For its part, IBM is using podcasts for both internal and external communications. The company publishes some podcasts on its investor relations Web site, but, internally, podcasting is growing like kudzu.
"Its a tool thats accessible and usable by anyone within the firewall—IBMers, contractors and partners," said Ben Edwards, manager of new-media communications at IBM, in Armonk, N.Y. IBM launched its podcasting initiative in October 2005 and now sees 30,000 to 40,000 downloads per week, Edwards said. Mainly audio at present, some IBM podcasts contain video and PowerPoint presentations, he said.
IBM uses its own software, called Podcast Publishing Pilot, which was built by the companys so-called Web-ahead development team in the IBM CIOs office. "Its a publishing tool for data, audio and video," said Edwards. IBM has more than 2,000 podcasting episodes available in a searchable directory and available as RSS feeds. "Users can rate the content with from one to five stars and can post comments," said Edwards.
One popular method is to use podcasts as a tool for communication among global teams. Attaching a podcast to a blog and then using the feedback feature to communicate is one way of having global teams interact without getting members up at 3 a.m. to join a teleconference call, said Edwards. IBMs several-thousand-strong worldwide supply chain staff also is using podcasts and blogs to do the work of conference calls, which are impractical for so many workers to dial in to, Edwards said.
Companies that produce podcasts will find they must come to grips with issues of control over content. IBM takes a hands-off approach to podcasts within its firewall but exerts tight control over what goes outside.
"There are laws governing truth in advertising. Content published by IBM.com is vetted for truth in advertising," said Edwards, explaining that corporate counsel and human resources, marketing and communications officials all pass judgment. In addition to legal issues, corporate image is highly important. "There is the issue of brand—exerting control over content to give it consistency and give it a particular flavor that conveys a particular experience," said Edwards.
Internally, as with blogging, IBM is giving employees considerable freedom and asking them to take on responsibility. Theres not much difference between podcasting and other forms of internal communication. "We already have e-mail and IM. We already have those potential liabilities, and they generally seem to work OK," Edwards said. "[For example,] people generally seem to understand that forward-looking statements violate SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] regulations, so people are careful about that."
MassMutual, in the highly regulated insurance field, must ensure that content sent out to salespeople meshes with all pertinent laws. Every Thursday, Buchannon and McMahon produce the weekly podcast after the script has been reviewed by MassMutuals compliance department. "Lawyers read it, as with all of our marketing material," Szczebak said. "They review the script before its recorded. They sometimes make minor changes, such as adding disclosure language."
At IBM, the reverberations of podcasting go deep—it is being used to advance a new way of thinking about the corporation that comes straight from Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano, who, said Edwards, talks to IBM staff about "lowering the center of gravity."
"IBM has a history of hierarchy and bureaucracy. But we want to break that down," Edwards said. "[Palmisano] wants IBM to be a horizontal—not a vertical—organization, to push out authority and decision making to the people in the field. New media can play an important and catalytic role. Im promoting self-publishing. Its desirable because people increasingly trust individual voices over institutional and corporate voices."
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