For those who don’t know, Serial is a weekly podcast from the producers of This American Life. It’s a journalistic report of a true crime story with a twist – producer Sarah Koenig is recording and publishing the podcast while still reporting the story.
With 800,000 weekly downloads and growing, it’s become something of an internet phenomenon.
While many articles about the show have compared it to serial TV dramas, it’s the innovative elements of the podcast that have me hooked.
There’s a personal and more involving element to this storytelling endeavour – and this is the key to great content marketing. It’s a peek behind the curtain. Sarah Koenig is showing her work.
Show Your Work
When I want to describe content marketing to a creative person, business owner or otherwise non-marketing professional, I often point them towards Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work.
In this slim and beautifully designed volume, Kleon describes and demonstrates the techniques that artists and other makers can use to show their work and develop a following before they’ve finished creating a project.
When it’s done well, this kind of content marketing can create a following for a piece of work before it’s finished. Putting content and community first builds advocacy. It’s how even solo creators like Grace Helbig build huge followings and go on to break the New York Times Bestseller list.
How does this apply to Serial? Usually a reporter will report on a story, put the pieces together, and then find a way to tell that story in a cohesive fashion. But in Serial, Koenig is starting from the middle. She’s showing her work, pulling us into private conversations, and changing her mind from episode to episode.
Many films, books, and TV shows allow their audience to experience the story with, and/or through the eyes of a key character. Serial takes this technique to a new level.
Make it Personal
It’s 2014. The personal is now the political.
Part of what makes Serial so mesmerising is the way that Koenig mixes in her personal feelings, judgments, and steers into the story.
She makes no secret of the fact that she’s constantly guessing, and masterfully weaves this constant flip-flopping into the listener’s experience.
Her passion and authenticity sell the story, leaving her to focus on the task of reporting and storytelling.
While the did-he didn’t-he part of Serial‘s current story – the murder of Baltimore teen Hae Min Lee – is a selling point; consistency is also key.
It’s a small point, but an important one: Serial uploads weekly, on a Thursday morning – and their fans are waiting.
Don’t believe me? Ask these guys:
honestly i’m just waiting for a new serial episode to come thru every week
— vampire workday (@imbobswaget) November 13, 2014
Happy #serial day! Waiting for this to download is like watching paint dry.
— The Bored Vegetarian (@boredvegetarian) November 13, 2014
Up to date with @serial. It’s so well put together. Can’t wait until next Thursday
— Andy Chipperfield (@andychipster) November 14, 2014
Which ties into the next point, which is…
Keep em Wanting More
The most successful point of Serial is that it keeps listeners guessing.
While there are plenty of places for devotees and internet sleuths to hang out, share information and theorise, Serial is the nucleus around which these communities (electrons, if you will) orbit.
Without a final episode of Serial, there is no conclusion to this story.
Now we’ll just have to wait and see if the same holds true for its next story.