During the COVID-19 outbreak, Lynne Katzmann, CEO of Juniper Communities, and Jeanine Genauer, principal of The JPR Group, were discussing the need to communicate to families, residents, associates, and the general population on topics important to the health and well-being of older adults.
The pandemic, they believed, heightened the importance of addressing common questions and misconceptions and diving in detail into topics such as COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and the emotional health risks of social isolation and loneliness.
In response, Juniper decided to tap into a medium that has exploded in popularity in recent years: podcasting.
Juniper launched “Voices on Aging,” a podcast dedicated to issues impacting seniors—and became part of a group of early adopters in senior living to the podcasting format as a means of communicating with their audiences.
Jumping into podcasting can be an adjustment, particularly with a team venturing into the medium for the first time, but it also offers an array of unique benefits as a communication tool.
“Online has become really one of our primary ways of communicating with both potential and existing customers, and so the podcast being another way for people to engage with us online seems like a natural fit,” says Cindy Longfellow, vice president of business development/sales and marketing for Juniper Communities.
“And I think the benefit of the podcast as a complement to a web page, or a landing page, or Facebook, is that it has allowed us to go more in depth on a number of topics that we had been hearing from families that were of concern to them.”
Ken Stern, host of “When I’m 64,” the Stanford Center on Longevity’s podcast focused on caregiving, says podcasts can create especially strong connections with audiences and allow for revealing, memorable explorations of topics.
“Audio is a very intimate medium,” Stern says. “And that allows you to tell the human story in meaningful ways … [and] because of the nature of podcasting, I think it allows you to target and engage people on a topic that they care about. You can micro-target a topic that is of intense interest to a group of people and talk directly to them about it in great depth.”
Stern says the Stanford Center on Longevity chose caregiving as the subject for its first podcast because of its importance to the center’s focus on retooling society to support healthier and longer lives. “When I’m 64” debuted with an episode about caregiving for Alzheimer’s patients featuring guests Seth and Lauren Miller Rogen.
“We’re at a time when for the first time in history four or even five generations of the family are alive at the same time,” Stern says. “That’s great, but it also raises bigger social issues about how to take care of so many different generations alive at the same time. And we’re in the middle of a caregiving crisis. There are 53 million caregivers in the country … and many of them have been really challenged during the pandemic. We wanted to make sure that their stories are told.”
Podcast interviews spark invaluable and surprising discussions that can enrich the understanding not only of listeners but of the organization hosting a podcast. Valissa Smith, senior vice president of strategic communications for SeniorVu, is the host of SeniorVu’s “Off Your Rocker.”
“Listening and learning from our clients, industry leaders and even our competitors – there are so many smart people in the senior living space who are doing what they can to improve the experience for seniors and families, and those of us at SeniorVu are all about that,” Smith says. “We want to have conversations with those who are doing big things and are in it for the right reason.”
Similarly, the “Senior Housing Unfiltered” podcast, which is offered by Lloyd Jones Senior Living, seeks to highlight “the impact-makers and people making a difference in the senior housing industry.”
Robert Howell, vice president of operations for Lloyd Jones Senior Living, says a highlight so far for the podcast was an interview with Paul Griffin III, the founder, CEO, and president of Griffin Living, because “we pulled back the curtain on the future of senior living. We discuss how health care and hospitality must merge to create a new model for a new generation of baby boomers who are aging, and what this model will look like in, say, 12 months from today, as the new models come out of the ground.”
Longfellow and Genauer says Juniper selects topics for Voices on Aging based in part on the questions that the “boots on the ground in our communities” are hearing.
“One of the things that you really want to make sure of is that your guests on the podcast are credible,” Genauer says. “So we don’t just make this an ad for Juniper when you listen to our podcast. There are credible guests talking about the topic. We try to have an expert from Juniper, and then an outside expert. And our host is an outside expert in geriatric care.”
Smith says podcasting offer a unique appeal as a communication medium.
“Finding 20 to 30 minutes to glean some new information while taking a walk or driving to work is pretty easy for most people,” Smith says. “And more folks in senior care are finding it easier to take in information while they multi-task rather than reading every article that comes at them in their inbox each day. Listening to new information in a pleasant format is a no-brainer.”
From a networking standpoint, Smith says, “we have had a few operators find us via the podcast.” “Off Your Rocker: A SeniorVu Podcast” is on all major podcast platforms.
“But mostly, those working in the communities say they appreciate hearing new ideas from some of their competitors or from another technology company. We’ve even hosted executives from outside industries who have come to us with some adaptable ideas for senior living, too,” she says.
Howell says “Senior Housing Unfiltered” has helped Lloyd Jones Senior Living expand its brand and influence in the industry. “The podcast,” he says, “is one more tool for us to disrupt an industry stuck in ancient cultures.”
Longfellow says Juniper launched its podcast with one audience in mind but found that a different demographic may represent its largest listener base.
“Originally, we were looking for ways to engage with our families in a different way during COVID, and I think initially we saw this as being really beneficial to our families,” Longfellow says.
“But I think ultimately, it has proven more beneficial to our potential customers, those adult children, those baby boomers who are looking after their parents. It’s a bit anecdotal, but we know that our sales and marketing directors are hearing from potential customers, ’Hey, I happened to see your podcast.’
“Also, our sales and marketing directors are using it as a resource to provide to them. So, a lot of our listeners are customers or potential customers of our services.”
Smith says among the keys to Off Your Rocker’s success are persistence, quality guests, relevant topics, and the use of social media.
Smith, who hosts the podcast, also has 25 years of experience in broadcast journalism. She says she’s comfortable “in front of the mic,” as are other members of the team who have occasionally hosted. A podcast can easily be hamstrung by a host unsuited for the role.
“Being comfortable and having a personality is really the key,” Smith says. “No matter how great the topic, no one wants to listen to someone who feels awkward on air.”
“I believe a great podcast host is a true listener, is curious, stays focused on the topic and who elevates their guest. A good host always finds room for humility and self-deprecation when needed. A little humor doesn’t hurt either. I believe an open, genuine, and relaxed conversation makes it much more pleasant for everyone.
And if the conversation jumps off topic briefly on occasion, that’s spontaneous and fun. If it jumps off topic and doesn’t come back, that’s not.”
Howell says podcast producers can’t risk a boring start to an episode or a meandering pace.
“Grabbing the listener’s attention immediately and keeping them engaged [is important],” Howell says. “We intentionally keep most podcast episodes to around 20 minutes, which we’ve found is a sweet spot between providing detailed, valuable information and allowing the listener to stay focused on the message.”
For those considering starting a podcast, Howell recommends an intentional, strategic approach.
“If you launch a podcast just to hear yourself talk, it won’t be very successful,” Howell says.
“You must add value for your listeners or to the industry to keep the attention of your audience. Consider who you’re trying to reach with your podcast: Is it baby boomers, on-site care staff, or executive leadership? Then, put yourself in their shoes to decide what will provide the most value to their life or their career.”
“’Senior Housing Unfiltered’ seeks to inspire senior living leaders by presenting new and unconventional ideas about health care, technology, marketing, and how to motivate a winning team.”
With each episode, podcast producers have the opportunity to refine their format or style to better reach their audiences and to fully take advantage of the medium. That represents a natural evolution, Stern says.
For instance, the “When I’m 64” team will take a new step in the fall and produce its first “mini-season,” focusing a three-episode series on the challenges of finance and caregiving in partnership with Next Avenue, the PBS website focused on older Americans.
The success of the caregiving podcast also has led the Stanford Center to develop a second podcast, “Century Lives,” which it will launch this fall, and which will aim to tell the broader story of longevity in society.
“It will be about how we reorganize society to accommodate the 100-year life,” Stern says.
Longfellow says Juniper’s podcast has evolved through its initial episodes, as has its understanding of its value.
“We often talk about the ‛octopus principle’ with respect to our messaging at Juniper and thinking about if we have a key message, what are the eight ways that we can get that information to those who want it and need it?” Longfellow says.
“And I think using the podcast in different ways is something that we really hadn’t thought about. Initially, we just thought of it as a podcast, but we can take snippets of those podcasts and use them in other ways, like for a quick little video on Facebook. We’ve learned to not think of it as this standalone podcast, but how we can use some of those important sound bites in other ways and across other platforms.”
Podcast’s relatively new stature as a medium means part of starting one involves trial and error, but that’s simply part of the process.
“We’re still learning,” Stern says. “And I think that’s true for a lot of podcasters out there.”
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