Although the idea of starting a podcast may be intimidating at first, I have found it actually to be one of the easier social media strategies to employ. And while it may be relatively easy to record a podcast series, building a community of regular listeners can be quite challenging. Podcast content must be engaging, short and thought-provoking. Success requires that you differentiate your content not only from other podcasts, but from what many consider to be more engaging forms of media – videos and blogs. Below are the recommendations I would offer to those who are contemplating starting a series or are already in the planning stages.
My experience with podcasts has been primarily as a B2B marketing tool to reach prospects and customers. But many of these recommendations are suitable for other podcast functions such as internal communications, training materials or B2C marketing.
- Use an Interview Style – My preferred format for a podcast is a talk-show style interview (also called a host format). Monologues with just one person speaking are challenging unless you have a very dynamic speaker. With a talk-show style, the most important key to success is to selecting the right guests to interview. Ideally, a guest is someone who is a thought leader or subject matter expert that will offer original perspectives on your topic.
- Podcasts are Easy for Hosts – Relatively little preparation is required to record a podcast, especially if you are using an interview style-format. Once you convince your guest to be interviewed the remainder of the process is easy. First, schedule a time for the recording. Allot 30 minutes for the recording on the guest’s schedule even though you will not need that much time. Or schedule two interviews back-to-back during the appointment to maximize your guest’s time. Finally you will need to develop the questions in advance. Limit questions to 2-3 in order to keep the recording length manageable.
- Podcasts are Easy for Guests – In most companies there are lots of passionate and knowledgeable subject matter experts in the product management or software development teams. These individuals have lots of ideas to share, but getting them to put their ideas on paper proves to be extremely challenging. Most people lack confidence in their writing skills. And those that do write well are typically time-constrained. However, the idea of being interviewed over the phone or in-person does not have the same intimidation factor. SMEs that resent the idea of writing a blog post or white paper will jump at the opportunity to record a podcast or an interview.
- Podcast Technology – There are numerous different ways to record a podcast. The method that I find most convenient is to use a phone call to perform an interview of an SME. People are used to talking on the phone so the format will come naturally to them. I prefer to use Skype for the phone conversation. Skype is low-cost and offers excellent sound quality. Skype is free for in-network calls, but you will have to pay a per-minute fee for conversations with people on landlines. There is an add-on to Skype called Pamela Call Recorder that will record live phone conversations then convert them into an MP3 file on your PC. The recording quality on the MP3 audio files can be optimized by someone with the appropriate skills. Ask your webmaster. Even if he or she is not experienced with editing audio files, I suspect he or she will welcome the challenge.
- Recording the Session – To start the interview the host introduces the topic and guest speaker then poses a series of questions. As the guest responds, the host may add commentary or pose a follow-up question. The host may provide a summary at the end before closing. The key challenge is to brevity in the host talk track. Listeners have a short attention span so I recommend that a podcast only be no more than 5 minutes in length. If you really have more than 5 minutes of content then structure the podcast into two segments.
- Editing the Podcast – Don’t be afraid to re-record if there is an error during the recording session. You do not have to re-record the entire podcast if there is just a problem with one segment. Today’s audio editing tools allow you to easily merge multiple MP3 files together. The best part about podcasts is that once the recording is complete your content is finished. There is no lengthy multi-tiered editorial process as there may be with press releases, white papers or other marketing collateral.
- Distribution Channels – Post the podcasts on your web site. Allow end-users to download the files to their PC or to play in a streaming mode directly on the site. Consider syndicating your podcast feeds to an online music store such as Apple’s iTunes or podcast libraries such as Podcast Alley. In fact, by definition a recording is not truly a podcast unless it is available via a syndicated feed. The podcast will then be available for replay inside a media player or on a mobile device such as an iPhone.
- Ensuring Good Audio Quality – As with any webcast or professional marketing activity, don’t interview people on a wireless or mobile device. Insist that the interviewee be reachable on a landline or connect using Skype on Voice over IP. And insist that they use a handset versus a speakerphone to avoid echo and background noise. When recording over Skype to a landline there will be a noticeable difference in the audio quality. The Skype audio will appear much louder than the landline. In such a scenario you will need to edit the audio file to balance the volume of the voice tracks.
- Don’t Read Scripted Notes – Perhaps, the most important advice you should provide to your guests is to avoid reading scripted notes. Nothing puts people to sleep more than listening to a monotone reading of a prepared interview question response. Voices should be natural and conversational, not rehearsed. Select a host and guest which have strong enunciation, inflection and pacing.
- Downsides of Podcasts – Not everyone responds to audio formats. Studies have shown that only 1/3 of people learn through audio. Visual learners comprise the other 2/3 of the population. Regardless of how strong your podcast content is, some people prefer written text or video. Of course, these are the reasons why we continue to have radio, newspapers and television broadcasts to share information. Don’t be surprised if potential interviewees push back with a statement like “Does anyone really listen to podcasts?” Unfortunately, podcasts are not viewed in the same level of credibility as videos or webcasts are.
As a talk show host coach, I can tell you that your advice to use the interview format is right on. Hosts that try to go it alone find they run out of material after a few shows and the whole thing dies. Thanks.