media update’s Adam Wakefield spoke to WTF Crowd co-founder and co-host of the What’s The Future (WTF) #ThinkDigital podcast, Brett StClair, about the platform and the potential of podcasting in Africa.

How it all began: The accidental podcast hosts who have since launched a platform

StClair, and WTF Crowd and WTF #ThinkDigital co-founder Michael Cowen, first got into podcasting by accident. Appearing as guests on Brett Lindsay’s Futurology Show on Cliff Central at the end of 2016, Lindsay was unable to reach the studio on time for the start of the show. StClair and Cowen, expecting to be the one answering questions, were then asked to host the show till Lindsay arrived.

The success of that show saw Lindsay suggest to Cowen and StClair to co-host the show with him. The show focused on adding value to South African businesses via talking to the best digital minds.

Fifty-six shows and 17 000 downloads per month later, StClair and Cowen agreed they needed to change tack since radio-style podcasting consumed too much time.

The pair looked for alternatives, settling on a podcast called WTF #ThinkDigital.

“When we did the first livecast for Huawei, it was a huge success, winning the internal Huawei innovation award for the P-10 launch. It overshot social media well beyond expectations. When I say 'livecast', [I mean] we record the podcast in front of an audience of about 40 people. We did a bit about the future of work, devices and that kind of stuff, and realised we are sitting on something quite interesting,” StClair says.

StClair and Cowen decided to take it one step further by building a platform where they could share their knowledge with the public through podcasts. The aim was to get it to market as soon as possible, using the Google design sprint.

They knew authentic and credible content resonates best, but what did people want to hear?

The answer, after crowdsourcing suggestions, was content that revolved around solving business problems in digital. Two versions and two 60 hour launches later, was born in February.

“Always release a minimum viable product that embarrasses you, or else you are moving too slowly. We are embarrassed about it, and we started getting traffic. We’ve started onboarding more channels because people are telling us they want to hear other things,” StClair says.

WTF Crowd forgoes online advertising, which allows the platform to set its own agenda and also approaches monetisation differently. This is how the #ThinkDigital courses were born.

“We’re saying if you own a channel as a podcaster, you conduct a half-day event or workshop. We want to make them all R1 500 to attend, so it’s affordable. That fee can pay the podcaster for the course or event content,” StClair says.

The podcasters already on WTF Crowd and those joining will likely not be famous. However, StClair says they are and must be passionate and knowledgeable about what they do. If they are, the content they produce will be authentic and credible.

“Our passion for WTF Crowd is that we want to solve African problems by Africans who do and learn from each other,” he says.

The enormous potential of podcasting in Africa

StClair and Cowen are passionate about podcasting, but what excites them the most about the medium is its potential for adoption and use across Africa. StClair is wary of making predictions.

However, based on the fundamentals, the signs for podcasting in Africa appear very promising.

“Will podcasting be big in Africa? In order for media to fly, you have to have enough quality content that is relevant to an audience, and [you need to ensure] that there is a business model tied into this bilateral network space,” he says.

“I’m going to give away a little trade secret: Michael and I have access to a studio, but we also have our studio in a bag, which is a Zoom H6 recorder with four mics and just our phones. We put it in the middle and do a recording. You'd never notice the difference.”

StClair says that amongst ourselves, there is amazing content, stories, anecdotes and learnings. There is potentially a 'massive' base of content producers ready to pick up podcasting, which bodes well for the medium.

The continent, in particular, has less affluent markets who are extremely familiar with the radio. Literacy rates are not a stumbling block.

“I just need a phone and access to data. That’s it,” he says.

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