Podcasting Best Practices
A podcast is a digital audio or video file that can be saved for playback on a portable media player or computer. The term podcast refers to both the actual content of the media file or the method by which the content is syndicated. While all of the following best practices are relevant for both episodic and serial podcasting, some best practices are more relevant to producers of one particular form of presentation than the other.
Podcasts are sometimes produced as episodes and are distributed on special web pages that provide a list of episodes. These special syndication lists are called RSS Feeds and will usually be identified by an orange XML or RSS icon. You may listen or view these files on your desktop, or download them onto a mobile device like an iPod or other portable player.
In this document we address the following best practices:
- What is the purpose of the podcast?
- Know thy audience.
- To reuse or not to reuse?
- Less is more
- Production quality.
- Be complete.
- Closing the loop – Getting audience participation.
What is the purpose of the podcast?
The first and most important step when beginning production is to identify the target audience and your main message. Basic communication theory guides this initial step in the production process, emphasizing the need to clearly define the communication goal prior to developing the content. Once your message is determined, it is time to design a plan to most effectively communicate it. Only after these steps have been completed should a decision be made about whether a podcast is an effective way of distributing the content. If a podcast can play a role in achieving the goal, then a podcast should be planned effectively in advance.
Know thy audience.
Podcast design should be deliberate in that it is an appropriate method to meet content goals. Similarly, podcasts should be designed with a particular audience in mind. Selection of a target audience is necessary prior to script creation to ensure effective communication. Podcasts targeting adolescents and young adults should be casual, while those for adults should be somewhat more formal. Additionally, the role of the listener should be considered, i.e. teacher versus student.
To reuse or not to reuse?
In many cases, audio or video content may already exist on a particular topic prior to podcast development. In this case, it can be tempting to reuse existing content for use in a new podcast. However, this is not always the most effective use of podcast technology. Michael Geoghegan, founder of Willnick Productions and producer of Disney’s initial podcasts, explains, "Rather than taking an audio file and calling it a 'podcast,' companies need to create unique content as a podcast to generate real interest and long-standing popularity."
Prior to deciding whether or not to reuse existing content, it is important to revisit the initial plan that was created to meet the communication goal. If existing content fits well within this framework, then it is acceptable to reuse it. Otherwise, new content should be created.
Less is more.
Just as reusing existing content for the sake of creating a podcast is not recommended, creating video podcasts is not always an effective means of communication. Unless the video or visuals used in the podcast are critical to effectively communicating the message, use of such technology should be avoided. Many users prefer to do other things while listening to podcasts, such as housework or driving, which is not conducive to watching a video podcast.
Similarly, a thirty minute podcast is not necessarily better than a five minute podcast because it is longer. In fact, subscribers may listen to a thirty minute podcast, but not even consider downloading one that lasts an hour. The goals and target audience of the podcast should inform script creation, and thus the length of the podcast. If the same message can be effectively communicated in five minutes instead of ten, there is no reason to create a longer podcast.
While many individuals access podcasts from a computer, others choose to download them to a portable media device and listen with head phones or ear buds. For maximum comfort of the listener, podcast production should be as high quality as possible.5 Listeners simply will not continue listening to a poorly recorded podcast.
Anyone can produce a podcast with inexpensive recording equipment, but that doesn’t mean everyone should. When sound quality is poor, it is very apparent to audience members using ear buds to access content. Static or background noise on a recording can be unbearable for these individuals. Disney podcast designer Michael Goeghegan reiterates, "Your listeners control the subscription…if you come out of the gate with an unprofessional or poorly-developed podcast, [your listeners] will unsubscribe as quickly as they signed up."
If incidental music or sound effects are used, final product must be reviewed closely and thoroughly. If the sound levels for background music or sound effects are too high, they will obscure or block the spoken text, especially when listened to through ear buds.
Leveraging a variety of existing and no-cost channels for podcast marketing is an effective method of increased exposure to a podcast episode or series. Multiple channels exist both internally and externally, all of which should be explored for marketing purposes.
The Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX) intends to provide a site where users can browse podcasts, search for podcasts by a particular topic, or subscribe to a podcast series. In addition, podcasts might be featured on partner sites.
Several external podcast directories also exist where podcasts can be registered. Registering podcasts on an external directory makes them accessible to individuals who might be interested in the topics but are not visitors to your site or ALEX. External registration is especially useful to increase the listener base for new podcast series. The most popular of these external podcast directories include:
Many times a podcast will direct the listener to a URL containing more information or resources related to the podcast’s topic. All URLs should be completely spoken in order to make them as accessible to the user as possible. A fully articulated URL in a podcast should be transcribed as such, thus providing an opportunity to include a functional hyperlink within the podcast transcript and allowing for search engine indexing and improved ranking.
In order to meet Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility guidelines, all podcasts should include a written transcript. Often times, the number of downloads for transcripts is higher than the expected representative proportion of the population that would require alternative delivery mechanisms for accessibility. Transcripts are being downloaded for printing, speed reading, and for hand-outs in classrooms. Transcripts in and of themselves are a viable and important distribution method.
Closing the loop – Getting audience participation.
Inherent in podcast creation should be an evaluation strategy. This strategy can include raw data such as number of downloads as well as qualitative feedback from listeners about any aspect of the podcast including length, topic, or presenter.
Podcasting is an emerging channel for audience engagement, and as such, it is essential to solicit audience feedback as a form of evaluation. It is important to think about ways to obtain feedback from the audience such as creating and maintaining a separate e-mail box for comments. Podcast development should not end with a podcast being uploaded to a website, but should continue past that point with evaluation.
To conclude, podcasting is a potentially effective means of communication if it is implemented appropriately. As with any other communication channel, initial decisions about whether or not to utilize podcasting technology must be based on formative research including target audience selection, goal setting, and marketing plan and messaging strategy development. If podcasting is an appropriate communication channel for these elements, then specific decisions regarding the podcast can be made including content, length, and evaluation strategy. Referring to the best practices listed above and consistently revisiting the marketing plan during podcast development will help ensure that a relevant and valuable podcast is ultimately created.
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- Podcasting Best Practices. Podcasts at Penn State, June 4, 2006. Retrieved November 26, 2007 from http://podcasts.psu.edu/guidelines
- Rumford, R. Podcasting White Paper: How to Leverage This New Media Marketing Tool, 2005.
- Podcast Primer: Best Practices and Need to Know Advice. New Communications Review, November 26, 2007. Retrieved November 26, 2007 from http://www.newcommreview.com/?p=247.
- McElhearn, Kirk. Kirk’s Eight Rules of Effective Podcasting. Kirkville, March 12, 2006. Retrieved November 26, 2007 from http://www.mcelhearn.com/article.php?story=20050630164539429
- Housley, S. Podcasting Do’s and Don’t’s. Podcasting Tools, n. d. Retrieved November 26, 2007 from http://www.podcasting-tools.com/podcasting-dos-donts.htm
- Center for Disease Control (CDC) Podcasting Best Practices.
Adapted from: Center for Disease Control (CDC) Podcastsing Best Practices, March 20, 2008.