5 ways to use audio to connect with the public and your team… for free

You may have met Mark Steadman at commscampnorth. He came to sponsor his first unconference and ran a great session. So much so we asked him to write a blog post for those who couldn’t make it.

by Mark Steadman

The human voice is a phenomenal tool for building trust. We multiply that effect when we wear headphones, as the voices we listen to are physically so close to us.

I brought this up in the session I ran at CommsCamp North. But there are other ways the voice can be impactful and to help us create connections. So here are five ways you can use audio to bring your organisation and its service users closer together.

If you want a rundown of the equipment you’ll need, you’ll find that at the end of the post.

Option 1: Smart speaker bulletins

Where I work, we call Alexa “the lady in the tube”. If I ask her for a flash briefing, she’ll deliver a short burst of audio from my preferred sources. Google Home offers something similar too. People often give smart speakers to older relatives as gifts, as they offer useful things like voice calls and reminders.

Smart speaker bulletins are a great way to integrate your messaging into people’s homes. Adding your content to people’s devices is pretty easy and you can explain it in a handout or a short video.

You can use bulletins to let people know about important events in their area. * *

To become a bulletin source, you need to setup a free developer account with Amazon and/or Google. Then you can create a podcast, hosted for free on Buzzsprout , and link your feed to the bulletin you’ve created.

If you don’t have a smart speaker, you can use the simulator available in your developer account.

You can publish your audio to Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or keep it exclusive to smart speakers.

Option 2: Turn your newsletter or blog into a podcast

When we think about getting into podcasting, we can sometimes worry about having enough content. Well, a podcast is a way to get extra value from the work you’re already doing.

If you have a regular blog or a newsletter, you can make it more accessible by recording it as a podcast. This helps visually-impaired readers, and busy people who want to stay in touch but don’t have the time to read.

Here, all you need to do is sit and read through the article you’ve written. Add a brief intro and outro plus a call-to-action, like inviting the listener to your website. Make a few simple edits, export your audio file and upload it to the web.

  • You can host your audio with Anchor for free, but they’ll fight you if you want to publish outside of Spotify. It’s currently still doable, but we don’t know how long for.
  • The newsletter software Substack now offers podcasting hosting too.
  • If you’re just doing simple edits to audio, like cutting out mistakes, Audacity is a handy and free tool.
  • I have a course on developing a podcast from a blog or newsletter. Use the code commscampnorth for 50% off the price.

Option 3: Go in-depth

Podcasts work best when they’re regular and consistent in format. But there’s another way you can use audio to provide useful information.

Whether you want to share audio from a meeting or go deeper into a topic, you can host one-off audio on Soundcloud. It’s free, and you can embed it as easily as you would with YouTube.

Budget permitting, you could explore a limited-run series. Let’s say we’re gathering an aural history of residents from a particular background. A series of stories, produced with a little music and narration can be a warm and intimate way to explore a topic in detail. It’s also a wonderful way to engage communities.

Tools like Descript make it easier than ever to put together podcast audio. When you import audio, it’s transcribed by their AI, and you edit the sound by editing the text. It works just like a Google doc. You can then add music, sound effects, and other recordings easily. Plus you’ll be on your way to having a transcript that makes the work more accessible.

Option 4: A right to reply

You can give the public a voice, and offer leaders the chance to share their responses by creating your own Question Time show!

You can record a Zoom conversation between a local representative and members of the public, and publish the audio. This is a great way to welcome people who don’t want to jump into Zoom, or find it daunting.

Or you can gather questions from the public in the style of Points of View. Provide an email address or a simple Google form where people can attach a short recording. Then send that to the person who needs to answer the question, and let them record their reply. Tie it off with a short intro and outro, and you’ve produced an episode without everyone having to be on the line at the same time.

Option 5: Create an internal podcast

If you work within a department with lots of people who are out and about, you can keep them up-to-date with a private podcast feed. This is especially handy for drivers who can’t spare the time to read a daily or weekly briefing.

There are a few things to consider around ease-of-access for listeners, and ease-of-admin for you. Most private podcasting options don’t work with Spotify, and the ones that do (like Supercast) will charge you. If you’re particularly worried about locking down your audio, I’ll briefly explain another route in a tick.

There’s less of an expectation of high production value for a private podcast, but don’t rule it out. I produce a couple and listeners benefit from feeling valued, heard, and addressed directly.

Wrapping it up

Here we’ve looked at a few different formats, some of which aren’t “traditional” podcasting, but all use the voice to connect us together.

  • Smart speaker bulletins are great ways to get up-to-the-minute info out to members of the public, especially those at risk of isolation.
  • You can make your blog or newsletter go further by bringing it to people who don’t have the ability or capacity to read it.
  • One-off audio stories or limited-run series allow you to go deep. And you don’t have to be a qualified audio engineer to make them!
  • Members of the public can get a right to reply by recording their questions, and allowing department heads to publish their responses.
  • There’s always someone on your team who doesn’t read the weekly email. Now you can give them a private podcast feed.

The gear you need

  • The Samson Q2U is a great mic to get started with, at less than £90.
  • If you don’t have a pair of headphones handy, these Audio-Technica ones sound good and don’t cost the earth.
  • To gather audio interviews, the Zoom (not that Zoom) H1n is a handheld recorder with an in-built mic. It records audio to a micro SD card, so it’s easy to transfer to a laptop.

And finally

As you can probably tell, I love talking about this stuff. If you’ve got questions about how to implement any of this, you can book a quick half-hour chat with me. Together we can run through your options, and find a solution to meet your budget.

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