posted 31 May 2006 in Volume 9 Issue 9
Do believe the hype
Podcasting provides a new way for organisations to distribute information, argues Lynda Rathbone.
Podcasting. It’s a word I predict will make the next version of the Oxford English Dictionary – as well as Webster’s, Longman’s and anyone else’s dictionary you care to mention. While it may not be mainstream just yet, based on the adoption of personal MP3 players over the last four years I think it’s one to watch. When was the last time you can remember something being so pervasive and intuitive? There are no ‘teach yourself how to use an iPod’ classes. There is no need for them.
And with this success comes the ability to reach a global audience of millions. Those of you who have started to download podcasts know that they look a bit like the good, the bad and the ugly at the moment. You can listen to someone talk about trout fishing or what they had for breakfast. But you can also download useful podcasts, like news-based podcasts about technology or political radio broadcasts from other countries. And for the really faithful, there are even ‘godcasts’ about – you guessed it – God.
And podcasts just got better. With Apple’s new video iPod enjoying growing success, audio and video are now available, increasing the innovative things you can do with a podcast. Some recent examples I’ve seen include video dating services, estate agents posting properties to view on the comfort of your own MP3 player and travel guides.
But what does this mean to us, business folk with limited time and money? It means thinking differently about organisations’ knowledge assets and content and how you can use a media that’s fit for purpose to reach your target audience most effectively.
It’s about ‘reachability’
In the attempt to understand your target audiences and tailor your intranets or internet sites to them, how often do you ask how they best absorb information? As we all know, people learn in different ways – using things like visual cues, active listening or simply reading printed materials. When they are all options to use, we use them to learn better or take in more knowledge. But many of our ‘knowledge repositories’ or websites are not set up to support this. They are page after page of textual information on a computer screen that the user must sit in front of – or print out and take with them. And this is where the potential of podcasting comes in.
Why not, when you are defining your user requirements for your online environment, take in a bit of extra information, namely how people would best be reached by information, or what I’ve called ‘reachability’. An example of this comes from recent work with a company that was re-doing its intranet site.
This company had about one-third of its employee population working at call centres and another one-fifth driving company vans. Neither population had easy access to the intranet due to time constraints or location and access issues. What both had, however, were ways to reach them with content and information that would not disrupt their workday and would increase their access to knowledge and information in a way that was not possible or cost-effective before.
For the call centre workers, they actively listen all day, every day. It is therefore fair to say they absorb information well aurally. So why not post weekly audio updates on the site for them to either listen to at work or download to their mobile phones or MP3 players? The cost of producing a podcast now is very low – all you need is a microphone, a bit of software for recording your podcast and a server that can host MP3 files and hey presto! You’re now reaching an audience in the way they prefer to be reached.
As for the van drivers, they couldn’t access the intranet regularly but they did have palmtop computers that they carried around with them, that updated them on their jobs for the day. They had to use those to for their work so why not create an audio podcast for them on a regular basis as well? They could listen to it on their hands-free while driving from one appointment to the next.
So, with millions of people out there carrying around a MP3 player of some kind, be it on their mobile or on an iPod, it’s only a matter of time before someone figures out how to make best use of podcasting for learning. You could download language courses, for example, or watch someone giving a cookery lesson. While the screen is still small, it’s nonetheless easier to bring your mobile into the kitchen than it is your laptop.
And what about Ikea? Or
And this goes for business out there who have training needs as well. What about posting instructions for suppliers on how to install parts or assemble equipment? And what about reaching your customers more effectively by supplementing any instructional materials with updates they can subscribe to via really simple syndication (RSS) and get the latest podcast? The possibilities for learning and training are simply endless. Children are already taking this type of learning for granted so those of you with young people as a target audience should be thinking about how best to serve their needs using the device they wouldn’t go out without – their iPod.
Do believe the hype
So you’ve been reading this so far and thought this is all very interesting, but what about me? Nothing is coming to mind immediately on how we can get in on the action. Well, don’t forget that podcasts are a great place to advertise, share knowledge, participate in an existing community of other podcasters and learn yourself. A good resource for podcasting is www.podcastingnews.com. It’s got all the latest about this new capability and has a good directory of podcasts.
So, while podcasting may not be popular enough yet to make the Oxford English Dictionary, it is set to take off – both commercially and for business. All it needs are your innovative ideas and you’ve got an entirely new way to share knowledge and engage users in a way that wasn’t possible just a few years ago.
Already podcasting? Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your link.
Lynda Rathbone is managing director of consultancy