Amnesty takes advantage of podcast 'renaissance' with In Their Own Words series

Recent podcast successes have prompted the human rights organisation to produce digital content with depth to get its message across in the In Their Own Words series

What is it?

In Their Own Words is a series of podcasts from Amnesty designed to increase brand awareness and raise understanding of its work among new and existing audiences. The organisation hopes the series will provide an easily accessible platform for campaigns and issues that can be complex and deeply involved.

The podcasts, which so far have included the whistleblower Chelsea Manning, the Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste and the Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng, are from human rights activists telling their own experiences. Although some have not been able to voice their own stories – Manning, for example, is serving a prison sentence in the US – Amnesty says it has tried to keep the podcasts as true as possible and got informed consent from the individuals involved throughout the planning and production process.

The initial pilot series includes four podcasts over two months, after which Amnesty will analyse whether the series met its initial aims and objectives before developing it further. The last in this series will feature the Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.

What else?

Amnesty believes the podcasts allow it to get under the skin of an issue. This is the first time it has explored the format as a way of engaging with the public, and its creators were inspired by a recent podcast renaissance and the success of shows such as Serial and Making A Murderer, which presented in-depth stories of real-life injustice.

Each episode has been accompanied by a digital distribution and promotion plan involving the website, social channels and emails to supporters. The organisation says it realises that podcasts can have a "long tail", so while it has been planning for promotion around each episode for the launch, it has also thought about how to use the episodes for future campaigns.

What Amnesty says

"This is material we work with, day-in, day-out," Sam Strudwick, Amnesty's head of digital, communications planning and design told Third Sector. "So podcasts seemed like a good way to explore some cases of human rights injustice that we’ve worked on. There seems to be a resurgence in content with depth – whether it’s long-form or serialised content – and we repeatedly find that people browsing our website want content that gives the ‘full picture’ and detail on an issue.

"It’s a big ask of an audience to listen to a half-hour audio show, but the stories are so compelling that we hope they’ll engage an audience that already listens to podcasts to connect with Amnesty."

How successful has the campaign been?

Strudwick says the series has received considerable positive press attention from mainstream media, including The Guardian, The Observer, The Independent and VICE. The podcasts have been listened to more than 17,000 times on Soundcloud and thousands more on iTunes.

"Over time, we hope that we’ll build subscribers to the series that are engaged with and have an awareness of a variety of human rights issues," he says. "The idea is that we will turn them into mobilised supporters in the long term. Listening to a podcast episode is, we hope, the first step in an engaged supporter journey."

How does the campaign fit with the overall digital strategy?

Amnesty is always looking to engage new people in its campaigns and believes powerful storytelling is crucial to its digital engagement strategy.

"It helps us break through perceptions of human rights as a very legalistic and academic concern, to speak directly to people’s sense of fairness and justice," Strudwick said.

"By enabling people to tell their stories directly to Amnesty supporters, and to potential supporters, we feel a real connection can be made that builds a deeper relationship with the issuess and encourages listeners to take a stand."

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