Kirsty Marrins: Podcasts are the up-and-coming medium for charities

Done well, they provide an opportunity to get the voices of charity staff and beneficiaries directly to potential supporters

Kirsty Marrins
Kirsty Marrins

Last month I shared ten sector podcasts I thought you should know about. This month I’m taking a look at charities that host podcasts, explore why they’re growing in popularity and offer tips on how you can start one for your own charity.

Podcasts have been around for about 15 years, but they’re only now starting to move into the mainstream. According to a recent Ofcom report, podcast popularity is booming in the UK, with six million adults listening to one every week. This figure has almost doubled in the past five years and increased across all age groups, although it’s particularly popular with younger audiences: half of all podcast listeners are under the age of 35.

Research in July 2018 by the podcast platform Acast found that 21 per cent of users had begun listening to podcasts only in the previous six months. I believe demand will continue to increase: these digital broadcasts are the perfect format for our busy lives, helping to fulfil our insatiable appetite for content in easily digestible bite-sized chunks.

Haven House Children’s Hospice launched its podcast at the start of 2018 when team members who were avid podcast listeners cottoned on to the growing interest in podcasts and their potential to engage listeners. Teena Antoniou, senior marketing manager at the charity, says: "People are busy, so fitting in a podcast is easier than finding the time to sit down and read an article, or even to bookmark a web page to read later. Everyone can fit a podcast somewhere into their day." Its podcast focuses on stories of staff, volunteers and fundraisers.

With their growing popularity, it’s no wonder more charities have started to create their own podcasts, but should you just buy a microphone and dive right in? How do you know if your audience is interested?

"Over the past few years we’ve really focused on the power of personal stories across all of our channels, including Facebook and Instagram," says Claudia Knowles, digital content strategist at Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now. "Women tell us that both sharing their own story and reading someone else’s can offer support.

"Podcasts are a natural and very intimate way to share long-form content and offered a literal way for us to share people’s voices. It helps them recognise that they’re not alone and creates a virtual community.

"We shared a survey and spoke to women affected by breast cancer to find out if our key audiences were interested in podcasts and what content they would like to hear."

After receiving positive feedback and helpful insights, Breast Cancer Care launched the podcast in January 2019 and it was listened to 5,000 times in the first three months.

Podcasts can also be more reflective and less demanding than the news, with its fast-turnaround nature. Their longer, easily digestible formats offer the opportunity to share stories in a thoughtful way, a key reason why charities are investing in them.

According to Sonya Roberts, head of communications at Guide Dogs: "The longer format of podcasts give people living with vision impairment the opportunity to open up to share the ups, downs and funny moments of their lives, which really shifts common misconceptions.

"Podcasts are not only a popular channel but, most importantly for Guide Dogs, they are audio-led, which means they’re accessible to everyone."

However, although podcasts are an amazing channel for communicating with and engaging an audience, there are lots of things to consider if you’re thinking of starting one for your charity. CharityComms has a great post on this, including advice on your kit. The most important thing, it advises, is to consider your why (purpose), your who (audience) and your how (what success looks like).

"It’s important to set clear objectives about what you want your series to achieve and to set the right tone," Roberts says. "You cannot script humour and rapport, so it’s important you match the right hosts with the right guests, but then leave them to it. Most importantly, a podcast can’t be overly branded or it will it lose authenticity."

The Guide Dogs podcast, a four-part series called I See What You’re Saying, ran over six weeks. From a media perspective there were more than 1.6 billion opportunities to see and hear it, 15,000 click-throughs from digital marketing activity and more than 2.4 million impressions delivered.

Together, this drove a conversion of 3,000 listens in six weeks, with the average person listening for at least 14 minutes. Roberts believes this shows positive commitment and engagement with the cause, and success in reaching a highly engaged new audience for retargeting in the future.

In terms of practical tips, Knowles recommends keeping episodes to a consistent length, finding the right (quiet) space and playing around with the recording equipment. In terms of strategy, she adds: "The most important thing is to work with your users – whether they’re service users, fundraisers or campaign supporters – and bring them in to your creation process. Put them at ease by reminding them that the podcast is not live and can be edited or even re-recorded if necessary."

If you have celebrity patrons or ambassadors, consider using them as hosts: they can help to raise awareness and the profile of your podcast.

However, Roberts cautions: "Remember celebrity hosts must have a genuine connection to your cause, and it’s critical that the guests are the genuine voices of your campaign."

This is an approach Bowel Cancer UK has taken in its new podcast series, in which the host, BBC journalist George Alagiah, interviews supporters and leading experts on the disease, as well as discussing his own treatment and diagnosis.

The key to a successful podcast is to make sure you’re giving people the opportunity to tell their own stories in their own words. Make sure that the sound quality is good and that you record in a quiet space. It’s important that the host is naturally curious, can get people to feel at ease and that they build a rapport with the guests. Lastly, don’t forget to promote your podcast across all your channels.

Kirsty Marrins is a digital communications consultant

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