I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Social Media Marketing World, on the topic of building chatbots for marketing purposes. It was a thrill to present on the topic to a sizable, live audience. However, attending the presentation of other marketing professionals was equally exciting.
Lou Mongello, an award-winning podcaster, presented on the topic of building a community through podcasts. His story is a fascinating one, as he is a former attorney who left that lucrative field to focus all of his time on podcasting, speaking and sharing his passion. What does Lou podcast about? Walt Disney World. And he’s earning a healthy six-figure income doing it.
source: WDW Radio Podcasts
What’s Lou’s Secret?
Lou has been podcasting regularly since 2003. He leveraged the first-mover advantage by being one of the first to get into podcasting and has been consistent in providing high-quality audio content.
Just as Lou was one of the first movers in a new marketing medium, content marketers that are looking for a similar advantage can leverage a new marketing channel presented by Amazon on the Alexa voice platform: Alexa Flash Briefings.
What is an Amazon Alexa Flash Briefing?
A recently released skill, Amazon’s Alexa Flash Briefing is a micro-podcast that is delivered via an Alexa-enabled device (Amazon Echo, Dot, etc.) at a regular cadence. If you own an Alexa device, you open the app and ask Alexa to install a new flash briefing skill. Then, each day you can ask “Alexa, what’s in the daily news?” or “Alexa, play my flash briefing.” Then each micro-podcast that you are subscribed to will playback via Alexa.
I find myself using this skill regularly with the Dot in my master bedroom as I’m preparing for the day. It is easier than pulling out my phone and hunting down the latest news feed or podcast, and that is why it is going to rise in prominence.
These flash briefings can be actual news updates, or they can be more of general thought leadership. Unlike podcasts that can stretch on to a full hour or more, flash briefings are generally only 4 to 8 minutes in length. Many current flash briefing publishers don’t create any new content for their Alexa skills, and instead, take audio snippets they already have and repurpose them on the Alexa Flash Briefing skill. We’ll discuss this strategy in more detail, further on in this article.
Alexa Flash Briefings were officially released about 18 months ago, though they have only recently begun to take off as content marketers have discovered them, and as so many additional Alexa-enabled devices were sold over the 2017 holiday season.
Why build an Amazon Alexa Flash Briefing now?
As described earlier, one of Lou Mongello’s key factors to his content marketing success was that he got into a new marketing platform early on, and was consistent in his delivery. As we see from the recent CES battle between Google and Amazon, voice-enabled devices are a central focus point for both companies. Apple is also jumping into the fray. These companies see a future where voice interactions will become a major source of revenue, and as such, they are doing everything they can to get their own voice-enabled devices into consumer’s homes.
With this wild proliferation in the number of Alexa-enabled devices comes great content marketing potential for those that build an Alexa Flash Briefing skill now, and consistently update content for that briefing. As you put your content forward, gain reviews on your flash briefing skill, and gain momentum with your listener count, you’ll quickly find that you own this new content marketing channel.
What are the costs associated with building an Alexa Flash Briefing skill?
If you’ve managed or hosted a podcast before, you know that for each hour of programming you publish you’ll likely spend between 2 to 6 hours recording and editing that content. Flash Briefings can follow that same time commitment ratio or could be considerably less overhead. Here’s how:
- Flash Briefing content can be recorded audio or text-to-speech. Text-to-speech is considerably less of time a commitment, as you simply provide Amazon the text you want and then Alexa will transform it into its native speech.
- Content for your briefing can come from already existing sources. I’ve seen some podcasts take their 40 minutes of polished content and split it into 5 days worth of 3-minute snippets… just the best and most concise content from their podcast. They then provide that to Amazon for their Alexa Flash Briefing, and it works quite well.
- Some Flash Briefings use interview format, and some are a single individual talking to the audience.
- Briefings can be updated weekly, several times a week, daily, or even hourly.
As you can see, the time commitment for the different formats can vary wildly. The actual cost of production is very minimal, as there is free production software you can use (see below).
Ideal publishing cadence for Alexa Flash Briefings
The number one question I receive when teaching others about Alexa Flash Briefings is: “How frequently should I publish my content?”
When setting up your Alexa Flash Briefing, Amazon asks you this same question and provides you with three options: Weekly, Daily, Hourly. They ask you to choose the “closest” fit. The nice thing is, that Amazon isn’t going to hold you to this. One of the more popular briefings I listen to publishes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That is the best cadence for that publisher because that is what they have time to commit to.
The ideal cadence for you will likely be based on your availability to publish. As long as you’re providing high-quality content, that your audience feels compelled to revisit, then you’ll see that even a weekly cadence should be fine for your brand.
Build your own Alexa Flash Briefing skill in under an hour
One of the more frequent questions I get about building bots or Alexa skills is where to get content ideas. For a regular publication such as a flash briefing, this question becomes even more important. Here are three ways you can simplify your search for fresh content to cover on your flash briefing:
- Subscribe to industry publications
Depending on your industry, there are likely several online publications that publish regular content (often even daily content) that you can use for ideas of content to cover in your flash briefing.
- Re-hash old content
I’ve also seen brands take blog posts that they have already published, and use those for ideas on content. Key here is to make sure you’re pulling ideas from your content that has more shares and views, to ensure you are sharing content on the flash briefing that will resonate.
- Spin new content
Another idea for brands creating content, especially those creating podcast content, is to take content you’ll be releasing soon and share it in the flash briefing format. You can then tease, at the end of each briefing, that there is more content available on your blog, podcast, etc.
Tools for building your Alexa Flash Briefing
Recording your content and getting it on to the web requires just two tools: Audacity and Amazon AWS.
Audacity, pictured above, is a free tool that you can download to your computer for recording and editing audio content. It is the fullest featured audio recording/editing platform that is also easy to use and free. You can download Audacity for PC, Mac or Linux.
In order to get your Alexa Flash Briefing onto Alexa devices across the world, the audio file needs to be stored on a server that is easily accessible to Alexa, and secure. The best place that fits both of these requirements, and is one of the more affordable options you have for hosting your audio files, is Amazon AWS. Amazon provides a free storage account for the first year, and after that storing your audio files will cost just a few dollars a month.
Launching your Alexa Flash Briefing on Amazon
The actual creation of your Alexa Flash skill takes less than an hour and only needs to happen once. After you follow the below steps you’ll be set up, and all you’ll need to do each day you publish new content is edit a single file and upload your audio content. The content updates should take less than 5 minutes each time.
Create an Amazon Developer account. These accounts are free, and if you already have an Amazon account you use for shopping, feel free to use those same login credentials, though you will still need to register for the Amazon Developer account directly.
Log into the Amazon Developer Console, and click the Alexa menu item…
… and click the “Get Started” button under the Alexa Skills Kit object. Feel free to read any of the content on this page, though you really don’t need to. You can go straight on to the “Add a New Skill” button to begin building the Alexa Flash Briefing.
Now select the Flash Briefing Skill API option, choose your language (as of writing it is only available for English, German and Japanese), and then name your skill. This is the name listeners will see when adding your skill to their Alexa, so be sure to make this name good! Click on “Save” to move along.
You don’t need to change any settings on the next two screens, so click “Next” and then “Next” again. Now you get to select what Alexa says if there is a problem fetching your show. Keep it simple, with something generic such as “The show is temporarily not available.”
Now click the “Add Feed” button. This is where it gets fun!
Add in the “Preamble,” which is what Alexa will read directly before playing your audio file. Something such as “In today’s marketing technology news” is an excellent intro. All the other fields are self-explanatory, at least down to the URL field, which is important enough to cover in the next step.
For the URL above, this is now where you point the Alexa Flash Briefing Skill API to your audio file. This is where the Amazon AWS server space comes in to play. On the server, you need to store the audio file and the .JSON file that contains the code needed for Alexa to find the audio file.
This sounds far more complicated than it actually is.
Here is the .JSON example code you’ll need to point Alexa to the audio file you just saved to your Amazon S3 server. The below picture shows what this example looks like, but to get the actual code, or read up on the few elements included in the code, you can do so here.
After you input your URL and click “Next” you’ll be taken to the page where you can test your Alexa Flash Briefing. Click the toggle over to “Yes” so that the skill will show up in your own Alexa app on your phone. Only you will be able to see it at this point. Add the skill to your Alexa device and try it out by saying “Alexa, play my flash briefing.”
Isn’t this sweet!? Now click “Next” to finish setting up your Flash Briefing Skill.
On the Publishing Information page, you get to put in a few additional fields. While most of these fields are self-explanatory, there are a couple things to point out:
- Testing instructions are what the employees at Amazon will see before approving your Flash Briefing. You should keep it really simple here so as to not delay the approval of your skill. Something such as “This is a simple flash briefing that plays a short, 3 to 5 minute, audio file” will do fine here.
- In the Short Skill Description and the Full Skill Description, this is actual content that will be shown to potential listeners as they browse through available flash briefings, so make them good!
Lastly, go ahead and fill in the few necessary data points for privacy and compliance, and click the glorious “Submit for Certification” button.
Usually, within 24 hours, your skill will be approved and you can begin to push out high-quality audio content to your adoring audience!
What to expect from your Alexa Flash Briefing
As most content marketers intimately understand, there is no magic bullet and no sustainable quick-win that will take your content from zero to sixty. Such is the case with Alexa Flash Briefings. Currently, the audience for Flash Briefings is not huge, primarily because Amazon hasn’t yet advertised them heavily. That said, there are some big brands already using Flash Briefings and it is only a matter of time, much like with podcasting, before user adoption skyrockets. When that time comes, if you have an established Flash Briefing, you’ll be poised for success.
What I recommend for the faint of heart is to get a presence established. Even if you can only commit to a weekly content update, that will suffice. You can always increase your publishing cadence as more users come on board. In the meantime, securing your brand name, specific keywords, and some early user reviews will ensure you are in the right place when the people come. As one of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams, proclaims, “if you build it, [they] will come.”