This is a list of strategies, tactics and tips observed over the course of years independent podcasters and newsrooms have used to grow their listeners
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at The future of digital journalism in Moldova conference organized by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Chisinau.
There are many listicles out there trying to help podcasters to build a podcast audience. Spotify-owned Anchor just refreshed their advice on the blog this year. The focus is on content and on advice regarding social media.
Castos, the podcast hosting platform for creators, has a “10-step guide for beginners” (my words, not theirs) with basic advice like submitting to every podcast app and directory or having a podcast trailer. Transistor, another podcast host, has a similarly basic guide, but with some different ideas.
If you want a deep deep dive, there is Buzzsprout’s 100 tactics shared by podcasters. I mean, you can find the good ones there, but it’s a bit too much, I would say. It mixes content improvement ideas and actual practical information regarding audience growth.
This list of strategies has been compiled over the years from others or tried by me, and I consider all of these points universal advice any podcaster should take into account, independent or newsroom-based.
(You can also watch the full talk).
0) Great content (because it needs to be acknowledged)
As I mentioned above, this list is practical but also I wanted to acknowledge that without good content and an endeavor of the host(s) pushing the podcast forward, the audience growth strategies won’t really work.
Still, only having really good content doesn’t mean your podcast will be successful without active and constant promotion.
1) Your podcast website should “scream” podcast
In a recent blog post, Matt Deegan, the radio and podcast analyst and co-founder of the British Podcast Awards, wrote that a podcast’s website is one of the most important things for podcast creators and many don’t really care for it.
Your podcast website should have all the basic information about the podcast, authors, pitch to advertisers with data, an audio player with your latest episodes, and links to the major podcast listening platforms (or use a service like Podfollow).
To this day, the best example I tend to show at workshops to podcasters is the Serial podcast website. It is visually appealing, but most of all, I can listen to the podcast straight from the homepage and also subscribe to it on my favorite podcast app as it has the links there.
2) Friends and family will be your first audience
OK, this is not rocket science, but many starting podcasters (no matter if independent or within a larger newsroom) are afraid or too shy to tell their closest friends and family they started a new podcast.
Some of the well-known creators started by cold emailing their entire e-mail list with a short message saying they are starting a new thing and would love to know their opinion. If you need a guide for cold-emailing, here is a good one by the Harvard Business Review.
It doesn’t have to be just emails, use your social media or any platform where you have any kind of audience. For the newsroom, that would also be the homepage and newsletters.
3) Set up social profiles for your podcast
In May, I did some research regarding social media handles for podcasts. I found out that top podcasts have also dedicated social media accounts on major social networks. So not only their creators but also the shows themselves.
If you think you don’t have the bandwidth to do that, it’s fine. There are examples of podcasts that have set up an account and use it only as a way to recommend it directly to listeners (yes, fans love to tag) and give a link to the website.
4) Publish your podcast also on YouTube
If you look at the latest Digital News Report by Reuters Institute, in the UK, Germany and Spain is YouTube one of the top platforms listeners use to listen to podcasts. Also, YouTube is the second biggest search engine and probably the biggest general discovery engine as its recommendations drive more than 70% of what we watch.
You can use tools like Headliner, Descript or Recast to turn your audio into video very easily. Of course, if you are able to record the podcast as a video, that will also help. Don’t forget about YouTube basics like hashtags, chapters, well-written headlines and descriptions, and, most of all, a compelling thumbnail.
5) Transcripts help overall discoverability
Audio discoverability is still not great. You have to turn your audio into text, video or an image quote for social media and search engines. Especially if your podcast is about a niche topic, you could score high in search with a transcript of the interview you conducted with a specialist in that field.
Nowadays, you have tools like Trint or Happy Scribe that will generate a transcript from audio; depending on what language it is in, the automatic transcript might need some tweaking. The more widespread the language, the less work you will have.
Last year, I wrote for The Fix about the myth of cannibalization in the media where I gave the example of an interview video show news daily SME.sk is doing (disclosure: I work there). The video is also published as a podcast and is very successful and also is turned into a text interview.
All forms of media are doing well because the content is great and the audience can choose how they are going to consume it. And thanks to that, people reading the interview or watching it can discover there is an audio version and subscribe to the podcast.
6) Getting famous guests on your podcast
It is one of the oldest tricks in the book for any new media product you are starting. Nowadays, we call them influencers, but no matter the label, being able to get podcast guests with high profiles will also raise the profile of the podcast.
I have seen interview podcasts started by young creators without any audience thanks to inviting famous guests their podcasts became well-known.
7) Building a community for your podcast creates a fan base you can ask for help
More and more I see podcasters creating communities on Discord, Facebook Groups, Telegram channels or elsewhere. In terms of audience building, this serves to filter out your most popular and loyal listeners and turn them into fans and possibly paying supporters (if that’s your goal).
Also, communities are not only for you as a creator. Communities tied to a certain podcast create a place for like-minded people to meet and discuss online, possibly in a safer and less toxic environment than social media has become.
8) Podcast episode or trailer swaps will bring you listeners from other podcasts
For a podcast network or a newsroom, this has been one of the most effective ways of launching a new podcast. You already have some audience and you are going to introduce them to a new show you are starting to produce.
For independent creators, finding others and introducing your podcasts to one another by podcast episode swaps or trailer swaps is one way to grow your podcast audience. Some podcasters say it is more effective to be a guest on other podcasts. The idea is almost the same – introduce a new podcast to audiences who are already podcast consumers.
9) Creating additional content will also help with discoverability
I already mentioned transcripts, but this is different. Take again the Serial podcast. A transcript of the episode wouldn’t be the best text to promote the show; instead, its creators have published additional content with each episode – maps, timelines, photos and other materials.
10) License your podcast with radio, TV, podcast network or digital outlets
For growing your podcast audience you can also turn to more traditional media like radio and TV. Sure, you might have heard about podcasters going to Hollywood (movies and TV shows get created from podcast IP – Intellectual property). This is something different: you come to a radio and tell them they can take your podcast and use it in the broadcast.
There are different deals you can strike. Sometimes it will get licensed for money, but more frequently the radio is another platform you can reach new audiences so you don’t get paid. Again, it depends on what kind of a deal you can achieve, but even free distribution is in my view a win for the podcast.
I have seen popular podcasts turned into TV shows and also know of podcasters who are licensing different forms of the podcast to various outlets. Let’s say your podcast interview show is also being recorded as a video, you license the video to one outlet, the audio to another one and you can even strike a deal with a third one (or one of the previous ones) to publish the transcript.
11) Social audio (Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces…)
Recording your podcast “in the wild” on a social media platform can have its benefits – interactivity with the audience, growing your social media following, reacting to news on a platform people increasingly use to discover what’s going on.
Conducting an interview for your podcast on Twitter Spaces with a high-profile user can bring you new followers, and that can translate into podcast listeners.
12) A newsletter can bring new listeners as well
As I mentioned repeatedly, audio is not great for discovery, text is much better. Many podcast creators use newsletters to create an additional relationship with their listeners (you get their emails). Newsletters also can be shared more easily than podcasts with the built-in forward button. You don’t get that with podcasts.
Some creators have used their newsletters to create successful podcasts. They built an audience on one platform, then added another one, and part of the audience started following that as well.
13) Leverage Apple’s and Spotify’s discoverability features
Spotify has recently written a blog describing how you can promote your podcast on the platform by getting noticed by the editorial team and being chosen to be featured in the app.
Apple Podcasts also has a similar page where you can submit a promotion request.
14) Create extended content tailored for platform reach
In a recent blog for Pacific Content, Annalise Nielsen showcased how podcast creators can expand by creating extended content for other platforms, mainly TikTok. The idea is not to use tools like audiograms but creating funny videos that are in line with the content you make for your podcast. The beauty of it is you can build an audience on the platform and then get them to listen to the podcasts.
Finally, you can use audiograms (audio clips turned into video by adding image in the background with captions and an audio wave) to promote clips from your podcast on social media and also YouTube.
There is a big debate in the podcasting community on the direct effect of audiograms. My take is that by creating audiograms you get easily producible content you can use for keeping your social media feed alive. Is it the most engaging content there is? No. Is it easy to produce? Yes.
Now we come to the nuances of how two audiograms are not the same and you can have an audiogram that is fun, nicely produced and will garner thousands of views (example) and one that is just done to be done and exist and not really catch the eye and interest of the audience (example). Put me down as a fan of audiograms, because with almost everything it comes down to how well you are going to produce it.
This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission.