by Matt Kapko

How Twitter Helps ‘Serial’ Podcast Grow Its Audience

News Analysis
Nov 20, 20143 mins
Consumer ElectronicsSocial Networking AppsTwitter

Twitter's director of ad research explains how his company is helping the popular 'Serial' Internet radio show gain exponential momentum every week, while rapidly growing its audience.

Twitter’s director of ad research wants to piggyback on the surprising success of the weekly “Serial” podcast to illustrate his company’s capability to amplify even the “oldest form of electronic media.”

“Social media is getting interwoven into this pretty old storytelling device, which is the weekly radio show,” Jeffrey Graham said during his keynote at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Summit in Hollywood. The show’s fans connect on Twitter, and they create offline listening parties and meet-ups to discuss the twists and turns of true murder mysteries.

The show’s producers began promoting the show on Twitter months before it aired, and the excitement continued to grow ever since. Every Thursday, following the release of a new episode, conversations about the show spike on Twitter, according to Graham, who presented data to demonstrate just how much the conversation grew after each of the last seven weekly episodes.

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“Every week people are sort of waiting to hear the next evidence of whether this guy is going to be exonerated or not,” he says, referring to Adnan Syed, who is currently serving a life sentence in Maryland for killing his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee.

“The show is a serious show. It’s about some dude who may be innocent, and he’s been sitting in jail for 10 years,” Graham says. “Social media is allowing this very traditional form of storytelling to get more interesting and get more powerful for audiences, but it’s also creating power for NPR as they are able to use social media to spread and grow the audience.”

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Serious Show Equals Serious Branding Opportunity

“Serial” is the no. 1 podcast on iTunes, and the show’s sole advertiser is one of the most obvious beneficiaries. Fans will no doubt recognize the Nick Thorburn song that so beautifully and simply weaves one segment to the next, and they’ll also very likely know the corny MailChimp advertisement that runs at the beginning of each episode.

Graham played the song and the ad during his keynote and spotlighted how MailChimp capitalizes on how the child in the ad amusingly mispronounces its name as “MailKimp.”

“It’s really interesting how this ad became part of the conversation about the show,” says Graham, who shared related tweets with the hashtag #MailKimp.

MailChimp also registered the domain name, secured the @mailkimp handle on Twitter, and the company’s CEO and founder added the hashtag #MailKimp to his Twitter profile, according to Graham.

“It’s a strange world that we live in right now where all these things sort of come together,” Graham says.

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Much of Twitter’s recent research focuses on how its service affects personal relationships and user behavior with respect to television. There’s still, however, a lot that Twitter doesn’t know. For example, Graham can’t say (or even guess) how many “Serial” listeners discovered the podcast on Twitter.

Graham was direct when asked to identify key performance indicators and objectives that marketers should measure to determine their success on Twitter. “I think you should look at sales, impact on brand, leads and customer engagement,” Graham says. “Social media should be held to the standard of all media and be measured against business results.”