An estimated 67 million Americans listen to podcasts each month, and 42 million of them listen to podcasts weekly. (Have international stats? Let us know.)
So it's no surprise that more colleges and universities are getting into the podcasting game, whether it's to target prospective students, engage sports fans, or build brand awareness.
But starting a podcast can be daunting. It's easy to listen to podcasts, but recording, producing, and editing one is a complicated process. That's one reason it's so impressive that Skidmore College took the leap into podcasting all on its own, without any external production help. Now, their podcast, This is Skidmore, is three seasons strong.
We asked Skidmore Social Media Coordinator Jackie Vetrano to tell us how they managed to do it.
What is This is Skidmore, and why did you all at Skidmore decide to make it?
Describing the podcast is one of the hardest questions for me to answer, for some reason! This is Skidmore is… Skidmore! It’s a deeper dive into our great stories and experiences. It’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni. It’s research, performances, athletics, and clubs. Each podcast episode is a 20-40 minute casual conversation with great people that make the Skidmore community awesome.
The idea of a podcast was a discussion just as I was hired in December 2015—it came up in my interview, actually! We knew we wanted to enter the space but we didn’t know why, which was the most backwards thing we could do as marketers. Goals before tools, right? At first, we were so excited about it that our only goal was let’s do a podcast! but that was much too broad.
We thought about all the possible ways the podcast could have grown and what direction it could take. First, we considered audiences such as alumni, current students, or even a podcast for faculty and staff at Skidmore. As much as we wanted to have a specific audience, we realized that this new platform was constantly changing, and being consumed by several demographics. With that in mind, ultimately This is Skidmore would be a brand awareness piece, something we didn’t have yet in our marketing toolkit. With that, we could leverage each episode for multiple audiences depending on the topic.
How did you make This is Skidmore happen? How did you record, produce, and distribute it?
We really just jumped into the process after coming up with a name and some episode ideas. Really, we should have taken the time to test our audio setup and work with Media Services (our experts in audio) to determine what the best way to record would be.
At Skidmore there’s a content team who meet weekly to discuss the stories on our website as well as other medium that tell stories, like video and the podcast. More often than not, a story comes up and someone says “hey, that would be a great podcast!” Then, I move forward with reaching out and setting up a recording time. Because the podcast is biweekly, I’m always checking to be sure we haven’t done too many episodes on one topic and completely ignored another.
Our first several episodes were recorded in our recording studio on campus with a Snowball Microphone in the middle of all the guests. It seemed like a good idea, but was pretty terrible audio quality. That’s not because it’s a bad microphone, it’s because we were using it wrong. Once we finally collaborated with Media Services, they set us up for significantly better quality. Now, each guest has their own microphone, which makes leveling audio much easier. I edit the podcast, but generally very little. I use Garage Band to cut out any long silences or coughing fits, but to keep the authenticity of the podcast, I rarely remove discussion points unless it is irrelevant, too long, or something the guest requested was removed.
We originally hosted the podcast on SoundCloud but switched to PodBean a year later. It’s also on iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play. If listeners don’t have any podcasting apps, they can also head right to our website and listen there.
This is Skidmore episodes are almost always embedded in a related story on our website to get a little extra mileage about this new way of storytelling. I promote the podcast using social media channels, paid advertisements, and have it included in newsletters sent out to alumni as well as prospective students.
What results have you seen from This is Skidmore? What are your future plans for the podcast?
We’ve had such great feedback about the show, and have seen a general increase in the number of downloads per episode, so I call that success! Because our initial goal of the show was brand awareness and really entering the space well, I don’t focus too heavily on the numbers. That’s also because PodBean, iTunes, and other platforms don’t provide too many analytics to really dive into.
I wish I could say that I have all these grandiose plans for the future of the show, but as the sole producer, host, editor, and promoter, my goal is to keep the momentum going! I had to take a break over the summer from our schedule, and now that the semester has ramped back up I’m proud to say we’re back on the every-other-week schedule. Overall, my goal is to see an increase in number of downloads per episode over a 48-hour period, as that’s a good indicator that we’re getting into more listener’s earbuds.
What advice would you offer to other schools considering starting their own podcasts?
JUMP IN! But also make a plan. I know that’s contradictory.
Establish a solid goal and idea for the podcast. Think about your audience and means of publicity. Once you have a good foundation, also consider where and how you’ll record. That’s the most important part.
There’s going to be a point where you and your team think you’re overthinking it. Right at that moment, stop thinking and do it. Record an episode and take a listen. Do some test-runs with folks in your office and see what sounds right. Worst case, that strategy didn’t work out and you try again.
As a host of This is Skidmore and my own podcast, I learned it’s incredibly important to just listen. Don’t talk. As a host, the show isn’t about you, it’s about the guest you have on the show (that is, if your format brings a guest on). Take a listen after your recording, and if you notice that you’ve done more talking than your guest does, that’s bad podcasting. The beauty of podcasts is that they can be edited, so there’s no need to always fill the awkward silences. If you stay silent for a beat, your guest may have the opportunity to continue on with a deeper or more interesting addition to their original point.
Finally: promote, promote, promote. (Most) everyone thinks about doing a Google search for a college’s website, or a Facebook search for a page, but they may not think, “does that institution have a podcast?”
Liked this Q&A with Jackie? Check out the slide deck from her recent presentation on the subject at the eduWeb Summit: