Participatory podcasts offer way to engage audiences

Podcasts are praised for their mobility and low cost to produce. However, they also have social media potential that goes largely unexplored. For the price of an additional phone line, podcast hosts can gather audience feedback through recorded messages, giving the final product an interactive element.

Podcasts are praised for their mobility and low cost to produce. However, they also have social media potential that goes largely unexplored. For the price of an additional phone line, podcast hosts can gather audience feedback through recorded messages, giving the final product an interactive element.

"I think it's much more effective to hear six or seven different voices rather than read a testimonial," says John Havens, founder of Podcast Vision and Voice. "With voices, it hooks you into the story."

Encouraging callers can be as simple as offering a small incentive if the message is used. It also drives traffic to the company Web site, with listeners coming back to hear their comments broadcast.

"It's a great way to let people know that they're being heard," says Havens.

Adam Broitman, director of emerging and creative strategy at Morpheus Media, has also found internal communications uses for participatory podcasts. He wants to launch a companywide system next month that will incorporate podcasts with "employee-generated content," which he thinks will get people engaged.

"It's important to give people that sounding board if you want to communicate effectively internally," says Broitman. "Everyone that is doing it right is [fostering] feedback from their audience."

Despite (or because of) the ubiquity of blogging and other new-media channels, executives may still be wary of relinquishing control and allowing audience contributions to podcasts. But the ability to ad-lib may be one of the most compelling uses of the technology.

Joel Postman, EVP of emerging media at Eastwick Communications, has pitched man-on-the-street interviews and pre-event podcasts to clients (Visit prweek.com for his podcasting tips; sub reqd).

"Podcasting isn't live, but there are some risks of people going into controversial subject areas," says Postman. "These are things that companies are going to have to overcome if they're going to have those authentic discussions with the public or reporters."

Key points:

Podcasting is a social medium, so audience participation should be encouraged

Participatory podcasting can be used for external and internal communications

Companies may be afraid of the risks of user-generated content, but will reap the rewards of greater interaction with loyal listeners

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