Your dedicated audience will forgive you for just about anything. But for the new and potential podcast listener, your lack of understanding of how they experience your content for the first time is limiting growth.
The way you make your podcasting efforts better is by living up to the hype. Word of mouth is often cited as the number one way people discover podcasts, podcast networks, and even podcasters themselves. Word of mouth is how we grow podcasting.
But word of mouth is more than just the name of a show, network, or podcaster. That word of mouth comes with a personal recommendation. Put another way: word of mouth not only comes with a recommendation of what you should listen to but why you should listen.
So imagine a close friend has just told about an amazing podcast that features wonderful travel stories about destinations that are so super-exotic, you don’t think you could ever travel there, but then the hosts reveal just how affordable it really is. (This, obviously, assumes you’re either an armchair or inspirational travel fan. If not, pretend with me, OK?)
Armed with that personal recommendation, you decide to give it a shot. Bud the episode you listen to fails to deliver. Perhaps all you hear is a rambling conversation about nothing at all related to travel. Maybe there’s a guest voice talking about the need for travel insurance. Or it could be something else that clearly fails to meet the expectations set forth in your mind.
Are you going to keep listening? Maybe you will. Maybe it will get better.
But pretend that instead of this being a podcast, this was a movie recommendation. Perhaps I gushed to you about Jojo Rabbit, telling you all the reasons why I loved the movie. Now I’ve convinced you, and you commit to watching. You go to the movie theater, buy your ticket, sit down, and you start watching Jojo Rabbit.
How much time will remain in that movie theater if the following conditions are true?
- The movie starts and you’re fairly certain from the first opening sights and sounds this movie is not what you expected.
- Perhaps more importantly, you can tell right away that you’re probably not going to like it.
How long are you going to sit in that movie theater before you get up and walk out?
I asked a few people this question, and the overwhelming majority say they’ll probably sit there with a scowl on their face, hoping it will eventually live up the hype rather than walking out. I suspect that dropping $15 on a ticket and having no immediate options for something better contributes to this behavior. And I’d do the same thing. Heck, I have done the same thing.
But now let’s say the movie is available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, or whatever streaming service we both have. It’s 8:30 at night, the kids are in bed, and you have nothing to do for the next two hours, so it’s a good time to watch the movie I recommended.
When are you going to bail on a movie I recommended that disappoints you from the start? The general consensus is about a half-hour. That’s enough time for a few scene changes or some new character introductions. If it’s still not meeting the hype at that point, most will bail because the switching costs are nominal.
How about an episodic television show that airs weekly? Maybe it’s a comedy show or a news program. This Friday at seven o’clock, you turn on the TV and start watching the show I recommended. Just like the movie, right away you’re not getting what you had been sold. It doesn’t resonate with you, and you’re pretty sure you don’t like it. If you’re like most people I talked to, you’re not going to sit and watch the full hour.
Now think about a serialized show that I recommend to you that’s available on a streaming service. You won’t watch the most recent episode. You’ll go back to season one, episode one, if you’re like most people. And if that first episode fails to live up to the hype right away, you’ll probably keep watching until the episode completes to make your decision. Maybe you’ll give it two episodes to get hooked. But if that hook doesn’t set quickly, you’re off to watch something else. After all, there are functionally infinite choices for you to consume.
Which brings us back to podcasting. How does this behavior relate to our world? I’d wager it’s exactly like one or more of those experiences above. And it’s a failure on the part of the creators to live up to the hype associated with word of mouth that causes people to give up on episodes, podcasts, or network.
If your podcast is hyped as being all about super-great travel, get to that first! I’m OK with you having a chatter and talky-stuff segment to stay nice and chummy with your long-term listeners. But put that in the way of a new person listening for the super great-travel information they were promised at your own peril. They will not wait around for long.
If the most recent episode in your feed is bonus content that is very different from your normal content — perhaps it is a detailed interview with a travel insurance company — understand how jarring and not-what-I-expected this is to potential listeners. Yes, your existing audience will forgive you for the occasional oddity. They know what you can deliver and will just delete an episode if they don’t care about it. But potential listeners? Nope. They’ll just assume the hype was bullshit and bail, never to return.
But you can fix that by prefacing not-normal content. All you have to do is let your listeners know — in the audio of the episode — that this is something out of the ordinary, perhaps going so far as to recommend new listeners not listen to this episode first. Give your potential audience some guideposts if an episode, for whatever reason, won’t immediately live up to the hype your show has developed.
Your feed itself might also be offputting to potential new listeners. No, no one other a fool like me examines RSS feeds before subscribing. But the attention to detail you have on how you tag episodes or date episodes have a huge impact on the experience first-time listeners have with your content. Are you taking advantage of the new tags that allow your serial show to be presented in the correct order, from start to finish? Or do you ignore that, so that the first thing people hear is the Q&A or some fluffy content you dropped while you’re finishing up the next season? That’s a crappy experience.
What about your website? A lot of people brand new to podcasting aren’t going to fire up a podcatcher and search for your show when they get a word of mouth recommendation from a friend. Instead, they’re probably going to use a search engine to find your website. When they get there, will they be able to quickly listen to your best episodes that do match the hype? Or do you just show the most recent episode, which is currently filled with something very much not in line with the hype that’s been generated? Boo.
If you run a podcast network or collective, does your network’s website lazily offer up the most recent show or episode? Or does it feature the best shows and episodes from your network that are designed to hook the potential listener?
Take time today to make sure your podcasting is living up to the hype associated with its word of mouth, would you? It’s critical to ensure new listeners immediately get what they expected, and it’s the best way to keep growing your audience.
Since you got this far, how about mashing that 👏 button a few dozen times to let me know you dig the written-word version of my thoughts on these podcasting topics? I’d sure appreciate it!
This article started life as a podcast episode. The 256th episode of my four-times-a-week short-form podcast called, oddly enough, Podcast Pontifications. It’s a podcast for working podcasters that’s focused on trends in our growing industry and ideas on ways to make podcasting not just easier, but better. Yes, you should listen. Here’s an easy way: 👇
Evo Terra (hey, that’s me!) has been podcasting since 2004, is the author of Podcasting For Dummies and Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies, and is the CEO and founder of Simpler Media Productions, a strategic podcast consultancy working with businesses, brands, and professional service providers all around the world.