Spotify is leaning on influencers to win the podcasting wars

Spotify has made its intentions clear: It wants to be the largest audio platform in the world—not just music, audio.

Exclusive podcast partnerships have been a significant part of that effort, and while deals with the likes of the Obamas and Joe Rogan have received most of the attention (and controversy), less celebrated but no less important are Spotify’s wooing of influencers to podcast and to do so using Spotify’s tools and distribution.

“In order for us to continue our growth and our trajectory, we knew we wanted to broaden out what being an audio network really means,” said Dawn Ostroff, Spotify’s chief content officer, at Fast Company’s 6th annual Innovation Festival. “And podcasting, which is the fastest growing medium right now particularly among young people, was the natural next step.”

Over the past several months, Spotify has struck deals with influencers, including Rickey Thompson, Denzel Dion, Addison Rae, and Lele Pons. For Spotify and its podcast listeners (median age: 26 years old), leaning on the massive audiences of influencers is a way to tap directly into the Gen Z market and cut their entertainment clutter.

“It’s hard to capture the attention of this youth generation,” Ostroff said. “Everything is on demand, so they can get everything anytime they want. And being able to stand out in that crowd and have an audience and have people want to either see or hear any particular person is a Herculean task these days.”

And for the influencers, signing deals with Spotify gives them the backing of a major platform to find new ways to connect with their audiences.

“[I wanted people to] get a glimpse into the other side of my life that people don’t hear about or see,” says Rae, who hosts the Spotify podcast Mama Knows Best with her mother. “I feel like when it comes to content on other platforms [there’s] no time for really learning about someone or getting in deeper in their mind. And a podcast is the perfect space for that.”

For Dion and Thompson, podcasting represents an opportunity to lean into the intimacy of the format.

“I feel like a lot of people hear things but they don’t actually listen,” says Dion, who co-hosts the podcast We Said What We Said with Thompson. “But a podcast is where we strip down and really get into the tea of what’s going on: How we feel mentally, physically, what’s going on, and there are no distractions.”

“It’s very therapeutic for me,” Thompson added. “I always look at Denzel like my therapist. And I feel in this podcast, a lot of people are going through what we’ve been through as well. We’re like those best friends that you guys need.”

Spotify seems to be hitting on something, with its monthly active users engagement with podcast content growing at triple digits according to the company. Twenty-one percent of Spotify’s 299 million users in the second quarter of 2020 engaged with podcast content.

“It’s getting harder and harder to get the attention of the youth generation,” Ostroff says. “Having podcasting on our platform really fits where our audience is and we’re able to also attract new people onto the platform with talent like Addison and Ricky and Denzel. They’re really helping us bring on a larger audience.”

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