How podcasting has worked at IBM

Podcasting has become the second-largest social media vehicle at IBM, an executive told a Podcamp audience this weekend. George Faulkner, Advanced Communications Professional at IBM and one of its most visible podcasters, gave an enlightening overview of how IBM’s podcast library has grown and flourished with almost no internal promotion, and he shared some ideas other companies could learn from.

Podcasting has succeeded at IBM largely because the workforce is so distributed, Faulkner said. Some 40% of IBM’s 400,000 employees work primarily outside of an office. The initiative was launched four years after IBMers started blogging, but it has raced ahead of blogs in popularity. Faulkner cited the example of one executive who shifted from a weekly conference call with 500 people to a weekly podcast. The move doubled the listenership of the executive’s briefings, and made him into an evangelist.

Next, executive speeches were converted into podcasts, followed by interviews with employees. People talk about anything and everything, he said, including hobbies and interests. IBM takes a mostly hands-off approach to dictating content.

IBM’s internal podcast library and has more than 100,000 unique members and 12,000 files. The medium’s popularity has grown despite some rather onerous regulatory requirements. For example, IBM must transcribe the contents of any executive interview.

Faulkner said the first podcast he produced was a battle of the bands, featuring groups made up of IBM employees. The show was enormously popular and ran for 35 weeks. IBMers lobbied for an opportunity to be featured on the program. “That was the moment I realized this wasn’t about knowledge-sharing; it was about community-building.” Faulkner said.

The initiative has spread virally within IBM. “We never made an internal announcement that the blogging and podcasting platforms existed,” he said.

Some secrets of the program’s success:

  • Tap your employees for inspiration — give people a platform, don’t put a lot of restrictions on them and stand back and watch the great ideas that emerge. One employee came up with the idea for a game show that had people guessing the meaning of various IBM acronyms. Yet another program called “How It Works” was launched by a “mad genius” engineer, who recorded each episode in a dark closet.
  • Sweat the basics — be clear on the audience you want to reach and the topic you’ll address. Decide how often you’ll publish and stick to that schedule.
  • Choose a good title – Some people simply call their podcasts “podcast”. They rarely get many listeners. “Without a sexy title, you’re toast,” Faulkner said. Come up with a title that’s provocative, and that piques people’s interests. Then run with it.