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Do podcasts create social impact?


Tuesday, 22nd October 2019 at 8:54 am
Mike Davis
Mike Davis looks at how podcasts are making a move into behavioural science and social change, and questions whether they are having an impact.


Tuesday, 22nd October 2019
at 8:54 am
Mike Davis


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Do podcasts create social impact?
Tuesday, 22nd October 2019 at 8:54 am

Mike Davis looks at how podcasts are making a move into behavioural science and social change, and questions whether they are having an impact.

I’ve been thinking lately about podcasting and whether it creates or enhances social impact. A key question here is what are you seeking to change or what is the intended outcome? 

In my recent Pro Bono Australia webinar on communicating social progress, I talked about an outcome being a change in people’s behaviour, attitude, circumstances, knowledge or skills. 

Of course many podcasts will not have a socially oriented change as their intended outcome. Many will aim to simply increase your knowledge of a set subject, transfer certain skills or even just encourage you to buy tickets for a comedian’s upcoming tour or their merchandise! 

But increasingly, great podcasts have the ability to inspire us to think better, do better and inspire others. Two examples in particular come to mind: behavioural science and social change. 

Behavioural science

A trend I’ve been enjoying in podcasts in Australia is the popularity of podcasts focusing on human behaviour and behavioural science. 

Now more than ever, we are intrigued by the quest to understand the hidden forces at play in shaping our behaviour. A glance at the top charts shows Freakonomics, 99% Invisible, Planet Money, Invisibilia, The Happiness Lab and Malcolm Gladwell’s iconic Revisionist History all entrenched in the Top 30.

These podcasts focus on decoding history, stories or events and leaving you with lessons on classic human behaviour, cognitive biases and programming. Learning about these enables us to be aware of these behaviours and biases, put a name to them and to consider a different way of navigating these situations in the world. 

So we may have an increase in knowledge, attitude and possibly behaviours as a result of engaging with these shows. In short, we can adopt better behavioural algorithms that help us to improve our wellbeing. For example, last week’s Happiness Lab episode explored how the shift to convenient technologies reduced waiting times but also reduced opportunities for improved wellbeing that come from waiting line opportunities to talk to strangers. It turns out that waiting for the bank teller is better for you than whizzing through an ATM withdrawal. Who would have thunk it?

The lesson here was that both introverts and extroverts win in terms of wellbeing gains from taking idle opportunities to talk to strangers. Knowing the extreme damage that social isolation does to people and community, what a great potential mass behaviour change that would be.

Social change

Another breed of podcasts is emerging that deals with emerging social issues, social advocacy and ways that people can engage with a higher purpose and create a greater social impact overall. 

Podcasts such as Schwartz Media’s 7am can turn the spotlight on the political landscape and its intersection with social and community life. As a more informed and knowledgeable populus we can engage more with political and civic life to influence progressive change.

ABC’s podcast All In The Mind sheds light on mental health and wellbeing issues faced by many in our community and emerging ways to help and support this community. Whereas, Osher Gunsberg is able to speak openly and honestly about mental health with his guests on his show Better Than Yesterday. These shows help to shift our attitudes about mental health and those with mental health conditions. 

At Humans of Purpose, we focus on sharing inspiring conversations with purpose-driven leaders in Australia, who are creating social impact through their work. We do this to help people better understand and navigate towards work that creates or supports better community outcomes. We tell the stories of social changemakers and discuss their journey and impact. 

Our recent episode with Jo Gleeson, national philanthropy manager at World Vision Australia, is a great example of a powerful story of change that has inspired many toward generosity.

You may be wondering: Is this having any impact?

Talking impact

From our recent annual listener experience survey, we know that 68 per cent of our podcast audience listen to Humans of Purpose to improve their thinking or mindset, and 24 per cent do so to actively consider their career path and a move to more meaningful work. 

Here is what others say about why they use the podcast:

“To be inspired by and learn from people using their talents for good – and to understand the growing good business community.”

“To hear from the awesome, inspiring humans you interview – always feel uplifted and motivated after listening” 

“For the great stories and conversation with your guests. Your ability to bring out the stories in people. The tangible advice that your guests give that is relevant to many aspects of life. Getting inspired by what people are able to achieve.” 

Our listeners have had some great outcomes too with one listener identifying an opportunity via one episode to pitch for and then win $30,000 to feed hungry kids. 

Other listeners have made valuable connections and started purpose-driven businesses and social change projects:

“It probably helped me realise that this [purpose-driven work] is a legitimate space to work in. Since listening to the podcast I’ve started to dedicate my services to businesses/ organisations in this space, as a freelancer. Now I realise its a growing space!”

Upcoming webinar

If you’ve been contemplating getting into podcasting and wondering how it might work with your brand, marketing and organisation and translate to impact over time, then our upcoming 60-minute webinar – Podcasting for Impact is for you! 

Join me and Pro Bono Australia for what is sure to be an awesome session that gives you the context, tools and key information you need to get involved in podcasting in a sustainable and impactful way.  

This session is ideal for those who have long considered starting a podcast for their organisation, but weren’t quite ready… until now. It will also help those trying to go from the basics to intermediate, helping stable podcasts to grow and thrive. 


Mike Davis  |  @mikedav84

Mike Davis is head of strategy at TaskForce Community Agency. TaskForce is a not for profit, supporting youth and adult clients in their recovery from alcohol and drug issues in Melbourne’s South East.


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