Comms guidance Storytelling

When the Best Pictures are on Audio: 5 Podcasting Tips from OECD DevCom

Radio is a tried-and-tested medium and podcasts have taken off. So how can development communicators use audio to engage citizens for sustainable development?

Earlier this year, we published our DevCom advice on creating viral video and visuals. But what if the world’s best pictures are actually on radio? Rajesh Mirchandani, Communications Director at the UN Foundation, claimed just this at our event on The Power of Audio Storytelling back in February. He argued that audio could transport you like no other medium.

Some people may feel that radio is old news. However, Mirta Lourenço, Chief of Section for Media Development and Society at UNESCO, pointed out just how important it has been throughout this Covid-crisis. With children kept home from school, radio programmes helped entertain, educate and connect them with the world.

Indeed, radio is still a great way to cover issues in real time – all you need as a communicator is a microphone. It can also help reach new communities. For example, check out our stories on the weekly One World, One Voice programme on All India Radio, or on the multi-language Community Radio-SDGs Project in Ghana.

Meanwhile, a whole new audio format has emerged to conquer the communications world: podcasts! Richard Miron, podcasting guru and founder of Earshot Strategies, told us why.

First, podcasting is an “on demand” service, meaning that it can adapt to busy listeners’ lives. They can download and listen to content wherever and whenever they want, for example while commuting or performing chores. Second, podcasts offer unmediated content, allowing producers and listeners to interact with one another directly. Third, podcasts are very inexpensive to produce – good basic equipment costs about 200 euros, and editing software is free. After that, all it takes is a simple internet connection.

All of this means that development communicators seeking new audiences need to consider podcasts as an important option in their portfolio of formats.

The French Development Agency (AFD) has already done so with great success. Caroline Castaing, Head of Outreach Communications, told us about And So They Did It (French: Alors ils l’ont fait), a podcast in which ordinary young people talk about their inspiring work to help achieve the SDGs. The podcast aims to help young people feel empowered: many know about global issues, but do not believe their actions can make a difference. The first season, just six episodes long, garnered nearly 10,000 downloads and reached the top 5 Apple podcasts. Based on our discussion with Rajesh, Mirta, Richard and Caroline, here are 5 pieces of great advice for development communicators considering their own podcasts.

1. Before launching a podcast, make sure you actually have a story to tell.

Richard called podcasting an “audio campfire” – a great place to share stories. If you don’t have compelling or uplifting human stories to tell, then people will not listen in. What’s more, you need to understand what niche you are filling: what is fresh or different about your content?

2. Choose a format to suit your audience and goals, and be consistent about it.

Rajesh identified three different types of podcast among which producers can choose. Interview-style podcasts can explore specific issues in depth. Storytelling podcasts can captivate audiences, but focus less on education. Discussion-based podcasts revolve more around the presenters, often featuring an informal discussion among informed groups of friends or colleagues.

Whichever format you choose, try to make your episodes consistent in terms of length, type and quality. And put them out at regular times, intervals and platforms.

3. Encourage peer-to-peer learning and youth engagement.

Both radio and podcasts are a great way for young audiences to connect with and hear from their peers. Rather than chasing celebrities or experts, the AFD podcast succeeded because it featured young people sharing their stories with peers. It also worked because the AFD took a hands-off approach, without intervening to moderate or control the conversation. The aim was community building, rather than, say, driving traffic to a website. Mirta also called for radio to provide more space to young producers, interviewers, interviewees.

4. Promote and Partner Up.

In a highly competitive podcast marketplace, great content will not automatically reach a great audience. So, while a podcast may be easy to record, podcasters still need to invest in promoting their content. Often, this means working with skilled partners and podcasting platforms who specialize in broadcasting, producing and promoting audio content.

5. Don’t treat podcasts as radio substitutes.

As Mirta reminded us, both podcasts and radio have their place in the communications landscape. We need to support both. In a world of fake news where many listeners are not digitally literate, trained journalists on professional radio programmes can help ensure that information is reliable and trustworthy. Independent podcast producers may have great reach and can help put the freedom of expression into practice, but they are not necessarily bound by the same tenets of journalistic integrity as radio shows.

We’d love to hear about your own experience in podcasting. Also: would you have any podcasts to recommend for listeners who want to get up to speed with sustainable development?

Here are some podcasts to get the discussion started:

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