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How Some Podcasters Discourage New Listeners

Balancing the needs of your existing audience with the need to grow listeners.


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Frank Racioppi

a year ago | 5 min read

Building an audience for a podcast requires a carefully constructed plan. As someone with a new podcast, you assess your podcast from episode one, which is your core audience, and then create a plan to build an audience from there.

Of course, different genres of podcasts require distinct strategies. True-crime podcasts, for example, don’t typically enable listeners to start listening in the middle of a season or an unsolved case. Listeners should start at the beginning episode, so the marketing strategy focuses on enticing potential listeners with the drama inherent in the case you’re covering.

Podcasts that are either interview shows, such as The Jordan Harbinger Show, or topic-based shows, such as 99% Invisible, enable listeners to parachute in to the show at any time.

There is a rich matrix of marketing support for podcast marketing support. Because there are so many viable podcasts, and so many good ones, podcasts need a vehicle to attract listeners. Podcast newsletters such as Pod News, podcast recommendation sites like Earbuds Podcast Collective, and apps like Podcast Podyssey or Goodpods supply listeners with a steady stream of ear worthy podcasts.

What can podcasters do to entice new listeners? That’s a long marketing article and for new podcasters I suggest checking out a small company like Tink Media that helps podcasters market their show.

What is it that existing podcasters do that actually hurts their chances of attracting new listeners? Remember the phrase: I have met the enemy. And it is me!

The first way that some podcasters discourage new listeners — A poorly written Podcast Summary on Apple, Spotify, etc.

Consider the podcast summary on Apple podcasts for Murder Sheet:

“The Murder Sheet is a weekly true crime podcast hosted by journalist Áine Cain and attorney Kevin Greenlee. Its first season on restaurant related homicides, and features miniseries on the Burger Chef murders. If you’re looking for thoughtful, in-depth coverage of lesser-known crimes, this is the true crime podcast for you.”

It’s specific, and detailed enough so that new listeners browsing for a new true-crime podcast would stop and consider. By contrast, here’s a podcast summary from an unnamed true-crime podcast.

“A true-crime podcast for you.” That’s it. No detail, other than it’s about true crime. And, the podcaster thinks it’s for you. Hmmm.

The second way that some podcasters discourage new listeners — poorly written, sparse or no show notes.

Let’s take an interview podcast like Jordan Harbinger. Interview podcasts are all about the guests, unless you’re Joe Rogan. Fascinating guests with equally fascinating topics drive interview podcast downloads. On Harbinger’s January 5th show, he welcomed marketing professor and author Jonah Berger. I’ve never heard of him, so a listen by me is problematic. But then I read the show notes. In every episode, Harbinger’s show notes include a section called What We Discussed with. In Berger’s case, it was:

  • We like to believe we’re so special that our choices are driven by personal preferences and opinions; the fact of the matter: other people have an influence over almost everything we do.
  • Rather than seeing influence as negative and manipulative, we should understand how to use it as a toolkit for making better decisions.
  • Sometimes we allow our social groups or cultural upbringing to influence us toward underachievement.
  • Learn the one trick that allows negotiators to be five times more successful.
  • How do we protect ourselves from undesired influence?
  • And much more…

Now, I have to listen.

Contrast this with show notes from a lesser-known interview show, where the episode is about the same topic. “Today, we talk with a psychology professor about behavior.” 

The third way that some podcasters discourage new listeners — too much happy chatter among the co-hosts.

Listeners can drop into a podcast at any time in the podcast’s lifecycle. TV shows know this, which is why they often have show recaps to help those new listeners. Podcasts often don’t do this, largely because they don’t have to unless, of course, it’s a true-crime podcast or serialized podcast such as Stolen: The Search For Jermain.

I recently listened to a sports podcast for the first time, which had two men and one woman as co-hosts. It has been around several years, so I thought I’d give it a chance. After listening to two episodes, I’m convinced this podcast doesn’t want or need new listeners.

Why? First, it took eight minutes to address their first sports topic, which was Step Curry’s injury status. In those eight minutes, the co-hosts talked about their weekend activities with sentences such as:

“And you know what I’ve said before about brewery tours.” The new listener doesn’t.

“We both know how you feel about talking during the football game.” The new listener doesn’t know this, either.

“I have to tell you what my cat did this weekend.” I love cats. I have one named Moogie. But I don’t know you and I want to hear about Curry and your other topics — NFL playoffs, Ovechkin, and the Australian Open predictions.

As a podcaster, trying to satisfy your current audience and attract a new audience means being measured is paramount. Sure, you want the audience to get to know you with these personal anecdotes, but you don’t include anything that requires prior knowledge. Yes, you want a level of happy banter, especially on a sports podcast where I think it’s mandated, but when the pitter-patter of happy talk makes up 20 percent of your podcast, you may want to trim it down.

The fourth way that some podcasters discourage new listeners — no episode recaps for true-crime or serialized podcasts. It makes sense that true-crime podcasts are to be listened to in episode order. Revelations arise in every episode. New evidence is uncovered. New suspects are identified. Still, episode recaps at the beginning of the next episode can immerse the listeners back into your true-crime investigation and set the stage for the current episode they are about to experience. Again, Murder Sheet podcast uses recaps quite effectively to ground its existing audience and also enable new listeners to hop aboard when the train is already rolling.

The same advice goes to serialized podcasts like Stolen: The Search For Jermain, where the host Connie Walker excels at recaps. As a listener, you know where you’ve been and where Walker is taking you in the new episode.

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Balancing the needs of your current audience against those of your new audience is difficult. One is a sure thing, while the other is only potential. A few simple steps can satisfy both constituencies. First, use the podcast summary on Apple, Spotify, and Amazon and podcast feeds as a digital billboard to attract new listeners. Second, use show notes, like movies use two-minute trailers. Third, keep the happy talk to a minimum and fourth, use show recaps at the beginning of an episode for true-crime and serialized podcasts.

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Frank Racioppi

I am a South Jersey-based author who published a nonfiction book on Amazon called The COVID Hotel about the pandemic. After nearly 40 years in the Corporate world, I manage a publication --Make A Connection -- about how to manage more effectively through improved communication. I am also the lead writer for the Ear Worthy podcast blog on Substack and Podcast Reports on blogger.


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