To help colleges recruit today’s online generation of youth, an expert on internet marketing has created the first “podcast” for admissions officers.

Podcasts are the audio version of blogs, or web journals, allowing people to create programs on any topic and distribute them over the internet. They can be downloaded to iPods or other MP3 players, or listened to on a computer. (See “‘Podcasting’ set to take off.”)

Brian Niles, CEO of interactive recruiting firm TargetX, was struck by the absence of a podcast dedicated to college recruiting and marketing at a critical time in the admissions world.

“There’s a revolution under way in recruiting communications. The old techniques are giving way to electronic tools like eMail, blogs, and online chat sessions. Many admissions people understand that, but they don’t know how to make effective use of the internet for recruiting and marketing,” he said.

“I’ll be honest–when blogs first came out, I thought they were odd. Those things have grown very quickly. Podcasting has grown even faster,” said Niles, who 10 years ago became one of the first college officials in the nation to use the internet to recruit students.

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer Inc., the maker of the iPod player, seems to support Niles’ assertion. Jobs noted in a recent speech that about 8,000 free podcasts are available on the internet. Jobs said Apple plans to create a way for podcasters to submit their work for inclusion on the iTunes Music Store. That new version of iTunes is set for release in the coming months.

Such rapid proliferation of the media form suggests that it will not be long before “podcasting” becomes as ubiquitous a term as “blogging” recently has become.

Niles said recruiters should strive to balance their recruitment materials on the leading edge of media development.

Students, faculty, and alumni are using blogs to discuss their college experiences, Niles said–and the schools are starting to place links to these blogs on their web sites as a way of offering an insider’s view on academic life at the institution. “Why not put a voice to it?” he said.

Niles initially decided to use podcasts to help demonstrate how online communications can be more timely, interactive, and entertaining when trying to attract a generation raised on the internet.

He created “On the Road,” short and informal podcasts that cover some aspect of college marketing. These internet broadcasts typically originate from a workshop or conference where he’s speaking to a higher-education audience on the strengths and challenges of interactive marketing.

“The podcasts reflect what I’m hearing on the road and what I’m seeing in higher-ed marketing,” said Niles. “I want the programs to be an easy and entertaining way for people to lean about trends, challenges, and best practices in the use of internet-based communication.”

His first few podcasts have covered such topics as the need to shorten most eMail newsletters, the similarities between choosing a college and buying a car, and ways to improve the critical campus tour for prospective students and their families. His very first podcast was an introduction to podcasts–and the potential they offer college marketers.

After releasing the first podcasts, Niles said, he began receiving requests for more information on how the medium could be used as a recruitment tool.

Niles suggested using podcasts to conduct roundtable-style interviews of students, and he said recruiters should put the technology in the hands of students. “Content comes best from the source”–university students and faculty–and “not us,” he said.

Niles also acknowledged a “content hurdle” in terms of what is currently available and what kinds of materials should be used for recruitment purposes. But he was firm on what should not be done.

“Developing the content should not be done by an agency,” he said. “Then you lose the folksiness of what makes [podcasting] so great.”

Niles has been invited to deliver a keynote address on podcasting to a group of college recruiters, marketers, and web masters at the 6th annual Web Communications and Strategies Conference, to be held July 18-20 at Salisbury University in Maryland.

Links:

TargetX Corp.
http://www.targetx.com

“On the Road” podcast
http://targetx.com/knowledge/podcasts/index.html

6th Annual Web Communications and Strategies Conference
http://www.salisbury.edu/webconf

Apple iPod
http://www.apple.com/ipod/