Podcasting for academic authors: A ‘brand’ new experience

Academic authors do what we can to take charge of defining the perception of ourselves and our own work among our professional circle and potential future associates. We know that just leaving it to others to define us may send the wrong message—or worse, it may go nowhere at all. This process of professional branding can involve a lot of different strategies, but the one I’ll focus on now is podcasting.

Podcasting is simply distributing digital audio files widely over the internet. It’s been around for decades, but only recently has caught a wind and is steadily becoming a mainstream source of news and entertainment. Podcasts are most often consumed on mobile devices, which allow listeners to enjoy their favorite episodes while they commute, walk the dog, or mow the lawn.

All the big media players are podcasting, but there are many thousands of ordinary folks podcasting from their offices, garages, and even bedroom closets (which make surprisingly quiet sound booths). It is easy and inexpensive for just about anyone to produce a quality podcast—and many are!

Among the half-million or so active podcasts out there, some are geared toward a general audience and some are focused on a specific topic of interest to a subset of listeners. These “niche podcasts” are of great value to academic authors, both as podcast consumers and podcast creators, because they can address our specific academic interests. We can find podcasts that target our writing, teaching, or research interests. And we can create our own niche podcast to reach that specific group we need to reach. And so that’s what I did.

I teach and write textbooks in human anatomy and physiology—A&P, as it’s known to insiders. I’ve had a blog called The A&P Professor for over ten years, which has helped a lot with branding. That is, I was getting comments from A&P teachers about it—which is what brand recognition is all about.

Most of my blog content is evergreen and many newer A&P faculty have never seen it. But I didn’t want to simply recycle blog posts, so I started thinking about podcasting a mix of my best blog content with some newer content. The TAA webinar series “Promoting Your Scholarship via Podcasting (It’s Easier Than You Think!)” by Katie Linder is what prompted me to finally take the plunge. In her webinars, Katie explains the basic strategies anyone can use to produce their own academic podcast. More importantly for me, she projects the confidence that, yes, even I can do it.

I’ve been running The A&P Professor podcast for about a year now. And it’s already working well as a branding strategy! Pageviews of my blog, where I post an audio player and show notes for each podcast episode, has more than doubled—from about 5K/month to over 10K/month. Each episode gets about 150-200 downloads in its first 60 days, with episodes from a year ago now reaching 300-500 downloads. I expect that to grow over time, as did my blog.

Statistics are helpful, but what really counts for brand recognition is that after starting my podcasts, I’ve gotten more feedback from my peers in anatomy and physiology education. And I’ve had a lot more conversations about A&P teaching with old and new friends. Besides that, more and more of my colleagues are getting a much better sense of exactly who I am as an educator—and as a person.

My podcast reflects the approach of my blog—a mix of subject-matter updates, classroom applications, teaching strategies, and perspectives on learning science. It’s also very practical, always focusing on how one can use the new information in their own course with their own students.

As a textbook author, I keep up with major breakthroughs in human science and new approaches to teaching and learning anyway, so it’s easy find topics to discuss. By podcasting, I’m making others aware that I’m keeping up—while at the same time offering them help in finding and sorting through it all, looking for what can be adapted to real-life teaching. Thus, I’m reinforcing my brand as a content expert, a teaching/learning expert, and as someone willing to help others in their teaching.

I’m only now fully appreciating the intimacy of contact with listeners while podcasting. I’m literally in their ears as they go about their daily lives—like a friendly colleague tagging along. This is a very powerful thing, because folks seem to feel a closer and more personal connection with me. I’m now a colleague—maybe even a close colleague—in their minds. Some listeners tell me I’m the only one on their campus who regularly “talks to them” about teaching A&P.

Podcasting allows me to be myself, with a more personal voice than I typically use in my professional writing. I can easily project my sincere desire to help and my passion for my subject and for teaching.

What has been surprisingly helpful is revealing my vulnerabilities. In my podcast, I can admit to struggling with certain aspects of teaching or with understanding certain concepts in science. I’ve had a lot of feedback that by doing so, I am giving permission to my colleagues to be okay with their own vulnerabilities. They tell me that they feel better about not having all the answers or being unsure of new learning strategies. We can fight “imposter syndrome” together!

Getting Started

If this article has piqued your interest and inspired you to give podcasting a try, here are three tips to help you get started:

  1. As I mentioned earlier, listen to TAA’s webinar series by Katie Linder: “Promoting Your Scholarship via Podcasting (It’s Easier Than You Think!).”
  2. Find a few current podcasts in your field—or any topic you are interested in—and listen to them. Get a feel for their format, topics, style, and quality of production. You can even take a listen to my podcast at theAPprofessor.org/podcast or in any podcast or radio app.
  3. Think about what you can bring to a podcast that best represents your professional brand—what you have to offer—to your target audience. Consider what format and approach you want to adopt for your podcast that will help bring your unique voice to others. We are in what appears to be the beginning of a rapid growth spurt in podcasting. Being among the early voices in your area of expertise can put you in a great position to establish or reinforce your own brand.

Kevin PattonKevin Patton is an award-winning educator and textbook author in human anatomy & physiology. In his fourth decade of textbook authorship, Kevin is also an active professor, blogger, podcaster, and speaker with a strong interest in the art and science of teaching. For more of Kevin’s tips, visit TheTextbookAuthor.org