4 Ways to Ensure Employees Will Listen to Your Company Podcast

Everywhere you look (or listen), you can find them. From subways and buses to park benches, health clubs, and cafes, people are immersed in listening to podcasts. Whatever your interest–true crime, politics, business, psychology, or entertainment–there’s a podcast for that.

Naturally, it was just a matter of time before employers harnessed the power of the podcast to communicate with the workforce. According to the Wall Street Journal, approximately 30 companies in the S&P 500 have developed employee-oriented podcasts. American Airlines, Verizon, Apple, Mastercard, Caterpillar, Home Depot, Netflix and a host of other organizations are all producing them, with varying degrees of success.

Employers are turning to podcasts, largely because traditional methods of employee communication have grown old and tired–and easy to ignore.

“If you ask any internal communications team, the biggest problem isn’t producing content, it’s getting anyone to pay attention to it,” says James Ellis, an employer-brand and recruitment-marketing consultant, keynote speaker and podcaster. “Intranets are never visited, emails are never read and employers are desperate for new ways to generate traction with employees.”

Caterpillar Inc. launched its podcast two years ago to give employees more choice for how they access company news, according to Rachel Potts, the company’s head of enterprise communications. While podcasts are a new and novel vehicle for communicating to the workforce, employers are still plagued by one “massive hurdle,” says Ellis: convincing employees to spend their personal time listening to company news.

We asked experts for their advice on how to overcome this challenge. Here’s what they came up with:

Select an engaging host.

People want to be entertained. Plain and simple. That doesn’t mean you need to enlist the services of Jimmy Fallon or James Corden for your employee podcast, but you do need someone with a modicum of charisma. According to Ellis, many of the “obvious candidates,” like the vice president of communications or the CEO, are “horrible choices,” as they lack the ability to present subject matter in an engaging manner.

At Caterpillar, host Rusty Dunn is a former broadcaster with a “gift for making people feel comfortable when they sit down with him,” says Potts. “He leads a very natural and casual conversation that really appeals to employees.” That appeal has led some within the organization to brand Dunn “the Ryan Seacrest of Caterpillar.”

Keep it short.

The idea is to get people to voluntarily take time out of their evening, weekend or commute to listen to work-related content, so it’s best to keep a podcast short, says Will Ruch, CEO and strategic lead at Milwaukee-based Versant, and co-author, with Patricia Nazemetz, of HR and Marketing: Power Partners: The Competitive Advantage That Will Transform Your Business and Establish a Culture of Performance. “Media is being consumed today so quickly and there is so much of it, so organizations need to focus on getting to the point quickly,” says Ruch. “Episodes that can be consumed in shorter quantities are very popular.”

Make it real.

It’s all too easy for employers to “play it safe and gray” when putting together an employee podcast, says Richard Veal, global practice director, communication and change management at Willis Towers Watson. The result is “dull, weak content” that fails to engage the workforce — and rarely garners a listen. Far better, says Veal, is a focus on not being so corporate.

On Caterpillar’s podcast, for example, executives are encouraged to share personal stories that give employees insights into how their home lives impact their work lives. Caterpillar’s virtual product development manager shared the story of her son coming out as transgender and how that affected her approach to conversations around inclusion in the workplace. The most popular Caterpillar podcast featured an interview with a retired group president discussing his battle with ALS. The “very raw and poignant” podcast was recorded in front of a live audience of employees, who were allowed to pose their own questions of the ailing executive.

Give employees a voice.

Andy Warhol once spoke of everyone having 15 minutes of fame. That notion has never been truer than today, as Youtube, Instagram, Facebook and other social-media channels have given everyone the opportunity to produce accessible content. Employer podcasts present a tremendous opportunity to share the voice of the employee, which also helps boost interest from their peers. “The way you attract employees to listen to a podcast is to put employees in the podcast,” says Ellis. “If you tell the stories of employees and what they are doing and how they are changing things, that creates a connection that increases the likelihood someone will listen.” It also gives employees motivation to earn a spot on the podcast themselves, says Ellis.

Sharing employee stories–in conjunction with the other three tips–also provides a bottom-line benefit for employers in that the podcast can serve as a recruiting tool for new employees, according to Veal.

“The inside-track type of content to give potential recruits a feel for what it’s like to work at the organization can be highly effective,” she says.

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Julie Cook Ramirez
Julie Cook Ramirez is a Rockford, Ill.-based journalist and copywriter covering all aspects of human resources. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.