Rachel Harrison has worked with a podcasting pioneer, and provides a beginner’s guide to podcasting.
Any time, any place, anywhere. No, not Martini; welcome to the current and addictive world of podcasting.
Despite the name, it’s nothing specifically to do with an iPod. Podcasting is an emerging form of communicating to your audiences. A wide variety of people in business, government and education are recognising the advantages of delivering their messages in a way that paper and pen can not.
Many think that podcast is an mp3 or mp4 file that is posted onto the internet. This however isn’t true. To be a true podcast, the file must be fed to its listeners via an RSS feed (Really Simple Syndication). This means when a new episode of the podcast is made available, the subscribers are notified and it will be downloaded automatically.
The iPod’s only association with the art of podcasting is that you can download the podcast via iTunes to your device and listen any time you want. However you can do this through any other normal mp3 player or just through your computer.
Podcasting is simply an amalgamation of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcasting’ and has the definition of ‘posting or transmitting an audio file to be downloaded and viewed/heard by other internet users either on a computer or MP3 player’, as described by folly.co.uk. Vodcasting is another term widely used and is simply video podcasting.
A question widely asked is, why couldn’t a teacher just email the course material over to whoever requests it? Or why couldn’t the information needed be put up onto a website for people to find there? These things are all feasible ways of issuing information, however using podcasts makes things a lot simpler as no one has to look for the website, and there isn’t a monotonous input of email addresses. Instead people who want to hear what was said again, or wants to hear what your company has to say on certain issues, will be part of a community of subscribers who are automatically offered the new episode as and when it is uploaded online.
As and when companies start to think about setting up a podcast, most soon realise it is simple – but not as simple as it might seem. This is where the podcasting queen Karen Ainley at Mosaic Publicity comes into the equation. An ex journalist and BBC presenter, she has set up a training course in podcasting within Mosaic Publicity, a full service PR and media training agency.
The course starts by being asked to think why you would want to podcast and depending on which area it is relevant to there are numerous reasons. In business it can be used to inform all the businesses in the area what is happening with your company and the others around you. Mosaic publicity have their own podcast called BizPodEast, which provides news and information about organisations across the East of England.
In education, podcasts can be a way of promoting internal communications and reinforcing values; they can be a way of giving students their lectures but in a verbal form which can be argued is a more beneficial form than written notes. In entertainment it can be used to catch the radio programme that you missed; some comedians have their own podcasts that give you a flavour of what their other material is like. The main point of podcasting is to inform whoever wants to know.
It is key to communicating to the visually impaired population in the UK, and also those who learn aurally or visually. Most find it an effective way of demonstrating their emotion, passion and conviction on a certain subject, through the use of speech rather than pen and paper, where these qualities are lost. Many politicians have used podcasts and even vodcasts to get what they have to say out to a wider audience, especially a younger one. They can also be used to generate an income, through the use of promoting a service or product through the use of a podcast or even a vodcast. For example, Fisher Jones Greenwood, one of Mosaic’s clients, has a legal advice service for children and young people in the Essex area called Lawyers for Young People. They set up a pioneering podcast service that advised their listeners on issues and advice that was relevant to them and the area around them.
Although podcasting appears to be a form of broadcasting, it is really a form of what is called narrowcasting. As the listeners have subscribed to the podcast, or are looking for it specifically, you are actually communicating to a small niche market, rather than a broader general one. This also begs the question of who your audience is and who you want to podcast to. Young or old, male or female? What are their hobbies or interests, their political persuasion? Where and when are they going to listen to your podcast, at work, walking the dog, at the gym? All of these questions are important to consider before the act of podcasting starts, so you have a sense of who you are podcasting for.
Karen Ainley practises the 5 Ps to the perfect podcast; preparation, performance, post production, posting and promoting.
Preparation is always key, and that is the first thing that Karen points out as one of the critical factors in making a podcast. Shaping your story, having a story board and choosing a format are all part of the preparation stage. This helps you find the content for your podcast and the order in which it will be presented. If you know what the content is to be and have some unusual point of interest, it helps to avoid what she calls ‘plodcasting’ and becoming too predictable.
Choosing a format for your podcast is also crucial, as it helps to determine what sort of style it should be heard in. Will it be in monologue, involve interviews, be scripted or ad-libbed? Will jingles and music be added to break up the talking? Will it be in a news style format or more conversational?
When creating an audio podcast, a good Performance will be determined by your ability to paint a picture with your voice. A way to see more naturally is quite simply being yourself and practising what is going to be said beforehand, and being creative by adding a co-host, interviews and music can also help. For those who have never recorded before, there are tips included on the course on the best ways of recording, such as, turning your speakers down and using headphones and holding the microphone approximately six inches from your mouth.
When it’s all recorded, it is time to edit it to the way you want it to sound. In Post Production software such as Audacity is used to make simple edits and add in special effects. However effects come with a warning to be used sparingly, since too many can make it seem cluttered and they also add to the size of your podcast considerably. Audacity is free and is relatively simple to use.
Editing your podcast will help getting it to exactly the right length, as pieces that are to be changed can be cut and pasted out of the audio. It works out that 5 minutes of audio is about 5MB of storage, 10 minutes 10MB etc. The maximum that can be stored on a host site such as iTunes is 10MB, and really this is long enough for the point to be made and not become too tiring.
Posting the podcast is where it gets a little more complicated. Your file must be saved as an mp3 for it to be able to be downloaded. You then need to give it an ID3 tag which can be done through Audacity, this gives the file an album name, artist and room to add in a small note about the content. From here a RSS feed must be created, this is purely a coding device that allows your podcast to be delivered to the people that subscribe to it. There are lots of complicated ways of dong this but if the audio is stored on a site called PodOmatic the RSS feed will be created for you.
Promotion is the final P. Obviously just like a new baby, you are going to want to tell everyone and his friend about your new creation. Alongside having it posted on your website, and in new and traditional media, you can have it promoted on email signatures, leaflets, business cards, anywhere that is felt to be relevant. There are also a number of podcast directories that yours can appear in and they often have a number of categories that it can be placed under, ready for people to search for. You can also search engine optimise (SEO) your podcast; however this is a matter for another day.
The Mosaic course is highly informative and hands-on. Bob Pearce, Learning and Development Director for A. S. Watson Health and Beauty, who own companies such as Superdrug and The Perfume Shop, had the dilemma of whether to allow his employees to access training material through podcasting.
“We built an extranet at the start of this year to deliver training tools direct to colleagues regardless of where in the world they are. After undertaking podcast training, I realise you have to be very clear about the needs of your target audience. It is very easy to get caught up in the podcasting bandwagon. I have come to the conclusion that podcasts are a great way of delivering tasters or refreshers but I don’t believe they are the right way to deliver long and complicated communications”, he explains.
Podcasting is a potential social media communications tool for any organisation in any sector. What can be a better form of communication than one that can be used any time, any place, and anywhere?
Photo: Karen Ainley, Mosaic Publicity