Podcasts are in a golden age and are being used to effectively communicate new ideas, tell compelling stories, and build highly participative communities. This presentation will explore the power of audio storytelling to connect individuals in engaged networks of collaboration. Jorge Caraballo (’22 Harvard Nieman Fellow) will draw from experience as the former Growth Editor at Radio Ambulante –Latin America’s most popular documentary podcast– and will highlight different ways in which storytelling can be the starting point of new collective identities.
Jorge Caraballo is a journalist and a 2022 Harvard Nieman fellow. Before that, he worked for four years as the Growth Editor at Radio Ambulante –the most popular documentary podcast in Spanish, and the only one in that language distributed by NPR. There he led online and offline engagement initiatives to grow the community around the podcast. He holds a master’s degree in Media Innovation at Northeastern University. He’s a Fulbright Scholar and a Google News Initiative Fellow.
The following is a transcript of the video’s content, with human corrections. For any errors the human missed, please reach out to email@example.com.
Heather Hendershot 00:48
Um, so welcome, everyone. For those. For those of you who don’t know, I’m Heather Hendershot, Director of Graduate Studies and comparative Media Studies at MIT. So great to host this talk today with Jorge Caraballo, who is a journalist and a 2022, Harvard Nieman Fellow. Before that he worked for four years as the growth editor at Radio Ambulante, the most popular documentary podcast in Spanish, and the only one in that language distributed by NPR. There he led online and offline engagement initiatives to grow the community around the podcast, he holds a master’s degree in media innovation from Northeastern University. He is a Fulbright scholar and a Google News Initiative fellow. And the title of his talk today is How to Use Audio Storytelling to Cultivate a Community and Keep It Engaged. So I will pass the floor over to Jorge now.
Jorge Caraballo 01:45
Thank you, thank you so much, Heather, Andrew, for inviting me and very happy to be here. I will share my screen I have a presentation. So let me go back because I have to share some to share a sound okay. So I No need to go deeper on this. This is my this is my, my baby. I worked four years as the growth editor at Radio Ambulante. And yes, I was my mission was bringing more people in into the podcast, more listeners have grown the audience that was like a main metric. But another metric of success was creating the environment. So people would participate. People would use Radio Ambulante as a centerpiece for civic conversations, and making the most impact out of, of, of our journalism. So I was constantly using the stories which were, which are episodes of 30 minutes, 45 minutes, every week, to all over Latin America. Radio Ambulante little bit of context is a podcast, it’s like This American Life in Spanish, that’s how you can make an idea of what it is. And every week, every Tuesday, we like we present an episode. And that episode, my goal was to make it was to make it as impactful as possible, and impactful by our standards was making it create conversations all around the continent. So that was my job. And what I what I what I want to do in this in this presentation, is to show you some examples of how we did that, like what kind of engagement exercises we did and why. Just like a little bit, making you see how we cooked the dish. And then some principles that I think can be replicated by anyone that is interested in using storytelling. And this could be of course, documentary as we did nonfiction, but also it could be fiction. And it doesn’t matter necessarily that these are audio stories to me. What this what I learned in Radio Ambulante is that just a good story can be used to bring the attention of the internet of people on the internet and make it a platform to connect people among each other and to create a common purpose to to get to know ourselves and to get to know others. So that’s that I’m going to go step by step through those for those principles, and then we can have a q&a. So let’s start with this So what you saw there is a video or raw video on edited of Radio Ambulante Zoom party when the pandemic started, and the spirit of our community was in the lowest level, we were like, we need to do something to remind ourselves that we are not alone, that this is not a podcast that is talking to individuals necessarily, but that this podcast is a platform of a community that is distributed all over a continent, in Latin America, in Europe, in the United States, there are around 90,000 people listening to this podcast every week.
And we can do something to remind that if you listen to Radio Ambulante, you share some things, some features with other people who also listen to Radio Ambulante. And we can celebrate even though this is a tough, tough moment in our life, we can celebrate that we’re not alone. And let’s just do a party, we assume let’s see what happens. And we did that. So what is what was the first party and we did four of them. And to each of them more than 1000 people attended. And they were, as you see here, they were turning their cameras on. They were showing a their pets, their customs, their children, they were showing you their living room, they were showing you their life. And it’s still to me impressive that people trust it so much, right? We are all aware of how the internet is a place in which you need privacy, because you don’t know what are the intentions of those who you are interacting with, with. But in this community in this community, even though most of these people don’t know each other at all. And they’re very different backgrounds and countries and cultures. They share something there are listeners of Radio Ambulante. And because of that they trust each other. But this is not something that happened out of the blue, this is not something that was like a random idea. This was a conclusion. This was the consequence. This was a consequence of an effort of cultivating a community around storytelling. So there are other examples of these kinds of interactions between strangers that listen to rival data. This is a picture of our listening club. And we will talk about later like strangers in their cities, getting into a place where they listen to an episode and then have conversations civic conversation. Or this is our this is a picture of our team in 2018 when we did a, a live show in New York and Washington DC, or. Yes, other examples that we’re going to I am going to describe what how we have done it. Because I think that it’s it’s important that we remember that the internet is not only that corporative platform in which this big corporations are giving you some leverage to communicate with others. But the internet is also a network in which you can create trust. And to do that stories, I think, are one of the main main things. We’re one of the main channels to connect people in a way that they trust each other and create together. So I’m going to describe you how we did that. But I think that this can be translated to many different contexts not only in podcasts, but in other ways, other creative ways, other creative languages. So I’m going to show you some examples of our engagement and you will be able to listen a little bit of these of the stories that I am blanketed. By the way disclosure when I came to as a Nieman Fellow, I stopped working at Radio Ambulante so this is a sample of what we did in the four years that I was there. So the first one is it’s a an exercise that we did when we publish an episode all ÁlbumDeMigrantes or Migrants Album, I’m going to show you but you’re going to listen a short clip and then we’ll give you more context about the story.
Spanish Speaker 10:11
[Speaker in Spanish.]
So migration is a big theme in Latin America. And in the recent years, in the last five years, Venezuela migration to other countries in the region. It’s a big story. So what do you just listen is an amid an American is Venezuelan woman who migrated to Peru. And it was very hard for her to adapt to this new country, not only because she faced xenophobia, but also because of what she just said, like, everything changes so quickly, and you’re still so attached to your country that you need to be living in that unstable situation of should I have roots in the new country? Should I root myself here? Where should I be prepared to move to another place? What do I do? Like where do I belong? And one of the main characteristics of Radio Ambulante or or one of the big groups in inside the Radio Ambulante community is that of migrants, many of Radio Ambulante listeners are people who have migrated from Latin American countries, to the United States to Europe to other places, a in which they find new opportunities. So we knew that many listeners of Radio Ambulante shared kind of a similar story, or have, have had led an experience similar to that point of [..]. So we try to do something we try to tap into that collective knowledge and experience inside our community. And ask them to give an Anamer advice, or give Anamer some words of recognition and awareness of what she was going through. So we treated this like as Anamer, our, like this main character of today’s episode, many of the people that listen to them a lot, they know what it means to be Anamer. So share a story, a short story about your experience, establishing yourself in a new place, what was the hardest thing or the most exciting thing, and we use it this hashtag. And this thing exploded. We started getting these kinds of responses. More than 10 years ago, I haven’t left. I haven’t lived in Argentina, where I was born. I left I live in Puerto Rico and then I met friendship there and disgrace. Now we live in Bogota, where their son kisses me and I’m a drowned by books that don’t let me go. And here I understood that to be a migrant, can also be a nationality. And then people started sharing pictures. We didn’t ask them to share pictures, they started sharing pictures of their first years of being migrants, or this guy who had like 3000 retweets, which was very unusual in our in our engagement strategy or engagement work. He said, I got four years ago here in Paris with 200 error, euros, not speaking French, not knowing anyone. I started working as a dishwasher. A and a year ago, I brought my dad because my mother died. And today I’m the chef of a bar I speak French and I live with my dad in an apartment and he was using the hashtag and this was very intimate stories right of people who were somehow reflect who who felt reflected in our story but at the same time we’re proud of what came after that turbulent first time or first period as immigrants one out and then people were like acknowledging that a podcast like she cello she’s saying when a podcast generates that listeners a make their universe bigger and multiply the stories and this is what was going on. And this is what I think it’s super super valuable because I map story became the first in a block of another stories. And what was happening here is that listeners were making this story bigger, were enlarging the story. Were making it more complex. And the paradigm of the first the way we understand, we usually understand our role as storytellers is that we produce the story, we publish the story. And that’s it, right? People can comment the story, or can share the story. But what is happening here is that people are making the story grow with old stories, the episode didn’t end, the episode was not a discrete case, when we publish it, the episode was open. And
the continuation of the episode is this is this. And I find striking and beautiful to understand storytelling as an open ended process, collaborative, and participative. Right. So this is what was going on with this story. A, this person is sharing what I have learned today, and the stories in this hashtag, have me crying, celebrating, laughing, thinking about my people. So that’s just an example of how the character of a story. And this is a nonfiction story is not alone. Because you as a listener, you are also a character of the podcast. And we will get we’re going to talk more about that next thing later. This is another example. It’s called Mi Lugar de Siempre, my favorite place. And it was about a story. It was an exercise that we did were ritual, as I will start calling it this was a ritual that we did. When we published this story, the about a group of friends in San Jose, Costa Rica, capital of Costa Rica, this is a group of college friends who started gathering at this very tiny, a dark karaoke bar in downtown San Jose, this was a bar that almost only them attended, it was not the most popular bar was not in not at all, in the list of touristic places in San Jose, it was like a kind of secret corner of the city, that they call it with direct entities with their joyfulness and they got to know the the owner of the bar. And unfortunately, and this is a spoiler of the story. But unfortunately, the owner of the bar was this Chinese mysterious Chinese woman decided to close the place. And with that decision, their life as a group, like took a different direction. So we decided to focus on something that was like an important line in this story, which was these places that become content or become vessels of your identity, and are not the most popular places in your city. But I think we all we all have that we all even though even if we live in a city or in a rural area, we all have these kind of centuries, that are relevant or to be expressed the expression of our of our identity of our freedom. And we wanted to know, one more those centuries. For our listeners, we have listeners, as I told you, everywhere in the world, mostly in the United States, a South America and Central America, also in Europe. And we wanted to know what were those centuries. And not only to know that, but to see them. And not only to see them, but to make them useful. So we ask people, what’s your favorite city in […]? What’s your favorite place in the city you live, not the most touristic one, but the one that you love most. Mention it using this hashtag, MiLugarDeSiempre. And we’re going to make a map of places that you cannot miss with your recommendations. And we did this. We got this we can’t we’ve got this kind of responses. So she is sharing a place in Mexico City in the biggest university there. A or this one in Sierra Leone, in Freetown, or this one in Montreal is like a kind of small cafe. We got this, we got a lot of things. And then we were like, Okay, let’s make something with this. And we created a collaborative map. And this is a very simple thing with we created a collaborative Google map. So anyone, instead of sending tweets with pictures could just create a pin in their city and share it with others. And the idea of this was to create like a touristoic guide of Latin America, a secret places or more loved places by listeners. So as a Radio Ambulante listener, if you go to Argentina, you will have some options, or some places that are relevant to listeners in Argentina, if you go to Peru, the same if you go to Colombia, if you go to the US, then you will have some reference of what are those places are important to other lists himself, right, granted, and they are a organized by categories. So there were restaurants for jazz clubs, there were these bookstores, there were a also karaoke bars,
a lot of stuff. And this is an idea that it’s very, like, easy to replicate. And you could spend a lot of time trying to develop a map or like the lines of code created in a fancy way. But we were like, Let’s use the things that people use that are simple to replicate and to make this exercise, because we have found that we can not ask, like, we need to ask for things that are not very time demanding, if we will want this to be really participative. And at the same time, it needs to be useful. The incentive for people to participate is that this will be useful for them. And for others. If it’s not like that they don’t they don’t they don’t engage. So engagement like good practices, just use the platforms that people use. And Google Docs is something that almost everyone uses. Other way of engaging with people and making stories live beyond the limits of fun out your story of an episode is like this conversation prompts, and we started using social media. So this is a this is a question that we asked in. Like five months after the pandemic started. This is September 2020. A after the worst of the quarantined, we ask people like, hey, for those of you who have little children at home, what was the most memorable game exercise or project that you that you did with them during work during part time. So these were a lot of parents that have been stuck in their apartments or houses with children. And we wanted to, we wanted them to single out that memorable moment, that memorable thing that they did with their with their children, because we had done an episode about that we had done an episode in which the characters had done that. So a lot of comments about that, or this one was a one year after the pandemic was clear. And we asked for what’s the best thing that happened to you in a year full of bad news. And at the same time, like 200 comments. So we were trying to make conversations that were improbable, and that we’re not just for the sake of having comments, but of making people think about those. Not I wouldn’t say positive things, but things that are not usually, in the mainstream narrative of this was a terrible year, which was, or this was a like, I only I had no ideas of what to do with my children, which is through a but at the same time, there were other stuff happening. Right. And and we wanted to focus on that and to use the experience of the community to have that conversation happen. We also did extra episodes with the community and because of the community, which is something that most newsrooms that that newsrooms, usually try to avoid. Because when you open the doors of your editorial newsroom to your audience, then they will start demanding, or that’s the that’s a the fear of editors and journalists is that they will start demanding you to do what they want, and interfering with your creative or editorial independence. But we were like, Let’s just not play that game anymore. Let’s just actually listen, like people are listening to us. Let’s listen, let’s listen back is is the minimum we can do like one of the rules of the internet is reciprocity. If this is a network, it needs to be reciprocal. So we asked people what kind of stories they wanted to listen to, and they voted a like there was a big pool of suggestions and pitches that people sent. And they voted for the stories that like all their listeners sent that and then we prioritize, and then we would pick the winners. So
This is one of them like this is an episode that we did for a story about trends to call in Argentina that for those girls that was declared in trends in in, in the country, a, and we did a story like that was it was story the story of this girl who didn’t identify with her with the sex that she was born when when that sex she was born. So we did a story of a okay, this is a story of a five year old girl. And it’s very emotional. And we get to listen to the mother and to a country that is debating if should be record, like legally recognized or not. But the story ends with the girl which she’s just seven years old. And we wanted to know, what was the experience of those listeners in triangularity? who identify themselves as strengths? And are not kids anymore? What’s this? What’s their story? Want to see? What? What will be the life of this girl in 10, 15 years? And to answer that question, we asked listeners Radio Ambulante that in the […], we did an extra episode. Or we did this one. And this one was suggested by the community like we want to know, what’s the story in managing, which is my city, the city where I was born? What’s the story in Medellin with narco tours, because there is something happening in this city. And this is like our listeners and this idea. There are people coming from all over the world, so managing to visit the places where Escobar lived, or the places where he where he had, where he put bombs. And I wonder why are they doing that? What What can what’s the city how’s the city dealing with that? Trouble past? So because I was there as a reporter, I did a story about Escobar and I did one of these tours that took me to her […] to to his town, that took me to the place where he was in jail to his building, like a building that he built that where he lived. And then I was able to talk to one of the guides of those tours to ask them, Why are you doing this? Like, why are you glorifying this person who victimize so many people. And it’s a it’s a very, I think, powerful story to touch the identity of a city. And we did it, thanks to two listeners who suggested it and to other listeners who voted for it. Or we did this one in which we tell the story of Radio Ambulante. So this is a meta story. Like this is the story of a podcast, we’ll make stories. That experience which is also which became the most visited episode of Radio Ambulante. We also have fun interactions in social media. And like, like, for example, a question, those who listen to podcasts when they were in public transportation, or in their cars during the pandemic. When are you listening to podcast right now. And there are like 660 responses like this is like podcasts are a medium that somehow demands routines, like you listen to your podcasts, usually when you’re doing something that you constantly do going out for a walk, going to commuting, a washing your dishes, whatever. So now that the routines are so messed up because of the pandemic, like when are you listening to them? Or another question is, how would you explain what a podcast is to your grandfather, grandmother without mentioning the words radio and Internet? Because we’re all the time constantly exploring? How do people think about this medium? How do they how do they relate with this media, which is essential if we want to be useful and deliver? So we need to understand what does this mean? So these kind of questions we did them or another one to grow and to expand the network. We ask people like mentioned a friend that doesn’t listen to podcast and tell us apart a detail about that person, her favorite movie or soda call sign a secret, whatever you want to tell us and then we will respond to a reply with the ideal episode for them of Radio Ambulante. So they started listening to our podcast. So we were using data from the listeners. And at the same time we were referring, we will we will try to hook those referrals with a personalized recommendation.
But our strategy engagement strategy was not limited on the to the stories we wanted also to create an invite different new environments to listen to podcast. So the first one of the one that I think I am very proud of is listening clubs. We got this tweet in 2017 November 2017. I arrived on Radio Ambulante in August 2017. So a little less than two months before for like two months before this podcast before the street, and this is Diane Bellis a designer. I didn’t know her. She says Radio Ambulante is more than a podcast in our home. It’s family. It’s what […] and I discuss on Wednesdays, it’s what my parents listened to well, […] Papa. And which means come and help us to cut the potatoes. And she has in parentheses checkout to tablet next to cutting board. So there, they start cutting potatoes together, a and they’re listening to an episode. And we were like, oh my god, people are people are listening to this. Together. This is not like, one of the assumptions that we had four or five years ago is that podcasts are a very intimate, individualistic, medium, like you listen to your podcast in your headphones. And that’s something that it’s speaking to your ear and to your ear only. And then started challenging that that assumption. And we got we start getting more and more of these messages. Like then we were seeing some colleagues at work in lunchtime listening to an episode and we were like, Okay, this is something that is happening. That’s interesting. And then we were like, how might we need to tap into this opportunity? Because maybe podcasts are not necessarily something that you should listen to alone. So we created listening clubs and I want you to watch this three minute video. [Speakers in Spanish.]
[Speakers in Spanish.]
[Speakers in Spanish.]
so what what happened when we open this, this is the video that we publish at the beginning, we had tested the idea we did it in our in the cities where Radio Ambulante team members were, and we moderated those conversations and we like kind of calibrated the model. And then we open it up, and we asked listeners you to like it. Now this is for you, we will not, we will not be organized listening clubs, it’s not part of our we don’t have the capacity to do this, like we did this for you to do it. So if you want to use it, here’s everything. And we publish them, we gave them everything as as I as I said at the video. And it was incredible. And there have been more than 250 listening clubs organized by listeners in more than 50 cities around the world. This is a decentralized model. This is a model that in each of those was in clubs have been, have been organized, all the resources come from listeners, and it’s something that people feel responsible for accountable to each other. And our friendships and things have started because of this. So more than 3000 people across the world have gathered to listen episodes together. This is the this is one of the screenshot that’s crucial have a map of 75 listening clubs that happen on a day when we watch our ninth season, like listeners all over the world organized and clubs to listen to the first episode of that season they incentive was we’re going to give you the episode, we’re going to send you the episode before it’s published to the world if you connect with others in your community, and listen, Because together, we create a website and you can still access it at listeningclubs.com in which you can connect with other listeners, which was the hardest thing because yes, yes, I am in Cambridge right now. And I want to listen to an episode with other people. But how do I know? Where are they? So listeners were able in this website to put the event like and say hey, I want to host this and other listeners could see oh, there is someone on campus who wants to do this and they sign up. So it was easier to connect. And we started getting this kind of pictures. So this is a this is a listening club in Panama strangers who connected through blood and became friends. This is the same in Mexico City. A some people started, like expressing their FOMO and this is like someone like Hey, does someone adopt me in a club like for Puerto Rico and I can join online when the pandemic started. A this is a an […] it because when the pandemic started, some clubs kept going to cafes, it was safe to do it but other people join online. And this is a picture of the New York listening club which has met non stop or at least until 2021 met non stop since 2019. Every week, while we were in season. We also have done live shows in which listeners go to, to this places in which we tell life stories. And it is a way of connecting us directly with the audience and to remember that what connects us as a community is storytelling and listening and what they what best way to do it and telling stories live. So with it, we have done tours a of that. And also another innovation or engagement strategy were these two parties in which we invited people to celebrate in a in a hormone in our lives. And to remind ourselves that this is a community this is not a group of individuals a network of individuals but a community. So we hire DJs best DJs a of Latin American music and this is what happened like people had fun people once again expressed the or yes indicated that prime Volante is not an organization there is not an institution that
that there is a thesis between Radio Ambulante that they are Radio Ambulante. And this is a proof of that. So this is just like some gifts of how these parties went which is super fun. A it’s so diverse everyone We’re in. Like, I remember the first listening club that I organized, I almost cried for the emotion I guess like, because it was incredible to see people together, strangers together being so vulnerable. And I remember when I did this first party, it was like, oh my god, I just can’t believe how much trust these people have on us, a and how privileged we are to have connected this community. So a lot of tweets of celebration of the influx, a, they say, if I’m not faced the biggest family and joyful family in Latin America, we’re the host, Danielle says, as usual that […] the party assume is life affirming. Yes, a lot of tweets, just celebrating and somehow affirming our culture and the things that make us together. The last thing that I want to show us innovation is loopback. We know that 20, around 20% of Radio Ambulante listeners are non Spanish speakers who are learning Spanish. So we partner with technology company, and we created this Luca, Luca is an app that uses Radio Ambulante stories to learn Spanish. So Spanish learners can, at the same time, discover Latin America through documentaries, audio documentaries, and learn Spanish at the same time. So all of those things that I have just mentioned to you lead to something that it’s not the goal, like we didn’t do it because of that, but at the same time, it’s it’s, it’s a natural consequence. And it’s also necessary for this efforts to keep going and that is Deambulantes. Deambulantes is a membership program of Radio Ambulante so listeners can become members and can start donating in a regular basis to Radio Ambulante. And in exchange, they get some perks. So they get the episodes before they’re published, they get some stickers, they get some stuff. But basically, it’s not about what they get back. But they contribute to the community. So we started invite people will create it like this campaign to make people join Radio Ambulante. A. And before we created this in 2019, this was the budget of Radio Ambulante. So 60% of the budget came out of foundations grants 36% out of NPR, which distributors the podcast, it has a exclusive distribution agreement. It gives some money in exchange of that agreement and 4% of donations of listeners a one year after that year and a half after that. This is how it changes. So members were giving 20% of budget. That’s a huge thing. Like that’s a huge revenue stream. We’re an organization a nonprofit organization, because it means that those who are organization are serving are feel responsible for the success of the organization. They are members, they’re there, they’re invested in the success of Radio Ambulante. So storytelling at the end can lead like good storytelling and, like honest, authentic engagement can lead to you being able to keep doing what you love to do to keep working on your mission in which like, that is what’s happening to Radio Ambulante. So that’s what I wanted to show you concrete examples. Now I will just go through 10 basic steps to build an engaged community like what did I learn what did we learn as an engagement in a after doing those things that you just saw? Right? So let me just take 30 seconds of silence because I know I’ve been talking a lot so let’s just 30 seconds of just letting it in and I’ll start okay.
Jorge Caraballo 44:49
Jorge Caraballo 44:52
Before thinking about doing an engagement strategy for anything you do Like, you have a podcast, use letter, you have storytelling project, a storytelling project, you have a game, whatever you have, if you want to open it up and you want to invite people to participate, you need to ask yourself this question is for us. First is Why do you want to do it? What’s the motivation? What are you expecting out of it? Do one to two engagements because you want them to become members at the end, or because you want to expand the stories with the knowledge that it’s in the community. Because you want to have to trigger conversations that are not happening, you need to understand what what is your motivation. And also if you have the capacity to maintain it over time, because what happens, what usually happens is that companies start companies or organizations start investing in engagement. And they start doing these kind of prompts online and asking people to participate, but then they’re overwhelmed, or they’re busy with other stuff. And then, and they don’t have resources or attention to their engagement efforts. And people feel that they’re used, that they’re exploited, that their attention is just a resource that the organization or the individuals are a misreading. So do you have the capacity to maintain it over time to keep listening to keep being to keep devoting attention to those words, speaking to you? How will you measure success is another important question. And it’s related to the first one, like, will you rate it? Will you measure success because you have more comments in your social media, more likes more shares, more listeners, or you will measure success? Because conversations are super meaningful? Or because you’ve got to a mobilize 10 people, 10 strangers to gather in a cafe and get to know each other? Like, how will you measure success? That’s important, and it varies a lot. It depends on what’s your focus? Are you willing to listen actively? Which is, which is like, the that question, right? Because, as I said, you know, like, we know, each of us know, when we are being listened. And I as an engagement editor, I’m on social media, a human being like I go to social media, and it’s very easy for me to see when a company or even a person and influence or whatever, is asking questions, just because they want to show or perform, that they’re popular, and that they’re relevant in their communities, not because they really care about what they’re asking, or a you know that because of the way they engage with those responses, right. And also, the last one is, what communities are meaningful to you? And this is a question that I asked myself all the time, as a citizen as me, like, what are those communities are meaningful to me? And why like, why is it so important to me to participate in this? A conversation around X or Y, like, why why? Why do I feel so invested in this or that immunity? Why I’m so why am I so like, Why do I feel so engaged in conversations around this or that topic. Because those communities that are meaningful to you will give you will be a reference to the communities that you want to create, right? That you want to that you want to connect. At the end, you don’t create a community when you connect. So the first principle is defining your mission. It’s like, that’s first for like, stage one. It’s like how, what’s your value? And how do you articulate that value in a narrative that connects with people? And I, I usually think about missions as as a narrative. Like, if there is a narrative, there must be a conflict, right? What’s the main problem that you’re tackling? And after asking that, why you should, why are you invested there? Why are you interested in that? Why What Why are you prepared to lead in this in this scenario, this environment? And what’s your plan? What makes your approach effective and unique? And who are your allies? So in Radio Ambulante’s mission, for example, is to bring greater understanding about Latin America using audio storytelling? That’s it. Right. And
Jorge Caraballo 49:49
that’s, that bring greater understanding about Latin America and Latin and Latinos in the West. It’s something that it’s easy to connect with because Latinos and Latinas that we have been so affected by stereotypes in outside Latin America, and even inside Latin America, that to bring greater understanding means that we’re challenging those stereotypes. And the way to challenge those stereotypes is telling stories that show complex characters that live ordinary lives. But they’re complex, right? So that complexity, which is in every story of our mandate, is kind of a symbol of what many Latinos and Latinas feel that we just need to, we want to be to be seen as three dimensional human beings and […] in in some environments. So when you see someone who has a mission and has the skills and a good plan, like I belong to those, it’s easier for for listeners to connect to that. And to see live learn more, not only like, one more podcast in your list, but someone who’s helping you to advance that goal, that it’s the goal of that organization to embrace a network mindset. We’re online all the time, right? We’re digital beings now. So what are the communities that are already engaged in conversations around the issues you cover? You need to you need to diagnose? Who are those people who are already interested in those issues? And how does the network structure looks like how are they connected? How many people how how they behave? Like how the information flows in those in those networks. And then you need to engage with those actors. It’s not about this is me, I hold all the truth, I know everything, listen to me, but be humble and say, Hey, let’s just let’s just collaborate like, what are you doing this what I’m planning to do? How can we work together and adapt? Like, and this is mostly in the journalism, that’s it, but like, journalism is no a finished product. It’s not like, it’s not something that it’s already done when you publish it. But it’s, it’s a process. And I think that to understand yourself as part of a process and not as a product. A Yeah, not as a production. Company, a helps a lot to engage with people. So this is the mindset of the of the productivity factory, and in which things are just only directional. And in networks, it’s like something that it’s going on, and it’s flowing in many directions, and it’s connecting you with many anymore. It’s not one to many, but many to many a go to know get to know those who share your purpose. So now that you have diagnosed were those who are already interested in what you’re doing, like get to know them, like, where are they? Where your listeners listen to them, what are their question, what are they needs? Maybe a lot of you here know about design thinking or human centered design. And it’s just that it’s like, Who is the person who’s listening to you? Why do they find you valuable? What are their stuff they need? And maybe can you serve them? So this is why we ended up doing lupa, for example, that that app for Spanish learners, we knew that they were listening to Radio Ambulante because they wanted to learn Spanish. So we made it easier. A and at the same time, we made it profitable, collaborate, but then no, two Welcome to helping hands. Like that’s why we ask people, you have great ideas, we we cannot come up with new ideas every week alone. So let us know what kind of stories would you like us to tell? And like just inviting them and knowing and making making them know, that you’re open to that makes a huge difference. And finally get the data use surveys. We did a survey every year. We call people within person meetings with people understanding Yes, like, how can we serve you serve you better? Share your expertise. And this is what I was saying about being reciprocal online. Like, give, give give like this is, to me the spirit of the internet is Share, share, share, because and this is super hippie, I’m sorry. But I think when you share in a network, it comes back somehow, right? If you’re actually part of a network, so
Jorge Caraballo 54:44
like, for three years, we were giving, giving giving to the community. We were not asking for money, all the specific occasions like giving Tuesday like specific days, but we were mostly giving and when we felt ready to Install the membership program immediately. It’s sorry coming in. And I am aware, I’m aware that it’s very hard to give three years a if you’re not getting back, if you don’t have other revenue streams, we had the privilege of having to grants and your budget, you get the concept like it’s you’re in a network, you have give, and you receive, you give you receive, respect people’s attention, because there’s a lot of noise out there. And I think this is a, you know, this is a huge problem of the internet. Right now we’re saturated, saturated with information, our attention span is limited. So let’s do things that stand out and that are valuable to people and that feel useful and meaningful and not, let’s just not to make more noise. recognizer advanced sports, like your blind spots, because many times A, we are so narrow minded with the way we see the world, that we forget that there are many things that we just don’t know that we don’t do, right. And we should be humble and ask like, Hey, how can I get better. So this is ways in which we share our expertise, we did a lot of workshops, like a like in which we taught otter is how to do a good interview for radio, or in which we, in in a website with greatest whatever I’m planting, which is free resources for those who want to produce stories, or we create a newsletter in which we were, we were recommending every week, things that were inspiring us online. So other podcasts, you see videos, stories, so we were all the time, which is sharing, sharing, sharing, this one to meet super important and it’s related to the first part of the of this talk in which you should develop rituals and routines. Because a I think networks and this is a quote from Guido Caldarelli networks, right to explain how a set of isolated elements are transformed to a pattern of interactions into groups and communities. And what are those interactions, what’s the pattern of interactions that you can facilitate? So a group is created, right? You have a network, maybe some people are interested in what you’re interested. But that doesn’t mean that there is a group, and the community is formed, when those interactions become regular, become constant. And they, they have a pattern, right? So gather meaningfully a constant, and make it unpredictable. And sometimes we feel that, yes, to talk to people or to get together, that’s to ask me anything, or just let’s do Twitter space, and then you just get stuck in those kinds of platforms. And there’s much, there are many more ways to get together. And if you’re not creative, people will just start seeing it as noise and repetitive. So you need to create refreshing ways of gathering meaningfully. There’s a great book, that it’s called The Art of Gathering that I recommend, if you’re planning to learn more about this. So this is an example we publish a story about a girl who was kidnapped, kidnapped in Latin America. And then we just asked people, but the story was about the family album of the family who were trying to find her in the in the story. And then people started sending pictures of their own family albums, which was great. So it was a way to connect people around the issue of at episode a listening clubs. That is another way. This is a virtual club, just like just expand the repertoire of of rituals that you do to connect people set rules to preserve trust, which is essential. If people don’t trust those in the group. They won’t participate. So you need to create a code of conduct moderated with data for the listening clubs. We did that for every space online that we had be a connector. It’s not only that you connect with your listeners, but you connect listeners among each other and see your community as a team. So these are pictures of the listen to Bob’s these are like these are not strangers to us to us. These listeners are part of Radio Ambulante, and we see the collective
Jorge Caraballo 59:51
expertise and knowledge as our knowledge. Choose the right platform. And this is key try to only tour channels because if you devote all your engagement work to Instagram, Twitter to Facebook, once they change the rules, then you’re screwed. So you need to own your channels. So have a mailing list for example, there’s a phone numbers, that helps a lot. Make it horizontal, like how can you connect with people, not inaccurate article way, but more like, at the same level, and explore sometimes it’s great to do it online. But sometimes it’s great just to do it offline. In Radio Ambulante’s case we had our own channel. So this is the podcast feed, we publish our episodes and people like this is something that we own. It’s an error RSS that we own, or a WhatsApp, WhatsApp, we had a huge lease of like 3000, almost 4000 listeners, a WhatsApp didn’t allow us to create like broadcast lists, we took all those numbers. And those numbers, phone numbers are ours. It’s they’re not of WhatsApp. So that gave us an ability to react against a change of rules. But we still use the app invoice we like last year, we still are using the app in which in ways that were useful. And this is a newsletter, which is an also a list that you use, as a media that you use that you own sorry. And finally make it look unique. Like the visuals and the style. They say a lot about who you are, even before people start reading you’re listening to you. So these are illustrations for different episodes of Biollante that are made by artists in the region. And his original original artwork that sends out in social media. We had this design team a yes, that made it look unique. And that is very important if you really want to stand out. And finally enjoy. Because I think that social, like the engagement thing, it’s about getting together in creative ways. And joy is a big part of it. If it’s boring, unfortunately, there are many boring instances in people lives. So you just have to make fun. And some useful frameworks. This is a this is a membership guide of a membership portal project, which was a project a New York University and they studied how people become become members like how an individual they is just becoming aware of five grand then becomes a really huge engage ambassadors the grant. So that is a useful framework that you could study is a book called Get Together, which is also like a guidebook to understand different communities, and how can you create or replicate that the things that they that they found out there. And also this one, it’s super tight to me was very, a orienting. It’s called the Community Campus, which divides the community building process into three sections that are divided in themes that are very, very useful to. So that’s it. From me a thank you so much for listening, and I will be happy to answer questions. And yeah, and just to talk. Thank you. I will stop sharing. Thank you,
Heather Hendershot 1:03:33
Jorge. We’re all muted. So I think other people are applauding, but maybe can only hear me. Um, so yeah, let’s open up to questions. We have 20 minutes or so for discussion who would like to kick us off? I think Tomás had his hand up there first.
Tomás Guarna 1:03:55
Great. Thank you for a fantastic talk. And I especially interested in the pump that you mentioned, your revenue strategies and how you monetize how you made it party sustainable, which I think is super interesting. And I was wondering on I understand that this is kind of the most pressing problem for independent media. And I was wondering if you could share some advice you would give to to others similar products or interesting monetizing their platform their their medium, I might not make it sustainable.
Jorge Caraballo 1:04:25
Yes, yes. I think that it at the like the bottom line to me, but you know, like to to someone with a hammer, everything is a nail and to me that I’m thinking about communities. To me, the bottom line is to have a community that actually it’s actually invested in what you do. So for example, I am part of a community in Colombia that is led by this woman who’s publishing content about how can we be more friendly and loving with the earth right how can we be more calm? of what we’re doing to the earth. And she has been publishing in a blog for like 10 years. And like, two years ago, she was like, hey, if I if I, if I want to keep doing this, but I cannot do it without your support. So she created this Patreon. And hundreds, maybe 1000s of people are part of that community, and allow her to do that. But they they are, they are so engaged. Because she has been constant. She has been generous, she’s clever, she’s insightful. She’s what she publishes useful, it has changed our lives, it makes us feel part of, of something that is larger than ourselves. It’s it, it connects like she is a referent of the change that we want to make. And when you become that, when you’re if you’re an independent media, if your mission is very clear, and what you’re doing, it’s really useful. And you are effective, inviting people to follow your work to make it better, if you’re listening to them, and ask them, hey, what you need, and how can I help you, when you get to the point in which the community is large enough, and it’s eventually it will eventually happen, then you can say, okay, like, this is what we have, we’re together, we’re part of this, you are connected to each other, because we’re doing this work. If we want to keep doing this together, we need, we need your support, and your financial support. And it’s completely okay to say that openly. And people respond in ways that surprise you like, positive voice that surprised you. So my advice is, is that is like, give, be useful, listen back, a serve to the needs of the people and make your purpose super clear. So people feel that you are at fascination that is your mission. And that is their mission too.
Tomás Guarna 1:07:16
Is it already if I do a small follow up question. Alright, so thank you. Thank you for that particular it seems really interesting. And it’s true that once a community gets a certain size, then it is there, you can find a slice that is willing to fund your right. But I wonder if, if, if How do you like if you’ve been given your community free content for a while? Why would they expect to pay you which is what I see a lot of content creators grab, grab grapple with, right? Like how do you communicate to them that your work needs to be funded in a in a situation where there’s so much content is available for free, right?
Jorge Caraballo 1:07:54
So I recommend you to check and study episode, this is something that you’re you’re trying to do go and with the membership guide. And it’s part of the membership portal project, it was their final project. So the membership puzzle project is still there, but a in a new way. But there’s something called the membership guide that they produced last year. And they dissected a lot of organizations that have been in that exact situation like how we how do we do how we create membership, like how can we make people support us. And they have a lot of cases, which are super, super interesting. But I just want to highlight something that they say, and one of the reasons why people become members is not because of the content, but because of the community. Because if you if you connect a community, and then people will feel that if you’re not there, the community will not be there. And they don’t want that loss. They don’t want to lose that community. Because the community is where it’s giving a lot of value to their lives. So somehow, if creating the community is at the same time creating the base for your sustainability, because the community is what people value and they will pay to be part of that community. Great, thank you. So yes, and that’s the membership. Yes, that’s the membership guide, and we put in the chat. Thank you.
Heather Hendershot 1:09:34
Oh, good. Yeah, I saw that question. Thank you, Andrew. Next we have Ámbar.
Ámbar Reyes 1:09:39
Thank you, Heather. Thank you, Jorge, for these amazing stuff I was especially interested in when you were talking about like making this story growth and started telling us on open in that process. But I was wondering how did you choose which specific like episodes or themes to use for your community? engagement in social media, because I’m assuming that not all episodes, were, you know, like you continue using it. So yeah,
Jorge Caraballo 1:10:10
yeah, definitely, there are some episodes like political episodes that are just like, No, there’s not, there’s not no human. It’s harder to identify with. So the episodes that that we use for this kind of exercises were those episodes in which you as, in which the universal experience of the character was easier to see was, was easy to identify. So migration, for example, or a your connection to a city, your, your relationship with your with it with an object, like a precious object in your family, things that you’re like, Oh, yes, I get this, I get this, I get this, I have that, like, like, I can translate that into my life super easily. But those episodes that were more focused on hyper specific things of the reality of Latin America, a, they were harder to translate it to this kind of engagement. But yes, like, it’s human experience and the universal like, universal, universal experience.
Ámbar Reyes 1:11:23
Heather Hendershot 1:11:26
Thank you. Um, I was wondering if you could, you talked about so many successful engagement strategies? Um, well, first, I want to say I’m super impressed by your optimism about the internet. And there’s a moment where you actually said the internet is for listening. And I was like, that’s great, because of course, we’ve all had sort of the opposite experience, and especially with with Twitter, right, and things can can go awry. And, you know, I just wonder if you could talk about some of your engagement strategies that maybe failed, or were less strong. And you know, what you learn from that for going forward?
Jorge Caraballo 1:12:07
Oh, yes. Many of them. Many, many, many, like many of engagement prompts had see responses, five responses, a. And I think that one thing that we learned, after many failures is that you can not ask people to think a lot like to reflect a lot before starting typing and started thinking about their interaction or their intervention. So many questions felt, like, paper questions. And people won’t, like stop their social media feed, to write down homework, they just don’t want that. They just want to have fun, or they just want to go to a place in their mind, which is not the place in their mind that they have to go to write down a thesis, right? So it needs to be closer to their heart, it needs to be a need to be in that sweet spot of emotionally, emotions and argument, a, and that is very hard to craft into a prompt. So many of the crowns were felt like very mental make very rational. And people just ignore that completely. So in many of the stories in some of the stories, we asked people to give opinions that they were not interested in thinking about the complexity of the situation in their own lives. And because very, because the prompt is difficult, very few responses happen. And because very few responses happen, less people said, and at the end, it’s just buried in the feed. So that’s something right, that we learn about, about how to craft prompts. A, and how can you be How can you be creative and meaningful at the same time? At the beginning of the pandemic, we did an exercise that were that was relatively frivolous, super, like, it was? Yes, it was stupid. […] seen as stupid. But it worked. A and it was like, we started asking people when we were locked down all around the world. We wanted to understand how are they perceiving the world? So we focus on a sense every week, a different sense every week. So we started asking people, show us what you’re seeing. A send us a picture of what you’re seeing in that first window on your right hand. And then hundreds of things and they send us. I don’t remember which set like all of the senses, but every sense had a different prompt, and it worked. And what did what what happened? What, what we were trying to do is to understand the community as a body as a single body with 1000s of eyes, each listener was an eye, each listener was like a nose flavor, what what did you What was the last thing that you read in this pandemic, or before the pandemic started something like that. So we were thinking about the community as a as a huge system as a huge body. And I say this, this was a successful case. But I say this, because what you want is to go to the senses go to the sensual, before, before of the mind, of course, some topics are good to think about and to, like, be rational, and to have some conversations, it’s very hard to have that. By the way, you go to what you’re feeling. And when you touch that in people, people immediately start participating. So the sweet spot between the sensual and the rational, it’s something that we learned after many failures.
Heather Hendershot 1:16:20
Thank you. Um, do we have any other questions? We I have one more? Oh, Andrew. Yes. Yes,
Andrew Whitacre 1:16:31
Thank you so much for this has been wonderful. You really got me thinking about reminding me of an experience that I had, when you talked about the listening groups. So this was several years ago, I taught a podcasting class. And one of the things I was worried about was the selections that I had for for listening, where students can engage with them. So during MIT’s January, sort of period where you can teach whatever class if you want, I invited people to come listen to the things I was going to use in the semester long class. And that was the first time I’d been in a room with people sitting around the table, and a speaker in the center, all listening to the same thing at the same time. And I realized that, gosh, like 99% of the time that we’re consuming media, whether it’s in a movie theater at a concert hall, televisions, in our own house, everything we’re just we’re sitting staring at the same thing in the same direction. As opposed to those rooms, where you’re listening to something and you’re sitting around, you’re watching each other react to the same things and sort of getting a read of each other’s faces. I guess my question was, you guys also did that over zoom? Is that right?
Jorge Caraballo 1:17:51
Andrew Whitacre 1:17:52
Can you did people have the same experience during those groups over zoom, like maybe to through a computer screen as they did when they were listening in person together?
Andrew Whitacre 1:18:03
I think I think yes, but it’s harder. And of course, there are many things that you cannot read. In a, like in a in a screen, because when you’re when you’re in a room in a round table, as you say, watching each other you can feel the energy if you can, you can feel the attention of the room, you can feel the tension, you can feel the what’s flowing, right, if you become like a single entity, and and when someone is anxious when someone is a feeling nervous, because speaking up about something that it’s hard to process, there are many things that you read in the body. In some, it’s easier, I think, just to be a little bit distant. But overall, the quality of the conversation I think was was very good in some so it was less emotional. It was less emotional. But it was good. Like, it was it was insightful. It was diverse. It gave new ideas. Sure. Like, one of the things that sometimes we did listening clubs for stories before publishing them, to see if there were things that were not clear that we’re not that were that could be improved. And that was great in person or in zoom like that worked either way. But I think that when you get in a room with strangers, when it’s like in soon, they’re listening clubs where 100 300 people there in a in a in a room were 12 to 15 people. So there’s kind of like there is more vulnerability there. Right? There’s more a it’s more fragile. And and that’s something that you cannot replicate digitally.
Heather Hendershot 1:19:58
I think we will. We’ve got one last question I want to take from the attendees who aren’t in the the panelist side of it. Um, this is from Aguinaldo Melo, who asked how do you see podcasts serving as a medium to enable storytelling? And how do you think we can promote a similar kind of storytelling them on other mediums? This is a question of the medium or the message?
Jorge Caraballo 1:20:29
That’s the question. I think that podcasts has had, they have its own thing. It’s very, like, we can go here into what makes podcasts different from radio, I think that it’s mostly the same, but there’s a huge difference, which is that you know, who’s listening to you. And because you know, who’s listening to you, there is there’s a reciprocal relationship. And there, there is a connection that you cannot have on radio, of course, a radio there were, you knew that were there were like groups of people listening to you, you could know where you’re a average listener, or they could send you things, letters, whatever. But in podcasts, there’s this because we’re, it’s a digital medium, you have data on who’s listening to you where a when the attention is dropping, you know, you have many data points that inform you about who’s on the other side at the same time, like they can just read, you can calculate your reviews, essential emails. So that ability to know who’s on the other side gives you if you’re, if you’re paying attention, or shapes, if you’re paying attention the way you talk to that person, right? So I think that podcast, good podcast, feel so close to you, because they know who you are, because they’re seeing you, right? Almost in real time. Now, in real time, whether it’s data is so fresh, that they know, they’re and they know how to talk to you and you feel that the podcast you love or talking to you, not to people, similar to you, but to you. And I cannot emphasize that enough. So I think that this is about the medium, of course, that enables the storytelling feel so close. But I think that I think it’s possible to replicate that or that that could be translated to other medium digital mediums, right. But I don’t know if that’s the case in the other mediums. So if as a journalist that has experimented in magazines, in a video documentaries in radio, and podcast, I like the one in which I see higher engagement, much higher engagement is in podcasts.
Heather Hendershot 1:23:05
That is really interesting. I’m really glad that we got into some issues about medium specificity at the end there those great I think that Wade Roush, who’s in our attendee pool, might summarize things the best for us to close out he said, fantastic sessions, so inspirational for those of us working to build community and podcasting, congrats, Jorge, and enjoy the rest of your year at Harvard, I would echo that. Thank you so much. And I’m just going to say one more thing, just put in a little plug for next week’s colloquium series, we have Hillary Chute speaking from Northeastern, and she’s going to be talking about Maus. And I’ll just add that, you know, we arranged this maybe almost two months ago, um, she said her project was about the, you know, continuing relevance of Maus and she was sort of asking like, you still feel like it’s relevant. And I was like, Oh, absolutely. And of course, this was before the recent crisis and controversy around Maus in Tennessee, so it’s a good it’s going to be terrific, terrific talk. So I will see all the grad students there, and I hope to see many of our other attendees there as well. Thank you again, Jorge. And good night to everyone.
Jorge Caraballo 1:24:13
Hey, thank you so much. Bye bye.