Let’s get this out of the way: podcasts can be a fantastic marketing vehicle delivered in an easily accessed, widely distributed and inexpensive manner, with unavoidably powerful data to back this up. According to Edison Research1, more than one-third of Americans have listened to a podcast, and more than 15% of Americans listen to podcasts in the last month. Also, podcast listeners score high on social networking behavior. Therefore, many business owners are quite smartly adding a podcast to their marketing plan.
And they are failing.
Most business owners, and even marketing experts, know little about building, launching and growing a podcast that will build an engaged and loyal audience (much less crucial tidbits like the right audio formatting and tagging), planning a critical show structure, implementing branding considerations for an entertainment commodity, using a microphone effectively, or even telling a properly compelling story. In most cases, a podcaster (or the business that generates the show) will put countless hours, a good amount of money, a lot of effort and creative energy and the company’s and host’s reputations on the line — all while “winging it”.
Could hard-earned relationships with influencers and connections be damaged by having them on a show that suffers quality, technical or listenership shortfalls? Is there any other part of your business (much less one playing an important component of reaching potential customers or reinforcing your brand) you would actually be willing to “wing”?
A pro swimmer can pick up a baseball and become a big time pitcher, right? How hard can it be?
A pizza cook make great wine too, right? How hard can that be?
A programmer, or insurance salesperson, or investment banker or nutritionist. All of these people can direct a hit television show, right? How hard is that, really?
It’s true, pretty much anyone can throw a ball, or make wine, or even direct a television show. And pretty much anyone can buy a microphone, plug it in and start talking about their business. And most people can generate some number of listeners just by having the show exist.
Doing it successfully? That’s another story.
Someone once told me in another career-lifetime that our jobs were very difficult, and if just anyone could do our job, they wouldn’t pay us so much. Podcasting can also be tremendously beneficial and have dynamic business usefulness. Simply put, it can be lucrative.
Only the podcasters who have learned how to create a show week-after-week that is interesting, well-crafted and strategized, technically sound and positioned to have people actually interested in listening to its message, find the success that’s worth all the effort. And it is only those podcasters have a real chance at monetizing their efforts and furthering their business via the podcast.
Just like any other part of a business life, and in the spirit of smart entrepreneurialism, educating yourself on how to podcast the right way can save headaches, bypass embarrassment and missteps, and avoid wasting hours you don’t have to waste. Instead, an effective show can be a proud accomplishment, an impressive brand beacon and a successful way to set the stage for your product or service.
To get your education started, here are …
Don’t put too much fluff, too much advertising content or to many pieces of content before your show actually “starts.” You’ll lose the interest of your audience early and many will stop listening before they get to the good part. This can also affect the statistics on audience engagement and how you rank on platforms such as iTunes.
Every episode should follow a predetermined format that is generally the same every episode, like a blueprint. The audience likes familiar territory and will look forward to the “beats” and rituals of your show. If you keep mixing it up or changing the timing, your listeners will become confused and unsatisfied.
Someone might be an interesting person and a great interview. But if that person has a small network and limited reach, they won’t be very helpful in the end. Having an amazing person on the show doesn’t help a lot of no one hears it. If they have a significant social following or connectivity, and agree to share the show widely with others, this can bring in a whole group of new listeners.
Too many podcasters create a show with good content, but adopt a misguided “if I build it they will come” strategy. You must seek out as many platforms as possible, social media groups and clubs, and even collaborate with other podcasts to cross-promote each other’s show. Go where the listeners are.
With more than 180,000 podcasts2 available to consume, you must do everything to be noticed above the crowd. Your show name matters (“Bob’s Podcast” isn’t enough, but “Brilliant Bob’s Computer Music Podcast” might catch the right, niche audience) and so does the way it appears visually. Your logo, website images, episode avatars and more all must be carefully considered to tell a story about who you and your show are.
Telling a tale or story in person and telling one on a podcast are two different things. Keeping the points of a story straight, knowing where it’s going and getting to the point are all critical to keeping your audience with you. As well, it’s good to remember that your audience is missing an integral part of communication – body language. Since it’s all in your voice, modulating your voice (up and down), maintaining good energy and avoiding a lot of verbal crutches like “um” and “well” and “like” all matter.
Get this straight: You are the boss. The microphone isn’t. The placement of your microphone and proper balance of mixing multiple microphones is paramount. Get it wrong and a great podcast with a budget can sound like amateur garage podcast hour. Get comfortable and then put your microphone where you are. The closer to the microphone you are, the better your voice will sound, with a good amount of bass. Too far away and the levels must be higher to hear you, which also brings up the ambient room noise, and adds echo from the room dynamics, the same way someone has more echo from across the room than they do when they are next to you. Make sure your levels and microphone placement are the same as everyone else’s on the podcast; when someone sounds different than everyone else, it distracts from the content.
From time to time, you’ll be reading text, or “copy.” Whether a news article, a sponsor’s message, a statement or fan mail, it’s important to bring copy to life, and read it with the right kind of personality that matches the copy. An actor can nail a scene because he or she has read through the script several times, analyzed it, thought about the “intent” of the characters and how this scene fits in with the rest of the story. A line in a comedy is usually portrayed differently than a tragedy. Take time to read through the copy a few times and think about its tone and meaning. You’ll quickly get a sense of the rhythm, be able to practice difficult-to-pronounce words and tongue twisters, and consider the “personality” of the copy. Instead of a “cold read”, you’ll bring the words to life. Another important consideration – if you are writing the copy, read the copy as you write it. Often well-written copy looks great on a page, but doesn’t roll off the tongue.
Did you learn your profession in a vacuum? Certainly you have done some level of research to understand your competition and to see how the others who have succeeded It is surprising to learn how many podcasters have listen to few—or even zero—podcasts before recording their first episode. How can they possibly know what works? Discover successful shows (large social media following is usually a fair indication of having built an audience) which mirror your genre, and consider their formatting, rhythm, sound and branding (listen to full episodes). Then listen to a few other kinds of podcasts to expand your education and see what else is out there. You might just learn something, and even stumble across some interesting ideas you can add into your own show to give it set it apart from competition.
Many podcasters don’t go back and listen to what they’ve done:
“It’s a waste of time.”
“I’ve already lived it—why would I listen to it again?”
“I hate the sound of my voice.”
This is absurd. Every painter steps back to look at what had been created on the canvas. Every chef has to taste the food. Athletes look at game footage. Listening to your own shows with a critical ear will allow you to experience what the audience hears, find ideas to improve the show, detect technical issues not evident to you during recording, and provides awareness of how your format and show length is working. Being a listener makes you a better producer and a better host.
When my business partner, BJ Smith, and I came up with the idea for PodAbility, it was for this reason — to help business owners and entrepreneurs to understand that listeners expect a quality of show they put in their ears, and to teach them how they can create the right kind of show, the right way. Learning how to do it right from the experts is a wise move and an education that can pay robust dividends quickly. Podcast listeners make a mental choice to listen to specific shows and episodes when and how they want, and you can’t afford to miss that target.
So, podcasting, huh? Are you crazy?
Only if you wing it.