Ignite talk - Elizabeth Barton

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Video: “Podcasts for Cultural Institutions” by Elizabeth Barton (Longwood Gardens / University of Delaware), an Ignite talk for the Openlab Workshop Unconference, December 1, 2015, in Crystal City, VA. Published on Jun 30, 2016

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Elizabeth Barton, Longwood Gardens/University of Delaware


Hi everyone my name is Elizabeth Barton, and I'm a graduate student working with Longwood Gardens and the University of Delaware.

GLAM Institutions are often searching for ways to engage wider audiences, and podcasts fit that bill. Their dynamic lend themselves to promotion through social media and provide a way to engage a digitally native audience.

So let's start by defining podcasts. A podcast is an audio program made available in digital format for download over the Internet. Generally podcasts are thematic and serialized with installments released regularly over time.

There are tons of podcasts available through iTunes and other podcasting apps covering a huge range of topics from arts and entertainment to sports to gardening tips. Some museums are beginning to create podcasts, but we can do more.

The success of this form tells us that the audience is out there and receptive, we just need to speak up. Over the last 10 years the percent of Americans who have listened to a podcast has more than doubled, an incredibly encouraging growth rate, but 70% of people have still never listened to a podcast.

I hear that number and imagine the future popularity if the growth trend continues. Podcasts are consumed by a wide range of ages with 50% of the audience falling into the notoriously hard to reach Millennial Generation. Some of that is due to fabulous content, but it can also be attributed to the comfort with technology forms.

The majority of people listen to podcasts using a smartphone or other mobile device, so that they can listen to podcasts while commuting, caring for children, doing chores, or exercising. They can find out about what's happening at museums without disrupting their daily routine.

Podcasts are suited to GLAM organizations of all sizes, because they are very low production costs when compared to other education and entertainment forms. They are so low cost and low tech to produce that they are often literally created in people's basements.

Ease of listening and low production costs make podcasts an accessible option for museums to address the basic marketing concepts of engaging more people and reaching new audiences, which I hear repeated by many different types of cultural institutions.

My research uses public gardens and public horticulture as a case study to quantify the effectiveness of podcasts for reaching and engaging a millennial audience. Horticulture is defined as both the art and science of cultivating ornamental plants, fruits, vegetables, and creating gardens. The variety of offerings that fall under this umbrella is extensive, and includes everything from green roof research, to patio garden designs, community gardens, and orchid display. Public horticulture takes these many disparate elements and brings them together, giving them a human face.

Horticulture provides this garden, but public horticulture provides the space for these kids to play. Podcasts offer an opportunity to tell these stories, allow the public to feel connected.

When creating an effective podcast, craveability is a key element for success. Episode quality in the serialized delayed-release model work together to create a loyal audience and repeat listeners. There are tons of factors that go into determining the quality including production value, sound effects, focused themes, music, and host narration, but quality content is the most important element. So please tell your story.

Every cultural institution has amazing stories as part of their existing intellectual capital. Who and what drives your organization? Who exactly is that guy on the ladder, and what exactly is he doing? As we develop the episode ideas for a public horticulture podcast, we learned that people are fascinated by the interworkings, and want to know what is going on behind the scenes. Where do all the plants go when you dig them up from the conservatory? What is it like to be a part of that experience? And often can I have the plants you’re no longer using?

People also want to be kept aware of what's going on. Podcasts, episodes on special events like this nighttime art installation provide an opportunity to boost event attendance and include new audiences.

There’s a special and hard to define element of podcasts that contributes to that craveability factor, because you're hearing the stories in your head, you feel especially connected to what you're learning about. This really helps develop the strong relationships that create long-term loyal supporters.

My podcast is going to tell the story of people like Megan who manages a college community garden, sells her produce to students, and then uses the profits to help her campus botanical garden.

I hope you will take advantage of podcasting to tell the stories about your organization. The most important thing to take away from my presentation is that podcasts are accessible. You have great stories to tell, and there's an audience waiting to listen, and I know that I for one am absolutely ready to subscribe. Thank you.