November 19, 2015
The surge in the use of mobile devices among all age groups could make podcasts a valuable implement in a school district’s communications toolbox. Podcasts create a unique communications opportunity because of their portability, ease of use and growing popularity. With careful planning and a little creativity, podcasts could become a primary source of information for your schools to communicate with staff, students, parents and the community.
What is a podcast? Podcasts are audio or video files stored online that may be downloaded by subscribers to their computer, MP3 player (such as an iPod) or smartphone.
According to Pew Research Center, more than one-third of all Americans, ages 12 years or older, have listened to at least one podcast, and researchers say that number is growing. According to a study by Edison Research, among daily podcast listeners, podcasts occupied 30 percent of their listening time, more than any other audio source.
“Podcasts are incredibly rich sources of information compared to written stories, not just in terms of reported facts but in imparting the tone of voice and subconscious patterns of social interaction that frame an opinion or argument in a much more specific way,” says an article in Forbes Magazine. “Where reading a printed story can sometimes feel like a version of reality being imposed on you, listening to podcasts delivers the frail and sometimes pathetic experience of hearing someone try and prove to themselves a theory of reality that grows more obviously self-limiting the further it goes on.”
While there is an upfront cost (equipment) to get started, most school districts already have the equipment at hand. At minimum, a quality microphone, recording software such as Audacity or Garage Band are needed. Each podcast also needs an account set up through a podcast hosting website such as Libsyn, Buzzsprout or Podbean. Some hosting services are free and others have plans based on premium services. At the bare minimum, the hosting service you use should empower you to connect to iTunes and other RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feed systems so that listeners can easily subscribe to your podcast and have new episodes download automatically.
A podcast is not a spontaneous event. It requires planning. While the topic and the format are key considerations, others may include the purpose behind the podcast, any desired listener actions, how the podcast fits into the district’s overall communications plan and if you want to create any additional materials to accompany the podcast for download from your website. In many cases, a script will be required. Inexperienced speakers may require rehearsal or a few takes to get their nerves out. Guest speakers may request a list of interview questions and a briefing prior to recording.
Podcasting may not be as easy to launch as other forms of communication such as Twitter and Facebook accounts but with some forethought and creativity, it could become an anchor for communication and creating a more personal and substantial relationship with your community of listeners.