Guest Column | January 29, 2021

The New Sound Of Business: Employee Podcasts


Like it or not, the way we work is changing along with the workforce. And the pace of change, along with its unpredictability, is causing growth-focused software executives to look for new ways to cost-effectively reach, engage and inspire their employees.

As a result, business leaders across departments are tapping into corporate storytelling to build trust and renew purpose, shattering counter-productive habits of overcommunicating, and carefully scrutinizing the consequences of slashing communications budgets.

The good news is that all these tactics used for strengthening the emotional bond between you and your employees are technology agnostic. But there is one technology tool that is fast emerging as an important player in employee communications. This article provides some practical advice to leverage this powerful employee communications tool in your organization --- that tool is employee podcasts.

Is There Anyone Out There Listening?

To get a sense of just how widely podcasts are being used to promote company brands, causes, hobbies, and issues, consider the following according to Brandastic:

  • 50% of the U.S. households include a podcast fan
  • 24% of the U.S. population listen to podcasts weekly
  • Podcast listeners consume an average of seven different podcast shows per week

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that, just as with the evolution of blogs, podcasts are now finding their way into the communications mix for many of the world’s largest, most complex employers. According to Jonathan Davies, Global Communications Manager of Happeo – a SaaS community-powered employee communications platform – “Employee podcasts are uniquely positioned to engage, excite and inform employees. They can be easy to produce by companies, easy to be consumed by employees and unlike most other employee communications tools it can easily build loyal listeners.”

But Are Podcasts Just Going To Be The New Old Newsletter?

Are members of your team still struggling to pull off a well-regarded corporate newsletter? Well, if you’re not sure, the answer is “yes”. Working with clients in over 20 industries for the better part of three decades, we can share with you this not-so-secret finding: most corporate newsletters are underappreciated by employees, considered a timesuck by those who are responsible for managing them, and are a disappointment to their sponsors. And, while they are born out of the best intentions, they tend to stick around for the wrong reasons such as being someone’s pet project or old habits going unchecked. To make sure your employee podcast doesn’t fall into the trap of the much-maligned corporate newsletter, you can follow a few simple rules --- particularly if you’re looking to choose between podcast or newsletter. Specifically, choose an employee podcast over an employee newsletter when the following conditions ring true for your company:

  • The topics you’re exploring are meaty and require time and expertise to give them justice. That’s the beauty about podcasts, they’re amazing for digging deep into a topic.
  • You can leverage people who are comfortable in leading and participating in conversations. Podcasts are meant to be listened to – often, more than once. They can only be enjoyed if participants can have an interesting conversation.
  • Your content transcends time. Because podcasts last forever, the content should not be tied to a specific date, have time-limited relevance, or be a source of urgent information that needs an immediate call-to-action.
  • You are committed to producing several podcast episodes. Adoption of the corporate podcast is never immediate. You need to be prepared to generate several episodes over time to get an accurate reading of how, when, and why it is being consumed.

Some Of The Nuts And Bolts

To help business leaders plan and budget an effective podcast strategy so that it aligns with their business priorities without overwhelming communications resources, Happeo’s Davies has co-authored The Employee Communicator’s Ultimate Guide to Corporate Podcasting. According to Davies, “There are plenty of myths about podcasts floating around. By demonstrating that creating and sustaining an effective employee podcast doesn’t have to be onerous, companies can finally reach employees in the same way popular brands reach their consumers”.

The Ultimate Guide covers topics essential to ensuring podcasts are successful by delving into challenges such as: how to measure podcast success, what equipment is needed to be successful, how to build support internally for podcasting, and how to jump-start an employee podcast quickly. At the same time, it drills down into the day-to-day “nuts and bolts” of execution, covering topics including, how to plan the content of your podcast episodes. Here is a brief excerpt:

If your employee podcast is going to be a success, it needs to contribute to business goals. Examples include:

  • Revenue
  • Productivity
  • Engagement
  • Alignment
  • Compliance
  • Retention

When you can demonstrate that your podcast makes a meaningful contribution to organizational success, you will be able to count on support from the leadership team.

When you’re first starting, plan an initial season – let’s say for one quarter. Align the themes of those episodes to your business’ yearly strategic priorities. For example, if one of your strategic priorities is “to leverage the power of our global brand in local markets”, then you’ve got a clear and concise theme for the first episodes of your podcast. If you plan to release one podcast bi-weekly, that means you have six episodes for one quarter. In this case, we would do something like this:

Episode 1. A leader who explains why this is such a big business priority
Episode 2. An influencer who has seen success supporting this priority
Episode 3. An influencer from a different region sharing another success story
Episode 4. A leader who wasn’t as visible before, but fully supports this priority
Episode 5. A mild skeptic of this strategic priority, who later became convinced
Episode 6. A look back at the results achieved so far with an influencer and a leader

Keeping The Sound On

Every software executive has felt the sting of rolling out a new technology that becomes under-utilized – and it hurts, even more, when the technology is initially embraced enthusiastically. That’s why the Ultimate Guide also outlines how to get traction and maintain momentum for your employee podcasts:

The best way to get employees to listen is to make them part of the podcast experience. Before you launch your podcast to the whole organization, record a few episodes and test them with a good cross-section of your workforce. When you incorporate employee feedback about the length, tone, and format of the podcast you help ensure it’s going to meet their needs.

Once you launch your podcast, keep employees at the center of the conversation. To do so, take these four steps:

  1. Include non-executive employees as guests, including
    • Top performers & high potential employees
    • New hires
    • People who have overcome a personal struggle
  2. Look for a mix of guests, for example
    • People working in regional or international branches of the company
    • Front-line employees
    • Employees representing age, gender, ethnic diversity
  3. Find interesting outside guests, such as
    • Customers or top clients
    • Subject matter experts
    • Industry analysts or influencers
  4. Make it easy to give feedback
    • Have an accessible spot to suggest a topic or guest ideas
    • Put a poll on each episode page to get quick ratings
    • Do regular pulse surveys to check in on engagement

Ultimately, employee podcasts help senior leaders connect with their workforce and align the organization around important initiatives and key cultural values.

At a time when the shape of the workforce is evolving, using this simple, audio-based communications tool provides a rare opportunity to effectively engage with employees – which will most likely include more remote teams, non-desk employees, newly onboarded employees, and those working in other time zones. Sound advice.

About The Authors

For over 25 years, Andrew Brown has helped SaaS/IaaS companies harness communications to thrive throughout pandemics, crises, mergers, acquisitions, expansions, downsizings, and global product launches. He is the author of the “Building strong business relationships” book series. He is cofounder of The Academy of Business Communications which empowers fearless communicators and co-host of The Swear Jar podcast.

For over 20 years, Elizabeth Williams has worked with companies including ADP, Rogers, TELUS, The Beer Store, Constellation Software, Bank of Montreal, and Aon to help them tell their stories and engage employees and customers in meaningful conversations. She is co-author of The Fearless Communicator’s Guide to COVID-19, co-host of The Swear Jar podcast, and cofounder of The Academy of Business Communications which empowers fearless communicators.