Podcasting: It’s How You Say It

Companies need to give employees ''some framework to set expectations, because there are practically no conventions.''
Esther SheinMarch 7, 2006

Podcasts — easy-to-create, easy-to-distribute audio files, often spoken words rather than music — has become a popular means for individuals to “express themselves.” But just as with blogs — those easy-to-create web pages — companies are finding the need to set some standards on just what’s acceptable in employee podcasts.

“It’s a new technology, and we wanted to provide our employees with guidance on how they should think about using it,” explains IBM manager of investor communications Ben Edwards. Even at Big Blue, it was only last August that IBM launched its first external podcast — that is, a podcast meant to be distributed outside the company.

“The guidelines are influenced by a lot of sources,” says Edwards, beginning with existing company policies on blogging and on employee conduct as well as standards developed by companies like Microsoft and Sun. IBM also put together in-house bloggers with communications, legal, and human resources staffers to develop more-formal podcasting policies.

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“The intent of the guidelines was, please respectÂÂ…everything you’d respect when communicating with the outside world,” says Edwards. “We don’t want to regulate content.” (As you’d expect, though, IBM guidelines do forbid podcasting confidential material.)

Guidelines on podcasting, like those on blogging, are becoming more common at companies, say industry observers. “These are new media for which there are few established standards,” says David Schatsky, a senior vice president at JupiterResearch in New York. According to Schatsky, companies need to give employees “some framework to set expectations, because there are practically no conventions.”

In addition to the prohibitions on confidential material, the IBM podcasting guidelines advise employees:

• To be careful not only of what they say but the manner in which they say it (after all, a podcast is an audio file, often a lightly edited one at that)

• To protect their own privacy and the privacy of others

• Not to record a person without his or her consent and awareness

• To set the bar as high as possible for audio production and content quality

•. To identify the views expressed in a podcast as those of an individual or small group within the company and not as the official views of IBM

Not long after the company launched its first podcasts, adds Edwards, IBM set up an internal publishing system that not only allows employees to upload files for podcasting but also “allows other employees to search and rank them and comment on them.”

At JupiterResearch, notes Schatsky, analysts are encouraged to treat the blogs and podcasts they create “like a conversation,” so they sound personalized, spontaneous, and interesting.

By contrast, at the 100-person Princeton, New Jersey, law firm Stark & Stark, all podcasts are produced with the firm’s marketing department so consistent standards are maintained, according to director of business development Richard DeLuca.

Every Friday since last July, the firm has made available a podcast called The New Jersey Legal Update. Each recording runs 8 to 10 minutes, “about as long as anyone’s going to wind up listening,” says DeLuca. Podcasts start off with the attorney’s name and a brief overview of the subject; there’s also a standard introductory and exit recording along with music, so the podcasts are branded, DeLuca adds.

Stark & Stark “maintains very tight control over the audio recording equipment as well as the format,” he says. “We look to the attorneys to tell us what’s important to the listeners in their area of practice, but we record it, polish it up, and send it out.”