5 Ways To Grow Listenership

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(By John Dennis) There are two questions I hear most often when it comes to podcasting: “How do I start a podcast?” and, “How do I grow my audience?” With all the recent chatter about podcasting in the mediasphere, both new and seasoned creators alike are flocking to launch a podcast, and with that, will eventually concede to that unshakable urge to check their download stats. It won’t be long before the inevitable question arises: How the heck do I grow my podcast listenership?


Let’s begin with this: If you want to be successful at this podcasting thing, you need to grow your listenership. Whether you’re just starting out or have been podcasting for years, there’s no denying the necessity of healthy audience growth. It is, quite literally, the lifeblood of your show. Here are five strategies to get your audience growth on the right track for 2019 and beyond.

1. Start With Value, End With Value
People listen to your podcast because they want to be entertained, educated, inspired, and/or motivated — they want value.

I cannot tell you how many podcasts I’ve listened to where the host rambles and rants on about their life, their misery, their week, or their kids and family. You can’t expect to grow, or even retain, your audience if you’re wasting their precious time in the beginning of your podcast with rambling that’s absent any meaningful value or reward.

Instead, take up Albert Einstein on his advice: “Try not to become a podcaster of success but rather try to become a podcaster of value.” (Okay, so I may have botched a word or two there.)

The point stands though. Ask yourself before setting out to record your next episode: Is what I’m about to talk about of benefit and value to my audience?

Lead with value, and wrap with value. Your audience will remember you for it. And it’s a surefire way for growing your listenership.

2. Start (and Build) An Email List Immediately
This one is a big opportunity for every podcaster. I cannot stress how valuable email marketing can be for helping you build relationships with your listeners and growing your audience. Simply put, it’s a perfect tool for sending show updates, asking for feedback, surveying your audience, sharing industry news, teasing upcoming episodes, and converting listeners into customers.

Your email list is the tether between you and your listeners between episodes, it’s the megaphone for attracting new listeners (when you ask your subscribers, the most loyal of your listeners, to share an episode), and so much more. Moreover, most people like receiving emails; it’s measurable, scalable, and your efforts produce compound results over time.

A good place to start is to simply create something of value for your audience in exchange for their email address. This could simply be a newsletter and new episode updates, a checklist or resource guide, or pretty much anything. You could be a comedian podcaster and offer a list of 20 family-friendly holiday jokes for the dining table, for example.

Start building your email list right away if you haven’t yet. The possibilities are endless and the results are tremendously worthwhile.

3. Be Intentional About Creating Your Faithful Following
It’s not hard to get a follower in today’s social media crazed society, but it is a bit more challenging to create a faithful following. Having worked with celebrities and influencers ranging from a few thousand to a few million followers in my digital marketing agency, I’ve picked up on some common denominators among those who amass a large fan base. The biggest of all? They’re intentional about it.

They give their community an identity and name, create cool reward systems, constantly invite people to engage with them, launch social media communities and groups, build opportunities for people to help shape their content and programming, and more.

Here’s where you can start: Make it super simple for your listeners to subscribe to your podcast, be on every podcast player platform, make good on your commitments, grow your email list and send emails at least weekly, and don’t hesitate to create multi-episode content every now and then to get people used to coming back for more value.

4. Collaborate With Other Podcasters
This tried and true method is one that will always work. Collaboration, no matter the model, industry, or medium, is one of the best ways to grow. Seek others whose podcasts you might be a good fit for, and offer up your value in exchange for theirs. Sometimes, you might find others who just want to feature you as their guest, which is a fantastic way to grow.

The more podcasts you can be a guest on, the faster you’ll grow your audience — especially when you land the occasional podcast with a huge audience. Every time you have a guest on your show, ask them for an introduction to someone they know who they think would be a good fit for yours. This can go a long way.

Unfortunately, not everyone has a collaborative mindset, but it’s their loss. Some people may even be scarcity-minded and envious, and you’re better off staying away — so move on fast and don’t get bogged down with those types of people. Stay focused on the opportunities in front of you, knock on doors, wiggle door handles, and maybe even nudge one open every now and then. Collaboration holds opportunities for audience growth galore.

5. Play The Long Game
Every decision you make affects your next opportunity for growth. Never make short-sighted decisions in lieu of a long-term benefit. Don’t rest on your laurels, either. Just when you think you’ve “made it,” a big lesson around the corner is waiting to come drop-kick you in the rear. Be prepared for the ebbs and flows, the peaks and valleys. Handling discouragement is part of the success game, and the more consistent you are, the more success you’ll have with your audience growth.

With that said, never stop measuring and iterating. Always seek feedback. Adopt the philosophy of “Kaizen” — that is, continuous improvement. In due time, you’ll grow your listenership by leaps and bounds, youíll reap the rewarding byproducts of such accomplishments, and maybe then you can teach the new generation of podcasters your own wise ways.

John Dennis is the co-owner of the top-rated international podcasting conference, Podfest Multimedia Expo, and founder of the full-service digital marketing agency Vx3 Digital. He is also co-host of Podcasters’ Week, a yearly summer trip taken with podcaster volunteers to Guatemala to help children and their families living in extreme poverty through building stoves, laying concrete floors, and providing after-school crafts, games, and education.

He can be reached at john@podfestexpo.com

3 COMMENTS

  1. Hi John,

    I appreciated your “5 Ways to Grow” article. I have a couple coments and one point of disagreement.

    Your comments about rambling podcasters really rang a bell. Many hosts think they need a comedy monolog (which is rarely funny), long opening music, credits or other “padding” to start an episode. My background in radio makes me cringe when I hear this. This is especially damaging for first-time listeners. Waste their first 60 seconds spent with you, and they’ll be gone.

    Your suggestions regarding e-mail and intentional creation of a following are spot-on. You’ll likely lose 5 – 10% of your listeners every month, even if you’re doing everything right. Good management of email and promotions can mitigate this somewhat, and may even get some of the lost to rejoin, but real growth only hapens when you recruit more than enough new listeners to cover attrition.

    The one bone I’d pick is the recommendation to seek guest spots on other podcasts, and to reciprocate. Some beginner podcasters, especially those serving specific industry niches, can’t pull this off without sounding like mutual admiration societies. If you walk this path, don’t do it too often, stay focused on listener value, and don’t let it become a podcast about podcasting!

    A better route for beginners, in my opinion, is to find guests who have large email lists or social media followings, but don’t have a podcast. Many will invite their lists to hear the episodes in which they were featured.

    By way of background, I enjoyed 30 years as a local radio broadcaster and network host. As a podcaster, I hosted and/or produced over 3,500 episodes serving investment and aerospace industry niches between 2003 and 2012, and hope to return with a new podcast in 2019. Thanks for helping Podcast Business Journal get off the ground!

  2. I have a suggested “Strategy #6”: PodSearch, to reach those who are looking for podcasts.

    This concept behind this strategy is simple. We know from our experience working with podcasters and networks that getting new listeners can be a challenge. So in 2016, I did some research to identify about 30 million people who are looking for podcasts using different search engines and social media which is crazy. Those are lousy places to discover podcasts if you don’t know what you are looking for. That’s why we created PodSearch and launched in June 2017. We wanted a way to put full information about podcasts right in front of those 30 million people with an easy-to-use, free-to-listeners platform on desktop and mobile, including show samples, full bios, searchable text and links to podcast websites and mobile apps. Today we have about half a million people who come to us to find podcasts, and growing.

    Advertisers are similarly lost when it comes to choosing podcasts. For that reason, we decided to incorporate two ways for podcasters to connect with advertisers. First, we provide advertisers with a DIY path that doesn’t involve us in any way; it just allows advertisers to connect directly with podcasters. Second, we have a full-service ad agency we call PodSearchAD to assist brands with that selection and negotiation process.

    There’s a video on our site that podcasters can watch to see how it all works. Podcasters can find that on our site when you click the “Are you a Podcaster” link.

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