By Jennifer Goode | STC Senior Member
Podcasting is one of the fastest growing areas of content production today—but should technical communicators pay attention? Edison Research reports more than 144 million Americans have listened to podcasts, and 62 million listen weekly—a trend that has continued to grow over the past seven years. Such rapid and widespread growth demands a closer examination of this content delivery strategy.
Podcasting is the practice of digitally recording and broadcasting content over the Internet for consumption via computer or mobile device. A podcast can be downloaded and played anytime. Often created as a series, podcasts are usually produced around a specific topic for a specific audience. Audiences can subscribe to a series or download individual episodes, and because the content is digitally stored and shared over the Internet, it can become accessible at any place and at any time.
With a variety of content to choose from, listeners will never get bored. Podcasts cover topics like society and culture, news and politics, comedy, sports, business, and more. According to MusicOomph.com, there are more than 700,000 active podcasts and more than 29 million podcast episodes in more than 100 different languages. And those numbers are growing daily as podcasters create new shows and episodes.
Podcasts Are Unique
But how are podcasts different from other delivery mediums? Podcasting is particularly unique compared to other forms of content. Podcast content provides downloadable, portable, repeatable content that is always available to users no matter the time or location. Once content is downloaded, podcasts can be consumed without an Internet connection, making them location independent.
Podcasting can also boost marketing efforts by bringing personality to brands through corporate sponsorships, product placement, and expert testimonials. Social media communities, a valuable marketing resource, often form around podcasts. And as podcast episodes are integrated into the web of information on the internet, they contribute to search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.
Why Podcasting Matters in Technical Communication
Podcasts are successfully reaching audiences at extremely high rates, and technical communication practitioners should consider whether podcasts might be suitable for reaching target audiences with their content.
Podcasts are usually consumed in their entirety
According to Edison Research, 93% of people who start a podcast listen to the entire podcast or most of the episode. That’s a staggering statistic that can’t be matched by other communication mediums.
Podcasting can be good for your brand
Podcast listeners are more likely to engage in social media and follow specific companies and brands there, as well. Listeners often become loyal podcast subscribers and are likely to follow an entire podcast series, episode by episode. Listeners have also shown more interest in purchasing products and services featured in or advertised during podcasts.
Podcasts build audiences
Podcasting can be a great tool for bringing new listeners from a variety of backgrounds into one common communication space.
Podcasts fit easily into listeners’ lives
Unlike other forms of content, listeners can engage with podcasts while performing other routine activities, like driving or exercising.
Getting Started in Podcasting
If you think podcasting might be a viable medium for reaching your audience, consider the following steps to
Assess your skill set
Technical communicators are perfectly positioned to take on many of these necessary skills.
User analysis. Podcasters must be able to assess audience (listener) needs and provide content that the audience will value.
Writing. Podcasters must be excellent writers of both structured content and scripts.
Editing. Podcasting requires content planning and revision, as well as pre-production audio editing.
Speaking. Podcasters must be able to clearly communicate their ideas in an oral manner.
Interviewing. Podcasting offers the opportunity to integrate multiple subject matter experts and other guests. Interviewing skills can provide an enhanced listener experience and far better content.
Creativity. Podcasting should integrate some creativity and originality, which helps differentiate your programming and grow listenership.
Organization. Podcasting requires a lot of planning, coordination, and consistency. Good organizational practices will enhance the production process.
Gather the necessary equipment
A podcast can be produced with just a laptop, but better equipment yields better results.
Computer. A computer with sound editing software (for example, Adobe Audition) will be the foundation of your equipment.
Microphone. One or more high-quality microphones with boom arms, pop filters, and necessary cables will ensure that the best audio is captured during recordings.
Noise-canceling headphones. Good headphones block out background noise during recordings and broadcast just the sounds coming from the microphone(s).
Soundboard. A simple soundboard can channel audio input and output, while providing a basic level of control over special effects, such as speaker balancing and distortion.
Noise-dampening materials. Foam sound barriers or simple fabric drapes can provide a substantial improvement in sound quality in a recording space.
Plan the podcast content
The key to excellent podcasting content is advanced planning.
Topic. Choose topics that will interest your audience and compel them to act on the content presented.
Format. Select a format that complements the topic and the audience’s expectations. Open the episode with a welcome and an agenda. Feature a guest speaker, an event livecast, or a Q&A discussion. Finish the episode with a pitch, a way for listeners to respond to the content, and a conclusion.
Script. Write a plan for every episode. Write an introduction and a conclusion. Write interview questions. Note materials and sources (like books, articles, authors, or websites) that might be mentioned during the recording. Then distribute the podcast script to podcast hosts, guest speakers, and production team members. Everyone should know how the podcast will proceed before recording begins.
Supporting media. Integrated media, like music,
sound effects, and cover art, can enhance listeners’ podcast experience.
Record and publish the podcast
Now you’re ready to produce the episodes.
Record. Record the podcast in a small, sound-proof room. Don’t worry too much about errors; good editing can cover a number of sins.
Edit. Remove verbal pauses, duplicate statements, and any other errors that might detract from the intended message and content. Add in supporting media, like sound effects and music, as desired.
Publish. Typically, publishing requires a website and a media host (for example, Libsyn or Blubrry). You can also publish your podcast to a directory (for example, Spotify) or via an RSS feed.
How might podcasts change the landscape of technical communication? What content will move into podcasting formats to support product use, problem resolution, or other user-driven tasks? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, technical communicators would be wise to keep podcasting in mind as an effective alternative for distributing some kinds of content to certain audiences. The format is exploding in reach and distribution. The low costs and simple publication process put podcast production within reach for many technical communication practitioners. And podcast completion rates are pretty impressive, too!
JENNIFER GOODE, PHD, (Goode_J@mercer.edu) is an STC Senior Member and an instructor in the Department of Technical Communication at Mercer University. She teaches
her students how to frame problems, communicate solutions, and design information to support users’ needs and expectations with different tools and technology. As a consultant,
she helps clients apply user data to online design decisions, especially in the area of e-learning. Find her online at jennifergoodephd.wordpress.com or on Twitter @ProfGoode.
The Infinite Dial 2019. Edison Research and Triton Digital, 2019. https://www.edisonresearch.com/infinite-dial-2019/.