In 2023, more than 465 million people actively listened to multiple podcasts worldwide, a rapidly growing multibillion-dollar industry. According to Buzzsprout, one of the premiere podcast hosting platforms, 90 million individuals listen weekly in the U.S. alone.
With those kinds of numbers, it’s no wonder why large companies such as Spotify have spent over $1 billion in building up its podcasting empire, or why executive leadership at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) wanted to make it a focus.
In 2022, the Office of Enterprise Campaigns and University Communications at MUSC was tasked by the senior leaders to create a podcast aligned with one of the organization’s strategic pillars — innovation. The podcast would further diversify MUSC’s communication channels and elevate the profiles of its innovators and influencers. It would also serve to inspire employees and students and increase the number innovative idea submissions — both large and small — to the Office of Innovation.
The new podcast was named Innovatively Speaking and now serves as a strategic media channel to highlight champions of innovation at MUSC. The podcast employs a long-form, high-level storytelling approach to show faculty, staff, employees and partners that MUSC can help create real impact through their ideas, regardless of size or scope.
The enterprise communications and innovation teams collaborated to produce an original six-episode season, cover artwork, advertisement graphics and promotional material, including a 30-second advertisement clip. Overall, the show generated more than 1,230 total downloads within an eight month period and gained renewal for a second season with an additional seven episodes. In terms of ROI, the MUSC Innovation Gateway, an online idea submission portal at MUSC, grew in ideas submitted by 20%.
Today, Innovatively Speaking has been downloaded over 3,500 times, has a full video option for listeners to watch and has grown an audience of more than 200 subscribers in just over a year. On top of encouraging analytics, the podcast has become an effective tool for MUSC to externally showcase its leadership and create internal buy-in to “cultivating a culture of innovation” — a strategic goal.
As with any first-time experience, there were valuable lessons learned during the development, launch and early month of production. Here are some things communications teams should consider before diving into podcasting.
1. Know your style of podcast and who is hosting. Imagine yourself as an audience member and think about how you’d best like to receive the information being told. Podcasts are great for long-form storytelling, but what is the most effective way to tell that story? Your format might be educational, conversational or interview-based. Are you going to host the podcast yourself, or will you have multiple hosts?
2. Find a consistent production schedule and release your episodes regularly. Just like any other communications channel, if you’re not regularly posting, you’re losing valuable momentum and attention. In an ideal world, shows should post an episode at least twice a month. While this is not a hard and fast rule and doesn’t apply to every show, listeners tend to expect a consistent episode in their feeds. Depending on how long production and distribution takes, you may space episodes out once a month. Regardless, establish a consistent schedule.
3. Record your podcast in-person if you can (despite scheduling challenges). We’re all used to Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts or Zoom, but at the end of the day the best conversations (especially with large groups) happen during organic, in-person interactions. You’ll get more engaging and authentic interviews and spend less time editing individuals talking over each other. While this may be a bit more difficult logistically speaking given everyone’s busy schedules, that leads to tip No. 4…
4. Schedule multiple recording sessions at a time. It’s simple. Recording multiple episodes and recording sessions can save multiple days of scheduling concerns. Not only that, but you’ll be also able to backload episodes to avoid the random projects that take you off your consistent schedule. We’ve all dealt with emergency projects that take priority, which is why it’s great to know you have a podcast already recorded and ready for distribution in those scenarios.
5. How long should your show be? Aim to maintain industry standards of 20 to 40 minutes maximum. We’ve seen success with this formula and, for this reason, will often only book guests for an hour. The consumption of longer podcasts drops off around the 20-minute mark, or at roughly 70% completion of an episode.
6. Pick a hosting platform. A podcast hosting platform is a service that allows you to upload and store your audio files and then distribute them to various podcast directories, such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts. These platforms offer a variety of features, including analytics, hosting and distribution tools. These tools provide valuable insights into your listeners’ behaviors and preferences, as well as widen your audience and earn additional income from your podcast. This will also allow you to backload episodes and schedule them ahead of time.
7. Develop podcast search optimization (SEO). This refers to increasing the quality and quantity of traffic to your website via nonpaid (organic) results in search engines such as Google. Your podcast can use various techniques on your hosting platform to best optimize your growth, such as including research links that verify your guests to Google or using strong keywords through research that maintain a decent volume of monthly searches or impressions.
Reece Funderburk is a stakeholder engagement and communication manager with more than 10 years of experience in the media landscape, ranging from television to radio, publication relations and strategy. As communications manager of strategic initiatives at the Medical University of South Carolina, he develops and implements multimedia communication strategies that raise external awareness on enterprise core initiatives. His work has supported the development and execution of the state of South Carolina’s first “Innovation Month,” as well multiple statewide campaigns.