By now, you’d think it would be easy to find new listeners for your podcast. But it’s anything but easy, even as podcasting approaches its 16th birthday. Maybe we’re going at it all wrong?
As you know, I’m a professional podcast strategist. I help businesses and professional service providers through all stages of the podcasting process. Naturally, my clients often ask me how they can promote their show to gain more listeners.
Not that I’m surprised. That same question is still asked by people who’ve been podcasting for nearly 16 years.
Clearly, some have cracked the nut. When you look at download numbers for the top podcasts — those that get all of the advertising dollars precisely because they have the majority of the listeners — you see that overall listenership to those big shows continues to grow.
You’ve also noticed the rapid pace of acquisition, where a big company scoops up a smaller podcasting company. Each of those is a bet — sometimes a really big bet — that the acquired shows or talent will be able to grow an audience to a size where podcast monetization can pay off that investment cost and turn a handsome profit.
Every month, Rob Walch from Libsyn gives download numbers across various tiers of podcasting on The Feed, the official Libsyn podcast. I track these numbers every month, and the trend is clear. The top tiers of podcasting continue to increase their average listenership month over month. But the average listenership for the rest of us remains relatively unchanged.
That means the big shows are getting bigger, and everyone else is stagnating or is seeing tiny growth.
So why is that? Why are we seeing big shows grow, but very little growth at the lower levels? There could be (and likely are) many reasons, but the one I want to talk to you about today a reality you might need reminding of:
The majority of potential podcast listeners aren’t hardcore podcast listeners.
They don’t “get” podcasting the way you and I “get” podcasting. Instead, they are quite passive in their podcast consumption. Not “passive” in that they subscribe to a bunch of shows and then wait for episodes to show up. That’s what you and I do! For them, I mean “passive” in that their podcast consumption is much more a once-in-a-while activity. Calling them “occasional” listeners would be better. But “occasional” doesn’t keep the alliteration going in my title the way “passive” does.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, we all understand that fact. And so we should be working to find ways to attract the passive people to our content.
But that’s hard. We’re stuck deep inside of podcasting, and it’s tough for us to relate to the regular folk who know what podcasting is… but just aren’t hardcore about listening like we are.
A helpful way to bridge that gap is by imagining something popular that you’re not into. By way of example, I’ll use TikTok, a new-ish video platform that is (and has been) raging everywhere. TikTok has hardcore creators and users. Musical careers are launched (and I assume lost) on TikTok. Yes, I have a TikTok account. No, I’ve never posted on the service. And I’ve probably opened the app less than 5 times in the year or so I’ve had it.
(Side note: I’m using TikTok as an example because I don’t use it. If you do, then pick a different popular service you don’t use or your realization moment. Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, IGTV, YouTube… it doesn’t really matter. Just roll with it.)
No amount of cajoling by a TikTok creator will get me to follow, subscribe, or whatever the analog is on TikTok. Yes, I’m aware of the service. Yes, I’m aware of the content that has been made on the platform. But I remain convinced that TikTok isn’t for me.
What might get me there is if I continue to see really great content from TikTok shared on other platforms. Not just content from a single TikTok evangelist spreading the message. No, the thing that might push me over the edge is when I see lots of people sharing content from TikTok in places I do frequent.
I can’t put a number to it, but at some point, TikTok could reach a sort of critical mass in my awareness that will cause me to take the plunge and make me into a TikTok convert. It’s the collective overall consciousness of people who are really into that medium, sharing their content, that might push me over the edge.
Let’s bring this back to podcasting. Just like I really don’t believe that there’s all that much that a single TikTok creator can do to increase the overall awareness of TikTok to the masses, I also don’t think there’s much that an individual podcaster can do to increase the overall awareness of podcasting to the masses.
However, that doesn’t mean you should not try.
You’re just one person. I’m just one person. Everybody else is just one person. But if our collective voices get loud enough, we just might be better heard by the masses.
Granted, we podcasters face a tougher uphill climb than TikTok creators. Podcasting isn’t really a platform. It’s not an app that you download. It’s not a self-contained experience. Nor will it ever be.
Right now, most of your podcast promotion probably leverages other podcasts and podcasters. That’s called “fishing where the fish are”, and it’s a super-smart idea. Yes, you should continue to do that.
But you also need to branch out to people who aren’t yet listening to podcasts. You must make sure your promotional content is attractive enough to appeal to people who are aware of podcasting but decided it’s not really for them. You must make sure that what you promote is attractive to anybody who sees the promotional content.
Not only do you have to do it, but your podcasting friends also have to do it. I have to do it.
If there’s one company that’s doing a pretty good job of it already, I think it’s Google. Now, I know you’re freaking out, wondering when Google ever did something good in podcasting. But I think their current approach to podcasting with Google Podcasts is (finally) a good direction. The Google Podcasts team are presenting podcast episodes to people who might be interested in the content of the episode, rather than presenting podcasts to people specifically looking for podcasts.
But you don’t own the world’s biggest search engine. You’re just a podcaster. How you implement an awareness campaign outside of the podcasting world is really up to you. Just like it’s up to me. What’s important is that we do it. All of us. Because if we do it and keep doing it, eventually we’ll reach some of these passive listeners and bring them into the fold of podcasting.
Which might finally give us some growth at the lower tiers, not just at the top.
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 253rd 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.