(By Brendan Monaghan) The two questions I hear most from podcasters are, in order: 1) How do I grow my audience? and, 2) How do I make more money?
That’s the correct order because in podcasting, as in many other media, revenue follows audience. Plus, while the money is essential to keep your show going and your business running, the real joy of podcasting comes from interacting with a big, engaged, appreciative group of listeners. My advice is always to focus on audience first.
So how much can you do if you’re just starting out and you aren’t able to book big-name guests on your show, or convince Apple Podcasts to feature you on their front page, or ask Ira Glass to run an excerpt of your show on This American Life? Actually, there’s a lot you can do.
“Start Shorter, Earn Longer”: As my friend and colleague Andy Bowers likes to say, it’s critical that content creators make it easy for new listeners to try their shows. Despite being an audio medium, people still use their eyes when selecting a podcast. That means the title, the description, even the cover art are all important. But imagine seeing a new podcast with a 97-minute first episode. Would you commit that much time? We recommend starting at 20-25 minutes. If your audience asks for more, great. You’re doing something right.
Start small, put out great content and have them coming back for more.
Consistent Publishing: Once listeners find your show and decide they like it, they want to know they can depend on it. Some people plan their commutes, exercise routines, and even household chores around podcasts they love. Whatever frequency you promise your listeners (and we generally recommend weekly), make sure they know when you’ll publish, and that you keep to your promised schedule.
Slate once received an irate listener call when their long-running show The Political Gabfest published a day late. The caller explained that he relied on the podcast to help him plan his own television program, The Colbert Report. Yes, they had annoyed Stephen Colbert.
Build a schedule, listeners will follow it.
Build Community: Podcast listeners get very attached to shows they like, and to the people who host them. They like to have ways to communicate with the podcasters, to offer feedback, to disagree with you, and to contribute to future episodes. There are lots of ways to build a community with your audience. Some podcasters start Facebook groups, which can be good if you’re willing to post a lot. Others favor different social media platforms. Podcaster Gretchen Rubin maintains a robust blog and also hosts a Facebook Live video chat every week between her podcast episodes to answer questions from listeners. (Gretchen has also written a “Podcast Manifesto” of best practices.) The more listeners feel like they’re part of a community, the longer they stick with you.
Engage your audience. They want to be heard as much as they want to hear you.
Cross-Promote: While some conventional wisdom is outdated and unhelpful, here’s a piece of advice that’s both given a lot and still true: The easiest place to find new listeners is on another podcast. The main way podcasters do this is by trading promos with other, similar shows. Mostly that’s a labor-intensive, one-on-one process between two networks or even two podcasters.
Appearing on other podcasts can also expose you to new listeners. Of course, getting invited on other shows takes relationship building. Often you can start by inviting hosts from podcasts you admire on your own show. It’s a barter economy, and you can only take part if you’re willing to give something up.
Find a way to help other podcasts grow and watch them do the same for you.
These are only a few methods, but podcasters who embrace these tactics and seek to develop new ones are the podcasters who build great audiences and keep them.
Brendan Monaghan is the CEO at Panoply. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org