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The “So What” of The Infinite Dial 2021 for Content Creators

The “So What” of The Infinite Dial 2021 for Content Creators

Insights into audience preferences are powerful for content creators and business owners.

Knowing where your audience is online, what they like to consume, and how they prefer to access content are the key first steps to creating a winning content strategy. But where can you find this information?

There are plenty of consumer behavior reports out there that can point you in the right direction. One of the most influential reports is The Infinite Dial from Edison Research and Triton Digital. This is the longest-running survey of digital media consumer behavior in the U.S.

The report provides up-to-date research about consumers’ media habits, including digital audio and podcast consumption, social media usage, and more. So, if your audience includes social media users and/or podcast listeners (and you know it does!), this report is a great place to find out where they are and what they like.

I decided to take a look at the key insights and findings from the report and share what I think they mean for content creators. In this podcast episode and blog post, I cover the most valuable takeaways and talk about how they can help you create content that aligns with your audience’s preferences.

Hit play to listen to the podcast episode…

Or keep scrolling to read my thoughts…

What is The Infinite Dial?

Before I dive into the findings from The Infinite Dial 2021, here’s some quick context about how Edison Research and Triton Digital gathered their data – and here’s a link to the report.

The Infinite Dial is based on what Edison Research and Triton Digital call the “gold standard of nationally representative survey research”. For this report, they interviewed 1,507 people over the age of 12 in the US, selected at random. For more than 20 years, the survey has been conducted annually with the aim to explore the use of digital platforms and new media over time.

So, what can we learn from it?

This year, the report provided data on consumer behavior in six main areas: media and technology, social media, online audio, online audio brands, in-car media, and podcasting.

This has been no ordinary year. With the pandemic affecting so many of our day-to-day lives, it’s undoubtedly affected media consumer behavior.

I know I probably spent more time on social media than ever before because it’s one of the only ways I could be “social”, but my podcast listening dipped because I wasn’t driving anywhere! As our lives and habits changed, so too did the ways we consume media. Making this year’s report even more interesting.

Let’s look at the social media data.

Social media – users and awareness

Is it any surprise that a whopping 82% of the U.S. population uses social media? That’s an estimated 233 million people using either Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok...etc. It’s growing steadily every year, but only just – no more big jumps in usage because, let’s face it, it had major growth for a decade from 2006-2016. Now, almost everyone who would use is, is using it.

Social media usage has grown year-on-year

Social media usage has grown year-on-year

In 2021, it’s not exactly news to say you must be on social media to reach people. The report really just reaffirms what we know, social media is a massive part of life whether you like it or not. As a business, you can’t ignore it.  

However, it gets interesting when the report drills down into the platform-specific data.

The Infinite Dial looks at awareness and users. It clearly shows that the most popular/well-known social media platforms are Facebook (93% awareness), followed by Instagram (89%), Twitter (88%), Snapchat (86%), and TikTok (86%).

TikTok is, of course, the newest of all the platforms, and it’s seen a huge jump of 22% awareness in just a year. Before that, TikTok wasn’t included in The Infinite Dial report. Meanwhile, for the legacy social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, awareness has steadily grown over the last 3 years, setting the benchmark for the newer channels.

What’s your audience’s favorite social media platform?

What’s really helpful for content creators is to know where people prefer to spend their time. When it comes to platform usage, the report shows one clear front runner.

% of the U.S. population’s social media brand usage in 2019, 2020, and 2021

% of the U.S. population’s social media brand usage in 2019, 2020, and 2021

Facebook retains its place as the leader of the pack, with 61% of the total U.S. population using the platform in 2021. The next big player is Instagram, with 43%. Interestingly, Pinterest is third at 31% usage – higher than Twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn.  

Has Facebook fallen out of favor?

What’s interesting here is Facebook actually has a little decline here compared to last year. Now, this could be a blip, or it could be the start of a downward trend. It’s good to keep an eye on these trends. And it’s also important to look at who’s using these platforms.

% of the U.S. population age 12-34’s social media brand usage

% of the U.S. population age 12-34’s social media brand usage

The Infinite Dial breaks down users into three age categories, 12-34, 35-54, and 55+. Looking at these stats, the people who appear to be leaving Facebook are the 12-34 age group (down 7%) and the 35-54 year olds (down 3%).

% of the U.S. population age 35-54’s social media brand usage

% of the U.S. population age 35-54’s social media brand usage

However, in the 55+ category, Facebook usage was actually up by 5%. Anyone who spends a lot of time on Facebook will likely have noticed this trend. Younger people are using Facebook less, and older people are using it more.

It feels like older people are turning up at the cool hip bar that young people used to love, and suddenly the young people don’t want to hang out with their parents, never mind grandparents, so they start to leave!

% of the U.S. population age 55+’s social media brand usage

% of the U.S. population age 55+’s social media brand usage

Whilst it’s worth taking note of these trends and changes, there are still millions of individuals using Facebook across different age groups and demographics. It’s not a distress sign to jump ship just yet!

The social media up-and-comers

In terms of growth, the data shows that the visual and video platforms Instagram and TikTok are growing rapidly. However, Snapchat’s usage has declined, and I believe this could be due to the rise of TikTok and greater competition in the short-form video space overall, such as Instagram Reels.

How users of the most-often used social media brands are changing year-on-year

How users of the most-often used social media brands are changing year-on-year

It’s also notable that Twitter is on the up. Twitter is still a strong player in the social media space, despite being one of the oldest channels.

I think this is because it’s a unique place to go for up-to-date news and real-time information on things happening in the world. Between the pandemic, the U.S. election, and huge social movements happening worldwide, there’s been no shortage of news in the past year, and there’s never been such a need to stay well-informed. It’s no surprise that Twitter continues to grow.

LinkedIn is one of my favorite platforms, so I’m intrigued by the fact that its overall usage % is reported to stay the same over the last 3 years. This could be down to the survey itself, as I don’t think it’s based on B2B-specific findings. But it is good to see that within each age category, LinkedIn is reporting small but steady growth year-on-year.

Key social media takeaways

A catch-all social media strategy isn’t going to target your audience as effectively as one that’s customized for each platform.

People use these platforms with intention, so your social media strategy should be the same. You need to know who you’re talking to on each platform and create content to reach them specifically.

I don’t think you should have a “social media strategy”. I think you need a Facebook strategy, a LinkedIn strategy, an Instagram strategy...and so on. You don’t have to be on every single platform – your strategy should depend on your audience. But I do think that designing separate strategies for each platform that your audience is on could have a great impact on how your content performs. Focus on each platform one at a time.

If you’re aiming for a younger audience, don’t put all your eggs in the Facebook basket. If you’re aiming for an older audience, Facebook could be just perfect. 

Now let’s move on to one of my favorite areas of the report…podcasting.

Pandemics and podcast listening

Working with podcasters and having a podcast myself means that I’m always looking to stay on top of listener trends, and this was all the more challenging during 2020.

When the pandemic hit, our habits changed, and so did how we listen to podcasts (podcast listening is often a habitual practice).

I used to listen to podcasts while driving or at the gym, but lockdown completely obliterated those habits! I found another way, though – after this unplanned break, I now listen to them while cycling or going on a walk. My listening pattern is definitely different, but I’m still consuming lots of podcasts.

% of the U.S. population who listen to online audio weekly is steadily rising

% of the U.S. population who listen to online audio weekly is steadily rising

It’s important to point out that podcasts aren’t the only audio people listen to. In a week, an estimated 176 million people (62% of the U.S. population) listen to some kind of audio content…be this AM/FM radio, audiobooks, and other streamed online audio content.

The audio industry is thriving, and it’s seen huge growth over the last 10 years. Now the average amount of time spent listening to online audio content is 16 hours and 14 minutes per week.

Why podcasters should be on all the podcast apps

But where are people listening? I always tell my clients it’s so important to be on all the different podcasting platforms because people using different apps.

Spotify is the most popular online audio brand with 31% of the listenership

Spotify is the most popular online audio brand with 31% of the listenership

Spotify is leading the way across the board in terms of weekly and monthly listening and also on different devices too.

But as this chart shows, there’s also Pandora, Google Play, Apple, Amazon...and more.

If you have a podcast, it doesn’t cost you anything more to get your podcast on all of the apps, and it’s a one-time process too. Once it’s accepted onto an app, new episodes will update automatically via the power of an RSS feed on your podcast host. All of this is managed really easily, especially if you are on an easy-to-use podcast host like Captivate.

Getting your podcast on your audiences’ radar

Now, let’s look at some quick stats about podcasting…

  • 78% of people said they were familiar with podcasting
  • This equates to around 222 million people
  • 57% said they’ve listened to a podcast before ­­­– that’s more than half the population!
  • 41% said they’d listened to a podcast in the last month
  • 28% said they’d listened in the last week
  • On average, people listen to 8 podcast episodes and 5 different shows a week

I think this is SO interesting to know. There are over 2 million podcasts out there so how can you get into someone’s top 5 weekly shows?

On average, people listen to 8 podcast episodes per week. Could yours be one of them?

On average, people listen to 8 podcast episodes per week. Could yours be one of them?

The good news is you’re not competing with 2 million podcasts! Firstly, more than half of those podcasts are likely to be inactive anyway. Those that are active, there’s no saying they offer any competition to your show, it all depends on who the audience is, the genre, etc.

How can you get your podcast onto your audiences’ radar and into that highly sought-after top 5 spot? Here are four things you can do to boost your chances…

1. Market your podcast

If people don’t know you have a podcast, they won’t listen. Get the word out there that you have a show and promote it!

You should spend more time marketing and promoting your episodes than you do creating them.

A great way to spread the word about your podcast is to use social media. You could even use your podcast to do it! Check out this article to find out how, How to Repurpose a Podcast on Social Media.

2. Set yourself apart

It’s not enough to have a general podcast in 2021 where the premise is “we just chat about anything and everything”.

It’s not enough to have a general marketing podcast or a general technology podcast either – they’re not specific enough.

You need a niche. Once you’ve found your specific topic, drill down into it and keep that focus. You need to go deep, not wide, if you want to set yourself apart.

One person who’s done exactly that is Mike Richards. His niche podcast has helped him become a true leader in his industry and even helped him be nominated for industry awards! Read all about his story in this post, How Effective Podcast Repurposing Has Helped a Niche Offline Business Grow with Mike Richards.

3. Produce high-quality content

Your content has to be good quality in every way possible. Your audio quality has to be good, and your content has to be valuable to keep people listening week-in, week-out.

I had a really interesting discussion with Matt Pierce about why good-quality audio is vital for keeping your audience listening (our conversation was about video, but I wholeheartedly believe this also applies to podcasting too!). So do check out that discussion here, Why You Should Repurpose Your Livestream Videos with Matt Pierce.

4. Repurpose your podcast content

Last but absolutely not least, you need to repurpose your podcast.

Firstly, repurposing your podcast will help you market it. You can repurpose your content into bite-size social media content and share this on your social media channels.

You need to find where your audience hang out and convince people to head on over to their favorite podcast listening app to check out your show.

But repurposing isn’t only about marketing your episodes. Repurposing is the smart thing to do because it ensures that you get a return on investment from the hard work that you put into creating your podcast. Repurposing is about turning your podcast into different formats and creating platform-specific content – so that you can get your message out there and have an impact.

You can repurpose episodes into blog posts (great for SEO) or create video podcasts for posting to YouTube too. If that’s something you want to find out more about, check out this article, How to Repurpose a Podcast to YouTube.

If you’re still not convinced about just how important it is to repurpose your podcast, check out some of the stats and facts in this article…Podcast Repurposing Has Never Been More Important.

So, what have we learned?

Possibly the most influential data to come out of The Infinite Dial 2021 is the sheer growth of podcasting overall. It’s seeing sustained, strong growth in all areas, and the trend looks set to continue.

There have also been new trends in social media, from the rise of TikTok to the ever-so-slight decline in Facebook usage…are these trends set to continue in 2022? We’ll have to wait and find out!

If you create content to grow your business, it’s really important to stay up to date with consumer behavior. This way, we can readjust our content strategies for audience trends. So I’m incredibly grateful that reports like The Infinite Dial can give us these insights.

If you want to check out the full report for yourself, you can download a copy and find out more about it here: The Infinite Dial 2021.

To find out more about podcast repurposing, check out our fully done-for-you expert podcast repurposing service. We offer end-to-end repurposing to help your podcast reach a wider audience and offer a video repurposing service too!

If you want to learn more about how repurposing could help your content (and business) reach a wider audience, but want to take a DIY approach, then grab a copy of my book, Content 10x: More Content, Less Time, Maximum Results. It’s the ultimate guide to do-it-yourself content repurposing, and teaches you everything you need to know about getting the most out of your content.


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