Congratulations! You’re a podcaster! Aside from your family and friends, though, does anyone else know it? After “how do I become a podcaster,” the second most commonly asked question I see is “how do I get listeners?” So, how do you get listeners? How do you take a niche podcast like mine, It’s About Time, and get over 600% subscriber growth after just 5 episodes?
Some people will tell you to just make amazing content and people will find you. Sorry, that’s bull and this is a No Bull Zone! Many great products have failed because of poor marketing and many average products have succeeded thanks to good marketing. Look, if your product really stinks you’ve got an uphill battle, but once you have a decent product – an interesting idea with good quality audio – it’s time to start letting people know about it and convincing them they need you. You need to market. But how, you ask (again)?
I’m going to be honest with you. It ain’t easy. Unless you already have a mighty marketing machine behind you, such as the fine podcasters coming out of NPR, or a deep fan base from your successful television show, you’re starting at ground zero and there are 10’s of thousands of competitors. This is not meant to dissuade you. It just means you have work to do. The good thing is, most of those 10’s of thousands of other podcasters will not do the work to make it happen. What work?
Know your intended audience
Who are the people who will really listen to you every episode? Your initial listeners are likely your family and friends and, for the most part, they’re listening to be supportive. They won’t last. Plus, the main thing that makes them listeners isn’t something you’re going to find out in the wide world; they are people you have history with. You’re looking for new listeners, aren’t you?
Are you doing a comedy podcast? If your humor is the type common among white college males, don’t try throwing 50 year old Chinese women into your demographic just because your mom’s best friend is a listener. Be honest about who you think will be hungry for your show. There are too many choices for the grazer. You want the person who will devour your production.
So, how do you know? That’s called market research. Look at shows you think are similar. Who are the top 5% of listeners? Who are those people who will actually talk about it on Social Media? Now, you’re not looking for those particular people – they already have a show – but you need to look at what types of things they like (time to look into Facebook Open Graph). Figure out what they have in common. Use that to identify who will be your core listener.
Great, so my core listener is a 32 year old divorced Jamaican woman with an unwanted tattoo and a predilection for Rocky and Bullwinkle reruns. Now what? Now you have to decide, is that a large enough demographic to support your aspirations or do you need to change what you do or change your aspirations. Will this demographic even listen to a podcast? As easy as it may seem for us to download a podcast, it’s still a barrier to entry for many. This is gut-check time. Do you have what it takes to press forward?
Reach out to them
You’ve made the adjustments necessary to align your show’s content and style with a demographic that can support your aspirations. How do you reach them? There are lots of ways, and some will work better with certain show concepts than others, while some will work better for certain demographics. Marketing methods to consider are:
Bring a guest on your show who has a following of people in your target demographic. If you’re talking about economics, have some people come on your show who are known for their finance know-how – people with a following. Not your uncle Bert! If you’ve got quality content, some of their followers will tune in again. That’s the growth you’re looking for. Also try to be a guest on someone else’s show. Get yourself introduced to a new audience. If you impress you may pick up a few new listeners. If you have a show format that supports interviews, this is the best method available. It’s also almost guaranteed to be free.
You should definitely be keeping your Social Media presence active, if only to retain your existing listeners. Depending on your format, you might be able to grow your show. You will need to invest some time into learning the marketing tools on the Social Media platform favored by your demographic. Is it worth the money to promote your Facebook page? Can you use Open Graph to determine if your demographic even click on ads? Can you make a pitch savory enough to get them off of Social Media and into your audio recording? Personally, I think this is still a struggle for most and I wouldn’t soak much money into this. If you have a few dollars lying around, try it out and take detailed notes. If you learn anything from it about your audience it could be worth it.
Social Media isn’t the only place people hang out. Well, depending on how you define Social Media. Does a subreddit on reddit.com devoted to Doctor Who count as Social Media? For the purposes of this article I say no, because this is a place you do want to target. Your demographic will likely have some passion that will make your show attractive to them. I’ll refer to these places where people gather for a shared passion as forums.
Find the forums where your passionate future-followers hang out and interact with them. Don’t just hop in midstream with a commercial for your show. In most forums that would be a breach of etiquette. Actually become a member of the community. This is investing and it takes time, but there are considerable rewards to be reaped.
A well-designed website is all well and good, and is really a must-have so that people can find out more about you, but it has to be found. Create some good content and then dive into Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to make sure it can be located. This is a huge topic and I’m still learning SEO, myself, so I’d suggest doing some reading on your own, but you have to get your pitch heard by as many people as you can and popping up in a Google or Bing search will help. If you’ve the funds, consider contracting with an SEO specialist, as it’s as much art as science.
Last, but not least, beg, plead, and cajole your family and friends to leave reviews on iTunes for your podcast. You are listed on iTunes, aren’t you? You need to be. And then get people to leave reviews. Lots of reviews means iTunes/Apple will push your show up the pile where it can be found by more people. If people are looking at podcasts in iTunes it’s a pretty good bet that they’re already podcast listeners and that’s one less hurdle you need to deal with. Consider giving away an iTunes gift card or some other prize to people who leave a review. Not on a one-to-one basis, but maybe you randomly select one of the first 25 reviewers for the gift.
If you’re just diving into podcasts and are trying to figure out how to gain listeners, you’ll find there are a boat load of options, but start with the ones mentioned above and then refine your strategy as you go. Marketing is a never ending job. You still see Coke and Pepsi ads, don’t you? There’s a reason for that. Get used to it if you want to be successful. Good luck!
Steve is the founder of Straight Talk Entertainment and currently produces and writes for the audio drama Aural Traditions, recently voted Charleston City Paper’s Best Local Podcast. He’s also an Information Security professional and avid shark tooth hunter.