Your Mileage May Vary: Podcasting at Mayo Clinic

Last week I described how we adopted the "Proceed Until Apprehended" model of innovation in launching our first Mayo Clinic podcast. Using :60 audio files that were already approved for distribution to radio stations and that were archived on a page as our content source, a colleague, Mindi Klein, developed an RSS feed that pointed to the audio file segments, and then listed that feed in the then-new iTunes Podcast Directory.

After we created the podcast I kind of forgot about it, although Mindi continued to load a new segment into the feed each day.

But about six weeks later someone in the content commercialization team in what was then called Mayo Medical Ventures (MMV) got in touch with my colleague Shelly Plutowski, who managed the editorial content for our syndicated TV, radio and print offerings. Shelly was a member of the media relations team, of which I was the manager.

As I remember it, she said something like this:

 "I just got a call from MMV, and they said a company called to ask about advertising on our podcast. Do we have a podcast?"

This pointed out a deficiency in either my management or communications skills, as I had failed to discuss our podcasting experiment with the person responsible for the production of the audio segments. Not one of my finest moments.

On the positive side, however, the reason that company was interested in advertising on our podcast was because it was currently being featured on the front page of iTunes.

Our podcast held that top middle position on the iTunes front page for about three weeks. The result: downloads of our audio segments from increased from about 900 in the month before the podcast feed started to more than 74,000 in the first month after it was featured on iTunes.

This wasn't an ideal podcast. The radio segments had been intended for mass audiences and were short enough to fit the radio format. Subscribing to have every one of these :60 segments delivered automatically to one's computer, however, may have suggested an inordinate interest in various illnesses. In fact, I sometimes called it "The Hypochondriac Feed."

But we gained a lot through this "Proceed Until Apprehended" experiment. Here are a few observations and lessons learned that you may find helpful:

  1. Think beyond What to Why? Each of us was hired to do a certain job, but there's a bigger reason behind our job descriptions. I was the manager of the media relations team and also was responsible for our team that produced syndicated content provided to traditional media outlets. That was the What. The Why of our job was to reach consumers and patients with information from, and stories about, Mayo Clinic.
  2. Exercise Discretion to Increase Your Contribution. At Mayo Clinic we want to increase discretionary effort among our staff. Discretion means "the freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation." And by "exercising" discretion I mean both flexing (taking action) and stretching (extending beyond the "safe" boundaries of what you are currently expected to do). 
  3. Have a bias toward action. We have a committee process at Mayo Clinic to deal with important issues, but if used unnecessarily it can unduly delay projects. We first sought Marketing Committee approval for the syndicated radio program in 2002, and didn't get the committee's blessing because of various concerns. Later our department chair said he thought we shouldn't have taken this proposal to the committee, because we already had a syndicated TV program, and radio is related. But because we were turned down the first time, we weren't able to launch the radio program until 2004. We avoided this mistake with the podcast by interpreting our "freedom to decide" more broadly.
  4. Take calculated risks. Foolish and thoughtless risks are...foolish. But doing something new often just feels more risky than it really is, simply because it is different. In our podcasting venture we were using content that had already been approved for accuracy and quality. We were just pursuing a different distribution channel. Knowing Mayo Clinic's careful use of its brand and logo, the only thing that seemed risky to me was uploading Mayo's logo to iTunes. But that leads to my final point:
  5. Your Mileage May Vary. So does ours. When we listed our podcast in iTunes, the directory was less than a month old. We were in the right place at the right time with a well-known brand, and as a result our podcast got more visibility than it probably deserved. We've had better-conceived initiatives that didn't have as much success, but the 8,200 percent increase in audio segment downloads via the podcast helped to raise awareness within our Division of Communications that perhaps we should further explore what was then called "New Media."

Our next step was to begin that exploration. I'll tell that story in next week's post.

Lee Aase is a Communications Director for Mayo Clinic's Social & Digital Innovation team and is Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. This post is part of a series called Mayo Clinic's Double Helix: How Revolutionary Organization and Networked Communication Built America's #1 Hospital.

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Your Mileage May Vary: Podcasting at Mayo Clinic
Your Mileage May Vary: Podcasting at Mayo Clinic | Mayo Clinic Social Media Network

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