In honor of October 1st (or is it September 30th), #NationalPodcastDay, here is my rather epic diatribe on the state of podcasting and how we can bring about positive change.. You may want to grab a large cup of coffee or tea!
For many podcasters, their shows are labors of love. They stay on the grind because they have built an audience and, with that, have developed a sense of responsibility. They might really enjoy what they do but they are not necessarily compelled to up their content marketing or social media game. The tragic part is that, to them, there may not be much value in podcasting beyond sticking to habit/ritual.
Why is that?
Well, podcasters tend to have day jobs and other responsibilities well beyond the general umbrella of social media, online business, and marketing. That is not the primary challenge but it does impact how producers and creatives approach their podcasts. The more other projects and work take precedence, the more podcasts suffer in quality and growth. This happens in business and it’s the result of not having a deliberate direction or clear plan early on.
My challenge or, better yet, burning question to podcasters is this:
Why can’t your podcast(s) support your other endeavors? Brah, do you even social media strategize?
I’m all for labors of love and doing your life’s work, but eventually something has to give. You also have to think about your collaborators. They may have other expectations and obligations… But we’ll get to that.
What I have found is that many podcasters do their shows “just for fun” but, deep down inside, whether they realize it or not, they are desperately seeking motivation and purpose. They wish they could monetize the content or justify doing it full-time. In some cases, our fellow podcasters simply use podcasts as an excuse to catch up with friends. Remember, folks: podcasts may be one of the last forms of free media left but that doesn’t mean it should be devoid of rewards.
Success in podcasting, like all social media, starts with being honest with yourself.
Friendly podcasts are nice but there is a growing number of brocasts these days. Brocasts are typically defined by pointless banter, lack of diversity, and the chaos that ensues from lack of preparation, organization, and/or motivation. I’d hate to say it but pointless brocasts are the direct result of doing things “just because you love it”; a nice notion that is usually not 100% true and leads to resentment. Without some path to revenue or incentives, podcasts become mere technical feats, time killers, and space fillers.
Not all brocasts are inherently bad.. Our friends at the Gaming Death Podcast go deep on gaming news, social issues, and other relevant matters, but they keep things fresh with banter and sophomoric humor that some geeks find endearing. The podcast is not for everyone (no podcast is or should aim to be) but they make it clear what their tone and voice is early on in each episode. Love them or hate them, they’re authentic and passionate about the subject matter they discuss.
Let’s be clear: pursuing some personal gain is not a bad thing. So long as the art and message come first, no one can really blame you for trying to do more through and with a medium you love. We all have to make a living, after all. Monetization doesn’t have to be a dirty word.. Just don’t be a shark – be honest and social about self promotion.
What’s Your Podcasting / Social Media End Game?
A theme I often revisit in business and marketing coaching sessions is the notion of maintaining a deliberate direction. The idea is painfully simple: identify and support systems for repeat success. In order to do that, you need to set milestones and have goals. With deliberate efforts towards goals, momentum will be steady and your direction intentional. Of course, there are plenty of people that have random luck and simply stumble into big success but that’s usually reserved for those in niche markets with timing or brand power already on their side.
With that in mind, think about what your “end game” is. It can be an exit strategy or a major milestone. What will happen when you reach that goal or if you don’t in X amount of time? When will you feel most or least satisfied? You need to know your limits and those of your team members. Before you can think about your ultimate goals, you have to look at the road laying right in front of you.
As weeks, months, and years pass by, what will keep you and your collaborators engaged?
We simply must pace ourselves and not jump TOO far ahead. Again, it all boils down to what will give you the most satisfaction and motivation. Running on fumes is no good. Plan ahead but also enjoy today for everything it brings. Be content and grateful.
I saw our friends at Zombie Life Podcast tweet about how podcasting is the last of free media. They tweeted (and I’m mostly paraphrasing),
#Podcasting is the only truly free media left. We dont do it for $$, we enjoy it
I LOVE that sentiment but podcasting can only move forward if we start think more strategically. Sharing compelling content we are passionate about is awesome.. But love alone won’t get you through the rainy days, folks.
The Foundation: Three Must-Haves For Podcasting
Thick skin. You need to be ready to deal with negative comments in positive ways. We all falter in this at some point but it’s important to show your audience that they matter. Acknowledging and involving your audience is already more than most do. The challenge is making the comment experience more appealing. Comments are hard enough to get because there is so much friction (barriers to entry)…
- New visitors, listeners, and viewers may like you but they don’t trust you (yet).
- Consumers are tired of creating new accounts on various sites, a frustration compounded by lack of trust and privacy concerns.
- It’s scary to be vulnerable and leaving comments leaves you exposed. Trolls don’t care because they are the vocal minority.. Or they hide behind anonymity.
- People tend to be labeled or dimissed if their comments are not 100% what is desired (e.g. they self promote or they share constructive criticism).
You can’t expect comments, call-ins, and the like if you don’t create an environment that encourages these things. As such, when the criticisms come in, you have to take it with a grain of salt and show as much gratitude as possible. Negativity is often shared more openly and vehemently than positive things, so you have to be ready for this. Spin it into something good.
Managing expectations. Always assume that you’ll have new viewers/listeners with every show. New listeners may have stumbled upon your podcast via search, referrals, or mere chance. They won’t know what to expect unless you make sure your first 5-15 minutes provide a substantial introduction, a taste of what’s to come. Fortunately, you usually have longer than you would with a 30-second elevator pitch, thanks to the typical habits of podcast listeners:
SIDEBAR: Your typical podcast listener these days is doing laundry, taking a drive, at the office, or trying to go to sleep as they listen in. This is something unique to the traditional audio-only formats as it’s hard to leave video in the background and all other media require more interaction or attention. The important to realize here is that podcast listeners are rarely giving your content their undivided attention. Still, be concise and only repeat the things that require the most emphasis or provide the greatest value.
Really, the process of managing expectations encompasses a lot of things. It’s not just about setting expectations for your audience and constantly re-aligning them. Nonono.. You also have to manage expectations for your team and yourself. Be realistic and make sure the expectations set are sustainable. I use that term a lot in the video and in my business coaching because it’s crucial to at least consider that what you are capable of doing today may not be possible tomorrow.
Most importantly, keep in mind that people will come to their own conclusions in spite of your own best efforts to be consistent, deliberate, and clear. Everyone has their own personal biases which will twist even the purest and most authentic of intentions. Hopefully, you took heed of the thick skin stuff by now!
Selflessness. I can’t tell you how many podcasts have hosts that are clearly pulling a Chris Hardwick: it’s all about them. You’re lucky if you can get a word in edge-wise with these folks around. Now, I’m a bit of a long-winded talker (LOL that may be putting it mildly) but I love listening to what others have to say and having real conversations around these ideas. This is good. Selfish people that only want to hear themselves talk.. THAT is bad.
Check your ego at the door. Podcasts by nature are a public commodity. It’s not about you nor can a podcast ever truly be yours. Whether you sell podcasts at a premium per episode or offer it “for free”, you have an obligation to meet or at least adjust the expectations of your audience.
When I talk to podcast hosts that say “this is mine” or “it’s MY business”, I shake my head. They’ve already limited their success by making their podcast purely about themselves. For that, just go into a locked room, sing, dance, scream, talk away.. And record it for your own listening pleasure. Don’t disrupt the Internet for your own selfish needs. The podcasting sphere is not the place for massive egos and, eventually, those narcissists get exposed and abandoned (thank goodness).
Let’s look at the greatest result that can come from selflessness: community…
Community: Creating An Environment For Engagement & Other Positive Things
If you follow Seth Godin or any of the A-list marketing gurus out there, you may make a distinction between a tribe and a community. I think this is necessary. Most people say they want community but, in reality, they just want a bunch of people that will listen to them and do what they want with little or nothing in exchange. That may sound crazy but just look at the behavior throughout the Internet. The sense of entitlement runs rampant!
Building a community, to me, is about giving everyone involved, fans included, a reason to feel proud about being involved. Make stories and the experience about everyone else, not just you. When you have folks that are bragging about being amongst your first listeners, donators, guests, or voicemails, you are doing something right. I know Fred Rojas has done a tremendous job of this with Gaming History 101. He engages the audience in meaningful ways while staying highly-topical.
Community is an elusive thing and a topic that we can go REALLY deep with but suffice to say that it starts with your inner circle: your co-hosts, guests, network managers, and producers. If you have chemistry and work together, the fans will follow. If there is disconnect within your core, expect the same within your audience and, ultimately, the overall community.
There is a delicate balance in social media between co-dependence/interdependence and independence. Podcasts are no exception. If you think you can do it all alone, you will be alone. The “me first” attitude has a stench to it that sensitive and aware folks will pick up on. No one will want to collaborate with you to any degree if you are negative, selfish, or simply a know-it-all.
Even podcasting and social media veterans can learn from their partners, affiliates, associates, and fans. Empty your cup. There can and should be mutual benefit at every turn. When you approach things with a good balance of being self-sufficient and asking for, or at least welcoming, help and guidance, good things will come.
One last note on community building: make yourself approachable. If you hide behind avatars and pseudonyms, or you’re simply hard to find, you’ve already created a barrier to engagement. Think of engagement as deeper, meaningful interactions, an ongoing relationship. You have to go beyond individual transactions and build conversations and experiences in order to nurture a community.
Considerations Before You Really Get Started
There are tons of things to consider before you can really launch or re-launch your podcast. Here are a few questions to ask yourself and your team members:
- Who is our target audience?
- Audio quality standards: mono or stereo? 64K, 96K, or beyond CD audio quality?
- What’s our intended voice and tone? Consider potential ratings and your audience.
- Ideal length of show? Quality vs. Quantity
- How much work can you commit weekly? Revisit the above.
- Live or pre-recorded? Platform thereof? How will you prepare to meet the needs and challenges?
- How will you promote it? Where is your target audience at already?
- How will you convert from those platforms to your own funnel? Does it matter?
- What milestones and metrics will give you a sense of progress, success, or fulfillment?
- What are your goals? What is sustainable? What’s your end-game?
All this can be quite overwhelming so I will warn against analysis paralysis; after all, if you get stuck planning you can’t succeed in doing. Accept that there will always be opportunities for improvement and growth. Just get out there and do the darn thing.. And have fun!
You’ll want to be aware of these considerations so you can listen, measure, and adjust accordingly. In business, you might hear things like this:
- Just ship and improve your product along the way.
- Pivot as your business evolves and consumer needs change.
- Engage in constant loops of measure-listen-learn then implement necessary changes.
- Take flight and make course corrections as you go along.
The take-away remains the same regardless of the jargon and terminology: do stuff, pay attention, and make adjustments. Even the slightest tweaks can have major impacts so try to isolate changes so you can see what makes the greatest boosts. I recommend reading “Lean Startup” by Eric Ries for a deeper understanding on how to be deliberate with your growth and success (affiliate link).. Without running out of steam or spreading resources thin. My affiliate link is below. I’d appreciate if you buy through the links herein but this isn’t just a sales pitch. The book is a must-read, regardless of how you obtain it.
Pre-Production: Preparation, Outreach, And Testing
There’s a lot more to podcast preparation beyond drafting show notes and planning upcoming show topics/themes. You have to make your best effort to keep the communication lines open between you and co-hosts, potential guests, and your overall community. That’s the outreach piece. You have to get out there and make connections while nurturing existing relationships.
Testing is also crucial. Everyone is a critic these days so even the slightest hiccup will draw unwanted attention. Things like background/white noise, unbalanced audio (i.e. one host is significantly louder than the rest), choppy video, reverb, and excessive audio peaks (i.e. distortion) will scare people away. Those are technical aspects that you will have to work on constantly so don’t feel bad if things get funky: even the pros mess up here.
Proper preparation will boost everyone’s confidence when you are recording or live with the show. This is important because, during the show, you really should be more concerned with the conversation than anything else. Worrying if the tech is functioning properly or if your guests will show up will detract from your overall energy and flow.
During The Show: Minimizing Dead Air, Distractions, And Pointless Banter
As Shawn Freeman of Knuckleballer Radio and Zombie Cast will often tell fellow podcasters,
Always bring the HYPE!
Before anything, check your problems at the door. Get excited about all the folks you could potentially impact. Think about the positive change or joy you can bring people. Think about the souls you have already touched. It doesn’t matter if it’s ten people or thousands of people. It matters that you made a difference!
Like a good book, movie, or TV show, people usually want an escape. They want to laugh, learn, and liven up. Don’t be a drag. If you have differences with your co-hosts, work them out. Life is too short to be spreading bitterness around. People have plenty of that already.
On the matter of banter, I don’t see it as a huge thing. It’s nice to open up with an introduction for your show and the specific episode, then maybe a little “catch-up talk”. The only time banter is bad is when you are clearly trying to fill up some space. Banter trumps dead air but make sure everyone comes with some idea of what to discuss. Some folks can work with outlines and general talking points while others need specifics, details, and source materials to really shine. Make sure you understand your team/cast and help empower them to shine during each show.
If you pre-record your show, the good news is that you can always start from the top if things derail really hard right from the onset. That’s okay but don’t let little hiccups trip you up. Keep it moving and get ‘er done!
What I feel is far less acceptable are the following things:
- Dead air and awkward silence.
- A lack of direction or topics. SEE above.
- Distracted or fidgeting hosts.
- Failing to set standards for the maturity of language and your target audience (i.e. is it okay to cuss).
- Disrespecting your guests and their time.
The last one is the real kicker. If you waste time by running late or bantering aimlessly, it is a huge slap in the fact to your guests, viewers, listeners, and other collaborators. Be mindful to show everyone you value their time, even if it’s not 100% focused on your content.
I am particularly bothered by the number of people that are pre-occupied with other things during live shows. If you are going to be gaming, jerking off, or doing something else during a live show, just pre-record because there’s no way you can engage your live viewers/listeners if you are distracted.
Of course, it should go without saying that you should do some test recording/streaming before actually going live. I am a firm believer in doing a substantial pre-show to greet the crowd, allow for last-minute hiccups, get your game face on, get your tweets out, etc. Don’t just show up and hit start/record, unless you love chaos.. I mean, if you like to produce mouth garbage, then that’s fine. *grin*
Post-Production: Building And Maintaining Momentum
Don’t just quickly disperse after the show is done recording or streaming. It drives me crazy to know a lot of podcasters do this because chances are they won’t rally again until the next podcast session. This practice does not allow for loyalties and excitement to be built up. This approach becomes a boring slog where everyone just shows up and half-asses everything. No me gusta.
At the end of every recording/streaming session, ask yourself and each other:
What did we ROCK at this time? What can we do better next time?
This is a healthy practice. There’s no need to beat yourself or each other up if you make mistakes. Just make a note of things and keep on trucking! Ultimately, there are only a few things that are real deal breakers.
I’m not going to get into the granular stuff that you should do after each show but you want to keep momentum going. Set up events for your team and your community. Keep the buzz going. Produce memes, short clips, articles, giveaways, contests, bonus episodes, etc. to keep the momentum going. Don’t fall into the trap of just showing up weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or whenever you feel like doing a podcast.
On the technical side I will add one key item: make sure your audio is warm, balanced, and easy to listen to. You can download CN’s (Conversation Network) The Levelator to do the heavy lifting for you but, in some cases, you might need to do some heavy editing yourself. I like using Audacity with VSTs to produce specific audio effects. I am particularly keen on compression dynamics because it will address low-end and high-end audio, removing excess background noise in the process, if you configure it properly. Some dynamic range is okay but you don’t want listeners to have to constantly adjust their volume settings.
The average podcaster may not need to go through heavy editing unless they are perfectionists. You do want to make sure everyone’s voice is at around the same level. You don’t want sudden changes in volume, cracks, or pops, either. Beyond that, the rest is up to you. Get that MP3 optimized and uploaded then move onto the more social stuff.
The Winning Formula: Niche, Production Quality, Consistency, And/Or Chemistry
I know we covered a lot here but the truth is that this is only a crash course. Ultimately, experience will be your best teacher. I hope podcast fans will come to appreciate their favorite shows by reading all this too. We work hard on this stuff, dontcha know?
I reckon even the most successful podcasters do not know the sure-fire winning formula for great podcasts. Again, it helps to have brand power and timing on your side. For the rest of us, we have to be more clever than the pioneers. The good news is that podcasting is still a rather young space with limitless opportunity so we all have the chance to be a part of something that’s still kind of on the ground level in some aspects.
Just my personal opinion here but I think people worry too much about production quality. It’s far tougher to assemble a cast with great chemistry.. Especially one that is committed to the long haul, even when things don’t seem that great. Try to internalize your victories. Find motivation from within yourself and your organization; eventually, everyone else will come around too!
Last but not least, say and do remarkable things. I believe in you!
So, what is YOUR podcasting end game?