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How Internal Podcasts Can Liberate Your Employees with Prophet’s Mat Zucker

We're back with the second installment of our three-part mini-series discussing internal podcasts. This episode is a fun one because our guest actually inspired the idea for this mini-series when he interviewed Lindsay for an article he wrote for Forbes about internal podcasting.

Mat Zucker, Marketing Practice Lead at Prophet, has been a fan of podcasts for years. In fact, he's been creating brand podcasts since the '90's.

This mix of passion and experience gives him a unique perspective when it comes to use cases for podcasts in the world of brands. In his experience, most use cases are usually for external brand podcasts. But with the rise in training and communication within organizations, Mat saw the opportunity to explore how internal podcasts can be a valuable asset to businesses.

In this episode, Mat dives into trends that he has seen in using podcasts internally to build a stronger community and connection inside the business.

Digging into Key Takeaways

In each episode, we like to highlight the key takeaways from each show. Think of it as a podcast outline or live show notes. Here are just a few of the takeaways that really stood out to us in Mat's episode.

Pursuing a question through an external or internal podcast ❓

Podcasting is a great medium for curiosity. Mat points out that shows like Serial became such a hit because they were structured around curiosity, drama, and a question. Podcasting lends itself well to pursuing a question and giving listeners the satisfaction of getting an answer. Even internal podcasts can do this. Answering a question, whether its a literal question or a more broad theory, in a podcast, is a great way to capture your internal employees' attention.

Figuring out a content strategy for your internal podcast 💡 

Even if you're only planning to launch an internal podcast, always start with a content strategy first! Having a plan is going to set you up for success from the beginning. But how should you layout the content strategy of an internal podcast? Mat says to first, focus on the employee journey. From there, you'll be able to see what's available, what you need to create, and how quickly you need to do that to get the right information to your employees.

Designing a program around your internal podcast 👨‍💻

It's important to note that you're not just creating a podcast. You're designing a program for your employees. The podcast can, of course, be the heart of that program, but you shouldn't be podcasting just to podcast. The podcast needs to engage your employees, inspire them, inform them, rally them around a common cause. It's a tool that can help you reach your internal goals around communicating with your internal audience.

Interested in more from Mat Zucker?

Check out Mat on Rising - Conversations with Leaders On Their Way Up.


Interested in skimming through the entire episode? Access the full transcript below.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: How does your brand build relationships? Okay. Now that probably made you think of relationships with people outside the company. But what about those inside the business? Many brands focus on building connection with their external audiences of customers and prospects, but what about their own teams? Quite often, we think about establishing relationships and connections with the outside world and simply communicating at our internal audiences. See the problem here? Good news. There is something that can help. Any guesses? Yep. This is the Casted podcast after all. Podcasting, that's the something that can help. I'm Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO and Cofounder of Casted, the first and only marketing platform built around branded podcasts. And this is our podcast. Welcome to this three- part mini series, here in the Casted podcast, about internal podcasts, which are increasingly more and more popular and increasing in effectiveness and brands around the world, especially with all the changes we've experienced lately, with the way we all live and work. I'm talking to a couple of people who I recently had the pleasure of joining in an article in Forbes about internal shows. We're digging deeper into each of their perspectives and giving you more insights about what internal podcasts are and what they could do for your business. Today I'm talking with Mat Zucker, the writer behind that Forbes article. So listen in on our conversation about the trends that he has seen in using podcasts internally to build stronger community and connection inside the business.

MAT ZUCKER: Hi, Lindsay I'm Mat Zucker. I'm the Marketing Practice Lead at Prophet.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: All right. So let's... I guess, just first things first, when people hear the word" podcast," they typically think of this, what we're doing right now, an external podcast that maybe you're listening to on a website or on a big player. But there's this whole other story that we both know about, about internal podcasts. And you've done a lot of digging into what that all looks like. You've done a lot of work on them yourself. So I would like to know... Tell me about that, about what brands should know about internal shows.

MAT ZUCKER: It's great. I really love podcasting. I've been a fan from the early beginning, in the'90s, when I created some early podcasts for brands. And what I was thinking about was different use cases to brands about how they might use podcasting. And, of course, most of the use cases are external. But then I started to realize that there's more and more training going on. There's more and more internal communication going on, and podcasting could have a really special role inside the enterprise. It's just more invisible to a lot of us. So I start to look at what those might be. And so, really the foundation for the article was asking a lot of different people who were smarter than I am, who see things that I don't, what the common use cases for an internal podcast might be.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: And I think that, something you just said there, I love that perspective of like asking, talking to people who have more expertise than we do about a given topic like that. That is the whole thing about podcasting is, whether it's internal or external, being able to tap into someone else's expertise and to basically be the conduit, be the facilitator, of sharing that information.

MAT ZUCKER: Yeah. It's a great medium for curiosity. And that's why the investigative podcast like Serial. we're such a hit, because it's that curiosity and that drama and that question. And I think a lot of the best shows, external and internal, are pursuing a question. Even the ones that are just delivering information, internally are answering a question of how best my employees be able to absorb information. So there's always a question out there and audio seems to be a good journey for it.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Yeah. I think that that's a really good segue is what spurred that interest? What spurred that curiosity in you to dig into internal podcasts? Where did that begin for you?

MAT ZUCKER: Well, I was really thinking about different ways a company might do a podcast and be able to take advantage of this medium, which I find... I'm a huge advocate of video. Video's just a lot bigger investment. It's more labor intensive. It's good for all sorts of things... persuasiveness, stickiness, so I'm still a huge fan. But audio is a relatively inexpensive medium. It's a little more nimble. People have access to it. So I wanted to know all the different ways in which people could take advantage of it as part of your content strategy, not just as an isolated channel. So that's where the interest came, too. So then I started breaking apart what the different use cases for an internal podcast would be. And, of course, the go- to is information. It's just updating people. And I found a slew of interesting cases about that, too. That's probably the biggest and the richest. And I thought I knew them all and, too, until actually when I spoke to you, and I found out about Casted Board of Directors podcast. The BODcast, right?

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Mm- hmm( affirmative). Yep.

MAT ZUCKER: Yeah, that's hilarious. And I just thought that was a really interesting example within information delivery that I didn't even realize could exist, a very targeted communication. And you know, a lot of podcasts are managing down, managing to your people, to the great masses or to the sales force. This was actually managing up to your board to look good before a board meeting. So I thought that was really fascinating. But there are others, too. The others were around, not just information delivery, but education. Like in healthcare, people have to stick it up with their curriculum, the CME credits, things like that, too. And there's a lot of upskilling and training. That's not really information delivery. That's about upskilling. So that was the second category. And then, the third... There's other ones, too, like celebrating talent. That's where you feature your people, and that's more of a showcase type of approach. And I'm sure there's more kinds of use cases as well as that, too. But those were the three biggest ones that I really focused on that I thought were really interesting and distinct from each other.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Yeah. And I'd love to dig into each of those examples a little bit more. And to your point about our BODcast, which was just such a fun play on words. It just fell into our laps. It's board of directors, BOD, BODcast. And basically, what we do is we create a show that, before every board meeting, I just basically do a summary of all of the pre- reads and all of the basically documents that you would otherwise just send along beforehand and say," Hey, board members, read this." I do a little summary, and I clip it up and cut it into pieces that they can consume on their own. And they get a little 10- minute pre- listen for our board meeting. And so that's one thing... That's our use case of an internal podcast. But here we are, we're a team, and now of 14 people where we can pretty easily communicate just live and in person. But some companies, like some of the ones that you've featured, are really, really large, and to your point about just disseminating information in a way that's engaging and that people are much more likely to consume than sending along an email or mailing stack of brochures, which is also a thing. So tell me some of the other examples that you've seen that were really interesting to you.

MAT ZUCKER: Well, one of the better known ones is the American Airlines' Tell Me Why podcast, which really gets behind why... It's telling employees what is going on in the company, and it also kind of answering those questions. But it's not just instructive. It's actually explaining. Why did we choose these uniforms over these uniforms? So it's a little bit of behind the scenes, too, which, from an employee point of view, you can imagine is pretty important, too. Because I don't think you just want the update. That can be an email missive. But I want to hear the thinking behind it, so I feel brought along on that journey, and I think audio and podcasting is a great way to do that. And I think they've really, really nailed that, because there's a lot of questions we have. And if you're building trust with your workforce... and right now that's really tough, because you feel pretty distant from them... how can you start to explain yourself and get the context of it, too? And that can be from an executive, from a CEO or that can be from a line employee like yourself, so you can see yourself in it, or from a specialist in the organization that you may not even know.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: How do you feel podcasts come together for shows? Do you feel like that there's a need or do you feel that there's a disconnect, and this is actually a different way, something to try to solve a problem? Is it a fun thing to do? How do you see podcasts really coming together at companies for internal communication or internal education purposes?

MAT ZUCKER: Yeah. I think a lot of people are piloting them. I think it's best comes together when it's a part of your content and communication strategy, when you're figuring out," Who are my different audiences internally?"" What do they need to hear from me?"" How frequently? And," What are the channels I can use.?" And then, I think a lot of the typical go- tos, you might be like,"You know what? Is this really the best way to do it, or is there another channel that is either supplementary..." I think a lot of podcasts are not substitutes for town hall meetings. They're not substitutes for other communication. Maybe you still have to do the email announcement, but they're supplementary for those that might want it, or like it. In some cases, there might be a unique case, where it is the right channel to use it for. In the second use case around education, my colleague, Tony Froster, who runs our culture practice, pointed out a really interesting thing to me, that there's so much upskilling going on in companies and we're forced to spend so much time in front of our screen. So every time a company wants to come up with another learning module, it's another screen- based thing. And when you look at this, he said," A lot of those lessons,'Do I really need to be in front of my screen another hour of the day, or could I learn this while I'm walking around and doing something else in my life?'" So he pointed out that a lot of companies are actually putting a burden on their employees, using a lot of the existing channels. It's kind of cruel. So what if you still did the education, but you liberated them. Because podcasting is one of those channels that I can do something else while I'm still listening and learning from you.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Mm- hmm(affirmative). That's such a good point. And actually I saw... We'll have to link to it in the show notes. But there's some really interesting research from BBC that actually talked about the effectiveness, the cognitive effectiveness, of podcasts, because of that. The way that you consume the information, while you're doing something else, actually, it resonates better. The recall rates are higher and the retention rates are higher, because of how that information is consumed. You're actively listening while you're doing something else. It's very interesting information.

MAT ZUCKER: Oh, that's cool.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Yeah. Because we've all been that employee... I certainly have... where you start at a new company or they're rolling out something. And so, you have to block off time, literally just sitting at your desk, watching a thing, clicking along, going back and answering questions, because of all the different modules. But podcasts, one, it is easier and it is something that you can do while you're doing something else. But it's also something that's more human. When you can actually hear someone's voice and hear their excitement or their passion about whatever it is that they're talking about, it makes you feel much more connected to that individual to whatever it is they're talking about. And so, that in and of itself is far more humanizing for the brand, especially when they're working with their own people.

MAT ZUCKER: Yeah. And I think people have grown an affection for podcasting. They might be underestimating the kind of commitment or the planning that has to go into creating it. And they might not be clear on what the platforms are and the tools that one would use to know what's successful or how it works. But I think you can build those out and you could figure out a lot of those things if you're very intentional about what the plan is or who it's for and how am I going to do it and what's my commitment. Is this ongoing or is it... A lot of mini-series podcasts have become very popular, which I think was a very clever idea to create a beginning, a middle and an end for the podcast, rather than create a commitment that you have to keep forever as a channel.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: So tell me, how should... As the takeaways, as you were putting together this article, and as you were talking to lots of people that are involved in internal shows, how should brands be thinking about internal podcasts?

MAT ZUCKER: The first thing a brand should do is have a content strategy if they don't have one, even for internal audiences. So I think you start with that. And you can start with the employee journey. You could start with just what's available, the volume and velocity of content you need to push out to your employees, and then, go from there. Then, go on to channels. And once you figure out the audiences and what they need and how they absorb stuff, you can move on to things like channels. And you can consider whether or not podcasting should be part of that mix, or it should be an independent channel for specialized initiative. But usually you want to surround it with some other things around it, too, so it doesn't have to stand alone in the darkness trying to thrive or succeed on their own. Usually there's something else that could be supporting it. The components that I try to outline are: You have a plan. You have a concept. You figure out the resources and the program manage about it. Who's going to run this? Is this an HR initiative? Is it a communications initiative? Is it a joint venture between a business unit and corporate marketing? You figure out the operating model, because it's going to cost money somewhere. So whose resources and spend is going to do. And then you've got a technology question and a concept question is," what is the idea for the podcast?"" What are you pushing up against?"" What's the villain you're fighting?" I think that's good that it helps you lead to actually the idea and the reason why it exists. And then, of course, is, is how you're going to get it done? And that's the people, platforms, and processes, that you need to pull it off. There's a lot of great tools out there to be able to help you do that... platforms like Casted. There's just a lot of innovation in the space and a lot of interest in figuring it out. And I think you have to also establish what success looks like for you. Is it employee satisfaction on a survey every year? So you get a inaudible for" I feel heard," or" I understand what's going on?" Or is it more of an engagement? Is it people having learned X skill? So I think your outcomes can determine how often and what you need to do. And You need to have them upfront. So it's like writing a little communications plan for a project and then being able to run it. And the tricky thing with the internal projects is they always don't get the structure in the organization that an external campaign might with an agency. So you've got to often figure it out [inaudible 00:14:24]. I've had a lot of clients run these internally, which can be good or bad. But they don't always get the resource attention that they might need or deserve.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: So true. And basically what you just outlined and what you started with is, you need a content strategy. And I think that there are a lot of people listening who... Okay, maybe people still need to hear it, even for external audiences is, yes, you need a content strategy. But for internal audiences, you're still speaking to an audience. You still have personas. You still need to fully understand who they are, what makes them tick, what they're looking for, what they're not looking for, how they want and need to consume information, what is that information... That all comes into play. I think, far too often, people think of the channel first. It's," Yeah, we need a podcast." Well, okay. For who? Why? What's it going to be? Who's going to run it? Who's going to be the host? And what do you hope to get out of it? I think that is far too often overlooked, and people want to jump right in, and then, they realize that they're swimming out in the middle of the water with no plan. And that's [crosstalk 00:15:26]-

MAT ZUCKER: Yeah. Yeah. You're really not designing... You're not designing a podcast. You're designing a program. Now the podcast might be the heart of that program, but you're really designing a program and there's other pieces around it: How people find out about it? How people engage with it? What else do they do with that knowledge? How would you know? What's the feedback loop? What's the resource management? So I think that's...it'll help organize and point to that something...good.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Absolutely. And are there certain companies or... I should say, characteristics of a company that really should be looking at an internal podcast? Are there certain indicators where you think that there are the greatest likelihood for success or where that need can really be fulfilled by a show or including a show as part of your internal content strategy?

MAT ZUCKER: At first, I thought it was going to be around company size. These big companies with huge sales forces and employees that are everywhere would be the best ones to need a podcast, because they feel disconnected, and, like you said, they need to have a personality and warm up to their employees and stuff like that, too. And that might be true. But I think if you take the use case approach about where the business is like," Do they need to upskill people?"" Do they need to better communication, because you're going through volatility?" Those are issues that are not a company size issue, or even a specific industry or category. I just thought they'd be big in healthcare and financial services, but they're really everywhere. So I think it's really where the company is in its cycle and what the need is going on. And that'll trigger what's the internal content strategy it needs to galvanize employees or to feel a bit more connected or maybe recruit, because they've got a lot of employee turnover. So people need to be immersed in the culture quickly, because there's a lot of people coming and going very quickly. So I think it's really around the company need than who they are.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Okay. So looking back at all the conversations that you had in putting this article together and all the other work that you've done, as well, in and around podcasting and content strategy, what's your biggest takeaway? What should everyone listening, all the marketers listening, be thinking about as far as internal podcasts are concerned?

MAT ZUCKER: I think, in addition to understanding what your need is, what the best need you can solve for that can lead to a great idea for an internal podcast and planning it out. I think my biggest takeaway was that it's a space that is still in flux, and there's a lot of new stuff out there that you don't even realize existed. So a lot of what I think, and I host two shows, so in theory, I should be an expert. I'm realizing how much I don't know and how much more, if you're developing something like this, call around, ask some questions. You're going to bump some new technologies. I know we all hate taking new meetings, but do it anyway, because this world is moving really fast. And while the world of video messaging and video engagement, you might really have a firm understanding, audio is still evolving. And the best thing you can do, or the best thing I'm going to do going forward, is look around more corners and see what else is there as I develop my next show.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Absolutely. Great advice. I think that everybody else should as well. It's always good to take... It's good, it's important and it's hard to take a breath and take a minute to do a little research, to ask around, before you dive right in, but it's very important. Thanks for the reminder. All right. Well, thank you so much for joining me on the show. Thank you for sharing what you learned in putting together that article. We're going to link to it in the show notes. Make sure you check it out. Thank you for being here.

MAT ZUCKER: Thanks so much, Lindsay. Great talking to you.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: That's our show. Thanks for listening. For more from today's guest, visit casted. us to subscribe and to receive our show as it's published, along with other exclusive content, each and every week.

About Season 4 of The Casted Podcast

We're back with Season 4 of The Casted Podcast! This season, we’re talking to marketing leaders linked to the brand podcasts you love to understand the role those shows play in the brand’s overall marketing strategy. You’re getting a behind-the-mic look at why these brands are investing in podcasting, why these leaders support them, and how they are driving strategies forward.