Welcome to Be a Bigger Fish!
This is episode 6 of our season 2, which is dedicated to in-house podcasting.
I’m delighted to have had a chance to capture a conversation with John Bonoff for this episode.
John is a writer and content creator for GuideSpark, a company that delivers employee communication solutions to enterprises all over the world. John’s part of an internal team that’s been producing a company podcast over the last year. The podcast is centred around GuideSpark’s mission and the interactions, experiences, and challenges that his co-workers face in its pursuit.
John and I had been chatting about in-house podcasts for a few weeks before we arranged a time to make an episode and I was lucky enough to get the chance to listen to some of his podcast episodes.
Connecting a business and its people
[2:40] John’s background in writing and his interest in how businesses connect with individuals and create their cultures meant he was keen to explore different options for internal communications.
He considered podcasting to be an ideal channel to explore and has been working, alongside three colleagues, on the GuideSpark in-house podcast for the past year.
John’s hope for the podcast was that it would
“create some inclusivity and foster some self-expression”
Setting up the podcast
[4:30] John’s leadership team were keen to find new ways to reach employees. The rise of podcasting from a niche channel to mainstream media in the last few years made it worth exploring. The fact it’s still a new channel for internal communications makes it an exciting experiment for John.
[6:15] John’s idea of two-way communication is more than just soliciting feedback:
“actually having people people inside your organisation produce content and put themselves out there – that vulnerability, that trust, hopefully lays a framework for communication to launch off of”
This vision helped his leaders to see the value of investing in his podcasting experiment.
[7:03] John and his colleagues were already experienced in writing scripts for video content, but found creating and editing podcasts ‘another level’. They spent late nights learning the skills of editing together. Learning this new skill gave the whole project an air of excitement and motivation.
[9:10] John wasn’t looking forward to settling down to editing, but he’s surprised to find it’s something he really enjoys. The new kind of storytelling podcasting presents motivates him to find the creativity in the content he creates.
The time it takes
[10:20] Originally, John and his team were preparing short podcasts designed to convey a specific company message. He found this required an hour of audio content to edit from. It took the team 6 to 7 hours of editing work to hone this into a 10 to 15 minute episode, with music.
John recommends allowing yourself plenty of time for the editing process in the early days, until you’ve learned the shortcuts and tricks that make that slicker.
Music to enhance the tone of your podcast
[12:00] John observes that music can ‘make or break’ a podcast episode. A poor choice of tone can distract from the message of your podcast, so John takes time to find the right song for his podcasts.
If you can create your own music, that would be an ideal way to create the tone you want for your podcast.
“it’s extremely rewarding having finished a podcast and finally lacing in the music; it’s maybe the best feeling of the whole project”
John’s podcasting kit
[14:50] The team started with a USB microphone, recording in a closet and editing on Adobe Audition. They soon reached a tipping point and wanted to up their game to match the increasing quality of external podcasts.
The team use recorded sound for their client projects too, so they were able to get budget for better microphones and mixing equipment. This helped the podcast to gain more credibility, as the professionalism of the set-up reflected the company’s commitment to the channel.
Getting buy-in to your podcast – show not tell
[16:50] Trying to get buy in on something is so much easier when you show what you’re trying to do, rather than just talk about it. John points out that it’s easy for leaders to say no to a concept, but if you make a sample podcast and demonstrate that you care and that it can be done, you’ll be more likely to gain the buy-in you need early on.
[18:30] Consider your belief in the podcast too – John spent time examining his own belief in the power of the podcast, during its early stage. As he says, “If you can be completely solid with it in yourself, that will permeate and that will be evident to leaders.”
The challenge of distribution
[19:40] The GuideSpark platform was a natural home for their in-house podcast. It also provided an opportunity for the team to test the platform from a customer’s perspective.
John described the data he’s able to monitor through the platform and how that helps target the content.
Gaining engagement in your podcast
[19:50] John and the team worked hard to use other channels to gain his colleagues’ engagement in the podcast. He ran a poster campaign and hosted forum discussions to find out more about his listeners’ preferences.
To further boost engagement, the company’s Slack channel is used to generate discussion and interactivity around podcast content. A great example was an episode about company values which gained traction through a process of colleagues tagging each other.
The evolution of the podcast
[23:22] The sound quality of the podcast has improved. So has its respect for the quality of authentic conversation. John and his team have found that over-editing can reduce conversations into sound bites and ‘stacks of information’. He’s working on developing the skill of fostering a more normal conversation for the podcast’s content.
As a result of this, podcast episodes are starting to become longer and more insight is being shared about how people think and make decisions.
“It kind of dials in what’s really valuable about the podcast medium, which is that you actually get to understand how someone thinks and how someone’s experience feeds into the way that they operate.”
This is the type of connection that attracted John to podcasting in the first place.
Capturing your company’s culture
[26:30] John observes that the voices of leaders are generally ‘heard’ through emails of the occasional town hall, in large organisations. He thinks podcasts can cut through that – not just for leadership but for lots of people inside an organisation. It’s a modern day answer to a problem:
“That sense of connection, sitting down and really having a conversation with someone, is not as common as we need and we would like.”
Opening up the potential to hear people’s voices is the way in-house podcasting is going
A constant supply of content
[29:00] To overcome the risks of ‘podfade’, where episode ideas quickly run out. John advises you focus on both the themes and the people you want to talk about. Preparing well for each conversation will help you to actively listen and draw out the interesting things that come out.
Working in a team gives you an advantage with idea generation and feedback. Also putting a focus on specific parts of your company can help uncover good ideas. Any content ideas you find that ‘pop’ for you will likely appeal to your listeners too.
Find an angle of interest
[32:00] John describes how to make content interesting, even where you have some fairly dry information to convey. It always helps to use a conversational style, and build in humour where you can, without losing the important messages.
[33:40] There’s currently some discussion about how the podcast, an in-house only channel, could be used externally. As something colleagues are proud of, sharing it in the same way you’d share a social media thread, seems to hold powerful potential for opening a window on the company’s culture.
Evaluating the outcomes of the podcast
[35:20] Reaction level data is easy for John to gather, but he hasn’t been able to track real behaviour change yet. He is encouraged by the way his colleagues are reacting to and referring to the podcast. It’s become accepted as a cultural cornerstone of the company, which is a great testament to John and his team’s dedication and expertise.
The future of the podcast
[37:00] Despite the considerable support and buy-in John has for his podcast, he’s ambitious for its future. It has huge value as a channel for sharing employee voices, but he’d like to see it hard-wired into the company’s goals more. This will enable it to become a more strategic tool and used to influence issues that are integral to the company’s growth and success.
“There’s always something we’re edging up against. To use the podcast as a way to have a conversation about how we can break through that…and hopefully create a springboard for those larger types of efforts would be awesome.”