What I learned by producing a podcast for a college

I was hired in December 2015 at Skidmore College. In my interview, my then-hiring-manager-now-boss noted podcasting experience on my resume (I host my own podcast, it’s called Higher Ed Social). She asked me about it and mentioned that she wanted a Skidmore podcast. Lucky for her, I got the job.


Serial was coming off of its second season, and everyone I knew was into podcasts. At Skidmore, we wanted to be in the space but didn’t know why. I can’t lie — we just wanted a podcast because it was shiny. So, we started to think about it.

How to get started with a podcast

The most important first step is establishing a goal and an audience for the podcast. Is it getting more alumni to give? Convincing prospective families to visit and students to enroll? Connect the on-campus community? It was tough for us to come to a solution. We ultimately decided This is Skidmore would be used as a brand awareness asset in our marketing tool belt. Once we figured that out, we could get moving.

The Podcast Starter Kit Checklist for higher education

  • Have a SPECIFIC goal. Answer “why.”
  • Come up with a name and branding
  • Create a schedule and come up with some ideas for episodes
  • Find a host to be the voice of the podcast and institution
  • Get an awesome recording space and quality equipment
  • Find an online hosting space
  • Buy in — you can’t do this within your own silo.

Do your research

I took a look at podcasts out there — both in higher ed and outside of it — to see what was working and to get some inspiration. I found Town and Gown at Albion College, telling the stories of alumni and their success. I also found Brockport’s Winging It, which comes from the opposite perspective — students.

When it comes down to it, there’s two types of podcasts. Sequential, where the listener needs to listen to episode one to understand two, or episodic, where the listener has a “grab and go” option and can pick an episode whenever they want. Pick one and run with it.

Make a plan

There was no possible way our small team could handle developing a story stretched over several episodes. We had other things to do (like our jobs), and knew it would be easier on us to produce one-off episodes. We wanted to appropriately create content for our audiences, and decided on a rotating weekly theme:

  • Admissions confidential
  • Faculty lecture series
  • Alumni highlights
  • Grab-bag (for everything else)

As great as this was, we almost-immediately dismissed it. We knew a weekly podcast would be too overwhelming for us to handle, so we went with something more realistic. We opted for a biweekly podcast instead.

Hosts. Both kinds.

The host is an important part of the podcast, as they’re now the “voice” of the institution. This can be a student, the president, a faculty member or well-known staff member, but be aware that the podcast may suddenly become their “other duties as assigned.”

From my experience, if you’re the one who is interested in creating a podcast, you’ll probably be the one hosting it.

The other host that’s important to consider is where the podcast will be hosted. All you need is an RSS feed, which can be developed through products such as SoundCloud, PodBean, or Libsyn. We use Podbean.

Recording

When it comes time to record the first episode, it’s important to consider your guest. They may not want to be on the podcast (which, as an extrovert, always surprises me), or have an understanding of what it is. Give your guest a lot of detail including some questions you may ask and why you thought of them for an episode. It will make them feel more comfortable and willing to be a guest.

Equipment is the next most-important thing to think about. First, we tried using one Snowball microphone that sat in the middle of the guests. It was a terrible idea (take a listen to our first episode and you’ll hear why). Not knocking the microphone — it’s actually a great option for podcasters — but we were using it all wrong.

Now, we use one mic per guest. It’s much better.

Promotion

Most people are intuitive enough to check if an institution has a Facebook page, Twitter, website, or any other common digital platform. Not many will say, “hey let me check if that college has a podcast.” At least, not yet.

Promotion is so important, and should be done all the time.

Ways to promote a podcast

  • Embed episodes in web stories
  • Re-use old podcasts in relevant content
  • Promote the podcast in admissions materials
  • Remind alumni via newsletters and magazines about the podcast
  • Post on social media accounts
  • Take advantage of International Podcast Day
  • Invest in paid social media advertisements to promote individual episodes or the podcast

Lessons learned

  • Make a plan
  • Have a backup plan, something will go wrong
  • Collaborate with media services to get the best equipment
  • Be authentic, don’t have an agenda
  • Don’t be afraid to take a break
  • Just do it!

This is Skidmore is available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play, and also on Skidmore’s website.