Are Podcast ‘Super Listeners’ Audio Advertising’s Next Sweet Spot?

96% of the most dedicated fans recommend shows to friends

Sources: Getty Images

We all have that podcast friend—the one who can’t seem to stop referencing podcasts and telling you which ones you have to listen to. But it turns out these “super listeners” could be useful for marketers, according to a new report by the Knight Foundation and Edison Research.

Researchers interviewed almost 29,000 podcast listeners who listen to NPR, WYNC, American Public Media, WBUR, PRX and/or Gimlet Media and coined the term to describe that friend of yours. As the report explains, super listeners are the most active slice of the podcast pie, and while they don’t fully represent every kind of podcast fan, they end up being the most supportive and participatory when it comes to podcasts. These listeners place a great deal of trust in podcasts as news and entertainment sources.

About 33 percent of respondents ranked podcasts as very trustworthy, putting national newspapers only slightly higher at 35 percent. Social media and cable news, however, landed at the bottom of that those rankings at 1 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

Super listeners also prefer quality over quantity, ranking longer in-depth stories more favorably than multiple short segments during a show—though about half of listeners in the study had no preference when it came to story length. They also are news conscious. About four out of 13 shows they listen to on a weekly basis feature local, national or international news. But how frequently are they listening?

Over a third (38 percent) of people ages 18 to 24 listen to 10 or more hours of podcasts each week. That increases to 43 percent for ages 25 to 34. That’s twice the listening time of more casual podcast consumers. But how do the super listeners find the time? The beauty of podcasts are their on-the-go nature, and the report reflects that—69 percent of people are listening to podcasts while at the gym, using public transportation or otherwise outside of their homes, and 84 percent of people indicate that listening on their phones is their preferred method.

With so many options available, it should come as no surprise that super listeners utilize subscriptions to keep their favorite shows organized, cued up and ready for listening. Eighty-one percent of people subscribe, autodownload and choose to listen at convenient times, as opposed to clicking on the podcast to listen immediately or downloading it manually for later.

Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from the report, however, is the super listeners’ potential for exponential growth—because, well, they won’t shut up about it. They overwhelmingly promote the podcasts they love to their friends, family and networks—96 percent of people have recommended a podcast to a friend, and word-of-mouth was the primary way respondents discovered new shows.

But is it worth it for brands to home in on the super listener? It’s a possibility. The average listener has to hear a brand mentioned on a podcast about 25 to 30 times before they check out the product or service, but 75 percent of listeners do end up taking an action after all. Podcasts are intimate experiences that listeners opt in to and expect a trusted environment with hosts they enjoy (which may be why ads read by the host tend to garner more engagement).

With more people listening to podcasts than ever (about 67 million people each month) and podcasts increasingly raking in the cash (the industry is projected to reach $220 million by the end of this year), the Knight Foundation proposes that engaged listeners be “tapped as ambassadors for the medium.”

“Finding ways to ‘ask for the order’ and providing them with incentives to share new podcasts (and indeed, the medium in general) with their friends and family as passionate advocates and influencers might be one of the most powerful marketing tools at our disposal,” the group concluded.