The NIHR and podcasts

The NIHR podcast began life on SoundCloud in 2016 and has featured a range of content. As we look to explore more audio content to showcase the work of the organisation and its people it was felt that the podcast should be relaunched in 2021 and - as SoundCloud has changed to focus mainly on music - given a new home, the podcast-hosting platform BuzzSprout. While we will have access to our Soundcloud account until July 2022 all new content should only be uploaded to BuzzSprout. Legacy content will be audited and imported over to the new platform.

What is a podcast?

Technically a digital audio file but more specifically a series of spoken-word audio files that people can download to devices/platforms to listen to at their leisure.

Planning your podcast

Once you have begun to start thinking about recording a podcast episode or series, the NIHR podcast planner should be completed and then the Social Media team emailed at social.media@nihr.ac.uk.

A new editorial team is being established. In the meantime, a member of the Social Media team will get back in touch to discuss the proposed episode or series and confirm the time slot in principle. This is important to ensure we have a steady stream of audio content and plenty of notice to be able to promote them effectively using our channels.

What makes a good (NIHR) podcast?

Things to consider when submitting/approving

  • What’s the theme? An NIHR podcast should have a clear central theme (spelt out in the intro) that falls within our scope - anything that relates to “improving the health and wealth of the nation through research”. The intro and title of the podcast e.g The Role of Digital Technology in Clinical Trials, is effectively a mission statement, our promise to the listener that this theme will be properly explored.
  • Who is the audience? For a podcast episode to be hosted by the NIHR, it may feature local researchers/participants/spokespeople but must be of interest to a national audience e.g Innovation in Trial Design and the research community.

  • What’s the aim? The podcast should also have a clear aim - e.g a campaign-related podcast like Be Part of Research promoting research findings and patient participation or involvement.

  • Entertainment factor: People can acquire information quicker by reading than listening so our podcast has to prioritise giving them an enjoyable experience that will make them want to come back and not switch off. Each episode should be like an online radio show, with an engaging host, interesting topics, changes of tone, pauses, and the chance to get more personally acquainted with the subject and interviewees. Breaking it down, every five minutes of a podcast should contain something of interest as listeners are not likely to skim in the same way newspaper readers do.    

  • A deeper look: It can be used to give more detail on areas of work - such as an interview with a Chief Investigator about their project - or to tell listeners more about our people in the organisation e.g Medspire did an interesting Q&A with NIHR Chief executive Lucy Chappell: https://mobile.twitter.com/nihrcommunity/status/1397130334769192962.

  • Engaged listeners: Podcasts can reach audiences that other media don't and the immersive nature of the medium, e.g a commuter listening on their headphones means it suits longer content and a conversational style. Episodes can give a more in-depth look at a relevant issue or serve as a grounding in a particular topic. A good example would be the Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast, which draws out different issues of current affairs e.g Brexit and Northern Ireland and guides the listener through them.

  • How long should it be? Episodes should generally last between 20 and 40 minutes, so that one can be listened to in full on the average commute. Listeners are likely to have more patience for a one-off interview that runs longer than, say, an episode of an ongoing story, so for a series try and keep consistency where possible. It’s also much better to have a tight episode of just under 20 minutes than one that feels flabby at 40. When editing the episode, short musical breaks should be used to keep things fresh or to introduce a different topic/guest. 

What is not a podcast?

  • A short bit of audio from a single person. Think about how else we could use content like this though - perhaps make it into a Twitter quote card or encourage the speaker to write a blog.
  • A news story told via audio - our podcasts will be less time-sensitive and treat subjects in more breadth. Many will be part of a series that could be downloaded months or years after they’ve been created.
  • A blog told via audio. We want to go beyond opinions and find more about our interviewees as people with our host steering us through the conversation. Above all people should prefer to listen to our episode than read the transcript.
  • A webinar - these should be hosted elsewhere and separately from our podcast episodes

Recording your podcast - content and tips

  • Intro: There should always be a host intro telling the listener what the podcast is and the title of the episode. The host should then introduce themselves before welcoming the interviewee or interviewees. For example:

Welcome to the podcast of the National Institute for Health and Care Research - the NIHR. 

This episode focuses on (name of theme). This time, we will be discussing some of the key learning points from the COVID-19 pandemic. My name is (name of host) and it's a pleasure to have you with us.

I'm joined today by Lucy Chappell, who is the NIHR Chief Executive and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care ... 

NB: Multiple interviewees should be introduced in order of appearance and named by the host before they first speak (What’s your view on that Mary?)

  • Outro: There should also always be an outro, thanking the listener, giving them an opportunity to feedback and encouraging them to take a next interaction with the NIHR. 

Example for a general standalone episode

This was an episode of the NIHR podcast - I’m (name of host) and thank you for listening. If you have any thoughts or comments on this or any other episodes please contact us via our Twitter channel @NIHRResearch (use other channels if more relevant). For more information about the NIHR, you can visit our website nihr.ac.uk

For an episode that is part of a series

This was an episode of the NIHR podcast, part of our monthly/fortnightly etc series on (name of series).  - I’m (name of host) and thank you for listening. If you have any thoughts or comments on this or any other episodes please contact us via our Twitter channel @NIHRResearch (use other channels if more relevant). For more information about the NIHR, you can visit our website nihr.ac.uk

For an episode that is part of a series:

This was an episode of the NIHR podcast, part of our monthly/fortnightly etc series on (name of series).  - I’m (name of host) and thank you for listening. If you have any thoughts or comments on this or any other episodes please contact us via our Twitter channel @NIHRResearch (use other channels if more relevant). For more information about the NIHR, you can visit our website nihr.ac.uk

  • Music: As part of our brand consistency we should have a piece of music that plays at the start and end of each NIHR podcast. The current music for the NIHR podcast is Elysium 2.

A secondary piece can be used after this main introductory piece if we want to have music associated with a particular series, subject to copyright. This should remain the same throughout the series and the source of the music should be sent to the Social Media team as an mp3 file. In longer podcasts, consider using short musical “breakers”, excerpts to introduce new speakers or a change of subject.

  • Speaker cues: Importantly for round table-style discussions with multiple contributors, the listener must know who is doing the talking. As well as introducing themselves and the panel, the host should make sure they use frequent speaker cues e.g “Perhaps I’ll start with you, Karen…” particularly in the early stages when the listener is getting used to recognising a new voice.
  • The host should not specify platform or (generally) time: Not every listener will have followed the same steps to download an episode and will be listening on a variety of platforms e.g Spotify/Apple Podcasts/Alexa. Avoid making references to the time of recording unless it will help the listener as otherwise it will date the podcast unnecessarily. It might come up in the conversation that it’s December 2020 but hopefully we’ll have plenty of timeless content.
  • Don’t be afraid to re-record bits: Sometimes slight mistakes or a contributor with the (temporary) giggles can add to the charm and realness of an episode but if there’s a section that’s not quite gone right or a passage interrupted by background noise, definitely go again.
  • Be careful over confidentiality: Personal stories can be key to a memorable podcast episode but be careful to avoid revealing a non-contributor's identity without their consent, or the potential of this through a description of a specific set of circumstances - jigsaw identification. An example of this might be a researcher being interviewed about their study and through the bits of information they give (“one of our participants was called Margaret, a lady in her 80s from Ruislip, with Type-1 Diabetes, being treated at x hospital…. etc) 
  • Avoid criticising an organisation or drawing attention to specific issues or concerns: It might be that in the course of explaining the benefits of research attention is drawn to the consequences of not carrying out research or describing unsatisfactory practices. Think carefully when doing this so as not to have the unintended consequence of casting a bad impression of colleagues or organisations.
  • Industrial secrets: Be aware of commercial and legal concerns, such as revealing industrial secrets.
  • Cross-promotions and calls to action:  Our podcast is an excellent shop window to talk about the NIHR’s work and people but should also fit in as part of a co-ordinated communication strategy. As part of the outro, podcast hosts should ensure they encourage listeners to continue on their journey, referencing our website and any  relevant social media channels.    

Editing, admin and making your podcast accessible

  • Sound quality and consistency: Ideally try and get your interviewees all together but if recording remotely with multiple contributors ensure the sound quality and volume levels are similar. A programme like Riverside.fm can do this. Alternatively you can use Zoom to record.  While recording an episode it is recommended to do it in a .wav format for the best quality. We also recommend all participants record their audio on a separate device (such as a phone audio recording) as a backup method. When uploading to Buzzsprout however, you should ensure you are doing so as an .mp3 file, which are much smaller files that can be quickly downloaded by listeners.

  • Permissions and consent forms: A standard consent form should be completed by all podcast guest contributors, patients and staff, which will secure permissions to publish the podcast episode on our channels and also use the contents and accompanying images for other NIHR communications, for example sound bites, Twitter quote cards and pictures. The part of the NIHR which produces the podcast is responsible for collecting and storing consent (in line with their organisations agreed processes) as well as ensuring the podcast is removed if consent is revoked or expires.

  • Accessibility: It’s important that our new and legacy podcast episodes are accessible so a closed-caption transcription should be included with each one. For transcribing your podcast we have an account for Otter.ai, which will allow you to import your episode as an .mp3 file, which will then create a transcribed version to check and edit. From there we should copy and paste this completed transcript, including timings into an open-access Google Doc and post the link at the bottom of the episode description (see below: Description)

Naming conventions (Title and description)

  • Title: This should be clear and concise and include keywords* in relation to the theme or topic of the podcast (these should also be said in the episode and therefore appear in your transcript/subtitles). Keywords and phrases should be placed towards the beginning of the title. Consider using Google Trends for suggestions of keywords. Titles should be kept to a maximum of 70 characters, where possible, to make it easier for podcast players to display the full title. For a particular podcast series, give each episode the same introductory headline “kicker” for consistency, for example, Clinicians in Conversation: Tackling AMR is not a zero sum game.  
  • Description Provide context and introduce what the video is about: Include your keywords and phrases, and the main message at the start. Only the first 120 characters will appear on Spotify before the link to click more so make it snappy. At the end, mention: The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the host and guests and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. And along with this don’t forget to include the link to your Google Doc containing the episode transcript.
  • Episode tags: When in Buzzsprout under the individual episode options it is possible to give extra labelling to our content and group episodes with tags to help signpost them and put them together under different themes. All episodes in the first instance should be tagged with the relevant co-ordinating centre e.g CED and also, if on a particular topic or part of a series, with tags to identify them e.g CRN + Clinicians in Conversation + AMR

Promoting the podcast on social media and NIHR website

  • Sharing an episode link: To promote individual episodes via our social media channels we should create a link for that episode via PodFollow. This essentially works as a funnel to match users with the most appropriate player for their device e.g iPhone users clicking on the PodFollow link will be taken to our podcast on Apple podcasts, whereas our current settings take Android and web users to Spotify. If you need access to PodFollow, please contact social.media@nihr.ac.uk. Once you receive an invite you can log-in using your personal Twitter or Facebook log-in (for ID purposes).

    Once you have published a live episode it will take up to 24 hours for it to appear on PodFollow. After this you will be able to copy the link to the relevant episode to appear in social media promotion. Because of this delay we recommend you make your episode “live” for 48 hours before starting to promote it on social media.

    NB: When communicating to stakeholders about podcast episodes, always try to use a Podfollow link and don’t direct them to BuzzSprout (which is primarily a podcast production tool rather than a podcast player). If you want to tell them more generally about the NIHR podcast you can share the links to the podcast on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

  • Where to promote: Podcast episodes should be promoted on all relevant social media channels and newsletters with a short description (similar to that submitted with the podcast) and the Podfollow episode link.
  • The right episode for the right audience: When writing about our podcasts on social media, hashtags are a good way of differentiating the content e.g #PPIE. All of our episodes will be available under our NIHR podcast but they will have very different audiences who will not want to consume all our content. We will look to group them under different playlists that reflect our different streams: Researchers, Patients and the public, Industry, Health and care professionals, Global health.
  • Episode artwork: Each new standalone podcast episode or series should be accompanied by an album cover (which will stay the same throughout a series). Podcasts in the same series should have artwork with a consistent look and feel. In Buzzsprout the option to create artwork can be found by clicking on a particular episode then hitting “edit”. The artworks should be a square design, in jpeg or png format and between 1,400 and 3,000 pixels square. Buzzsprout has an option to upload a file directly or create artwork using Canva. The artwork should appear with an NIHR logo in blue or white - the same horizontal logo that appears at the top of the main NIHR website. It should also be simple and ideally, without any writing - as this will end up being very hard to read when the image is shared on social media or in a soundbite (see below: Creating a soundbite). If you have any queries regarding artwork, please contact a member of the Social Media team.  
  • Creating a soundbite:  Using Buzzsprout it is possible to edit a small clip from a podcast to use as a trailer to share on our social media. On the Buzzsprout homepage, click on the episode then on the right click “Create a visual soundbite”. This will enable you to pull out a short audio clip of 30-60 seconds long from anywhere in the audio. You must ensure this meets accessibility requirements, for example including captions for the soundbite. Bear in mind that your soundbite will include a smaller version of the podcast album cover so any writing etc may not be legible. If you have a section in mind for a soundbite, please tell a member of the Social Media team, including the start and end timing so it can be created quickly.
  • Boilerplate or permanent reference on NIHR website: NIHR podcasts are available by heading to our Podfollow channel or by searching for “NIHR” in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you find your podcasts.

Uploading content to Buzzsprout

Members of the social media group must approve podcast content based on the above guidance.  They have access to upload content using the Buzzsprout "how to" guide.


Sharing podcasts on YouTube

If you wish to share your podcast on Youtube in addition to Buzzsprout, please liaise with the social media group in the early planning stages so they can advise on best practice.

In both cases, you must consider the overall quality of the video's visual and audio (as well as your podcast audio).  All  videos must comply with latest published YouTube guidance, including subtitles,  and follow the same approvals process.


Your feedback

This guidance is intended as a starting point for the re-launch of NIHR podcast but we want to ensure it works for everyone and is flexible enough to be adjusted after some practical road testing. With that in mind can feedback on the guidance be added to this spreadsheet