Podcasting Best Practices
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A podcast is a digital audio or video file that can be saved for playback on a portable
media player or computer. The term podcast refers to both the actual content of
the media file or the method by which the content is syndicated. Programs and divisions
at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) produce podcasts as individual
episodes for inclusion in a larger series, or as a separate, stand-alone series.
While all of the following best practices are relevant for both episodic and serial
podcasting, some best practices are more relevant to producers of one particular
form of presentation than the other.
The following best practices are not a comprehensive list, but rather a starting
point for consideration when initiating podcast production. They are grounded in
basic concepts of social marketing, which emphasize formative research prior to
presenting information.1 The preliminary research stage informs target audience
selection and identification of messages, two elements upon which all effective
subsequent communication are built.
In this document we address the following best practices:
- What is the purpose of the podcast?
- Know thy audience.
- Audience-centered content organization.
- To repurpose or not to repurpose?
- Less is more
- Production quality.
- Regular and frequent release.
- Cross-Marketing CDC internet and third party sites.
- Be complete
- Transcripts more than a Section 508 requirement.
- Connecting with your audience.
- Closing the loop Getting audience participation.
What is the purpose of the podcast?
The first and most important step when initiating production is to identify target
audiences and main health messages. Basic communication theory guides this initial
step in the production process, emphasizing the need to clearly define the communication
goal prior to developing content. Once a communication goal is determined, it is
appropriate to design a marketing plan and a messaging strategy to most effectively
achieve that goal.2 Only after these steps have been completed should a determination
be made about whether a podcast is an effective way of achieving the communication
goal and whether it fits within the marketing plan and messaging strategy. If a
podcast can play a role in the campaign, then a podcast should be planned to address
the communication goal.
Know thy audience.
Podcast design should be deliberate in that it is an appropriate method to meet
communication goals and is a good fit with the specified marketing plan. Similarly,
podcasts should be designed with a particular audience in mind.4,5 Selection of
a target audience is necessary prior to script creation to ensure effective communication.
3 For instance, podcasts designed for the general public should avoid use of medical
terminology when more accessible synonyms exist. While it is acceptable to use words
like dyspepsia and Varicella in podcasts designed for health
professionals, such words should be replaced with heart burn or chicken
pox when designing podcasts for the general population. Podcasts targeting
adolescents and young adults should be casual and idiomatic, while those for seniors
should be more formal.
Audience-centered content organization.
The CDC Health Protection Goals offer a great way to organize podcast content that
breaks from normal organizational or disease-specific research thinking. For many
audiences it is the primary and optimal way to organize and deliver content. A parent
of a 5-year old wants to know about issues concerning pediatrics and the health
and well-being of her child and would prefer them to be packaged and delivered that
way. She doesn't want to subscribe to a series on diabetes, one on measles, one
on meningitis, etc. to find the three pertinent episodes. One podcast series on
pediatric issues (or Grow Safe and Strong in this case) would be more applicable.
Dividing the production responsibilities by collaborating with colleagues in other
programs and segmenting up the workload makes regular and frequent podcast release
more feasible. Four or five programs each responsible for one episode per month
can produce a weekly podcast series, with the production demands equal to those
of a monthly podcast for any one program.
To repurpose or not to repurpose?
In many cases, audio or video content may already exist on a particular topic prior
to podcast development. In this case, it can be tempting to repurpose existing content
for use in a new podcast. However, repurposing is not always the most effective
use of podcast technology. Michael Geoghegan, founder of Willnick Productions and
producer of Disneys initial podcasts, explains, "Rather than taking an
audio file and calling it a 'podcast,' companies need to create unique content as
a podcast to generate real interest and long-standing popularity."6
Prior to deciding whether or not to repurpose, it is important to revisit the initial
marketing plan and messaging strategy that have been created to meet the communication
goal. If existing content fits well within this framework, then it is acceptable
to repurpose. Otherwise, new content should be created that is suitable for the
messaging strategy. Repurposing existing content simply for the sake of producing
a podcast violates the tenets of communication theory and is not based in research.
Less is more.
Just as repurposing existing content for the sake of creating a podcast is not recommended,
creating video podcasts is not always an effective means of communication. Unless
the video or visuals used in the podcast are critical to effectively communicating
the message, use of such technology should be avoided. Many users prefer to do other
things while listening to podcasts, such as housework or driving, which is not conducive
to watching a video podcast.
Similarly, a thirty minute podcast is not necessarily better than a five minute
podcast because it is longer. In fact, subscribers may listen to a thirty minute
podcast, but not even consider downloading one that lasts an hour.7 Communication
goals, messaging strategy, and target audience should inform script creation, and
thus the length of the podcast. If the same message can be effectively communicated
in five minutes instead of ten, there is no reason to create a longer podcast.4
However, extended, long podcasts may be more appropriate for certain communication
While many individuals access podcasts from a computer, others choose to download
them to a portable media device and listen with head phones or ear buds. For maximum
comfort of the listener, podcast production should be as high quality as possible.5
Listeners simply will not continue listening to a poorly recorded podcast.7 At CDC,
this usually means using the Division of Creative Services (DCS) to create a quality
Anyone can produce a podcast with inexpensive recording equipment, but that doesn't
mean everyone should. When sound quality is poor, it is very apparent to audience
members using ear buds to access content. Static or background noise on a recording
can be unbearable for such individuals. This also has implications for repurposed
content. While pre-existing content might be desirable to use for various reasons,
if the quality of the recording is poor, the audience may not stay tuned in long
enough to receive the message.8 Disney podcast designer Michael Goeghegan reiterates,
"Your listeners control the subscription
if you come out of the gate with
an unprofessional or poorly-developed podcast, [your listeners] will unsubscribe
as quickly as they signed up."6
If incidental music or sound effects are used, final product must be reviewed closely
and thoroughly. If the sound levels for background music or sound effects are too
high, they will obscure or block the spoken text, especially when listened to through
Regular and frequent release.
When creating a marketing plan and messaging strategy that includes the use of a
podcast series, it is important to note that series with more regular and frequent
releases are the ones with the broadest listener base. For example, at CDC no single
episode of the two weekly series by Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)
ranks higher than the 15th most popular download. However, the series account for
approximately 35% of all podcast traffic each week. The series have built a dedicated
audience that continues to grow. When developing a podcast series, podcasts should
be released at least monthly preferably on a weekly or biweekly basis. This
regular and frequent release schedule cultivates a steady audience over time.
Cross-Marketing CDC internet and third party sites.
Leveraging a variety of existing and no-cost channels for podcast marketing is an
effective method of increased exposure to a podcast episode or series. Multiple
channels exist both internally and externally, all of which should be explored for
CDC.gov hosts a page devoted to CDC podcasts (www.cdc.gov/podcasts) where users
can browse podcasts, search for podcasts by a particular topic, or subscribe to
a podcast series. In addition, podcasts should be featured on program pages, created
in coordination with a CDC.gov Feature or Health-e-Card, and promoted through CDCs
public health partners.
Several external podcast directories also exist where podcasts can be registered.
Registering podcasts on an external directory makes them accessible to individuals
who might be interested in the topics but are not visitors to CDC.gov or are not
familiar with the CDC.gov Podcast page. External registration is especially useful
to increase the listener base for new podcast series.5,8 The CDC Podcast Coordinator
will register all new series of CDC podcasts. The most popular of these external
podcast directories include:
Many times a podcast will direct the listener to a URL containing more information
or resources related to the podcasts topic. All URLs should be completely
spoken in order to make them as accessible to the user as possible. A fully articulated
URL in a podcast will be transcribed as such, thus providing an opportunity to include
a functional hyperlink within the podcast transcript and allowing for search engine
indexing and improved ranking.
Since podcasts are routinely downloaded and often shared from person to person outside
the confines of CDC.gov, special attention must be given to non 'evergreen' material.
Given the nature of some podcasts, especially those dealing with outbreaks and emergency
situations, certain podcasts should explicitly state a time reference in the audio
as well as a sunset time. For example, "This podcast is an update of the situation
as of October 13, 2007 at 2:30 PM Eastern Standard Time on the current e-Coli
outbreak in the western US. This content will be considered current until a new
podcast is released, the emergency.cdc.gov web site is updated, or 2:29 PM Eastern
Standard Time, October 15, 2007, whichever comes first."
Transcripts more than a Section 508 requirement.
In order to meet Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility
guidelines, all video podcasts must be open captioned since not all portable media
players currently support closed captioning.9 In addition, any podcast produced
by CDC or hosted on the CDC.gov web site must include a written transcript. Please
note that it is possible to subscribe not only to CDC podcasts, but to the PDF transcripts
of CDC podcasts.
Based on the CDC.gov statistics, the number of downloads for transcripts is higher
than the expected representative proportion of the population that would require
alternative delivery mechanisms for accessibility. Transcripts are being downloaded
for printing, speed reading, and for hand-outs to patients and classrooms. Transcripts
in and of themselves are a viable and important distribution channel. Even organizations
not required to uphold Section 508 standards recommend podcast transcription.4,5,8
Connecting with your audience.
Like traditional broadcasting, getting the audience to identify and emotionally
connect with your host or hosts is important. Not only does it build a sense of
anticipation from episode to episode, it also helps to increase the level of trust
in the delivery of the message. Just as a newscaster becomes the personification
of a corporate entity, the host of a podcast can make a similar connection with
the audience. Hosts for podcasts that are intended for the health care professional
should project confidence, knowledge and authority. Those for the general public
should be personable, likeable and trustworthy.
Closing the loop Getting audience participation.
Revisiting communication theory, attainment of a communication goal relies on determination
of that goal, development of a marketing plan and a messaging strategy, and selection
of a target audience. Podcast creation should occur with each of these steps in
mind. Communication theory also highlights evaluation as a necessary step in the
process.1 Inherent in podcast creation should be an evaluation strategy. This strategy
can include raw metrics such as number of downloads as well as qualitative feedback
from listeners about any aspect of the podcast including length, topic, or presenter.
Podcasting is an emerging channel for audience engagement, and as such, it is essential
to solicit audience feedback as a form of evaluation.8 It is important to think
about ways to obtain feedback from the audience such as creating and maintaining
a separate e-mail box for comments. Podcast development should not end with a podcast
being uploaded to a website, but should continue past that point with evaluation.
Beyond evaluation is audience participation. Despite its classification as a Web
2.0 technology, podcasting still retains some 1.0 characteristics. For instance,
podcast messages are crafted, produced and broadcast with little to no audience
participation or personalization inherent in many other Web 2.0 technologies. One
way to increase audience engagement is to actively solicit audience participation
and use audience feedback. Methods include answering audience emails, receiving
and recording audience phone calls, receiving questions and comments from listeners
in audio files, etc.
To conclude, podcasting is a potentially effective means of health communication
if it is implemented appropriately. As with any other communication channel, initial
decisions about whether or not to utilize podcasting technology must be based on
formative research including target audience selection, goal setting, and marketing
plan and messaging strategy development. If podcasting is an appropriate communication
channel for these elements, then specific decisions regarding the podcast can be
made including content, length, and evaluation strategy. Referring to the best practices
listed above and consistently revisiting the marketing plan during podcast development
will help ensure that a relevant and valuable podcast is ultimately created.
- 1. Andreasen, A. Marketing Social Change: Changing Behavior to Promote Health, Social
Development, and the Environment, 1995.
- 2. Weinrich, N. K. Formative Research in Social Marketing. Hands-On Social Marketing,
- 3. Weinrich, N. K. Not Just Business as Usual. Hands-On Social Marketing, 1999.
- 4. Podcasting Best Practices. Podcasts at Penn State, June 4, 2006. Retrieved November
26, 2007 from http://podcasts.psu.edu/guidelines
- 5. Rumford, R. Podcasting White Paper: How to Leverage This New Media Marketing
- 6. Podcast Primer: Best Practices and Need to Know Advice. New Communications Review,
November 26, 2007. Retrieved November 26, 2007 from http://www.newcommreview.com/?p=247.
- 7. McElhearn, Kirk. Kirks Eight Rules of Effective Podcasting. Kirkville,
March 12, 2006. Retrieved November 26, 2007 from http://www.mcelhearn.com/article.php?story=20050630164539429
- 8. Housley, S. Podcasting Dos and Donts. Podcasting Tools, n.
d. Retrieved November 26, 2007 from http://www.podcasting-tools.com/podcasting-dos-donts.htm
- 9. CDC 508 Implementation Guidelines.