Here's how to scrutinize ROI in the world of association podcasting and identify new nondues revenue strategies for your organization.
By Marlene L. Hendrickson
DOES SUBSCRIBING TO AN RSS FEED make you a podcast person? How about listening to podcasts on your iPod? What if you can produce a podcast, push it out to your members, and sync it to your iTunes account? If you're tempted to stop reading now, stick with me just a few minutes longer—there could be a reward in it for you.
According to the E-Publishing Trends & Metrics study, published by the Angerosa Research Foundation (in partnership with Stratton Publishing & Marketing) specifically for the association publishing community, about 21 percent of associations have delved into podcast offerings. Most (95 percent) don't charge for podcasts; however, of the 5 percent that do, some charge up to $129 per podcast.
Association podcasts most often are venues for professional development and education content (58 percent) and streaming live meetings and education sessions (45 percent). Some associations also use podcasts to push out their magazine's monthly president's message or specific articles.
So now that we know what associations are doing with podcasts, let's turn to the why and how—and these are critically important points, particularly as associations continue to scrutinize ROI and look for new nondues revenue strategies.
Don't Just Do It
Should your association get into podasting if it hasn't already? The short answer is probably, yes. But like any other communication initiative, it must be part of a strategic plan—and how podcasting fits into that plan will lay the groundwork for your content.
Are your members listening to podcasts already? Are they interested in getting podcasts from you? Ask them—either as part of a member needs assessment or through a quickie-only survey or question-specific poll. And ask them what platforms they're using already. All of this information will position you for success and member engagement.
You've Looked, Now Leap
Most podcasts are audio files, and most are in MP3 format. Among the easiest and cheapest methods of creating MP3 files is simply using an MP3 recorder/player. Even an inexpensive MP3 recorder can create standard to high-quality sound recordings. Like a jumpdrive, these low-tech MP3 recorders feature a USB you can plug directly into your PC (or Mac) to transfer files. But if you're looking for a high-end production quality, and you want to rely on in-house resources, you'll likely need to indulge in better equipment, particularly a mic.
Once you've created the audio file—on a topic your members have told you will resonate with them—it can be as simple as posting the file to your website and then spreading the word. However, note that there are several important details that come into play in between the file creation step and the dissemination step. For example, if you're looking for a high-end product but you're low on tech and production resources, you way want to use Audacity,which is free open-source software for sound recording and editing.
Another important consideration: What kind of content management system (CMS) does your association use, and what are your options for housing, organizing, and pushing out podcasts?
As podcasts become more mainstream among consumers, more CMS developers are including solutions specific to podcasts. That's good news for the less tech-savvy population. For example, the popular open-source CMS called Joomla! offers an extension called Podcast Suite. Like many other podcast platforms, Podcast Suite helps users create iTunes-friendly files—a strategic approach to reaching the masses.
Keep it Manageable
Remember the part about communication strategy and ROI? It's certainly worth revisiting. If your association need to be effective without breaking the bank—and that pretty much speaks for any organization these days—take a good look around at several podcasting solutions before spinning your wheels.
For example, the Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE) uses an online service called PodBean, which touts itself as a "podcast social subscribing site.” ACTE has done a great job of integrating the PodBean service with its own platform: www.acteonline.org/content.aspx?id=1254.
Other turn-key services include PodBlaster.com and RecordforAll.com. And if you need a solution for converting to an MP3 format, check out iTunes.com and LAME. As far as a podcast player, most listeners are equipped with an iTunes account or PC-ready software like Windows Media Player. It may sound like a lot to digest in short time, but with the help of so many platforms and organizations that are podcasting right now, the task becomes easier.
Check out what these associations are doing with their podcasts, how they are pushing them out (RSS feeds, subscriptions), and the content that's engaging their members.
National School Boards Association
Association for Career and Technical Education
Ecological Society of America
And most importantly, have fun with your podcasts. Treat them as you would an e-newsletter, magazine issue, or any other communication you're creating to serve and engage your members. Once you're up and running for a while, reach out to your audience, solicit feedback, and continuously hone your offerings and approach.
Marlene L. Hendricksonis publications manager/research associate for Stratton Publishing and Marketing/Stratton Research.