Audio is the new video! 7 ways to make ear contact with employees

It’s time to add audio to your internal communications. It engages employees like no other medium.

Audio podcasting is hitting the mainstream, but it’s almost nonexistent in the workplace. It’s time for communicators to change that.

Ten years ago podcasting was an interesting but fairly obscure fad with a core audience of tech, music and movie geeks. Today, after years of steady growth, it’s broken through into the broad public consciousness.

According to a recent Washington Post story, subscriptions to podcasts on Apple’s iTunes service passed 1 billion in 2013, and monthly listeners have tripled in the last five years. The latest podcasting sensation is Serial, an audio murder mystery that has attracted a huge audience in record time, at least 5 million downloads after only nine episodes.

It’s easy to see why podcasts are getting so popular. Audio is the easiest—and most mobile—of all media to consume. Every device, a smart phone, or an iPod, or a tablet, or a good-old-fashioned desktop computer, can play an audio file using the universal .mp3 format. You can download an audio file to your device, use an app that does it automatically for you, or just click on a link and listen to it stream directly to your ears from the cloud. It won’t be long before every new automobile has built-in Internet access and we’ll be able to listen to anything in the world on our car radio.

The mind boggles at how much stuff is out there. Podcasts are cheap to produce, using gear as simple as a headset and a laptop, and they’re almost free to distribute. Everyone makes them, from dabblers to seasoned pros, and no topic is too obscure. Are you a Druid? Subscribe to DruidCast. Love anything to do with ghosts? Check out the Anything Ghost Show. There are lots of mainstream choices, too. Whether the content is native to the Internet, such as comedian Marc Maron’s popular WTF talk show, or repackaged public radio programming like Radio Lab from WNYC, we can get our favorite audio shows when, and where, we want to listen to them.

So why aren’t we using audio to communicate with employees? The other digital medium, video, arrived in the workplace a few years ago, and it’s now the hottest trend in corporate communication. When used well, video is an extremely powerful medium, and there are lots of great examples of video at work—I host an audio podcast about that. But making compelling video is hard and time consuming, and it’s expensive to produce. And, sadly, a lot of corporate video is poorly done and the medium is becoming horribly overused.

Enter, audio. Here are seven ways you can make ear contact with employees:

1. Establish a regular audio interview with your CEO. No one trusts written messages and most CEO videos suck. Audio lets you hear the essence of your leader through his or her real voice, and it’s just as easy to post on your intranet as text or video.

2. Care about production values to keep listeners coming back for more. Take a comfort-food approach to audio programming. Study what you love to listen to, and produce audio that you would want to hear. Traditional “terrestrial” radio and podcasts have to compete for listeners, and the best audio shows know how to keep them from turning the dial.

3. Make your audio content super-easy to consume by making it public. Produce audio that’s okay for outsiders to hear so you can make it accessible through services like iTunes and smartphone apps. Most non-employees won’t be interested anyway, but your employees will be able to easily subscribe and listen at their convenience.

4. Share sound bites of front line employees. Get out there with a microphone (or solicit voicemail messages) and ask people what they think of an internal announcement or corporate initiative-or even what they’re doing over Christmas. Sharing their voices helps build community at work.

5. Offer audio versions of longer videos to reach more employees. No one likes to sit in front of their computer watching a long corporate video, even if it has lots of useful information. Provide an audio option-especially with longer video content-so people can listen while they’re doing something else, whether it’s walking their dog or cleaning out their email in-basket.

6. Don’t be afraid of longer original content, as long as it’s worth listening to. Some of the world’s most popular audio podcasts are well over an hour long. If the content warrants a longer treatment, and the audience is interested, and the production values are good, make the program as long as it needs to be.

7. Improve your audio by editing it. A long, single-camera video of a speaker at a podium can be unwatchable. The same applies to audio. Every minute you spend cutting out extraneous content is another minute of attention you’ll earn from appreciative listeners.

Audio engages employees like no other medium because it naturally conveys integrity and human warmth—something that’s much harder to do in print, or on video.

Consider this great quote from media visionary Andy Warhol: “Eye contact is the worst contact to have with somebody—I don’t care about that. Ear contact is so much better….I don’t see anything in people really. I just hear things in them.”

Start podcasting, and let your employees start hearing from you.

Master Communicator Ron Shewchuk is a longtime contributor to Ragan publications and conferences. He’s the host of the TV@Work podcast on the Ragan-sponsored FIR Podcast Network and Executive Producer at Purpose-Built Productions, an audio studio specializing in podcasts for corporate communicators and marketers. He lives in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

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