Making podcasts work for your social media strategy: How Leslie Constans and her team at Cambia Health Solutions found success with their HealthChangers podcast

In 2017, Leslie Constans, Director of Corporate Brand Communications at Cambia Health Solutions, and her team set out to create and launch a podcast series, HealthChangers, which became a foundational part of their content strategy to share stories of people who are working to transform health care.

The idea was to take the stories of people who saw a problem or wanted to improve an experience and to tell it in an authentic, compelling way.
Leslie said it's part of their commitment to brand journalism.

Podcasting allows a one-to-one connection with the listener and the storyteller. We thought it'd be a great platform to evolve our content strategy and reach people through our social media. Leslie Constans
“We're the publisher, but it's very focused on our audience and these stories,” she said. “And it's integrated with our social media strategy.”

She said podcasting caught their attention as a way for them to evolve their brand journalism work due to its growing popularity and flexibility as a platform. “It's easier to execute than video, and it's really personal,” she said. “Podcasting allows a one-to-one connection with the listener and the storyteller. We thought it'd be a great platform to evolve our content strategy and reach people through our social media.”

Leslie and her team underwent a six-month planning process from the initial idea to the first episode.

The first thing they did was bring in a consultant, who led them through a workshop on how podcasting might align with and support their content and social media objectives.

Then, they used that consultant to help them identify what equipment they would need. “Our initial training involved not only the equipment, but different ways to produce the episodes,” she said. “We've done episodes where our guests are sitting across the table from us. We've also done a number of episodes where a guest calls in on the phone, and that required a bit more work from an audio perspective.”

They partnered with their creative team to develop a brand name and a look and feel for the series, so it was easily identifiable when they shared content around it on their social channels.

Their final stage of planning was creating their content plan. “We put together an editorial calendar and began producing our first episodes,” said Leslie. “We found an audio editor who brought some great expertise in packaging up the actual episode.”

Leslie said this podcast fits well with their overarching social media strategy to build and enhance Cambia's reputation.

“The objectives my team and I work toward are building trust and credibility with stakeholders, both in the real world and online, and using our social media channels as a platform to advance our company's thought leadership and storytelling,” she said. “We've continued to evolve our social strategy to include more engaging forms of content. A few years ago it would have been mostly written content. We've become more sophisticated in using video and graphic images to engage audiences. And now we've added audio storytelling.”

Leslie and her team also heavily rely on their social media channels to promote the podcast.

The objectives my team and I work toward are building trust and credibility with stakeholders, both in the real world and online, and using our social media channels as a platform to advance our company's thought leadership and storytelling. Leslie Constans
She said, while they upload to different podcast platforms and have a podcast landing page in our newsroom with an audio player, social media is their primary vehicle for driving listeners and downloads.

“We always include strong imagery with a call out, quotation, or branding for the series,” she said. “For our first episode of 2020, we had an audio preview embedded into our social media posts. That included a transcript, so if you're not listening, you can read the clip from the episode.”

She said they promote it primarily on Twitter and LinkedIn, in line with best practices they've found for podcasts. And, from this work, she said the HealthChangers podcast has consistently been in their top three most viewed content each month.

To help their process go smoothly, Leslie has one member of her team dedicated to the podcast, as their Podcast Producer.

“She's responsible for managing the editorial plan and calendar, the recording equipment and actual recordings and the soundboard, getting the file over to our editor, and managing the production and editing of each episode,” Leslie said. “Then, there's a handoff from her to the team that publishes it on our website and social channels.”

According to Leslie, different individuals from their communications team generally host episodes based on their subject matter expertise. They are categorized as part of the editorial calendar and planning process after they identify a story.

The stories themselves also come from a variety of places.

“People often come to us with ideas of someone they know at the company who would be a good fit,” said Leslie. “Then, sometimes we use industry thought leaders that we've identified. We've had people who published books on particular topics and things like that as well.”

One of their first episodes was about a challenge from the federal government to solve the problem of the explanation of benefits, which Leslie said people have a hard time understanding. “There was a national effort for different health care innovators to solve this problem,” she said. “So, we talked to the winner of that challenge and someone from our company who had been a judge on the challenge, as well as a consumer who had experienced a statement that didn't make sense.”

Once they identify an interviewee for any given episode, Leslie and her team have a process to help set them up for success.

“We pitch the idea for the story, see if the guests we have in mind want to do it, and give them background on the program,” she said. “We'll put together a briefing document for them and give them questions beforehand so they're prepared. But we always say it's not about our company, it's about their subject matter expert. We want them to tell us their story, not promote our company.”

So far, the show has featured a mix of industry leaders, innovators, and interesting people from outside of the company for the podcast, but she emphasized that they always aim to tell a story about how they're working to improve health care.

After their episode is completed, Leslie said they provide their guests a toolkit to help them get the word out on social media.

“We always create a social toolkit for our guests to help promote the episode they're featured in across their network,” she said. “We include some sample posts, the appropriate hashtag, and visual assets. We always take a photo and send them our HealthChangers logo. That's been another great way to build our audience.”

According to Leslie, they've seen some great results from the podcast so far.

Referrals from social back to our podcast page have averaged 3.5 percent every month, and social referrals to our website are generally 6-7 percent. So, half of our social referrals were to the podcast program. Leslie Constans
“We had a goal of one episode a month, and we exceeded that for the past two years,” she said. “In the first year, we had 24 episodes. So, we blew that goal out of the water, but it was a lot of work and it is really hard coordinating that number of external guests. In the first two years, we've produced over 40 episodes, and we are now completing our evaluation of our third year.”

She said they also had an initial modest goal of 100 downloads per month and have been trending nearly 300. And, in their first year, the HealthChangers webpage had 7,000 page views.

“One fantastic social media metric for us is that referrals from social back to our podcast page have averaged 3.5 percent every month,” said Leslie. “And social referrals to our website are generally 6-7 percent. So, half of our social referrals were to the podcast program.”

Looking ahead, Leslie said they're focused on expanding the distribution of the podcast and how they promote it.

“At the end of 2019, we added Spotify and Google Play,” she said. “We're also launching those audio previews. And, from a creative social standpoint, we're doing video previews. When we record an episode, we'll do a short 30-second video on our phone to use as a teaser.”

Leslie said one of the things she's most excited for in 2020 is the syndication of their podcast. The HealthCareNOW Radio Network, which broadcasts industry healthcare podcasts, will be amplifying their HealthChangers episodes on their website and social networks.

According to Leslie, one of her takeaways from her work in HealthChangers is what an effective storytelling platform podcasting can be.

“Our podcasts are always at the top for performing pieces of content every month,” she said. “That story-first, authentic, and not promotional content has been really effective.”

She also emphasized the complementary nature of podcasting and social media. “You can publish a podcast and hope people find it,” she said. “But using social media in a smart way, engaging our guests, and visualizing it in a way that we know works on social has proven to be really powerful.”

Leslie Constans has been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2016. You can follow her on LinkedIn or Twitter.