Throughout October 2019 we launched and ran the Podcast.co Daily Alexa flash briefing.
We wanted to experiment with the new content opportunities created by voice assistants like Amazon’s Echo. The goal was to build an audience on the platform by creating something that would appeal to podcasters.
On the whole, the campaign was a success. So we’re going to continue creating daily briefings and building our audience. But we certainly learned a lot in our first month.
In this article, we’ll walk you through exactly how we planned and created content, the problems we encountered, how we solved them, our results in numbers, and how we intend to drive audience growth in future. So let’s dive in!
What is an Alexa Flash Briefing?
If you don’t own an Alexa, you might not have heard of flash briefings before. According to Amazon:
“A flash briefing provides a quick overview of news and other content such as comedy, interviews, and lists.”
Basically the idea is to deliver short-form content to listeners in the hope it will become part of their daily routine. Listeners can discover and enable flash briefing skills from the Alexa App.
To hear their flash briefing listeners simply give the command “Alexa, give me my flash briefing”. Most do this as part of their morning routine, as a way to quickly get up to speed with things that interest them.
The most popular flash briefings are those from news sites like the BBC and Fox News. But with more than 5,000 options to choose from, listeners can easily tailor their flash briefing to their own interests.
The global market for smart speakers continues to grow at a rapid rate. According to a recent report by Canalys devices like Google Home, Amazon's Echo and Apple's HomePod will overtake tablet use by 2021, when almost 400 million smart speakers will be in operation.
Given this, we wanted to become early adopters and create a briefing that would appeal specifically to podcast fans and producers (obviously!). As many people now use Amazon Echo’s to listen to podcasts, we knew there was a market there. We just had to reach them.
The Rationale for Podcast.co Daily
As a podcasting company, we’re no stranger to audio production. So creating a flash briefing seemed like a natural fit. In terms of equipment and resources, we already had everything we needed: a good microphone, recording booth, headphones, editing software etc.
Creating a flash briefing aligned with our other content marketing efforts and presented an opportunity to reach an entirely new audience. According to content marketing expert Gary Vee:
“Because voice offers a faster and easier way to do things, it will drive hundred-billion-dollar companies the size of Pandora, Facebook, and Instagram”
In addition, running our own Alexa flash briefing also gave us an incentive to stay on top of all the latest industry developments as soon as they happen!
Defining a Concept & Format
As briefings are bite-sized, we wanted to deliver as much value as possible within the available 10-minute window. And because the main idea is to give a quick overview of news, including the latest podcast headlines was a must.
But we wanted to offer listeners more than that. So we decided to follow the daily headlines with brief (4 - 8 mins) podcasting how-to guides. We felt offering actionable advice would help us reach the right kind of listeners i.e. new podcasters.
We already had plenty of relevant existing content, it just needed to be repurposed into an audio format. This made the process much more manageable. Creating a new series of how-to guides from scratch would have taken a lot more time.
The finalised format looked like this:
- Re-recorded flash briefing intro.
- Top 3 podcast headlines of the day.
- Mid CTA directing listeners to one of our free Podcast Crash Course.
- How-to guide for new podcasters.
- Closing CTA directing listeners to Podcast.co website.
To help bring the briefing to life we decided to include an upbeat track in the background from start to finish. Fading the music in and out also helped to separate out each section of the Alexa flash briefing.
Content Creation & Publishing
So how did we actually get our Alexa flash briefing up and running? The process outlined below worked well for us, so feel free to emulate it. But it might need to be tweaked slightly based on the format you’ve chosen.
First, we began work on the how-to guides. As we were launching Podcast.co Daily in October, we needed 31 different topics to cover. So we got our marketing team together in mid-September to review our existing articles and decide which to repurpose.
As our we wanted to appeal to new podcasters, our chosen topics included things like:
- Essential podcast production equipment.
- Perfecting your mic technique.
- How to prepare for podcast interviews.
With our launch date set for October 1st, we immediately got to work converting the articles into spoken-word scripts, each between 500 and 900 words. To feature a range of different voices in our briefings, we divided the scripts among our marketing team to record.
After recording, the raw audio files were stored in the same folder so they could be easily accessed again in future for the final edits. As this was the most labour intensive part of the process, it needed to be started two weeks in advance of launch.
Creating a Flash Briefing Skill
With the content creation process was well underway, we then had to get our Alexa skill set up on Amazon. The process was fairly straightforward and only took a few hours to complete.
Just like podcasts, flash briefings run on RSS feeds. So in order for Alexa to pull our audio files, we uploaded a trailer recording to Podcast.co and copied the new RSS feed over to Amazon.
For the complete step-by-step process, check out this guide on the Amazon Developer website. Once we submitted our skill for review, it was approved within 48hrs.
Alexa Flash Briefing Intro
The next step was to create and record the remaining segments of the Alexa flash briefing. So we wrote a brief intro script and had our founder James Mulvany record it.
The intro is only a few seconds long and intended to give new listeners and idea of what to expect from the briefing.
Now the only thing we needed was headlines. Obviously these couldn’t be prepared in advance, but we did set up Google and Twitter alerts to monitor the web for any mentions of “podcast” or “podcasting”. Having these in place made it much quicker to get the information we needed each day.
To break up the workload, we created a rota for researching and writing up the daily headlines. This had to be done first thing in the morning to leave enough time for the full briefing to be edited together before publishing.
To make the process easier, we followed a template for writing and recording headlines:
- Intro: Quick hello from the presenter.
- Headline 1: Top piece of news from the industry.
- Headline 2: Stats or blurb about the state of podcasting.
- Headline 3: Interesting podcast that's made the news rounds.
- Promotion: Offer value to the listener like the Podcast Crash Course.
- Segue: Passing over to the 'how-to' guide.
Overall, researching, writing, recording, editing, and publishing took about an hour split between the team.
When all these different elements were pieced together, the final product sounded like this:
Each briefing needed to be uploaded to Podcast.co before it could be played by Alexa.
We settled on 12pm as our regular publishing time as most of our customers and site visitors are from the US. By publishing at 12pm UK time, this meant our briefings would be updated early in the morning in the US.
To ensure content was still going out on the weekends, we had to come up with an alternative to the headlines so they could be pre-recorded and edited on Fridays.
On Saturdays, we decided to highlight our podcast of the week, and on Sundays, we did a roundup of the week’s top headlines. These were recorded on Friday afternoons and scheduled to go out over the weekend.
Problems & Issues
We encountered one main problem early on which were able to resolve quickly. On day two of the campaign, Alexa began by playing the previous day’s briefing before playing the latest one.
This was due to the way Alexa pulls content from the flash briefing RSS feed. If more than one briefing is published in the feed, Alexa will autoplay the last 5 listings. So to make sure only the correct briefing is played, the previous day’s briefings need to be removed from the feed.
To do this, when we uploaded a new briefing each morning, we scheduled it to be published at 12pm. The previous day’s briefing remained live up until that time. But at 12pm we had to manually log into our hosting account and move the old briefing from “published” to “unlisted” to prevent it from auto-playing.
This also meant a member of our team had to manage the RSS feed from home on the weekends on their days off. Not the most convenient process!
Google News Service
Google’s equivalent to Amazon’s flash briefings is Google News Service, available on all Google Assistant devices. We initially hoped to cross-publish our flash briefings on the News Service as well, but this wasn’t possible.
Only dedicated news publications such as the BBC and New York Times can publish on Google News Service. Companies who offer a product or a service will not get through the review process. Basically, Google News Service cannot be used as a content marketing platform.
Alexa Flash Briefing Results
Reviewing the results of the campaign at the end of the month revealed interesting insights.
Over the course of the month, 45 people enabled the Podcast.co Daily Alexa flash briefing on their smart speaker. This number grew steadily over the course of the month, as we achieved an average of almost 2 user enablements a day.
The maximum number of user enablements we had in a day was 5, on October 5th. This increase was likely the result of our promotional activity around the launch of the campaign.
But just because our skill was enabled doesn’t mean our Alexa flash briefing was played on each device everyday. Many users listen to their flash briefing occasionally rather than everyday, and this was clear in our results. Despite being enabled on 45 devices, our briefing was actually played an average of 3 times a day.
Over the course of the month, our briefing was played a total of 91 times. The maximum number of plays we had in a day was 8, on October 15th. There is no obvious explanation why plays were higher on this day. But it’s safe to assume that as our number of enablements increases, so to will the average number of plays per day
While these numbers aren’t mind-blowing, we feel our experiment was a success based on our number of user enablements. As we saw steady growth in October with roughly 2 new enablements a day, we feel this trend is likely to continue moving forward.
As with most other platforms, it will take time to build up an audience. But we feel confident this is worth pursuing. Alexa flash briefings offer a uniquely intimate way of connecting with our audience.
Few things are as personal as the sound of a human voice, especially when it’s coming from a smart speaker situated in your kitchen or living room!
Key Lessons & Takeaways
By the end of the month, there were several key lessons we learned that will affect how we run our flash briefings moving forward.
First of all, we realised it’s unsustainable to keep creating how-to guides for the flash briefings. In future, we will only be publishing the latest daily podcast headlines. This will cut down the workload significantly. The guides were very time consuming to write, record, and edit on an ongoing daily basis.
However, all the audio content we created for October hasn’t gone to waste. We turned them into their own show called Podcast Lab. The guides can now be found embedded at the top of relevant articles on our site, providing listeners with an alternative way of consuming the content.
We also found it wasn’t practical to continue publishing content on the weekend, as it meant somebody had to manage the briefing RSS feed on their days off. So from November on, we will be publishing headlines Monday to Friday only.
The last important lesson we learned was to have a clearly defined workflow in place for content production. As there were lots of people involved in the production process, it could get confusing at times.
Initially, we had some trouble coordinating who was doing what, but we now have a clearly defined rota in our Google calendars assigning responsibility for the following tasks:
- Researching and writing up the latest headlines.
- Recording the headlines.
- Editing the flash briefing.
- Scheduling the flash briefing and unlisting the previous one.
Working in this way, we can now create our Alexa flash briefing in less than an hour with minimal hassle.
Our main goal for the next few months is to increase our number of enablements. So far, we have only advertised our Alexa flash briefing to our newsletter subscribers. And most promotional activities happened during the first week of October.
So by using paid social advertising, we hope to hit an average of 5 enablements a day. As our flash briefing continues to build momentum, we expect additional growth to come through word of mouth.
When we have built an audience of a few hundred people, the next step will be to maximize the number of course sign-ups we get through the flash briefing CTA.
We’ve got a way to go to reach our Alexa flash briefing goals, but we’re looking forward to the challenge!