Podcasting in social care

It’s the latest internet phenomenon. But is social care ready for podcasting? Graham Hopkins reports

Every so often we see news items that inform us of the new words that have made it into the Oxford English Dictionary. Some of these words will remain in popular usage, others such as perestroika or glasnost, which proved useful around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, will fade from use.

One word that looks set to make a noise for some time is “podcasting”. Indeed, last year the New Oxford American Dictionary declared it the word of the year. A podcast is a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar programme, made available on the internet for downloading to a personal audio player. The word, coined in 2004, strangely blends “iPod” and “broadcasting”; strange because podcasting neither requires an iPod or over-the-air broadcasting. Nonetheless, the name stuck.

But is social care, an industry that you might suspect considers Teletext to be cutting edge technology, ready for podcasting?

Ex-BBC radio producer and reporter Jude Habib certainly believes it has huge potential. “It’s a new and exciting way of getting your message across and to have people tell their stories,” she says.

Habib worked in social programming for more than 10 years and thus formed partnerships with charities helping to raise awareness of different issues from domestic violence to carers. “I’d spend a lot of time getting people to tell me their stories on air,” she says. “However, charities were often reluctant to share case studies, which I can understand given they probably had had bad experiences with different sections of the media. But with podcasting they can control the content and the message.”

Habib now trains voluntary sector organisations in podcasting. “I show them how to become audio gatherers.

“The internet is underused; many websites have no sound at all. I think having a case study or a testimony on the website really brings it alive – providing a window on the work they do.”

Also, Habib believes, it is possible to reach new audiences – especially younger people. “I can imagine in the future sound being used in a different way,” she says. “You get your direct marketing mail in the post – maybe we will use audio direct. Audio press releases or a one-minute case study on a project that a donor has funded can be sent on e-mail. It brings the work charities do alive – and in a cost-effective way.”

Certainly, commercial companies have been searching for new ways of attracting audiences in this digital age. “BMW, IBM, Virgin and several national newspapers have all recognised the role podcasts will play in the future of corporate communications,” says Habib.

She continues: “Organisations can use podcasting as a way to update their brand, promote and extend their brand and reach new and possibly younger audiences. But it can’t be seen in isolation from the other work third sector organisations are doing. It should be seen as complementing your communications or fund-raising strategy or as an alternative to something you are already doing.”

Fundraising seems a suitable match for the technology. “This is perhaps where your celebrity patrons might be the draw,” she agrees.

“Perhaps think about it in terms of saving money. You can save on distribution costs. You can market and communicate differently and as a result fund-raise differently. Record a message from one of your celebrity patrons and use it as a thank-you tool once a donor has supported a project. Be creative.”

For about £1,000 Habib reckons organisations can buy the equipment and fund some basic training and be ready to go out and record stories.

“There’s a lot of mystery surrounding podcasting and the use of audio online. There needn’t be,” she says. “Nor does it have to be frightening. Organisations I’m working with through audio gathering workshops, including Thames Reach Bondway, Age Concern, Medair, Farm Africa and St Mungo’s, are keen on just learning the skills and being confident in recording and editing. But essentially it’s down to great content. Your challenge will always be to keep people engaged and coming back for more.”

Lessons learned

  • Habib says the most important thing is to realise it’s not too late. “Charities have to get involved only when they are ready. There is still a lot of stuff that is unknown. We’re still in the early stages but using sound in an imaginative way is the future,” she says.
  • A record-breaking two million people downloaded Ricky Gervais’ free podcasts at the end of last year. Habib says: “However, the top 100 podcasts on iTunes include current affairs and documentaries, not just comedy and music, so there’s an appetite for hearing about the issues people care about.”

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