This episode takes a fascinating look into the circumstances that led a well-researched and highly-produced podcast to fail.
It stars accomplished communications professional, Jen Phelps.
Jen is a strategic, results driven communications professional and copy writer with a passion for developing innovative content that informs, engages and inspires.
With over 20 year’s experience, her expertise includes strategic communications planning; brand management; social media; change management; HR, diversity and inclusion programming; and intranet management.
Jen takes pride in her ability to cultivate relationships and collaborate with business partners in highly matrixed organisations to develop compelling strategies that meet the needs of a wide variety of audiences. Her efforts emphasise teamwork and enhance the personal experience.
[3:10] Jen has first hand experience of working on an in-house podcast that didn’t deliver on its expectations. She describes the scale of the large, highly-dispersed company she was working in at the time.
“At the time, podcasting seemed to be…something that we thought might resonate with a number of folks.”
[4:35] Plenty of time and budget was invested in the project. An internal podcasting app was developed so the content could be shared securely.
“It was very interesting in that it was lined up for success and yet still it didn’t work.”
Hopes for the podcast
[6:00] The podcast was aimed at the senior leaders in the company, to ensure they were getting information about a large, high-impact project at the time. It was an audience group the internal comms teams had been struggling to reach. They felt that podcast content would be easily available to leaders during travel time and would be a unique way to get important messages to them.
How the podcast was made
[8:12] Partnering with the learning & development team in the company, Jen’s team was able to access expert help with creating and sharing the podcast. They documented a guide for podcast participants and creators. There were microphones, equipment and software subscriptions available for in-house podcasters to use.
Not only were physical resources amply available, Jen describes the time commitment she and her team gave to the podcasting project.
Thoughts on the podcast format
[11:50] Jen feels that the podcast format was successful and describes how, for each episode, four short 10-minute segments were created. The lead presenter was charismatic and interesting; guests were invited onto the episodes and Q&A material was included.
The audience response
[14:55] The podcast app was seen as a barrier rather than an asset, despite the quality of its design.
“Right away we had that challenge of ‘I have to put this app on my phone’”
[16:00] The target audience didn’t show much interest in listening to the content. This was a surprise to the internal comms team, who’d received feedback from the leadership group to say they were receiving too many emails. The truth, however, was that the leaders turned to their email to get the information they needed and saw the podcast as just something extra they didn’t need.
Despite the fact the content hadn’t been designed specifically for the general employee group, it was more popular with them than with its target audience of senior executives.
“It was information that was coming from a source that was ‘higher up’ and so it was credible information”
However, the content seemed too ‘dry’ compared to their expectations from a podcast. Jen describes this as an interesting challenge – she found that employees expected the podcast to be more entertaining.
“It’s an interesting challenge – I think employees hoped it would be a bit more entertaining or perhaps a bit more lighthearted.”
[18:50] When Jen’s team got verbatim feedback from the employee group it surprised them:
“When I have downtime, in my car or on the train, I don’t want to hear about work… I want to focus on other things.”
This has a parallel with digital signage, which can fail when it’s placed in break rooms and locations employees go to relax and unplug from work. Jen advises this is something we all need to think about a little bit: we all want to deliver content at a time and place people want it so we have to have clarity on where and when that really is.
Course-correcting the podcast
[21:15] Before giving up on the podcast, the internal comms team partnered with a group who wanted to share information about career development. They captured a short series of episodes featuring diverse individuals who’d grown their career in the technology area of the company, sharing their story and their advice.
“It did much better than the other podcast…it felt a little bit more relaxed; it was something that could truly help them and it fit more in line with the types of podcast they would listen to on their own time.”
It’s important to find out what your audience expects from a podcast, to avoid falling short of those expectations.
Resistance to Change
[25:30] We talk about how frustrating it can be to hit resistance to change, when you’re trying to introduce new ways of communicating that you feel could have a bigger impact. Jen observes that it’s wise to bear in mind the average length of tenure in your employee group. She’s found that has a bearing on the level of aversion to change.
A comparative podcasting experience
[27:05] Jen has moved into a new role in the public sector. She observes that investment in projects is much less and the pace of project execution is slower than her private sector experience. She enjoys the benefits of this and the fact she’s able to take time to make more thoughtful decisions.
The organisation she works for publishes a podcast for the general public. It’s not intended as an internal comms tool, but it has a healthy following amongst the colleague group.
“Some of the things that were a miss for us in the previous organisation…work quite well here.”
[30:50] Jen observes the trend towards the convergence of external and internal communications partially explains the popularity of this podcast. So too does the fact it’s available on external podcast directories people may be already used to using, as well as on the company’s intranet.
Pride and ownership power listenership
[34:40] Pride in the organisation and the stories of peoples’ work is what seems to drive the employees in the public sector company to tune into their podcast. We talk about how you can identify what’s important to your listeners and what gives them the greatest sense of pride.
[36:00] Internal communications is heavily implicated in culture change efforts, but that can be a long-term programme
“When an organisation is looking to change the culture, we all know… it’s a long haul; there’s a lot of research that goes into those kinds of efforts.”
You can’t make this work just through a podcast, but if you can find what people in the organisation like to be known for, you can tap into that to inform your messaging and content more successfully. The only way to find this out is through gaining honest feedback and opinion from employees.
[38:00]This will help your podcast strategy get off to a good start:
“What are employees talking about? Where’s the buzz? What are they really happy about or feeling like there’s a lot of pride in?”
[39:30] Jen can look back on her experience of that podcast that didn’t deliver, with the benefit of some more successful experiences subsequently. If she could go back and do that original podcast again, she’d start by finding out what topics people want to hear more about and that tie into their pride in the organisation. The podcast content could be built out from there, rather than being used as a tool to fix a specific problem for a niche audience.
“who should the audience be and let’s start with something that excites them”
Finding topics people want to listen to and encouraging a more peer-to-peer approach would be two of the main changes Jen would make to that original podcast strategy.
Can a podcast be entertaining AND credible?
[42:00] Jen managed to find an ideal host for her podcast. Charismatic, credible and well known for always making time to listen to people – these were the characteristics that made the host ideal.
” This person was very much seen as being credible and as being a positive, actionable voice for the organisation. I think there are always those people somewhere in the organisation and you just have to suss that out. “
Find out who the credible, friendly voices are in your organisation and bear in mind they might not be in leadership positions. Consider who the ‘influencers’ are in your employee groups. This can help you with podcasting or with any of your communications actions.
Can in-house podcasts be of value?
[45:30] Despite Jen’s early podcasting experience, she believes in-house podcasts CAN work and be of value. She advises carrying out a thorough analysis of what’s needed, without being ‘fixated’ on a specific issue you’re trying to solve.
Take a look at the statistics and comments you can get hold of from any measurement activity inside your organisation. Run focus groups with various employee groups. You may find podcasts really aren’t the right tool for you, but you may find you have an ideal company set-up and culture for podcasting.
Really take the time to think about your goals and your current channels mix too:
“I don’t think it’s that complicated really. I just think it a matter of us being very honest with ourselves and also making sure you’ve talked to people and you are understanding what they are looking for.”
[48:00] Don’t get hung up on the technology. Just because it’s a new tool and it requires some technology, don’t fall into the trap of focusing on that to the detriment of your communications content.
Learning from our missteps together
Jen has been so generous to share this experience and she invites you to join in!
We’d both be really keep to hear about your successes and set-backs and what you’ve learned from both.
“It’s through that learning that we can all help each other to be more successful out of the gate.”
Share your podcasting stories and experiences with us! Just drop me an email – Debbie@peppermintfish.com and we’ll arrange a chat.
With huge thanks to Jen for her candour and her excellent advice.
If you’d like to contact Jen, you can find her on Twitter @jenphelps1994 or LinkedIn at Jennifer Phelps