Last November, I conducted several email interviews to prepare my column about podcasting in higher education for the Feb. 2006 issue of University Business: “The Power of Podcasts”
Buffalo State College integrated podcasting into its website in 2005, an initiative presented as a podcasted case study at HighEdWebDev 05. Paul Kruczynski, Senior Web Implementation Specialist and Brett Essler, Web Publications Editor answered these questions last November.
1) You launched a very interesting podcasting initiative at your university. What were the main goals of this project? Does podcasting play a specific role in your admission/communication/web strategy? Why did you decide to add podcasting to your institution’s communication/marketing mix?
BE: We added podcasting primarily to add an interactive, multimedia, community-building element to the site. The main goal was to engage our online community to participate, whether it is producing their own podcasts, subscribing to a podcast feed, or using the technology in the classroom. We also thought it would be a unique way to disseminate messages about what makes Buffalo State great-interesting lecturers, a student-run radio station, undergraduate research programs, and so on. Podcasting seemed like a great way to reach our prospective and current student base because iPods, MP3 players, and downloading are ubiquitous with those demographics. Everywhere you go, you see white headphones! The key is to offer content that students will actually want to download. Even if they don’t listen to the podcasts, we’ve at least created awareness that Buffalo State is a campus that is embracing fresh online initiatives.
PK: The awareness that this creates is also part of our philosophy of developing with an eye towards future campus needs. Although a faculty member or student of today may not be interested podcasting, it’s likely that the faculty and students of tomorrow will. By building a podcast repository now, we create a framework and method for further integrating these tools into tomorrow’s academic environment. Podcasting also compliments the type of content being created at Buffalo State, and delivers it in the time-shifted format that has been popularized by services such as Tivo, and now, podcasting. Our goal is to provide useful information to the campus. If that means introducing tools such as RSS, downloadable events calendars, or podcasting to an unsuspecting campus, then we’ll do it. We believe that just because someone isn’t aware of a tool, it doesn’t mean they can’t be introduced to it and find a use for it. Podcasting matches this approach perfectly.
2) What did you tell your director, VP, President or Cabinet to convince them it was actually a good idea?
BE: Podcasting is really an extension of tools that already exist on the Buffalo State Web site such as RSS feeds, campus calendar, and news release archives. It made sense in that context. Also, at that time, podcasting was starting get press coverage in the Chronicle and its uses in higher education were emerging.
PK: Also, our Web Administration Director is just as excited by technology as we are. That helps allow us to do interesting projects such as these, even beyond their intrinsic value to the Buffalo State community.
3) What kind of traffic (downloads) and feedback have you observed? How does the podcasting traffic compare to traffic in other areas of your website?
BE: There are a number of interesting traffic trends we noticed once we were added to the Apple iTunes podcast directory in October. We saw a drop in our RSS feeds, an increase in page views to our iTunes documentation, and spikes that occur close to Apple’s New Music Tuesdays e-mail blasts.
In our minds, podcasting is still very new to campus. So, we aren’t scrutinizing the analytics in comparison to other established or essential features. There has been a steady rise in traffic and we’re happy with the progress we’ve made thus far.
4) What kind of budget did your podcasting initiative take?
BE: We purchased four iPods, with microphones, which are available to the campus community to create their own podcasts. Beyond that, the expenses were mainly time and personnel. The majority of the time was spent integrating podcasting into our existing site features and building up a sizable content store for launch.
PK: Every school will have a different approach for this, and so their expenses (in both senses) will vary. While it’s true that we did purchase equipment to help launch our initiative, that was based on the assessed needs of our campus. Other campuses may not need to do this. The time necessary to make sure this is a useful product, however, and not just another feature-bauble stuck onto the Web site is the most crucial expense. A poorly implemented feature may as well not be implemented at all.
5) How do you promote your podcasts?
BE: We have promoted podcasting heavily on our home page, through news items, banners, and spotlights. Also, campus groups that are providing podcast content-such as the Rooftop Poetry Club, the Niagara Movement Distinguished Lecture Series, and WBNY, the student-run radio station-have podcast links on their pages. Additionally, we have reached out to faculty and campus groups with fliers, through a technology listserv, and in-person meetings. Our inclusion in the Apple iTunes podcast directory has also created some awareness, leading to a mention in Slate’s “Podcast Roundup” column.
PK: Our podcasts have also been integrated into our campus events calendar. If an event has a podcast associated with it, a content block is added to the event listing with a link to the podcast, information, and more. Although this information is added after the event happened, it’s there for users who may be following a link from an e-mail newsletter, a bookmark, or just browsing the events calendar. It costs nothing to do it, and helps expose people to some of the different forms of content our site offers (podcasts in this case) that they may not have been otherwise aware of.
We also put on an interpretative dance piece about podcasting at HighEdWebDev, and release 10,000 trained doves to spell out the word “podcasting” over the Buffalo State campus every day at noon.
6) What advice can you give to your colleagues in other institutions who would like to try?
BE: Identify some content generation sources early in the process. Podcast subscribers and listeners expect fresh content, often. It can be very time consuming tracking down content sources, gathering the content, and preparing the files. Partnering with some campus groups who you have established relationships with or that you know to be early adopters of technology is key to keeping the consistent stream of content that will build a user base for podcasting.
PK: Although this may only be sexy to developers: Don’t underestimate the tools necessary for updating your content. A podcast feed is going to have to come from somewhere, and needs to be easy to maintain. Make sure the tools are there and are scaleable. Make sure your site design highlights the content, and is cross-integrated within your site. Podcast integration should be more than just a link on a page. Strategize! People may not get it, but that’s ok. They also thought online shopping would never work and that the Web would collapse under the weight of pictures of people’s cats. New features won’t save the world, but they also shouldn’t be ignored. And, really, remember to have fun while you’re developing it. If it’s not fun to make, then it probably won’t be much fun to use either.