I Can Hear You Now: Podcasts in Hospital Social Media

flickr: roland

When I think of radio, I often imagine the movie A Christmas Story, where Ralphie sits in front of a huge, ancient radio, anxiously awaiting the next edition of Little Orphan Annie. There always seems to be a reverence for listening in movies where characters gather to hear their favorite show, as in Woody Allen’s Radio Days and other movies shot or nostalgically set in the heyday of radio.

I have to admit, although radio has since been followed by television and the internet and video games, there is something about the absence of an image, about having to concentrate solely on an individual’s voice, that I find comfortingly intimate.

Thankfully, the arrival of podcasts has made audio shows more accessible than ever, leading to a bounty of listening opportunities. With podcasts, we can listen whenever or wherever we presume. Some of my very favorite shows are RadioLab’s fantastic science programming, This American Life’s unfailingly fascinating documentaries, and Fresh Air’s in-depth interviews of interesting people. (I’m also partial to the hilarious Bill Simmons on ESPN—The B.S. Report—thanks to my husband.)

Luckily for us, podcasts are a fantastic tool for hospital social media, and they can be as simple or as complex as you like—from straightforward interviews to collages of music, sound effects, and voice. Either way, engaging your hospital audience with a podcast is a great way to reach patients and add variety to your social media diet. Here are some tips for taking advantage of this resource:

Have the right hardware and software. If you’re lucky, you’ll have someone on your team who can already operate a recorder and sound editing software. However, it’s not necessary to be an expert. You will need a good microphone or two, a reliable digital recorder, a quiet spot, and extra batteries. Be sure to do a test take to ensure there isn’t any distracting feedback from equipment, air conditioners, etc. You should be able to hear all speakers clearly.

Editing software like GarageBand, if you’re on a Mac, makes finishing the podcast easy (my 60-year-old dad uses it all the time). If you’re on a PC, try software like MixCraft, Audacity, or Wave Editor. Be sure to talk to your web developer if you have any questions about uploading your file, RSS feeds, etc. There are also multiple podcast tutorials online, if you get stuck.

Voices matter—pick the right person. Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest hiring Morgan Freeman. In fact, I would counsel against using professional voice talent in most instances, because you want your podcasts to be accessible and authentic. Instead, focus on passion. If your topic is fascinating to the speaker, it will be fascinating to the audience. An extra bonus with audio is that camera-shy folks can focus on what they’re saying instead of how they look.

Make your own. Don’t be tempted to buy stock podcasts. To me, these are the equivalent of elevator music—boring, bland, and generic. Instead, find enthusiastic members of your own team to interview (and don’t underestimate the draw of a great guest). Like using photography of local staff and patients, custom podcasts show that you’re invested and interested in your work and your community.

Go long, but include chapters and summaries. The nice thing about podcasts is that you can record as long as there are interesting things to say. Patients usually don’t get enough time with their physicians and, for information-hungry listeners, a wealth of advice is a blessing. However, people have diverse needs, so include chapters in your podcast, along with a summary of topics and time so it’s easy to skip ahead.

Remember you’re telling a story, not just conveying information. Encourage your speakers to include anecdotes and experiences in their podcasts so that listeners get the feeling and not just the facts.

Make your podcast accessible. Since all your patients aren’t tech-savvy teenagers, make sure anyone can easily access your podcast. Instructions for downloading and use with outside players are helpful—don’t assume technological know-how.

Don’t violate copyright. Remember not to use music for which you don’t have the rights and be sure to only use voices with speakers’ permission.

Don’t use elevator music. Just don’t.

Here are some examples of great hospital podcasts to inspire you:

Swedish Hospital Cancer Podcast Series—an amazingly thorough resource.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital—terribly cheesy music (see my last point!), but once you get past it, the focus on patients is great.

Levine Children’s Hospital—podcasts specifically discussing children’s health issues.

If you listen regularly to any great hospital podcasts, share them below!

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