Radio Free Enterprise: Podcasting Helps Companies Communicate

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Gerald Buckley, production manager at the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, is the first to admit, "I am not Bob Costas. I am not a broadcast-quality personality." And yet in the first day on iTunes' new Podcast Directory, his podcasts of AAPG trade news received 109 subscribers, and that is on top of the thousands who were already receiving these monthly MP3 programs downloaded directly to their digital audio players via an RSS feed from the AAPG site. "It's just an unobtrusive way to get a very quick download of everything that is important for members to know about," says Buckley.

After a decade of digital information overload—email, multimedia, and endless Web surfing—podcasting is starting to engage the enterprise because of its sheer simplicity. This is new technology that revives our appreciation of the oldest medium. Podcasting offers brief, regularly scheduled, and automated distribution of media that pokes through the digital noise with the most basic and compelling content delivery device of all, the human voice. 

And so, Buckley is not alone as an unlikely audio star. Since February, General Motors executives have been using podcasts both internally for employees and externally at its GM Fast Lane Blog to announce and describe new car launches to customers and the press. Hewlett Packard has one of the highest-profile executive podcasters in Nora Denzel, SVP and general manager, Adaptive Enterprise and Software Global Business Unit. In fact, her "Agility Radio" podcasts resulted from audience demand. Known as a dynamic speaker at trade events, Denzel launched audio blogs last spring because the company's executive communications group felt that audio best suited her opinionated style and podium prowess. Literally within hours of going live, however, her tech-savvy listeners not only urged HP to convert Agility Radio into a podcast series but even offered instructions on how to wrap downloadable MP3s in RSS feeds. "The employees and the public coached us very quickly," says Joel Postman, director of internal and executive communications. "Within 24 hours of launch as an audio blog it was turned into a podcast because there was so much demand for it." Agility Radio received more than 10,000 page views in May and about 1,000 audio downloads.

Trade publishers in particular are quickly embracing the possibilities for extending their content reach with podcasting technology. Podcasting uses RSS feeds and often blogs as distribution vehicles, platforms that the major search engines spider regularly and often rank highly in natural search results. When M2M magazine, a trade brand for the machine sensors industry, podcast excerpts from its recent conference, it received several hundred downloads in just the first day. "In a new and exciting market this was pretty exciting," says Peggy Smedley, president, Specialty Publishing Co. "We've been talking about extending the podcasts to include magazine content." 

Indeed, several podcast service companies report that the ideas for leveraging podcasting in the enterprise are starting to gush in. Podcasting seems to have re-ignited the corporate imagination about what audio can do: training, earnings calls, market analysis, pep talks from the top of the organization, or just convenient on-demand news dumps for the corporate troops. Cheap to produce and distribute, unique in the way it stands out among employees, partners, and clients, podcasting is starting to make a business case for enterprises to get hip to audio. 

Tell Us a Story: Radio Redux
The wonderful irony of next-gen podcasting is that it revives our appreciation for the subtle power of voice communication and old-time radio. In fact, HP employees immediately praised Denzel's podcasts because, says Postman, "‘We loved to hear your voice, to hear you tell me about this project in your own words,' were the comments internally." Early corporate podcasters are realizing how tone, inflection, emphasis, and pace communicate both efficiently and in ways text cannot.

Old fashioned storytelling may be the most engaging uses of podcasting within the corporation. "Our podcasts are all about sales tools," says Jim Poppy, senior manager of marketing communications at Network Alliance. His "S3 Radio" was podcasting before there was podcasting, as an audio show distributed to the dispersed sales force on CDs. These interviews with customers, tales of sales wins, and discussions of competitive strategy "are much more effective than trying to get people to read an email," says Poppy. 

Podcasting reminds some companies that they have many stories to tell with real value. Network cabling provider Siemon employs industry experts that now produce dozens of podcasts for its intranet and partners, and none of them sell product. "The subject matter experts have a wealth of timely knowledge, and we're trying to use podcasts to convey that knowledge," says David Wall, global emarketing manager at Siemon. "If you start making a sales pitch, it won't get listened to or have value to listeners," he says. Wall knows of at least one case where his new podcasts helped put the Siemon brand back on the radar of a former partner.

Likewise, iPressroom helped advertising services vendor Ecast, Inc. create a "Digital Masters" series of interviews with speakers at a recent Ad:Tech convention. By releasing this RSS feed into the wild across podcast networks, Ecast generated sales leads because the content was compelling, convenient, and relevant. "If they are registering to listen to a podcast about how technology is changing media and advertising, they are a potential customer," says Eric Schwartzman, president of iPressroom.

The strongest cases for podcasting in the enterprise involve efficiency and clarity. Voices poke through and relieve us of an oppressive environment of text and images. "Audio brings things to life, almost a sensory vacation," says Poppy. And of course, podcasting also slips into the multi-tasking, on-demand gestalt of the new generation of iPod-toting employees who already know how to juggle a dozen open chat windows. "Audio is very powerful in this phase we are in," says Albert Maruggi, president, Provident Partners, which produced the M2M podcasts. "We're an on-demand society. To be more productive I might be doing more than two things at a time. Podcasting allows me to multitask."  Maruggi also hosts the Marketing Edge podcast, which is among iTunes ' most popular podcasts.

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