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April 26, 2016, 11:50 a.m.
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LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joseph Lichterman   |   April 26, 2016

It was impossible to ignore the first season of Serial in late 2014. The This American Life spinoff podcast was discussed everywhere from Saturday Night Live to the Colbert Report, and it seemingly thrust podcasting into the mainstream.

By the time the podcast’s second season, which focused on the case of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, debuted last December, the Serial team had spent months reporting and developing the story. In October, Serial hired Kristen Taylor as its community editor, and as Taylor described in a Medium post published Monday, that job wasn’t simple:

How do you follow a phenomenon? Serial’s first season made history, broke records, and introduced millions to podcasts. The original team was reporting and producing a new story. And this left a question: how does Serial work in a post-Serial world? How do you make it even more of, rather than just on, the internet? That was my job.

Taylor’s season-long contract with Serial was up last week and now she’s “off for new adventures,” she said in the Medium post. But she used the post to share some of the lessons she learned as Serial community editor. Some highlights:

In the lead up to the second season’s launch, everything Serial did online drew scrutiny as listeners breathlessly waited for the podcast to debut.

Because Taylor’s role was a new one, she had to figure out the best ways to interact with the podcast’s listenership since “it wasn’t clear where the audience might want us to be. You never assume. You guess  — and then calibrate to the levels of reaction with a mix of posting, listening, acknowledging, and responding.”

While the second season didn’t seem to have the viral appeal of the first season, Taylor said downloads were actually higher. Going into its final episode, the podcast had been downloaded more than 50 million times, and each episode was averaging about 3 million downloads during the week it launched.

Even though the podcast wasn’t getting as much attention publicly, people were still listening and discussing Serial, which meant Taylor needed to find new ways to interact with readers. Throughout the season, for example, Taylor used Tumblr as a way for listeners to send in longer messages, and when Serial host Sarah Koenig and executive producer Julie Snyder gave some talks in California, she used Tumblr to solicit stories to win tickets to the talks. One listener wrote in to say that listening to Bergdahl’s story helped her better understand her father’s military experience. The woman who submitted the post then gave Taylor permission to share it on Serial’s Tumblr.

“As we binge/stream asynchronously, it’s even more important to find ways to make clear that you aren’t listening/watching alone,” Taylor wrote.

One way to build that sense of community was by sharing audio clips on Vine and Instagram. For years, people have debated the best ways to share audio on social media, but Taylor said Serial found success by pairing compelling audio with illustrations:

The current froth around video (live, 360, and in general) makes social for audio properties particularly tricky. I was doubly lucky in that digital editor Whitney Dangerfield commissioned artist Carl Burton to do incredible animated illustrations (here’s more on their process) that served as the visual over special audio cuts for Vine and Instagram that my executive producer Julie was supportive of spending staff time on — I’d find six and fifteen-second clips from the final hour-long episodes and our mixer and music editor Kate would decide whether to add music (she treated the whole season like a score) and how to fade so each would loop nicely. And these short loops were deliberately different than the intro minutes we fed the Facebook audio player for each episode — so a listener had audio in three places beyond the feed.

For more, Taylor’s full post is available here.

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