5 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Podcast at Your Organization

Jenna Spinelle
Feb 18 · 5 min read

If you’re reading this article, you probably have an idea for a podcast, or maybe you’ve been asked to start one by someone else in the organization. Either way, it’s exciting to dive into something new and build something from the ground up — especially at an organization where things may happen the same way month to month or year to year.

One of the best things about podcasts is that there are few barriers to entry. All you need is some time, a few microphones, and a little technical know-how and you can have your very own show. Unlike entrepreneurs or solo podcasters, a podcast based at an organization — whether a business or nonprofit — has institutional backing and the potential for a built-in audience.

As with any new venture, though, just because you can do something does not necessarily mean that you should. My co-hosts and I are part of an academic research center on democracy and considered a few key questions before we launched our podcast, Democracy Works, last year. I’m glad we did. A year in, we’ve found a niche and are building an audience who loves our content and our approach.

Here are the questions we asked, and why you should do the same before you press “record” on your first episode.

What do you want to say? And how should you say it?

Many of us who work for an organization are used to speaking in our organization’s voice on social media or other communication channels. Podcasting, however, is very much about the individual host or hosts. Make sure that whoever is part of your show is a subject matter expert in whatever you want to talk about, or that you are interviewing people who are.

There’s also a line to walk between representing yourself and representing your organization. If your employer is footing the bill for the show, anything you say is a reflection back on it at the end of the day. Every company or nonprofit is different; find out what the constraints are in advance and how much you can push the boundaries in the name of quality content.

For our podcast team, it means sticking to an educational approach to democracy and related topics. As much as we might like to go on political rants or become pundits, there are plenty of others out there who already do those things, and it’s not within our purview as representatives of an educational institution.

Can you do it in a way that’s not self-serving?

Your podcast is not a commercial for your organization, as much as you might want it to be. Unless your brand is big enough to have a cult following (hello, Trader Joe’s and Disney), no one is going to tune into a podcast to learn about how great your organization is. Podcast listeners want quality content about the topic they’re interested in and, thankfully for smaller organizations, are not usually very discerning about where it’s coming from.

With the proliferation of podcasts, there’s a good chance people listening won’t have ever heard of your organization before.

Some great examples of this are the Remember Reading Podcast from HarperCollins, Well Said from the University of North Carolina, and the Rural Health Voice from the Virginia Rural Health Association. All of these shows utilize the subject matter expertise of their organizations but are not aboutthe organizations themselves. It’s a fine line to walk, and frankly, something that we have to remind ourselves about all the time.

Does someone else already produce this content, or something close to it?

There are more than 650,000 podcasts in Apple’s directory, with thousands of new shows coming online every day. Before you press “record” on a new podcast, check to see what the landscape is like in your niche and make sure that no one else is doing what you want to do. The last thing you want is to compete with someone else who has already established themselves in your niche.

This was the thing that really pushed us over the edge in starting Democracy Works. We listened to a lot of podcasts and couldn’t find any others that were talking about the things we wanted to talk about in the way we wanted to talk about them. We’ve learned about and partnered with some similar shows since our launch last year, but we felt good knowing that we were the first in our little corner of the podcast universe.

How will the show fit into your organization’s mission and goals?

While it’s true that anyone can make a podcast, creating one that sounds good and reaches your intended audience is something else entirely. It takes a lot of work to produce and promote a podcast. Before starting down the path to creating one, make sure that the show is in line with your organization’s overall vision and strategic plan.

Your goal for creating a podcast should never be just because it’s the hot new thing to do. This is the same conversation that many of us in marketing have had for years when it comes to deciding whether or not to take on a new social media channel or other large-scale project.

Thinking about podcasts specifically, if you don’t have an overarching goal in mind, you might find yourself floundering when it comes to guests and episode topics. Whenever there’s a disagreement among our team about which direction to go, we come back to the reasons we started the show in the first place — to educate listeners about what it means to live in a democracy and look at how democracy is practiced in the U.S. and around the world.

How will the podcast enhance the organization’s work?

Given that a podcast is not a direct promotional vehicle for your organization, what are you hoping to get out of the experience? For us, it’s the opportunity to be part of larger conversations that are happening about democracy and talk with interesting people from across the U.S. and around the world. We’ve picked up ideas and seen new ways of looking at things that have translated into our other research, education, and outreach efforts.

Ideally, the podcast and the other parts of your work should complement each other, and it should all fit nicely under the same general umbrella. And, with a little luck, you’ll have some fun along the way as you create amazing content and reach new audiences around the world.

Speaking of audience, let’s talk about metrics for a minute. Few shows are going to be as successful as Joe Rogan or The Daily; remember that the average number of downloads is in the hundreds, not the millions. You’re probably not going to set the world on fire, but you can reach a core group of listeners who are passionate about what you have to say.

Taking the plunge

For more on the logistics, check out this article from Jackie Vetrano, who wrote about her experience launching a podcast at Skidmore College a few years ago.

Did you start a podcast at your organization? What’s missing here? What are some of your favorite podcasts produced by companies or nonprofits? I’d love to hear your feedback!

Jenna Spinelle

Written by

I love a good story and believe that everyone has one to tell. I write, teach journalism, and host a podcast called Democracy Works.

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