want to reach?
  • What do I want to achieve?
  • How do I want to achieve this?
  • Which podcast format do I want to use? (Interview, monologue, testimonials…)
  • How long should my episodes be? — Tip: Between 20–30 minutes is perfect — you can almost be sure that it will be heard from beginning to end.

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