Podcaster Questions: How Can I Grow My Audience?

A close up photo black Android smartphone showing the definition of the word "design".

The cover image for this post is by Melanie Deziel

This blog post was written by Jamie.

Before we begin, none of what I’m about to mention is rocket science or particularly difficult. It just takes time, and doesn’t have an immediate affect.

Whenever I speak to fellow podcasters, there’s one question which almost always comes up:

How can I increase my shows downloads?

- podcasters

This is a genuinely interesting question, and I almost always respond with the questions:

What’s your why? Why are you creating your show, and why should people listen?

- Jamie

What’s your why?

This is an important question to ask. Before we can find out why folks should listen to your show - or indeed buy a product that you have made - we need to find out what you are making it. If you can’t answer this question, then I’d suggest that you take some time to think about it.

a great book on this is Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

As I pointed out in another blog post, creating a podcast requires a lot of effort.

I’m always wary of saying that because I’m worried that it comes off as me being a gatekeeper, but it really does require a lot of effort and people who are either thinking of getting into podcasting or are at the start of their journey do need to think about how much effort it really is.

So let’s say that you have your why. That’s great. what about the listener’s why? Why should people seek out and listen to your show? This is a marketing 101-style questioning. You can’t sell something to someone if there isn’t a need for it. You might think something like:

but I don’t need to know that

- you

But you really do. Without knowing why people should listen to your show, you can’t write copy which will engage them and tell them why they should consume your content. And without that knowledge, you’re simply shouting into the void. Plenty of reports state that there are around two million active podcasts* worldwide - here’s a link to just one such report.

* active podcasts are those which haven’t podfaded (i.e. those which are releasing new episodes on at least a monthly basis)

Two million competitors, just think about that for a second.

So why should people listen to your show over one of the millions of others?

What Does Success Mean To You?

Once you have an idea of why the show exists and why people should listen, you need to take a step back and think about what success looks like for you. “Success” here is whatever you want it to be. Do you want millions of downloads? Do you want an engaged audience of core listeners? Do you want both? Do you want to create something to advertise your book, business, or other content?

Only once you have answers to this question, you will have a goal to aim toward. And not only that, the goal will be measurable - and measurement is the game here.

That being said, measuring you podcast statistics can become very addicting. I’ve been in conversation with podcasters who would break away in order to check their show’s stats for the fourth time in 15 minutes, only to return to the conversation crestfallen because they aren’t getting the numbers that they want.

Ask any overachiever and they will tell you that they knew what success was before they started working towards achieving what they wanted. Not only was it measurable, but they were also very specific about what that success looked like. And with a _S_pecific and _M_easurable goal, they would set a realistic _T_ime boundary for that goal. The goal would always be _R_elevant to the direction that they were taking their lives, and they would always make sure that it was something _A_chievable.

Taking the letters that I have italicised and rearranging them you get: SMART

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Which is one of the best systems for setting and achieving goals).

You Ideal Listener

Now that you have what success looks like, you have your why, and you have your listener’s why, you need to start thinking about your idea listener. This next exercise comes straight out of any marketing 101 text book

in fact, I got this from NPR’s Podcast Start Up Guide: Create, Launch, and Grow a Podcast on Any Budget; which I would definitely recommend

You want to end up being able to answer these three questions:

  1. What does your ideal listener do?*
  2. Where do they hang out?
  3. What are their likes and dislikes?

* either their job or their hobbies, preferably both

Take out a piece of paper and a pen - I’m serious, we’re going analogue with this. You want to write a couple of paragraphs about your idealised listener, and by going analogue you can force your brain to slow down and consider every word that you write down. This exercise is about finding your idealised listener, your idealised listener might not end up being entirely realistic but it will force you to think about how your show relates to the type of listeners that you are creating it for.

which is why I asked for your why

You want to get really specific as you think about your idealised listener. And remember that this is someone who doesn’t technically exist. It can also be an amalgamation of some different people, but what you write down has to be very detailed indeed. By being very detailed about your idealised listener you’ll be able to start writing advertisement copy for your show, figure out where that copy should go, and the types of other shows who might be able to help you get the word out

you’re not going to steal their audience… perhaps share it

But how specific should you be about your idealised listener? At the very least, you want the following:

  • their vague age range
  • their likes and dislikes
  • the kinds of jobs they do
  • where they hang out online

Be as detailed as you can, but time box this to somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes.

If your idealized target audience is into guitars, go hang out where guitar people talk. Don’t mention your show, but engage with them and provide value.

They key thing is: unless you advertised the show a whole bunch (like Nike or Apple levels of advertising where they throw away billions of dollars on it) no one is going to know about your show. So you need to know who should know about it, and go find them.

Are they on Twitter? Are they on Instagram? Are they Facebook users? Wherever they are, that’s where you should focus your energies. You also need to not waste your personal bandwidth advertising where you idealised listeners aren’t, because… well, they’re not there.

Sure, you could do what Nike or Apple do and throw everything at the wall and see what sticks, but they have billions of dollars to spend on advertising their products and paying influencers to talk about them. If you have the kind of budget, then do that; but most of us don’t.

Let’s imagine that your ideal listener presents as feminine, is between 25 and 40 years old, commutes to work and has a 90 minute journey everyday, takes photos of local graffiti and posts them on instagram, and eats at IHOP. You have a goldmine of ideas for where to focus your energies:

  • you have a 90 minute window everyday with just them; you can’t really do much else when your driving
  • you have both a target for your energies (get posting on Instagram), and a source of inspiration (other Instagram posts)
  • if you ever get big enough, you have a potential sponsor idea (IHOP)
  • and you know their age range (so you can Google for online places where 25 to 40 year old people who present as feminine hang out)

When you get there, don’t mention your show, just engage and provide FREE value by adding to the conversation.

Free Value

Read that last sentence again:

Don’t mention your show, just engage and provide FREE value by adding to the conversation

- Jamie

Don’t leap into sharing your show. As exciting as it might be to start telling everyone about how amazing your show is, you first want to become known for providing value to the people in these communities. If you don’t do this, you’ll be quickly known as someone who just spams with “my podcast this,” and “my podcast that.” And if you do that, you’ll have lost your audience that you’ve just spent all this effort finding.

It’s important enough that I’m going to say it again, but with different words.

Always provide value first. Otherwise, you’ll come off a simply being there to shill your show. Of course, that’s why you’re there; but think of the times that you’ve been hounded by sales people in a store: They don’t care about providing value to you, they just want to make a sale. So they follow you around and bug you until you buy something.

You don’t want to be the podcast equivalent of that, so you have to give them something of value first.

Join conversations about topics that you can give valid and valuable input on, get to know a few of the folks there, and become a trusted person. Then, start to mention (but do not link to) your show. Only when you have been there for a while, and become a source of value should you start to link to your show. But only when it’s relevant. You could add to the conversation with something like:

This is something I’ve written about in the past. Here are my thoughts on it…

(provide your thoughts, in a condensed way)

… and I expanded on them in episode Y of my show. If you’re interested, I can link to it.

And LEAVE IT AT THAT until THEY SHOW INTEREST. Only provide a link if the people there would like a link.

Suppose yours is a kitchenware review show and people are talking about a particular skillet. You could say something like:

I found this to be hot garbage. The nonstick surface is… well, sticky. The handle is loose, and my stove’s burner actually burnt a hole in the bottom of the pan. I’ve actually reviewed this skillet in detail on my podcast in the past. I can link directly to the episode if folks are interested.

You’ve provided value (by sharing your opinion), and offered to back it up with the podcast episode without shoving it down their throats.

A real example of where I’ve used this is when I’ve seen posts on a Discworld subreddit about the 1995 game or it’s sequel. I have an active interested in Discworld, so I browse that subreddit a lot and engage in the conversation about the entire series of books. But when I find conversations about these games, I read through the conversation and add my opinions and thoughts. Eventually, I’ll add something like

this is an actual quote, by the way

I bring this up each time that the adventure games come up; I interviewed Gregg Barnett (the writer and director of these games) a few years back, and can link to it if folks are interested.

- Jamie

And only when someone responds showing an interest, I’ll reply with:

Ok. Thanks for being interested.

It’s an audio interview for a podcast that I co-host and produce. The show notes page has an embedded player (with a download button) and some extra links and stuff.

- Jamie

By providing value for free, before asking them to invest their time in your show, you are building positive sentiment. And it’s the positive sentiment which you’ll rely on when it comes time to share links to your show.

In Closing

You need to be able to answer this questions:

  • What is your why?
  • Why should people listen to your show?
  • Who are your target audience?
  • What are their interests?
  • Where do they virtually hang out?

Once you have those things, you can provide FREE value by adding to their conversations where they hang out. Only once you have provided enough value, you can start to mention your show. If you have enough positive sentiment, you’ll be able to trade some of it by talking about your show or a specific episode of it.