(By Tim O’Brien) One of the more common misconceptions when it comes to growing a podcast audience is to assume that high volume on social media leads to more podcast downloads. This seems to make sense. More social engagement leads to more awareness. More awareness leads to more interest in your podcast, and that interest automatically leads to more downloads, right?
That made sense to me … until it didn’t. In my experience as a communications consultant, I’ve seen any number of cases where increased social media engagement did lead to the changes in behaviors we sought.
So, when I launched my podcast in 2018, over 123 episodes ago, I started with the reasonable assumption that so many podcasters do. In order to grow my audience, I had to establish a solid social media footprint and while other measures were required, if I could increase social engagement that would correlate to listenership growth.
Now, after over two years of experience, I realize there are times when nothing could be further from the truth. Case in point, I know several podcasters who get many thousands of downloads every month who have a very small footprint on social.
Reinforcing this, in my own experience I’ve found that some of my most listened-to episodes received virtually no significant social media traction. What has been curious to me is how those episodes have found an audience so readily, while I’ve had other episodes that were widely shared on social did not see a similar spike.
When They’re Not Ready to Listen
Just recently, I produced an episode that checked all of the boxes. The topic was very popular with my targeted demographics. It was a niche topic in popular culture that had broad cross-generational appeal.
As a result, the engagement on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram was extremely high for my podcast. The people engaging on social fit the profile of likely listeners.
The problem? Most social users did not click through on social to actually listen to the episode. The issue wasn’t whether they listened to podcasts or not. It was that when they saw the social media posts, while they were very willing to share, they were not ready and willing to listen at that time.
Look at it this way. I think it’s safe to assume if you’re reading this, you’re a podcast listener. But you probably spend much of your time doing other things throughout your day. So, when you see a post on Instagram or Twitter, how likely are you to stop what you’re doing at that moment and click through and listen to a podcast?
If you’re like me, there probably are instances where you actually would do that, time permitting. But still, for most of us when we’re on social, that may not be the time we’ve allocated to listen to podcasts so we move on.
Will we come back to that podcast and listen later? Possibly, and possibly not.
The point here is that podcast listeners and social media users are two distinct groups with distinct behaviors. You and I may be members of each of these groups depending on the time of day.
If you have a photo or video that users can read, see or consume in the seconds it takes to do so, social media is a great way to do that. But to expect a social media user to click on a podcast link and spend the next 30 minutes to an hour listening to your episode may be a bridge too far.
The bottom line is this. Social media is a great way to keep your podcast top of mind and generate awareness, but it is a mistake to assume that social engagement is the key to growing your audience.
It’s like the old saying, if you want to catch a fish, go to where the fish are. If you want people who listen to podcasts to listen to yours, you probably need to focus your audience-development efforts there. Create awareness among potential listeners when they are already in listening mode. Guest on other podcasts, advertise or cross-promote on other podcasts or radio programs.
Secondarily, promote on podcast-centric social groups that actively promote podcast. These are places qualified potential listeners go when they are looking for podcast suggestions.
Use Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques to your advantage, and if you have the budget, consider targeted online ads that are tied to search crawlers. By comparison, this can be more effective than social simply because when someone finds your podcast through search, they are likely already looking for the content your podcast provides.
And of course, if you have a specialized podcast that caters to a highly specific community, then spend your time building that community so that your podcast provides a certain value to that community. Use all of the awareness-building platforms that bring that community together to keep them posted on your podcast.
If you do these things, the audience numbers will start to take care of themselves.
Tim O’Brien is the founder of Pittsburgh-based O’Brien Communications. He is also the creator of the Shaping Opinion Podcast To get in touch with Tim, call 412.854.8845, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter: @OBrienPR