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Sharing Stories With Audio: Podcasting for Internal Communications

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When I first started working in audio more than 10 years ago, I encouraged some of my clients to think about including the warmth of the human voice in their communications. Then in 2004 podcasting became possible, and we discovered a technology that made audio a lot more accessible.

Still, in the early days, podcasting was not for the faint of heart. The technical side was tricky, and accurate information was hard to find. Today, however, we have plenty of software and tools at our disposal, as well as examples of communicators who’ve ventured into the world of podcasting before us.

What is a podcast?
A podcast is a multimedia file distributed by subscription over the Internet using syndication feeds and played back on a personal computer or mobile device. A podcast can be an audio or video file. For now, let’s stick to audio. It’s important to point out that for many internal podcasts, whether they’re produced at corporations, nonprofits or governments, a feed may not be used, and listeners are instead encouraged to stream the audio using their desktop or laptop computer at the office.

Portability, with no iPod required
Despite the name podcasting, you do not need an Apple iPod to create a podcast or listen to one. You can hear a podcast on your desktop or laptop computer or by using a portable MP3 player or smartphone. The portability of podcasting is a beautiful thing. You can “tune in” while running on the treadmill, folding laundry or commuting to work. In many vehicles, you can plug your audio player into the speaker system and listen to podcasts instead of radio.

Why should communicators care about podcasts?
The human touch of audio makes podcasting an engaging communications tool that can augment traditional face-to-face, print and online media for company news, investor relations, marketing, product announcements, employee recruitment, training and more.

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That’s why such organizations as Disney, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, Whirlpool and others have produced podcasts that inform employees, educate the public and reinforce their brands.

How to use a podcast internally
It might be easier to grasp the idea of a podcast for external marketing. However, organizations do produce podcasts to reach internal audiences, to complement the employee newsletter, intranet and other communications. At one organization in the U.S., the communications manager told me that after he started up a podcast, many employees made listening to the weekly show part of their Monday morning routine. The producers covered such topics as new business, the employee assistance program, the occasional message from the CEO, and human-interest stories (about an employee who survived breast cancer and another who rode in the junior Tour de France, for example).

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At a specialty pharmaceutical company in Canada, when a new VP of sales came on board, the communications manager suggested that audio might be an effective way for him to speak with the company’s 130 sales reps dispersed around the country and spending a lot of time stuck in their cars.

The podcast caught on. In fact, the show was originally designed around the needs of the sales force, but when other employees heard about it, they started clamoring for audio reports from their colleagues in Scientific Affairs, Clinical Development, Government Relations, HR and so on. In the end, management opened the podcast up to anyone in the organization.

How do organizations benefit from an internal podcast?
Time and again, I hear that employees can be inspired by a well-thought out and well-produced podcast. It’s a source of not just information, but a sense of community as well.

Although cost-cutting is not usually an impetus for internal podcasting, it can be a result. At one global high-tech firm, switching from conference calls to podcasts saved the company more than $200,000 per year on its phone bill. In addition, employees in Asia no longer had to rise at an ungodly hour to dial in to calls originating in North America. Instead, thousands of employees across the world could time-shift and even place-shift their listening to an hour and location convenient for them.

How do you measure success?
You can count the number of downloads of your MP3 file and visits to your podcast page. More importantly, you may recognize increased employee engagement and better rapport between management and staff. One manager told me: “We’ll keep podcasting until someone tells us to stop. Both employees and leadership consider the podcast a success.” Another said: “People now know more about what’s happening in the company. We receive emails from employees asking questions that I know they wouldn’t have asked before we started the podcast.”

How is a podcast made?
You can create a basic podcast with an inexpensive headset microphone, free audio-editing software (such as Audacity on the Mac or PC, or Garage Band on the Mac) and your computer. You’ll also need a server on which to store the MP3 files, plus a feed to distribute the podcast. The easiest way to generate a feed is a blog.

Serious podcasters often invest in higher-end microphones, mixers and digital recorders, but the technique for creating a podcast is the same. Some organizations handle their own recording and editing; others outsource this job.

Overall, technology is secondary; content rules. When planning your podcast, you have to decide how to best meet the needs of your audience. Should you try a talk-show format, a more casual conversation between cohosts, a comment-driven show or a simple audio address from the CEO? You also need to decide on a publication frequency. Weekly? Monthly? Perhaps you can produce a limited series of five or 10 episodes around a particular topic, then launch a new series for another area of interest.

So what are you waiting for?
Here’s some advice before you start your podcast:

  • Take a workshop, read a podcasting book or hire an expert to introduce you to podcasting techniques and technologies.
  • Map out a strategy; define your goal and your audience.
  • Plan the topics of your first 10 shows.
  • Be sure to invite listener comments, and pay heed to them.
  • Make friends with the IT department and be sure they understand what you’re doing.
  • Keep podcasting. You’ll get better each time.

A few ideas for internal podcasts

  • Peers interviewing peers
  • Interviews with leaders
  • Communicating benefits information
  • Replacing the conference call and old-school CDs
  • Education and training
  • Recordings during or before conferences and symposia
  • Helping geographically dispersed employees keep in touch with happenings at head office

Recommended communications podcasts for internal communicators

Bonus: Here’s a podcast I recorded on the subject of internal podcasting back in 2010.

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