I listen to podcasts alone. But–I always want to tell people about something I heard! I’m an introvert (aren’t so many of us?), but podcasts turn me into someone who has something interesting to talk about. They give me confidence to make better small talk, and a reason to meet people whose paths I would otherwise never cross.
I resonated with Glen Weldon’s recent, eloquent NPR article where he said that even though it’s B-A-N-A-N-A-S, we see podcasters as our friends. I’m luckier than most superfans and superlisteners as I get to interact with podcasters and have had the pleasure of interviewing some of the finest hosts on air. Podcasters are by and large extremely genuine, passionate people who take risks to share something creative, offering intimacy with strangers. But thanks to social media platforms and in-person podcast meetups, listeners actually have the opportunity to impact the shows they listen to, and potentially – actually become friends with the intriguing voice heard only through earbuds.
For International Podcast Day in 2017, I did a live video session with Adela Mizrachi, founder of Podcast Brunch Club, and Josh Hallmark, creator of Our Americana Podcast Network. Our focus was about how podcasts, despite their somewhat one-way nature of a host telling a story to a listener, can create and benefit from community–thus becoming a more two-way relationship. Adela and Josh do this so well: Podcast Brunch Club is like book club, but for podcasts, where members listen to 3-4 episodes of diverse podcasts all centered on a theme (February 2018’s is Looking for Love), and then meet up online or in person (my favorite option) to discuss the podcasts with others who’ve also listened to the same episodes. All of the shows in Josh’s podcast network have Facebook groups where he interacts daily–not to request that you listen to his shows or support the network financially, though those calls to action are encouraged, but to share what he thought about episodes or to ask the network their opinions about what they want to hear, and truly get to know his listeners.
What Adela, Josh, and I talked about in our live video was how podcast fans have such an important voice that can be used for continuous improvement and growth if the podcaster is open to feedback. Analytics will show you who’s listening from where, the episodes that are most popular, and whether listeners are skipping your first five minutes of banter, but there is a lot to be learned from engaging with your community to give them more of what they want and draw in new listeners, in addition to fine-tuning the listener experience to put out the highest-quality product.
Several podcasters shared with me what they’ve gained from their podcast communities. Most have Facebook groups where listeners can interact with each other and the hosts, and of those polled the size of the groups ranged between 100 and 1500 members. Tyler Allen from The Minds of Madness wrote that he has had to restrict the group (The Maddies) to only those who actually listen to the podcast, which is handled by requiring answers to podcast-specific questions when requesting admission. Aaron Peterson of The Hollywood Outsider wrote that he originally started his Facebook group “because “that’s what you do,” and we had done the podcast for years before we started it. We realized that it was the most effective way to communicate directly with listeners and garner immediate feedback, as well as demonstrate we’re in the conversation with them.” I love this comment about showing your listeners you care.
Podcasters also engage with their community via Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter. Matt Aldus from The Musician’s Podcast writes, “I use Reddit to ask my audience questions mainly, [but I] also use polls on Twitter and I have email relationships and Instagram relationships with a lot of my listeners.” Several podcasters mentioned using Facebook and Twitter polls as a way to quickly engage listeners.
Several podcasters mentioned their delighted surprise that their fans asked them to set up a Patreon page or otherwise donate money for the great work they put out for free. There’s a balance to be struck here and a few different viewpoints on when it’s appropriate to ask for money, but my general stance is that it can’t hurt to have a Patreon page when you’re creating something for other people to enjoy. And if your fans are asking you how they can pay you for your work, well, why turn that down?
Listener feedback has helped some podcasters pick a path when they are considering a change in direction. Mandy of Moms and Murder writes, “We considered changing the format entirely at one point but our community of listeners was loud and clear in saying they wanted more of the same. We’ve begun creating the option for bonus content for listeners who want to hear us discussing non-crime subjects.” Paul Csomo of Varmints!, a show about animals, wrote that “The original intent was not to be a “kids and family podcast.” I thought kids would be turned off by my podcast and I was very, very wrong. So I’ve personally embraced the whole “kids and family” thing.” This specific community feedback is helping Csomo market the show to new audiences.
Hannah Ostic of Film Roast was inspired by a listener to include audio clips in her movie review show, which she had never thought of adding, and has gotten a great response since making the change. “We [also] received great feedback on the types of mic we should use, editing software, how to name our episodes so they show up better for SEO, and the general outline of our show.”
But perhaps one of my favorite things about podcast communities is when people in the group become friends with each other. My favorite example of this is in the Facebook group for The Karen and Ellen Letters, The Roomies, where over the past year this special group of people exchanged care packages from all over the world, participated in a Secret Santa exchange, and just laughed a ton together. Podcast Brunch Club is another great example that I have written about often here and in my newsletter – I love that I’ve met complete strangers in person because of podcasts. I look forward to seeing these people every month and hearing about their families, jobs, etc. Steven Pappas of Is This Adulting? said of his podcast’s Facebook community, the Best Friends, “I have been shocked by the sheer amount of people who have exchanged phone numbers, packages, and other things from all over the world. It really has become a place where people meet new best friends to laugh with but also to help them be accountable and honest about their mental health.” I love this.
I don’t believe you should cater to everything your listeners want, but I’ve watched podcasts grow from a first episode with little to no release fanfare into the show everyone’s talking about hosted by the most [charismatic, funny, down-to-earth, sexy-voiced] host. You know, the podcast Glen Weldon talked about where you just want to be the host’s friend IRL. These are the shows I come back to time and time again, that stay on my subscription list long-term. I love feeling like I’m part of a club where the podcast host actually cares about me and my feedback. It takes effort, time, thought, and dedication to engage with your podcast community, but as the podcasters featured in this article can testify, it absolutely pays off in making a better product and ultimately growing your podcast.
Special thanks to the following podcasters for their contributions to this article. Please check out their shows – they care whether you are listening and hope you’ll become part of their online communities!
Hannah Ostic – Film Roast
Matt Aldus – The Musician’s Podcast
Lee Gray – The Shift Podcast
Erica Kelley – Southern Fried True Crime
Will Green – Things Wrong With Things
Vanessa Phearson – The Cleaning of John Doe
Aaron Peterson – The Hollywood Outsider
Paul Csomo – Varmints!
John Lucas – Beyond the Box Set
Steven Pappas – Is This Adulting?
Aaron Hunter – Real Paranormal Activity – The Podcast
Mandy (last name withheld) – Moms and Murder
Tyler Allen – The Minds of Madness