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Social Media in Higher Education

Chris Rowell

Part Six. Innovation

18. Expertise in Your Ears; Why You Should Jump on the Podcasting Bandwagon

Dave Musson

Texte intégral

#Beginner #Podcast #Podcasting

Small speakers inside your head
About as intimate as it can get
I’m privileged to be in this position and
We haven’t really got thumping yet.
Jamie Lenman, Hardbeat, 2017


1It doesn’t take much effort to find marketing strategists and social media experts extolling the virtues of video. Moreover — when you consider that online videos are likely to account for more than 80 % of all Internet traffic by 2020 (CISCO, 2016) and that companies using video in their marketing grow revenue 49 % faster year-on-year than those that don’t (Aberdeen Group, 2015) — it is perhaps not difficult to see the cause for their excitement.

2Yet, there’s another content vehicle that has its claws firmly locked into today’s online media consumers: podcasting. Not only that, the medium continues to flourish. More Americans listen to podcasts on a weekly basis than go to the movies; the average listener subscribes to six shows; and 85 % of listeners take in the whole show (Baer, 2017) — the kind of low drop-off rate you’ll never get with video.

3But, when it comes to higher education, the sector still seems somewhat hesitant to get involved, despite being blessed with some of the best stories to tell, and the most informed storytellers to tell them. Higher education podcasting has the potential to vastly improve research dissemination, public engagement, career support and even student recruitment, yet there aren’t that many examples to hold up as good practice. This chapter will explain why podcasting should be on your agenda. It will make the business case for the medium and will offer ideas for the sort of show you could make, using case studies of existing podcasts from the sector.

The First Decade of the Podcast

4The word ‘podcast’ was first coined by the Guardian journalist Ben Hammersley in 2004, at the height of the iPod era. He was writing about a boom in amateur online radio that was driven by the combination of blogging being well-established, audio editing software being freely available, and devices such as Apple’s iPod being in the pockets of millions of people around the world. Hammersley’s only struggle was what to call this fledgling scene, so he offered a few options:

5‘But what to call it? Audioblogging? Podcasting? GuerillaMedia?’ (Hammersley, 2004).

6Podcasting — a portmanteau of references to broadcasting and the iPod — soon stuck and quickly became a buzzword, even if its creator now reflects on it as merely part of a ‘bullshit sentence’ (Ulanoff, 2015). Google searches for this new word jumped from 6,000 in the year of its birth to more than 61 million by the end of the following year (Berry, 2006, p. 144).

7This rise in popularity is unsurprising really; as a species we’ve been telling stories — creating our own audio — for centuries and have embraced any technology that helps us continue to do that. Just as President Roosevelt’s fireside chats in the 1930s were a ‘revolutionary experiment with a [then] nascent media platform’ (LaFrance, 2017), we can arguably also credit those early podcasts with being a similar catalyst for today’s booming audio industry. But podcasting in those early years was, at best, a clunky experience that required consumers to track down an RSS feed, paste it into iTunes, download a file and synch it to a iPod or similar device — all before being able to listen to their show.

8It didn’t get much easier until 2008, when 3G-enabled smartphones such as the iPhone from Apple and the Android G1 let users download audio on the go (Quah, 2017). Even then, it took another six years for the medium to really break through. This was due in part, to Apple’s podcasting app becoming part of the furniture of iOS 8 and, to a much larger extent, to the show Serial (Quah, 2017). Sarah Koenig’s real crime series was an unprecedented success; awards, media coverage, and academic articles (for example, Berry, 2015) set a new benchmark for podcast quality, and it garnered a lot of listeners — 6.5 million per episode for its first series in fact (Daniel 2015). Not only that, Serial changed the way people thought about the medium of podcasting; almost a quarter of Serial’s listeners were podcast virgins, and 89 % of those first-timers were inspired to try other shows off the back of it. What’s more, around half of them went on to listen to podcasts on a weekly basis (PR News Wire, 2015). It was the perfect blend of captivating content and technology that made it incredibly easy to consume.

The Business Case for Podcasting

9It is safe to say the medium has continued to flourish post Serial. 67 million Americans listen to podcasts every month (Baer, 2017) — a huge jump from 32 million in 2013 (the year before the iOS update and Serial, Quah, 2018), while in the UK 4.7 million adults have listened to some sort of podcast (Russell, 2017). Sticking with the UK, listenership continues to edge upwards. eMarketer reported in 2017 that 42 % of podcast listeners were queuing up more shows than they had done a year earlier, while only 13 % had decreased their consumption (eMarketer, 2017).

10With ever-improving mobile Internet connections, along with in-car Bluetooth technology becoming commonplace, it has never been easier to listen to a podcast. This will only continue to be the norm as more new cars are ‘connected’ as standard, such as the latest generation of General Motors vehicles (della Cava, 2017). Moreover, podcasts have a distinct quality that gives them an edge over video: the ability for passive consumption in people’s busy lives. As marketing influencer Gary Vaynerchuk said: ‘You can listen to the podcast while doing something else. You can listen to the podcast in a shower, while you’re driving, while you’re working out. It’s time arbitrage.’ (Vaynerchuk, 2017). Eric Zorn put it as: ‘The medium of podcasting is ideal for our busy, mobile, on-demand lives.’ (Zorn, 2014)

11And that’s not just it; podcasting continues to improve and innovate. Casey Newton wrote in 2017 that ‘podcasts are getting better faster than audiobooks are getting cheaper’ (Newton, 2017), while Jaguar Land Rover’s innovative use of a human-head shaped microphone to record their Discovery Adventure series — an immersive, family adventure show designed to sound best when listened to in a car — just hints at some the creative options available (McCarthy, 2017).

12This is all without acknowledging the fact that the podcast is ‘an intimate medium and one that spurs creativity, akin to reading’ (Mollett et al., 2017, p. 165) and that no topic is too niche. You can work up an idea and ride out the long tail (Mollett et al., 2017) because you don’t have to grab a listener’s attention in a matter of seconds like you do with video; you have room to breathe and explore ideas (Musson, 2018). Not only that, podcasting has a remarkably low barrier for entry, particularly when compared to video. It is absolutely possible to create something and post it online using only your smartphone — indeed, this is the premise of the app Good quality microphones are easy to find and won’t break the bank — for example, the Blue Snowball USB mic — while free editing software such as Audacity is ideal. In fact, this is the exact setup of some huge shows, such as Welcome to Night Vale (‘I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats’, Episode 7, 2017). For some excellent advice on effective podcasting setups for different budgets, see The Podcast Host’s ‘Ultimate Resource List’ and Alexander and Barrows (2016).

Podcasting and Higher Education

13So, what of the relationship between podcasting and the HE sector? The sector was on board early on in podcasting’s existence; as Berry (2006) pointed out, Duke University in the USA were particularly forward-thinking, giving out 16,250 free iPods to new students in 2004, preloaded with lectures and academic content, as well as giving the students the chance to record themselves as part of their work. Duke was also the setting for the first academic symposium on the medium in 2005. There was also the launch of iTunesU in 2007, a free repository of academic content from universities across the globe, which became part of the general Apple Podcasts app in 2017 (Hardwick, 2017).

14But it still feels like there is huge opportunity to be had by the sector in this space — in particular when you realise that 26 % of people in the UK who listen to podcasts do so to learn something (eMarketer, 2017). If anyone can lay claim to being skilled at delivering learning, it has to be the HE sector.

15For the rest of this chapter, you’ll find a range of ideas for how a HE institution might want to approach podcasting — ideas that will be explored using existing shows from the sector. There is also an excellent and comprehensive chapter about podcasting in Mollett et al. (2017) that will be of particular use to anyone looking to use podcasting to help communicate academic research.

Podcasting to Show off Your Expertise: The University of Liverpool Podcast

16The most obvious way for a HE institution to use podcasting is to get under the skin of its research. After all, your research is likely to be one of the pillars on which your organization is based and judged. However, the difficulty for many universities is likely to be deciding where to focus your efforts. Which stories should you tell? What will people be interested in?

17There is nothing to stop you using a podcast as a way of cutting across all of your research strengths, which is exactly what The University of Liverpool Podcast does. Launched in 2017, the fortnightly show does not have a set subject. Well, that’s not true; its subject is right there in its name — The University of Liverpool. Each episode focuses on something different and features one or more of the university’s academics discussing research in their field. A brief look at their episode back catalogue underlines the variety of content on offer, with episodes on the future of farming, obese dogs and mental health.

18The show is hosted by Canadian journalist and producer Neil Morrison, who combines an interview format with a narrative top and tail to produce something that is eminently listenable, interesting, and entertaining. Liverpool’s podcast has production values that sounds impressive, but is actually fairly pain-free to achieve once you have some familiarity with audio-editing software. The podcast is great listening for anyone with a curious mind — episodes often feel like broadsheet magazine articles being read straight into your ears. However, the University of Liverpool clearly has a specific audience in mind with this show, which becomes apparent a couple of times each episode.

19Instead of a paying sponsor, this podcast is delivered in partnership with the University of Liverpool’s online learning programme. The university is clearly pitching the show at people who might be interested in turning a half-hour listen into something deeper. The result is a really clever marketing tool. Aside from the fact that it is difficult not to be impressed with the scope of research happening in Liverpool, within a couple of episodes you are also fully aware that Liverpool offers online and distance learning on a range of subjects. And, when they’re presented as well as they are in this podcast, the idea of applying for a course is certainly tempting.

Podcasting for a Deep-Dive on Topical Subjects: Talking Politics

20Getting across the scope of what your institution does is one thing, but what about if you want to go deeper and devote a podcast to a particular subject? As we’ve already seen, the ability to go niche and ride the long tail is a huge boon of podcasting, so a university throwing its weight at a subject should make for a great show. A fine example of this approach is the show Talking Politics, one of the more positive things to come out a political year in which Trump and Brexit were the big headlines.

21Talking Politics is, in effect, a departmental podcast — in this case, the University of Cambridge’s politics department. It is hosted by Professor David Runciman — Cambridge’s Head of Politics and International Studies — and is recorded every week in his office. The format is less of a formal interview and more of a chance to be a fly on the wall eavesdropping on informed and interesting individuals talking politics. Each episode features Runciman and his regular panel of fellow Cambridge academics discussing key issues. As the show says on its website, ‘it’s the political conversation everyone is having.’

22While offering far less value as an obvious marketing tool — unlike The University of Liverpool Podcast — the Talking Politics model offers plenty of benefits. First is the insight and learning to be had for the listener. Each episode allows you to hear experts in their field having informed conversations and discussions. It speaks to that 26 % of podcast listeners who want to learn something. Second is how topical this sort of show can be. The podcast was born in a time when politics was a discussion topic on many a tongue, and by releasing a new episode each week they are able to remain relevant and timely. And, for the listener, there is always a reason to check out the newest episode. A final advantage of this podcast model is that it is fairly self-sufficient. Being presented and managed by academics, they can be left to focus on the show’s content, while the university can chip in with marketing and technical assistance if needs be.

Podcasting as a Window onto Campus Life: UNH Podcats, Rhymes with Orange, This Is Skidmore

23Your university podcast doesn’t have to appeal to audiences outside of your campus boundaries; you could simply make a show for your campus community. A number of universities have taken this approach and are producing content that is aimed at and celebrates its internal community. These kinds of shows have plenty of flexibility; no need to explain campus jargon or in-jokes, no need to sell the university and no real barrier on who could be a guest.

24Take as an example The UNH Podcats from the University of New Hampshire. If you don’t know that the UNH community refers to themselves as the Wildcats, then you’d have assumed their show’s title was a typo, rather than an immediate marker of which tribe this is for. There’s a similar strategy being adopted with Campbell University’s Rhymes with Orange — this time the show’s title gives a knowing nod to the university’s colour scheme. As with The UNH Podcats, Rhymes with Orange features the voices of staff, students, faculties and alumni, all talking about life at that institution. Lastly, and perhaps the stand-out example of this type of podcast, is Skidmore College’s This is Skidmore. This show celebrates the college’s close-knit community, from the theme of its episodes right down to its logo and theme music being designed and composed by different Skidmore alumni.

25What is particularly interesting with these types of podcast is that, even though they might not necessarily have been created with marketing purposes in mind, they are still an invaluable tool in selling their institutions. These shows offer the outside world a window onto their campus — not to look into, but to listen through. They give you a sense of life at that institution, they let you have a taste of what being part of their community is like, and could help persuade a prospective student that it is the place for them.

Podcasting to Highlight Your Alumni: The Low Down

26Finally, how about a podcast to celebrate your alumni? There are hundreds, if not thousands, of them across the world, they’re a huge part of your story and they’re likely to be some of your biggest fans. One fine example of an alumni-focussed podcast is The Low Down, by Columbia University’s Alumni Association. As the show says itself, Columbia’s alumni are ‘leaders in every field imaginable’ and so make for worthy and interesting podcast guests. The Low Down’s format has similarities with all of the examples listed above. It is interview based, with informed, excellent guests, all of whom share Columbia University as a common link.

27As such, the show serves many purposes. Aside from the obvious interest for other Columbia alumni wanting to stay connecting to their alma mater, it offers learning and thought for the general public and can be used as an effective marketing tool for the university. After all, what is more captivating — another case study posted deep within your alumni pages, or a well-produced podcast where you can hear those alumni tell their story in their own words, using their own voice? And, similar to the University of Liverpool model, having a podcast about your alumni allows your scope to be fairly broad — you don’t have to devote it to one subject, but use it as an opportunity to showcase all of your strengths.


28Podcasting is a medium to which we, as humans, really react well. That’s because we’re tuned into the human voice and the stories and information it has to tell. From tales told round a campfire centuries ago, through Presidents using then-modern technology to do exactly the same and into today’s post-Serial podcast industry of immersive and captivating content, podcasts are here to stay.

29The window for HE institutions to get involved in the podcasting space is far from shut; in many ways it is wide open, beckoning the sector to climb through. For those willing to do just that, there are plenty of rewards to be had. Podcasting might not have the same glamour as the overly-crowded video space, but it offers deeper, more meaningful relationships with your audience and a chance to ride the long tail, take your time and let ideas breathe.

30Whether you create a show that explores your research, tells your institution’s story, or helps recruit new students — the opportunity is begging to be taken. It is time to put your institution’s expertise, lifestyle and culture right into the ears of people. It is time to jump on the podcasting bandwagon.



Aberdeen Group (2015). ‘The impact of video marketing’ Vidyard,

Alexander, C. and Barrows, C. (2016). Podcasting in Higher Education,

Baer, Jay (2017). ‘The 11 critical podcast statistics of 2017’, Convince and Convert,

Berry, Richard (2006). ‘Will iPod kill the radio star? Profiling podcasting as radio.’ Convergence, 12: 2, pp. 143–62.

Berry, Richard (2015). ‘A golden age of podcasting? Evaluating Serial in the context of podcast histories.’ Journal of Radio and Audio Media, 22: 2, pp. 170–78.

CISCO (2016). ‘Cisco visual networking index: Forecast and methodology, 2016– 2021’, CISCO,

della Cava (2017). ‘GM turns 1 million cars into rolling podcast destinations’, USA Today,

eMarketer (2017). ‘The number of podcast listeners in the UK keeps inching up’, eMarketer,

Hammersley, Ben (2004). ‘Audible revolution’, The Guardian,

Hardwick, Tim (2017). ‘iTunes U Collections will move to Apple Podcasts from September’, MacRumors,

‘I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats’ podcast (2017). Episode 7: ‘Pink and Blue’,

LaFrance, A. (2017). ‘Donald Trump is testing Twitter’s harassment policy’, The Atlantic,

Lenman, J. (2017). ‘Hardbeat’ from the album Devolver. Big Scary Monsters record company.

McCarthy, J. (2017). ‘Jaguar Land Rover tests immersive, adventure podcasts to drive a Discovery brand narrative into other cars’, The Drum,

Mollett, A., Bromley, C., Gilson, C. and Williams, S. (2017). Communicating Your Research with Social Media: A Practical Guide to Using Blogs, Podcasts, Data Visualisations and Video. London: Sage.

Musson, Dave (2018). ‘This year I will be better at… podcasting’, The Native,

Newton, Casey (2017). ‘Podcasts are getting better faster than audiobooks are getting cheaper’, The Verge,

PR Newswire (2015). ‘First survey of Serial’s listeners sheds light on the Serial Effect’, PR Newswire,

Quah, Nicholas (2017). ‘The three fundamental moments of podcasts’ rise’, Wired, October 4,

Quah, Nicholas (2018). ‘Hot pod: Setting up twenty eighteen’, Hot Pod Newsletter, Issue 145. Nieman Lab,

Russell, Mike (2017). ‘UK podcast statistics: 4 actionable stats for British podcast hosts’, New Media Europe,

Ulanoff, Lance (2015). ‘Podcasting embraces a new era of cool (thanks, Serial)’, Mashable, hSMtZqy

Vaynerchuk, Gary (2017). ‘Marketing in 2018, Brand Minds Keynote, Singapore 2017, Dailyvee 337’,

Zorn, Eric (2014). ‘Smartphones usher in golden age for podcasting’, Chicago Tribune,

Further Reading

Podcast Host (2018). The Ultimate Podcasting Resource List, [What it says on the tin — an incredibly useful list for any aspiring podcaster!]

Vetrano, J. (2017). ‘What I learned by producing a podcast for a college’. Medium, [Useful tips from the host of This is Skidmore.]

Further listening

Aside from the examples used in this chapter, below are a selection of the author’s favourite podcasts — just search for them wherever you get your podcasts.

Conversations With People Who Hate Me — online social justice activist Dylan Marron tracks down people who have directed hateful and hurtful comments at him online and calls them for a chat.

Football Fives — discussion about football for grown-ups.

Heavyweight — simply wonderful storytelling.

Reply All — a show about the Internet that explores online culture and features some of the best storytelling you’ll hear.

That’s Not Metal ― the show that will give you your new favourite band, assuming you like rock and metal of course.

The Native Podcast ― inspiring resources for education and youth marketers, presented by the author of this chapter.

The Science of Social Media ― weekly social media learning from Buffer, a social media management platform company.

The Turnaround — an interviewer interviews other interviewers about interviewing.

Welcome to Night Vale — imagine if Stephen King and David Lynch created a fictional town together. Night Vale is that town and Welcome to Night Vale is that town’s local radio station.


Editor-in-chief of The Native – a hub of inspiring resources for education and youth marketers – as well as the lead social media strategist at Natives Group. His colleagues sometimes call him a social media ‘guru’, but he gets embarrassed when it happens. Before joining Natives Group, Dave led on social media at the University of Warwick. He also spent two years as co-chair of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Europe Social Media and Community Conference. Outside of work, he hosts not one, not two, but three podcasts. Twitter: @davemusson LinkedIn:


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