Nonprofit Radio: How to Make Podcasts That Promote Your Brand and Engage Supporters

Submitted by Brett on Thu, 01/22/2009 - 9:10am

Corey Pudhorodsky, 501c3Cast

By now, podcasting should be considered an established medium. Yet, even after four years of general public awareness, there are still many misunderstandings about how podcasting can be used by individuals and organizations.

From questions about the actual production of the files, to distribution, to listener metrics and feedback, there are plenty of moving parts that can raise questions. These uncertainties may be why many nonprofits still hesitate to adopt podcasting as a part of their new media strategy.

Like most things in the social web, though, there are tools and resources that can make creating a podcast accessible to almost any organization.

The What and Why?

Podcasting is formally defined as the act of distributing syndicated audio content online via RSS to listeners who use software or a hardware device to receive updates.

No reason to be afraid: the important part of this definition is that the audio content is syndicated. What makes it powerful is that the podcast can be part of a broader web presence for your organization. Many people listen or watch podcasts on portable devices and at times that are most convenient to them.

Think of it as TiVo ® for Social Media on the Internet: People can get precisely what content they want, whenever they want it.

As a medium where subscribers must request to receive the messages included in your podcast, you're essentially guaranteed that those listeners are engaged and committed. Use your podcast for what it can deliver more effectively than other methods. Assume podcast listeners are also receiving updates from you via other channels, like eNewsletters, print, blogs, and other social media such as Facebook messages from your org’s group page.

Podcasting is a storytelling medium; use it as the voice for your organization’s most compelling stories.

Tools and Resources

There are several services that allow you to create a podcast directly by leaving a voice message recording. Check out: Gabcast.com, talkshoe.com or cinch.blogtalkradio.com for some examples. This method is great for its ease of use and immediacy but will not allow you to add any sound effects, music, or cut in other voices and input.

If you want more control over the content before it's published, you'll need to record and edit the audio file before it's uploaded.

Audacity (open source software for Windows, Linux, or Mac) and Garage Band (Mac only) are two of the most common tools podcasters use. On the high end, Adobe Audition offers professional level audio editing tools, but for most podcasts, comparable quality can be achieved with the cheaper applications

As you get comfortable editing content and producing the audio files, you can embellish the podcast with sound effects, music, and additional guests.

Again there are a number of free or inexpensive resources for all of these. For sound effects, check out the Freesound Project. For "podsafe" music, the two most common resources podcasters turn to are Podsafe Music Network and GarageBand.com. Always make sure that you have prior consent to use music on your podcast if getting audio from sources that don't explicitly permit sharing.

To host remote guests, use a SkypeOut connection to call a phone line and Pamela or HotRecorder to record the audio.

When encoding your mp3 file, two important considerations are the ID3 tags and the bit rate.

The ID3 tags help identify the file when it is being played. The track name, artist, and album are the most important fields to complete, but don’t forget to change the genre to "Podcast", as well.

The bit rate determines the quality of the audio. Generally, 64 kbps is sufficient if your podcast contains mostly speech. 128 kbps is higher quality, which will make music and effects sound better -- but the trade off will be a larger file size. (If you're using Audacity, you may need to download and install the LAME encoder which is required to produce mp3 files and must be distributed separately from the application installation.)

After the mp3 file is complete, you need to upload it to a hosting service and add it to your podcast RSS feed.

Distributing podcasts can be bandwidth intensive, so your web host may not be the best candidate to host your mp3 files. I personally recommend LibSyn.com for hosting your podcast files and RSS feed generation. Switchpod.com and PodBean.com are two other paid services that host many podcasts and you may want to consider.

For a free and reliable hosting service, consider using Archive.org and OurMedia.org. Archive.org will host the mp3 files and OurMedia.org provides tools to create the RSS feed and promote the podcast. Regardless of the hosting service that you use, consider enabling Feedburner.com with your podcast's RSS feed to allow tracking of subscriptions and downloads.

Marketing and Distribution

The largest portion of your audience will subscribe and perhaps even discover your podcast in iTunes, so it's important that you check your RSS feed for iTunes specific elements. Apple provides detailed documentation for podcasters and a FAQ to help you get started. Changing podcast information after it has been accepted into the iTunes directory has proven difficult for some podcasters in the past so verify your information before submitting to iTunes.

Although iTunes is the leading podcast directory and subscription tool for podcasts, don't neglect others. Podcast Pickle, Podcast Alley, and Odeo are just a few of the other podcast directories that you should consider submitting your podcast feed to.

Generally, the more directories you're listed in, the broader your reach. But also realize that there are literally hundreds of directories left over from the early adopter podcasting craze and many of them simply scrape the catalog of the larger directories. Search for directories that have strong communities with constituents that match the type of person you who would listen to your podcast.

Don't neglect to market your podcast through existing channels. Use free flash players like XSPF or Podcast Pickle's branded widget player to embed your latest or favorite episodes on your website. Consider creating a pamphlet or handout with instructions on how to find and subscribe to the podcast. The University of Chicago Law School is a great example of instructions for listeners.

If your phone system has the ability to play custom hold tracks, consider playing segments of your podcast when constituents call your offices and are put on hold. You can also create sample CDs or USB thumb drives that contain podcast episodes as gifts in goodie bags for special events that your organization holds.

Best Practices and Maintenance

It's a cliché, but planning is the most important thing you can do to ensure your podcast is successful and engaging. It will take time to script, record, and edit the audio, engage with listeners, and collaborate with contributors. I count on it taking about an hour of editing for every 10-15 minutes of audio content.

Queue several episodes in advance and produce at least 3 audio segments before distributing the content publicly on the Internet. This practice will help your voice sound more natural to your first listeners.

Keep the content fresh, but the format consistent. Your subscribers will appreciate familiarity but expect new ideas and information to keep things fresh. Always include contact information and some "station identification", but don't delay getting to the compelling content.

Try to keep your introductions under one minute; include lower priority announcements at the end of the podcast.

Don't spend too much time perfecting the audio quality of the podcast, but don't ignore it either. Listeners will forgive some background noise or verbal ticks if the content is compelling. Whenever you're able, edit the audio for brevity. A general convention is that 20 minutes is the ideal length for podcasts, but don't stretch or compress your content to make each episode this length.

Always focus on compelling storytelling first.

Additional Resources

This article certainly doesn't contain the complete instructions needed to create a new podcast, but I hope it provides some helpful resources and ideas to help you get started.

Many of the sites mentioned above have forums and communities that are packed with people who would love to help other podcasters. Also consider checking out a growing library of resources at the We Are Media Podcasting Toolbox.

For specific questions, feel free to email me at: 501c3cast@gmail.com as well.