Podcast User Guide
An Introduction to Podcasting
Podcasts are digital audio files made available on the Internet for listening or downloading, typically as a thematic series. Interested listeners can “subscribe” to future episodes which are then received automatically. While user appetite for podcast content continues to grow. Media giants including The New York Times and ESPN have begun regularly producing podcast-exclusive programming.
The medium has become a preferred content format for both creators and listeners because podcasts are cost-efficient to create and distribute. Additionally, its recurring “serialized” programming model and audio-only format allows users to receive and consume content passively and for extended periods without requiring active “screen time”.
Because of a low production barrier of entry and audio-only format, a podcast’s quality and consistency can vary significantly. To produce a high-quality podcast, it is in a creator’s best interest to make an initial investment in equipment, software, and training to assure that their end product stands out.
Starting a Podcast
Successful podcast programs rely on consistency— in both the quality and frequency of output. Before you “hit record,” make sure you have addressed some basic questions:
What greater story do you want to tell?
Why will people want to listen, and will they want to keep listening?
Who is the main audience for the podcast and does that audience have a potential to grow?
How long will the show be? (10-15 minutes, 20-30 minutes, an hour plus?)
What will the format of the show be? (A one-on-one dialogue, a narrator-driven story? Will it feature multiple segments, or is it simply one long interview? etc.)
How often will your podcast be published? Weekly, bi-monthly, monthly, etc.
How do you plan to promote your podcast? Both within your professional network, as well as a wider listening audience.
What are you going to call your podcast?
Podcasts are best delivered regularly and episodically, so before you go about creating a single piece of audio content, it is best to build initial guest lists, sketch out a general narrative concept, story collection, and thematic or topical groupings that will be the backbone of your program. Consider how many episodes to produce based on these planned outlines and set about a schedule of producing and releasing content prior to releasing any single episode.
It is also important to think about where and when you will record your podcast. It is always advisable to conduct interviews in-person and to do so in a location that has minimal background noise and echoes. Conducting and recording interviews over the phone or through online services like Zoom or Skype are not uncommon in podcasting, but you will find that face-to-face interviews deliver better results in terms of both audio quality and quality of discourse.
To establish a consistent audio brand, consider featuring music within your recording, specifically in the intro and outro of your program. Free Music Archive is a great resource, or you can ask musically gifted friends or colleagues to compose something original.
To assure quality output, it is recommended that you invest a small amount of money into audio recording equipment, namely: a field recorder, headphones, and microphones. There are numerous audio editing software options available, from the basic (Audacity, Garage Band) to the advanced (Pro Tools, Adobe Audition). Hindenburg is an audio production app which provides a simple interface specifically designed for editing podcasts.
Audio editing might be the trickiest component of podcast creation, as it requires both technical skills as well as the ability to craft a story. If you have specific questions when it comes to the recording and editing process, please reach out to the Communications Office.
Web Hosting & Distribution
Because podcasts are distributed digitally they need to be made available online through “Host Sites.” Some podcasts platforms require you to upload audio files, but most services stream your podcasts through RSS feeds provided by host sites. One host site recommended is Libsyn, which provides a quality user experience and basic download data for a reasonable price.
To draw an audience to your podcasts, they must be featured on as many podcast platforms as possible. Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Overcast, and Spotify are the most popular applications at the moment but there are other sites that are always emerging.
Spotify has recently re-emphasized itself as a hub for podcasts, drastically changing the user interface, and investing in high-profile podcasters. Once you submit your RSS feed to these sites, each time a new podcast is uploaded to your host site, those episodes will automatically populate. Of podcast sites that do not use RSS feeds — like SoundCloud, you can also upload audio files directly. While considered a video social media network, podcast content also performs well on YouTube.
Growth & Promotion
To grow a listening base, a podcast must be easily found. Platforms have different ways to determine what appears in user searches, but all use the same two factors: Relevance (search terms, titles, tags) and Quality (user ratings, recency, and downloads). Tactics can be employed to affect all of these factors:
Search Relevance: Within your podcast hosting site, take the time to include detailed episode descriptions that use key terms and phrases associated with the content subject matter, and liberally apply appropriate content “tags”.
Name/Episode Title: A memorable name and unique episode titles will differentiate your podcast from similar content and allow users to find your podcast easier. Be sure to give a more in-depth description of your episodes when possible.
User Ratings: Podcast apps rely heavily on user ratings to determine quality content — even the most popular podcasts programs will regularly solicit favorable user ratings and reviews on social media, and within the episodes themselves.
Downloads: While it is difficult to directly affect download rates, you can increase your podcast’s listenership by actively promoting your podcast through direct peer and association connections, through broader email communication, and by seeding your content into appropriate social media conversations — especially Twitter.
Recency: Episode popularity will inevitably decline over time, so it is best to space out your podcast recordings on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis with the goal of establishing a publishing cadence that your listenership can rely on and anticipate.
Getting Your Podcast Started
The information provided above is a very high-level introduction to podcasting. If you are interested in beginning your own podcast, or have questions about setting up or distributing podcast content, we encourage you to contact the Communications Office for assistance.
The News Office also manages the UChicago Podcast Network, a collection of podcasts on campus, in an effort to better support audio content from multiple campus partners. If you would like more information about the UChicago Podcast Network, please contact the News Office, or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.