For the past 18 months, Northcentral Electric Cooperative has been “enthusing” its members with its Nfused video podcasts. The Olive Branch, Mississippi-based distribution cooperative and 100 percent CFC borrower is one of only a handful of electric cooperatives that produce podcasts, but the on-demand communication medium has resonated with Northcentral’s 30,000-plus members.
“The goal with our podcasts is to touch our members routinely with news from their co-op, as well as community activities, and sometimes local musical talent,” said Kevin Doddridge, Northcentral general manager and CEO.
Doddridge decided to get Northcentral into the podcasting game after several trips to the Washington, D.C., area. “It was based on time I spent at NRECA board meetings,” Doddridge said. “I saw so many young adults with their earbuds on while they were commuting to work, walking or riding the train. I discovered most were getting their morning news or entertainment ‘on demand’ via podcasts.”
Northcentral’s monthly podcasts—which are available in both audio and video formats—usually run about 30 minutes and are posted the same day they are recorded. “Due to us being unscripted, sometimes we run a little long,” Doddridge explained. “I’d like to get the time down a little and have it match up with the average commute in our area.”
Northcentral's Podcast Illustrates the Cooperative Difference
The podcasts are an important part of Northcentral’s approach to member engagement.
“This is a time when many look at power companies and large corporations with mistrust. We have to let our members know how we’re different,” Doddridge said.
“In the future, I believe member engagement will have to focus more on meeting your members where they are,” he added. “They’re busy and not likely to come to you. They need to know your name and your role at the co-op. Most importantly, they need to know that you are listening and accessible.”
Northcentral usually gets between 1,000 and 2,500 viewers/listeners for each podcast. The most popular podcasts tend to be those with company-specific information, Doddridge said—like those earlier this year in which the cooperative discussed its name change from “Northcentral Electric Power Association” to “Northcentral Electric Cooperative,” and its announcement about creating an affiliate to provide high-speed broadband service to members.
Moderated by Northcentral Media Specialist Justin Jaggers, the podcasts usually take the form of a roundtable discussion featuring Doddridge; J.D. Cox, director of Safety and Loss Control; and Michael Bellipanni, director of Marketing and Business Development.
Topics are chosen based on what is in the news or what has happened recently. “We’ll see if a particular month has a theme, like safety for Electrical Safety Month. We’ll also give updates on projects of interest like broadband or substation construction. We’ll have legislative updates and community events. We stress keeping information current.”
Members Rate Podcast Five Stars
The response from members has been very positive. “Our members really appreciate the local, community-focused information. They anticipate it each month, and if we’re late posting it for some reason, they’ll contact us to find out when it’s available. We even had a member contact us to ask why one of our podcast regulars wasn’t able to make it one month.”
Northcentral promotes the podcasts across its social media channels, its monthly print publication and its website. “While print media may touch more members, the podcasts allow members to see and hear us, which is important for engagement,” Doddridge explained, especially for younger members. “We want the podcasts to appeal to all members, but we have identified a large group of our membership aged 35 to 45 that we need to connect with. The podcasts help.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has not affected the podcast productions, Doddridge remarked, apart from practicing enhanced spacing during the video shoot, to set an example for viewers.
Doddridge Shares Podcasting Advice
For other cooperatives that might be interested in getting into podcasting, Doddridge recommends keeping it “short, relevant, somewhat entertaining, and produced on a set schedule.”
Check out Northcentral’s Nfused podcasts today or on Apple Podcasts.
For more information on the importance of member engagement, see CFC’s recently released publication, “Why Engaging Consumers Tops the List of Utility Goals in 2020.”
To learn more about what Doddridge and other cooperatives are doing to keep members updated during the pandemic, review the Solutions News Bulletin article on “Overcoming COVID-19 Challenges: Cooperative Communicators Share Best Practices.”