Radio Free Enterprise: Podcasting Helps Companies Communicate

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Our Master's Voice
One easy sell for internal podcasting is that it gives a company CEO a more personable, accessible voice. "It's a very engaging way to lead from the top, very personal, and it gets them in front of their people," says Scott Sigler, marketing director of SNP Communications. As well, HP has already discovered how this medium carries certain enterprise messages exceptionally well. "It's really suited to things that are motivational and strategic," says Postman. "For introducing a new team member, launching a new initiative, anything that rises above the din of regular communication. If you're talking to people about stuff like executions, congratulations, or successes, the ordinary email tends to be flat." In other words, tell a story.

Podcasting is in that family of next-gen on-demand platforms (i.e., Tivo and cell phones) that separate content from previous constraints of time and space: media that are available when and where a user wants them. This technological advance has implications for the enterprise just as much as it does for music and movie consumers. Podcasting seems custom-made for corporate training, and companies are already exploring it as a way to touch dislocated sales forces and partners who can easily download all of the latest corporate and instructional material with a single hook-up for listening during those interminable drive times. Podcasting is inherently scheduled and interactive. Employees get the latest news without effort on their part and to hear at their pace. For partners and customers, a podcast subscription keeps them in regular contact. But best of all, the RSS feed itself often ties back into a blog where listeners can offer feedback on that podcast. If executed well, podcasting is an elegant way to maintain a fully portable, on-demand communications loop with staff or customers. "The more global an organization, the greater the demand and effectiveness right now for some convenience medium," says Maruggi.

Buttoned Down Garage Bands
The best business case of all for podcasting is its low-to-no cost structure and the myriad ways audio can be recorded. As in the early days of any medium with no set production or creative constraints, companies are being wildly creative in the ways they capture and craft audio programming. At Siemon, Wall discovered that in-house podcasting was a much cheaper way to broadcast his staff's expertise than using pricey elearning or Webinar services. Instead, he has his executives phone it in to a call-conferencing service that records an MP3 version for about $15 that Wall can edit with freeware. At AAPG, Buckley uses a $19 Radio Shack microphone to record directly into a PC and then uses software like SoundEdit to cut out the pauses and his many "ums." 

HP's executive press group uses an intriguing press conference method, capturing Denzel's thoughts in a recorded Q&A session. They create separate podcasts: one on internal matters, sales stories, pep talks, etc., for employees, and another on more general trade issues and market trends for public postings. Denzel can call in her entries from anywhere she is speaking around the world, and the press group captures and edits it into podcasts. HP is now designing a dedicated toll-free number and voice server for this task. Denzel will be able to call in an entry anywhere, any time, and the voice server not only captures it but notifies the press crew that a new podcast is ready for posting. 

Even though HP seems to be taking podcast capture to new levels of sophistication, they still believe that the medium needs to retain some of its garage band feel, and so they let Denzel's voice and even the low-res sound of a phone recording come through without much editing. "We don't spend a lot of time massaging the audio," says Postman. On the other hand, Buckley scripts and heavily edits his shows for compactness. "We have had a validation of the format: very short, very dense with information, not chatty at all," he says. 

Brevity clearly is the soul of audio wit. At least in these early stages, most enterprise podcasters are treating the format much like a blog, aiming for short two- to three-minute entries with a five-minute maximum. After all, even in business, it is best to remember that podcasting is an on-demand medium where control stays firmly in user hands. Create podcasts that are either short or highly modular so a user can drop into the element that most interests her quickly. Many one- or two-minute podcasts do especially well. Because podcasting and RSS software can fully automate the downloading of new, small entries to the media player, programmers don't have to worry about pulling eyeballs back to a site on a regular basis. Anyway, in the emerging etiquette of personalized, on-demand media it is downright impolite to monopolize drive space on someone's sacred iPod. "Over ten minutes, the file size becomes a deterrent, and they don't want to deal with it," says Wall.   

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