Tim Ebner is communications director and press secretary at the American Forest & Paper Association in Washington, DC. He is a member of ASAE’s Communication Professionals Advisory Council and a former Associations Now senior editor.
Associations are experimenting with podcasts and developing techniques that make it a popular medium to engage members.
When Erika Aguilar launched the Online News Association’s first podcast last fall, she was eager to tap into a wildly popular content format with what seems like unlimited potential.
Aguilar, an ONA member and volunteer, knew her podcast wouldn’t be the next Serial, S-Town, or Dirty John (three hits with millions of listeners), but that didn’t stop her from experimenting with the platform.
“The truth is everybody is sort of making it up as we go,” she says. “No one has the right or perfect answer” for how to succeed with podcasting.
Aguilar gained much of her experience with the medium in her job as a podcast producer for KQED, the public radio station in San Francisco. She tapped that experience last fall when she and an audio team created the new ONA On Air podcast, which includes edited content from ONA’s 2018 annual conference in Austin. It’s available to stream or download on several distribution channels: Soundcloud, Google Play, Apple Podcasts, and Stitcher.
“My goal for the ONA podcast was to get the audio on to all the major podcast platforms, so that a mobile audience could be listening in,” Aguilar says. That distribution strategy is a big reason for ONA’s early podcasting success. “There are more channels than ever before,” she says.
At the same time, audio equipment, recording apps, and sound-editing tools are getting better and less costly, says Trevor Knoblich, ONA’s head of programs and events, who worked closely with Aguilar on the podcast launch.
“Decent-quality microphones can connect into a computer and are much cheaper,” Knoblich says. “Meanwhile, the sound-editing software is a lot easier to use. A lot of the tools that are out there will help you adjust audio levels and keep vocals in range.”
Finding the right audience can be a big challenge for podcasting. That’s where an association, with a built-in audience of hundreds or thousands of members, might have a unique competitive advantage. Many of ONA’s engaged members became loyal podcast listeners, and the content is easy to repurpose and reuse later.
“We also promote it as part of our social media strategy and newsletter strategy,” Knoblich says. “And we can embed sound files on web pages, like conference session pages, for quick and easy playback.”
Still, ONA doesn’t take its listeners for granted. Aguilar says a successful podcast starts with quality audio and a passion for storytelling.
“Find someone who knows how to produce the audio, and don’t make a podcast feel like a chore,” she says. “If you’re having fun and are genuinely excited about the content you’re producing, then your audience is going to be able to hear it and will react to it by continuing to listen.”