With over a purported 400,000 podcasts in existence today and a steady growth forecast for the medium, as indicated by Edison Research, podcasting has become the on-demand audio darling for tech-savvy users.
Marketers are taking notice and those with something to say are jumping into the podcast waters, both as content creators and consumers.
Anyone can create a show. The barrier to entry as we all know is low. The ease of recording and sharing audio information is astoundingly simple. Yet many still wonder what makes a successful podcast. I’m often asked, “How can a show stand out in a sea of new and current content?”
Just like music, TV shows or movies, consumer tastes vary. While some have a select range of preferred genres, others are open to a wider variety of formats. There’s something to be said about the “build it and they will come” theory. However, who comes to stay depends upon the draw of the show and podcast host.
Podcasters are continuously seeking higher download numbers and optimal data measurement; constantly looking for more ways to be “discovered.” To most, high metrics indicate success. But to be fair, this is only part of the successful podcast puzzle wave.
Social media allows content to take on a viral presence with ease like never before. If a show’s content is topical and engaging, people will find ways to seek it out, listen, share, talk about it and generate buzz.
What’s challenging is to create a show that people want to hear, again and again for a purpose that resonates with its core fan-base as well as the occasional drop-in listener.
If a podcast host is interesting and talented, people will come to listen to what he or she has to say. Thus, the proliferance of celebrity shows in the comic or pop culture arena. (If a popular figure has a show, fans will listen, regardless of the topic.) Likewise, if someone seeks information on a particular topic, finding a relevant, interesting podcast is gold to listeners. It speaks directly to them and creates a loyal bond.
A podcaster’s success rests upon the same fate as with any artist or talent: ability, exposure, and a little luck. Who can argue with the fact that there are terrific podcast shows out there with very little audience, and behemoth ones with giant followings because of exposure? I’m sure you know someone right now who is amazingly talented without fame and fortune and scratch your head at the success of others you find less than stellar. Yet, there’s still much that can be done for optimal results.
So, what does it take to create a successful podcast? The answer is as varied and complex as the medium itself which continually shifts form as it develops. But it ultimately stems from a few basic questions. What is the goal of the podcast? Who is the podcast for? What value does it bring to the listener?
Podcasting can be a subjective game, one with burgeoning search platforms and nebulous metrics to boot. New technology such as voice command devices and ever-improving data analytics will drive future consumption. But for the here and now, a solid podcast should have the following dozen traits:
Relevant content - The content of the show should be focused enough so that listeners find value in coming back. Whether it’s informative, entertaining, or suspenseful, a strong podcast delivers ongoing benefits.
Well-developed show - Preparation is key for anything that’s worth hearing. If a podcaster thinks ‘winging it’ is easy, try that for 30 minutes. There’s a reason to prep and outline each episode no matter if the show is an interview, monologue or a team effort. Know what the show is about and keep to the topic. Babbling about random issues or commenting on a wide range of topics is tough unless you’re really famous or very funny. And we all know how easy stand-up comedy is, right?
Good audio quality – Nothing’s worse than good content paired with bad audio quality. Not the occasional blip or tech error, but the continuous disregard for audience ears with interruptions, dead air, slow rejoins, cell phone bleeps, keyboard typing, even a lawn mower hum in the back. I’ve heard many a show with amazing content but just a general lack of quality recording and proper editing. It’s rarely intentional, but it can drive a listener to tune out and seek other shows.
Consistency – Many podcasters exhaust their content quickly, hit burnout and stop podcasting, even though they thought they had a whole lot to say. Podcasts fall off for a plethora of reasons, but a commitment to the show and to listeners is imperative. Who gets truly involved with a show that is inconsistent or hard to find?
Talent – Everyone can have a podcast, but not everyone should. Hosting a podcast is a skill that needs to be developed. As with any endeavor, podcasters should be willing to work on their craft and aim to improve over time. Learning from mistakes and listening to playbacks as well as other shows is crucial to honing podcast talent.
Authenticity – Being authentic with the audience is key to listener investment. Time is our most precious commodity and being genuine is the way to garner it from listeners.
Engagement – Connecting with the audience and asking for feedback is a sure way to create engagement. Even if hosts aren’t always inundated with comments, knowing that a podcaster is accessible with easy-to-reach social links adds to that much-wanted connection.
Clear Calls to Action – Podcasters need to be clear on what exactly they want the audience to do. Join a group? Purchase a product? Subscribe to a blog or newsletter? Click a link? While the action can change in episodes, hosts need to give direction and motivation to act.
Target Audience – Know the show’s audience and key demographic. Who is the target listener and where do they go to get content?
Anticipate needs - A podcaster should always try to anticipate what the audience wants or needs and incorporate that into the show or make it accessible on or offline.
Optimal exposure - “If a tree falls in the woods when no one is there to hear it…” If there are no ears to hear a show, it’s tough to be discovered. No matter if you’re looking for a casual audience or trying to capture the world, continuous marketing is key. It’s necessary to tout the show by organic or paid media and there are so many different options and outlets available. The key is to know what the desired outcome is and continue to refine your strategy.
Podcast Goal - Finally, having a clear objective is imperative. Is the show a hobbyist’s dream and lots of fun for family and friends to hear, a way to disseminate information, or is the goal to promote a business, brand, or create conversions for a particular advertiser or product? The industry buzz words of KPI and ROI exist for a reason. Usually a podcast alone is not enough to fill the bank account unless it is paired with other endeavors and is part of a larger media mix plan. Knowing the overall goal of the podcast gives a podcaster a clearer path and allows for a stronger indicator of show success.
While this list is in no way exhaustive, and the fate of any show is never a given, it certainly can lead to a more successful podcast and prevent the proverbial drowning in the vast ocean of sounds. Don’t be reticent to ask for help. Need assistance with your podcast or ready to start your venture? Reach out for consulting along with marketing recommendations and options to set the path for success.
Yvonne Lacey is a marketing consultant and educator. As a seasoned executive well versed in entertainment and digital commercial media, her experience spans 25+ years in audio advertising and marketing.
Yvonne created Podcast Revolution to help podcasters develop, publish and market successful shows and assist in audiobook development for authors. She consults on audio strategy for business, agencies, and entrepreneurs. *Reach out for more information and learn strategy for your audio needs.
Podcast Revolution | Principle Consultant