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Get Started with a Higher Ed Podcast

When I asked my H·A ThirtyOne colleague and 31Minutes podcast co-host Karyn Adams what kind of guest blog people might want to read from me, she immediately thought of how we launched our podcast last winter. In her words, “You weren’t afraid to jump in.” Apparently, I’m a great actor because yes, I was afraid! But I (we) did it anyway. 

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I’ve had technical schooling, and I’m a professional content creator. But thinking back to the very beginning of pre-production, my fears stemmed almost entirely from not being confident on how to get started. Browser searches yielded an overwhelming amount of information. Plus, podcasting is no longer a new frontier but a well-established channel of communication, and I felt a pressure to avoid doing things wrong. 

Since we began planning in November 2018, I’ve had numerous encounters with folks in higher education (and theater production, nonprofit K-12, and healthcare) who want to know the big secret about getting started. You can find dozens, probably hundreds, of blogs about getting started with podcasting. I’m presenting my own top-of-mind items here to help you move from the dreaming-it-up phase into the pre-production phase. The technology stuff is a different discussion for another day. 

It’s okay to be afraid, but my advice is to take several deep breaths and … just jump in.

Step 1: Ask Other Podcasters

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While podcasting can seem like an insiders’ club to a newbie, if you reach out to people you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Those overwhelming internet search results I mentioned led me away from my laptop and onto my phone. I reached out to a bunch of friends and former colleagues who already produce and host podcasts. It didn’t matter that they work in comedy, music, art, and entertainment. They had fantastic recommendations for how to get 31Minutes off the ground. (Campus Sonar’s Steve App, a longtime podcaster and our go-to guy for donut recommendations, was one of the folks who gave us invaluable advice!)

Everyone was happy to entertain my questions, and they each wanted to share their own podcast origin story of trials and tribulations. Hearing about fears and hurdles from some podcasters I listen to was a great way to demystify podcasting and break it down into the regular old nuts-and-bolts communications project that it is. 

Step 2: Be Realistic, Not Ambitious 

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You can always scale up. Scaling back will have its consequences. 

I’m not the first (or even the hundredth) person to give the following advice, but it always bears repeating. Don’t promise what you cannot deliver. 

It is all too easy to jump in with the wide-eyed ambition of a newbie and promise your listeners weekly content. You have so many great ideas, and you’re going to have NPR level production values! Then, you realize how much time and effort it takes to make just one piece of decent content. Don’t be disillusioned on either end of this equation. Estimate the time you’re going to spend recording, editing, launching, and promoting each episode, multiply that by two or three, look at your calendar, and be realistic when setting up your show schedule. Also, be realistic about the amount of time your listeners will want to dedicate to your show when deciding on your episode length. 

We opted for a shorter format and a monthly show because it fit our schedules. As podcast fans ourselves, we also appreciated shorter, digestible chunks of information that could be completely consumed on an average commute or a morning jog. At first, we wondered if it would be “enough” for listeners to remain engaged with us. But we receive thank you messages about the length and timing of 31Minutes often. It works for us. Something different might be right for you. 

Step 3: Sort Out What's Not for You

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Don’t bother spending your limited time learning about things that will come later. 

Lots of resources presented as “podcasting 101” materials (blogs, classes, videos) spend a decent amount of time talking about securing sponsors, and marketing and monetizing your podcast. This wasn’t helpful for us as we began the process of developing 31Minutes.

I wanted to see more podcasters talk about how to set up an RSS feed, what problems to anticipate when publishing the first episode (especially with Apple Podcasts), and how to make sure a show gets picked up everywhere. In hindsight, I wish I’d saved those several hours reading about topics that didn’t pertain to me. I wish those “101” resources led me straight to and through the set-up process more thoroughly. 

Step 4: Rely on Industry Resources

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Find a handful of industry pubs and brands to follow. Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about anything at first. You’ll learn!

I follow Podcast Movement and subscribe to the Hot Pod e-news, to name just a few. 

Although I don’t need the latest acquisition updates from Apple or Gimlet to produce 31Minutes, it helps to stay on top of important trends and changes that could affect our niche show. It’s a primer for understanding the industry and where we fit into it. 

Plus, it helps to see nuggets of wisdom and reminders in your social feed. For example, Podcast Movement’s tip of the week for 9/23 was:

It often takes years to build an audience, and you’ll never stop building!
Focus on creating quality content regularly. 

Step 5: Use Tools Like Social Listening to Produce Good Content

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Don’t just guess at it. Explore tools that unveil what your listeners care about and talk about. Map out your episode topics well in advance, but remain flexible to changes based on current events and opportunities. 

I’m not just throwing this in because I’m writing for Campus Sonar’s Brain Waves blog. Social listening is a gold mine for learning what your target audiences care about right now. I was lucky enough to have my first social listening tutorial via the podcast, back when we interviewed Sonarian CEO Liz Gross for our April episode. 

Our company works with some clients in partnership with Campus Sonar, to harness and analyze social data and use it for developing a variety of messaging projects. I believe it’s a game changer for effective communications (reach and resonance) and meaningful discussion (unearthing important concerns that lead to positive change on a campus). From my chair as a content strategist, it is an additional tool for understanding audience perspective and voice as I develop campaigns and write copy. 

Just like podcasting, you might be afraid of social listening at first because it seems so BIG. Once again, my advice is to jump in. The great thing about social data is that you can easily drill down to a few useful pieces as time allows and factor them into your podcast planning without consuming everything that everyone in the universe ever said about you on every platform. (Just typing that made me exhausted!) 

You’re Ready!

I hope this information is helpful. When we started, Karyn Adams and I were just two very busy women who wanted to make a podcast to address industry issues we felt were underrepresented on the podwaves. Now, our podcast affects so much of what we do—the relationships we build, who we reach out to, and how we reach out to them. And I should also mention, it’s lots of fun. 

We’ve begun working with clients on podcast consulting, to help colleges and universities tackle those perceived insurmountable hurdles. Because we gave ourselves the freedom to try and adjust, fail and learn, and jump in despite the fear of getting started, we’re well equipped to help them on this journey. 

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Subscribe to Brain WavesThe post Get Started with a Higher Ed Podcast originally appeared on Campus Sonar's Brain Waves blog.

Karen Black

Karen Black is a creative content strategist for H·A ThirtyOne and the co-host of 31Minutes: Best Ideas for Higher Ed Communicators. Karen has spent more than two decades helping organizations identify and amplify their most compelling content. She believes every student deserves to find that one, truly life-changing college experience—the “perfect fit.” Karen knows strong relationship building during the admissions process creates happier students and more engaged alumni. She lives in Charleston, South Carolina where she hosts a monthly, live, true storytelling show. Karen loves to travel and write, and is the mother of Howard, a quirky, 12-pound Chihuahua.

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