Bobby Hobert recently graduated from a small business school outside of Boston. Like many college students before him, his post-graduate plans were a little murky.
"Everyone was talking about what they were doing next," he says. "At 22, I still haven't necessarily found what it is I want to do with my life."
Hobert's dreams include starting a lifestyle brand, but he wants to build his credibility first. A few years ago, his instinct may have been to start a blog. But Hobert says he loves to talk and was never the best writer, so a different medium has more appeal: a personal podcast.
With his Purpose in the Youth podcast, he hopes to tell the stories of people who have found what they are passionate about. He was preparing to launch the first episode this week.
The timing couldn't be better for new grads like Hobert to get in on the podcast craze. Twenty-one percent of Americans age 12 or older say they have listened to a podcast in the past month. That's a 17 percent increase in the last year and a 75 percent increase since 2013.
"We've just seen phenomenal growth in podcasting," says Cristen Conger, host of the podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You. Conger and co-host Caroline Ervin have produced 800 episodes, and the show receives more than 1 million downloads per month. Conger says downloads have tripled since 2014.
"Especially in the past year, we've recognized the mass potential of podcasts—there's high mobility, high engagement," Conger says.
Podcasts pair well with shorter attention spans, allowing listeners to do other things while consuming content. Listening to a podcast doesn't require the same amount of effort needed to read a long-form blog post.
"Millennials are moving all the time, from working to traveling, Ubering around the city and doing a million other things," Hobert says.
In 2015, nearly 70 percent of podcast downloads were via mobile devices. But it's not just the mobility that appeals to millennials. The format allows for connections that are difficult to achieve with a blog.
"I spend all this one-on-one time with these shows, and that's the kind of engagement and connection you would be aiming for with a personal blog," Conger says. "But you get more transparency with a podcast host. Not only do you have the words but you also get their tone and their voice and more of their personality. It's just a completely different and more immersive experience."
Podcasts also provide safe spaces for listeners to be alone with the content and process it as they need to. This is true for Katie Roach, who started her Drunk Sex podcast a few years after graduating college in an effort to normalize conversations about sex.
"I love the podcast medium for the 'fly on the wall' conversational aspect, and have always found those interactions to be the most genuine," she says. "As much as I deeply love writing, I felt like podcasting would bring out a certain charisma I could never achieve on paper."
Roach no longer maintains a personal blog like she did in the past, but does write in conjunction with her podcast. She and other podcasters use blogs to support their shows by giving listeners previews of the content or by exploring subjects more in depth. Blogging also helps when it comes to SEO.
Sam Solomon, host of the Designer News podcast DN FM, says "podcasts are a new distribution channel. It gives people a new way to discover who you are."
That's just what sports podcaster Eddie Murphy was banking on when he started his podcast Dishing & Swishing in 2014 after graduating from Boston University. He hoped to combat what he calls the "vicious cycle" a lot of recent graduates face: needing experience to get hired, but needing to get hired to get experience.
The barrier to entry for podcasting is relatively low. Murphy purchased a domain, created a SoundCloud account, downloaded editing software and bought a microphone and soundboard. But getting set up was the easy part.
"What I learned from podcasting is that it's extremely hard," Murphy says. "You realize quickly that a million other people are doing the same thing, so it's very hard to separate yourself from the pack."
Promoting a podcast and consistently providing quality content often proves to be difficult for new hosts.
"With unlimited brand potential—blogs, articles, merchandise, vlogs, social media—comes unlimited amounts of work," Roach says.
It doesn't help that people have come to expect high production quality from podcasts. Solomon says this is one reason his gut tells him that podcasts won't be replacing blogs any time soon.
"I love podcasts," he says, "but think they are a very different medium."
Conger predicts that once discovering and sharing becomes easier, the floodgates will be open for podcasts to truly take off.
"Young people are realizing that podcasts are part of building a personal brand," she says. "We regularly hear from students asking how they can do this. We are role modeling a brand new profession for people who are in college now and that is really amazing to be part of."