Technology Innovations: Virginia Tech - Silver Medal

Category 12: Technology Innovations
Virginia Tech Podcasts

Contact: Randall Stith, director, visual and broadcast communications, 201 Media building, Blacksburg, VA 24061, Phone: (540) 231-5862, e-mail:

Description: In February 2006, Virginia Tech launched its new branding initiative, “Invent the Future.” Among other things, the launch by university relations consisted of a new logo, viewbook, television and newspaper ads, and a revised Web page. One of the brand drivers is technological leadership, so as part of the launch we added regular podcasts on the new home page and continued and expanded that initiative throughout the year.

These podcasts can be subscribed to and downloaded onto an MP3 player, listened to off a computer desktop, or obtained through iTunes University.

For the launch we established the following programming:

HokieCast: A 4-5 minute program posted every Monday at noon. “For students, by students,” this covers what’s happening around campus each week during the school year, reminds them of important deadlines, and offers short interviews.

VT Pod News: A 4-5 minute program posted every Wednesday at noon. The online audio source for Virginia Tech news and events aimed primarily at faculty and staff, also offering short interviews on relevant topics.

A Touch of Tech: A 90-second produced feature on various on-going Virginia Tech research. Two topics are covered per program and it's posted every Friday at noon.

Distinguished Professor Series: Half-hour lectures on a variety of topics by the university’s elite faculty. A new program was posted every Monday for the first 18 weeks and all are now available in the archives.

In addition to coverage of some news events and our weekly informational programs, we’ve offered special programs on topics as diverse as financial aid, advice for incoming students and their parents, parking, safety, summer sessions, and fall leaves.

We also made a downloadable campus “Pod Tour” for the admissions office. ( This tour, which also has a downloadable map, is specifically for prospective students and their families who are on campus at a time when there is not a regularly scheduled tour offered by the admissions office, allowing them to still get important information the admissions office wants them to have. We went around campus with one of the actual student tour leaders to record this podcast.

Finally, when the university homepage was again revised in the summer with a rotating Spotlight feature at the top, we began to offer supporting podcasts to supplement the written articles. ( For instance, a Spotlight photograph on the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute would link to a full article on their research, and the sidebar down the page of that story would have links to supporting media, such as podcasts, where we would provide audio interviews with different researchers from that department. These special podcasts are not available from our podcast page, only from the Spotlight stories pages.

Planning/Objectives: Our main goals were to support the university’s new branding initiative with a concrete example of the “technological leadership” brand driver, help improve the quality and timeliness of the redesigned home page, and increase the avenues by which we can get the various university messages out to designated audiences.

In the overall planning sessions for the brand launch we were tasked with the podcast initiative so we designed a program we felt would be innovative and effective enough that we could achieve on a regular basis with existing resources. Three programs a week seemed like enough programming to be substantial but still doable. We felt that students would be a natural audience to reach through podcasts, so we developed and named the HokieCast and interviewed students recommended by the communication department and took one on as an intern for the winter semester. We also felt we needed a faculty/staff program, so our two producers decided to take turns producing that program. A Touch of Tech is compiled from radio spots we produce for another purpose, so that gave us an additional program without much additional effort. The previous semester we had videotaped the provost’s Distinguished Professor Lecture Series, so we just took the audio from those programs and immediately had an entire 18 podcast series we could use throughout winter semester.

Department/Institutional Goals: The goals of university relations coincide with the goals of the university and the podcast initiative is an integral part of the Invent the Future branding campaign that states, “Virginia Tech is a high-performing research university with a world-view that advances the land-grant values of discovery, learning and outreach.”

Innovation: Podcasting itself is fairly new and it seems as though the first use of podcasts at universities was by professors making their class lectures available to students. Our podcast initiative uses this new technology to enhance our communications program through a variety of regular and special programming, allowing another avenue to get information out to our various audiences. A good example of this was the first day of the fall semester when an escaped prisoner who shot a police officer was sighted near campus and the university cancelled classes. We used periodic podcasts throughout the day posting updated information and statements from various university, town and law enforcement officials.

Evaluation Plan: With Web site traffic data made available from the university Webmaster we will constantly evaluate the usage of our different podcasts and react accordingly, perhaps adding more podcasts of a specific kind or ceasing to produce any that have too small an audience.

Audience: The HokieCast is aimed primarily at a student audience, VT Pod News is aimed primarily at faculty/staff, and A Touch of Tech is aimed at a general audience that would include prospective students and their parents, current students and their parents, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, donors, the media and the general public. Periodic special podcasts are aimed at specific audiences and information needs, such as open interview sessions with candidates for deans’ positions that we made available on the web to all faculty members at the provost’s request.

Use of Resources: There were no new funds dedicated to this initiative. For years two producers in visual and broadcast communications in the Office of University Relations have produced audio programming and distributed it to radio stations throughout the state. With the start of podcasting these producers have just shifted some of their time away from producing radio and put it towards podcasts. Together they log an average of 30 hours per month working on podcasts which means they each put in a few hours a week towards this initiative. In addition, there is one student per semester who volunteers to produce the weekly HokieCast.

Response/Results: At the press conference in February announcing the branding campaign, it was interesting that the HokieCast was one of the aspects reporters were most interested in, and the student producer was interviewed for radio, TV, and newspapers. Now we are able to gather usage statistics on the Web. Although they do not tell us if someone listened to a program in its entirety, or if a subscriber listened to all downloaded programs, they do give us a fairly accurate audience count and we are satisfied that this method of distribution has met our goals, although we realize we need to keep publicizing its availability.

In 2006 (Feb-Dec), 75,110 individual podcasts were downloaded by subscription and an additional 12,585 programs were listened to on computer, for a total of 87,695 hits. The student-oriented HokieCast received 22,403 hits in the winter semester and 30,298 in the fall, for an average of 1400 and 1500 listeners respectively for each weekly podcast. Throughout the year VT Pod News averaged 766 listeners per weekly program while A Touch of Tech averaged 883 per program. This discrepancy with the HokieCast usage makes sense since that program is aimed at a student audience which makes more use of MP3 players and this new technology while the other two programs are aimed at a faculty/staff or outside audience.

In addition, the podcasts we made from a series of special (not classroom) lectures by university distinguished professors proved to be extremely popular, receiving almost 60,000 hits during the year. Podcasts on the topic of financial aid received 1908 hits and orientation podcasts aimed specifically at incoming students and their parents received 1237 listens, showing that this is an easy and effective additional way to get specific information to targeted audiences.