How to start and sustain a federal podcast
What is a podcast?
A podcast is similar to a radio talk show, except it’s online. And instead of being run live, it is pre-recorded. Unlike radio talk shows, podcasts can vary in length from episode to episode. Because podcasts are downloadable, you can listen to them anywhere at any time, making them ideal for a busy audience on the go.
Why use the podcast format?
Users can listen in at any time and any place makes podcasts uniquely accessible. Podcasts are also known for their more personal, conversational quality. This makes them a good medium to establish a relationship with the public and provide vital insight and updates about government work, projects, and upcoming initiatives.
How do I get started with a federal podcast?
Podcasts are a fun way to connect with the public, address their questions, promote trust, and increase transparency. If you decide that podcasts are right for your agency, and you get approval, here are some initial steps to get you started.
Determine your theme
You want to pick a theme that is broad enough to be flexible, but not so broad that your audience has no idea what you will be discussing.
Determine your format
There are several different types of podcasts, but two stand out as the usual “go-tos.” There is the narrative style, where you (the narrator) tell a story, interspersing snippets from interviews with subject matter experts. The second style is the interview style, where you hold a discussion, question and answer style, with one or more interviewees. Of course, podcasts are flexible, so every episode doesn’t necessarily have to follow the same format. It’s ok to be creative, but you do want to give your audience a sense of what to expect and some grounding, even if you switch things around a bit for style.
Determine your length
Podcasts range from a few minutes to several hours. You don’t have to make each episode exactly the same length, but you want to give your listeners an idea of what to expect. This is where you really need to start thinking about sustainability. If you decide to do a two-hour podcast for your first episode, is that something you can do consecutively? Which brings us to number four…
Determine your cadence
Some podcasts are weekly, some monthly, some quarterly … you get the point. In general, what sort of cadence works best for your agency? Do you have public updates for a weekly cadence? How many people do you have that can be dedicated to this effort? How long do approvals in your agency usually take? Remember, there is more than just determining the content and recording. There is editing, providing transcripts for accessibility, and publishing—not to mention the time and effort it will take to research and work with subject matter experts. When you pick your cadence, think of your availability and all the moving parts involved. If you take on too much, your podcast might become a burden instead of a valuable communications tool.
Determine your resources
Does your agency have a budget for communications or podcasting? Do you have dedicated personnel? If not, who is involved and to what degree can you reasonably expect them to work on podcasting? Your resources are going to determine not only your cadence, but also your technology. You don’t need to have a dedicated budget or a bunch of people. Podcasts are perfectly doable with one person on a very limited budget. But, as with everything, it requires planning.
Determine your technology
How are you going to record your podcasts? Podcasts can be as elaborate or as basic as you want. Some people have state-of-the-art microphones made to cancel noise, studios to record in, and advanced editing software. Some people use their phones or a common conference platform to do the recording and the editing. There is no right or wrong. Just be sure the technology meets your users’ needs. Also, know what you have and understand how the technology available to you will work.
Determine your platform
There are a lot of podcast platforms out there, but not all of them are federal-friendly. Before selecting a platform, you’ll need to do your research and chat with your IT department to determine what software or applications are approved for use. If something needs to be purchased, then you’ll also need to talk to your contracting department.
Be aware of copyright
Before you select any image or art for your podcast, double check the copyright and make sure that you can use that image. The same goes for musical selections.
Be aware of accessibility
You’ll need to have a transcript of your podcast. Consider creating a pre-written script to help with this.
Determine your metrics
To see if your podcast is successful and reaching the intended audience, think about what kind of metrics you need to collect. This includes the number of podcast downloads or times it is streamed, but you might also want to determine a way to collect demographic information and data on where your listeners are finding and downloading your podcast.
Check out what other federal agencies are doing
If you can, reach out to agencies with established podcasts via Digital.gov’s communities of practice. What have they learned? How do they manage and sustain their podcasts?
Promote your podcast
Does your agency have one or more social media pages? Does your agency use RSS feeds to promote new information? Be prepared to share your podcast to raise awareness and think about a good promotion strategy.
Be open to change
As you podcast, metrics will start to come in. Listen to what those metrics are telling you — and the comments and suggestions your audience leaves — to pivot as necessary.
Connect with others interested in government podcasts
Consider joining related Digital.gov communities of practice to connect with teams already doing the work.
If you’d like to get a little more familiar with what’s out there, here are some resources and federal podcasts to check out. Happy podcasting!
- Tips for Launching a Government Podcast (video) — Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Five Things DOE Learned from Making a Podcast — Digital.gov
- Planning Accessible Audio & Video Media Content — Section508.gov