The next corporate collaboration tool: podcasts?

The next corporate collaboration tool: podcasts?

The hard part: creating content that engages

Interest in podcasts has grown in recent years: 44 per cent of people in the U.S. have listened to a podcast at some point, according to Edison Research, while 26 per cent do so at least once a month now.

But while podcasts may be gaining ground in the car or at home, the streaming technology has made only limited inroads at work – so far.

Nevertheless, some companies see new potential for audio streaming as a means of delivering on-demand content to staffers, particularly for firms with a large number of remote and mobile workers.

With that kind of interest in mind, enterprise video streaming provider uStudio recently launched a podcast delivery platform that adds the necessary admin controls, business application integrations, security features and usage analytics expected by business leaders and IT departments (similar solutions are also offered by podcast hosting providers such as Podbean and Blubrry.)

uStudio CEO Jen Grogono argued that businesses get “better reach, more effective communications” with audio streaming, and cited customers such as Fidelity Investments, Cintas and Salesforce, which have deployed uStudio’s platform for a variety of purposes.

Those uses range from staff on-boarding to providing up-to-date product information to frontline sales workers.

“We see a need from companies that are looking to create content that they don't necessarily want the whole world [to access],” she said.

Salesforce, for example, has a suite of around six podcast “shows” aimed at sales staff, each with its own set of episodes. “So they are really taking podcasting to the next level,” said Grogono.

Workplace technology is often influenced by consumer trends, and Grogono said podcasting is no different.

There are two trends driving corporate demand at the moment, she said: “A tipping point/maturity in consumer podcasting and audible books [and] maturity in content creation combined with more accessible and mobile higher quality production tools.”

Grogono said that access to analytics is key for businesses deciding whether to embrace podcasting.

An advantage that podcasts – and other streaming media – hold over other documents is the ability to collect data on the content that staff access.

Integration of podcast usage analytics within a CRM system, for instance, could highlight a correlation between podcast access and new sales reps delivering revenue faster, she said.

“You can also determine whether, after reps watch or listen to one or two particular episodes, or listen to one or two particular podcasts, whether or not they are winning more deals," Grogono said.

"So you can begin to understand the value of the content itself, in ways that we have not been able to in the past.”

Enterprise caution on podcasts

There are signs that interest in the use of podcasts within organisations is increasing, albeit from a modest starting point, said Wayne Kurtzman, a research director at IDC. “Corporate podcasts are in their early stage, but have been quietly growing as a market,” he said.

Companies have been slow to embrace the technology so far for a variety of reasons, said Jon Arnold, independent technology analyst and founder of J Arnold & Associates.

While they can be valuable for internal communications, the disadvantages are similar to those of corporate blogs: they require time and resources to create and can quickly slip down the priority list for senior executives.

As with any communications platform, creating content that effectively engages the target audience – even if that audience is a company’s workforce – is a challenge, said Kurtzman.

“In the real world, even good podcasts can take a year to get a regular audience,” he said. “You are competing against every other podcast on the planet for attention.

“Patience with providing the production time, audience-focused content that adds value and that is enjoyable is still going to be the key,” he said.

A yearly study from internal communications agency Gatehouse shows that only 18 per cent of corporate respondents use podcasts, which is dwarfed by the number using video (82 per cent).

However, business interest in podcasting remains, with 57 per cent planning to boost investments in this area, according to the poll of 650 communications executives globally.

Gatehouse director Simon Wright said that video has largely eclipsed podcasts as the medium of choice for office-based knowledge workers, but there there’s potential using podcasts to provide information to desk-less, frontline workers - this could mean field workers who could listen to content while traveling, for instance.

“There is clearly potential for the channel,” said Wright. “At the moment, it hasn't been harnessed particularly well, so organisations need to find a solution - and a will - to use them as a means of communicating information that people can consume on the go.

“It has always been a lot easier to communicate to people who sat in front of their desks and it has always difficult to reach those people who are not connected. That is where podcasts will come into their own: it is for those people that are on the go.”

Grogono also sees potential for podcasts with mobile workers.

“Businesses are launching private, secure podcasting channels that offer ‘media-casting’ to ensure that non-desk employees – including traveling sales and field services teams – have access to content on their own time or during 'windshield time.'

“As such, business leaders are learning that the efficiency and effectiveness of podcasting formats make audio a logical replacement for print – i.e. traditional email and PowerPoints consumed on a desktop. And the data produced by streams versus  static assets is far more valuable than print counterparts.”

(Reporting by Matthew Finnegan, Computerworld)

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