Things I’ve Learned About Podcasting

Recently, I’ve been emailing back and forth with a newer podcaster. Through the course of our conversations, I gave him some suggestions that I’ve learned through observation, experience, and from listening to more experienced podcasters.  Being a podcaster for almost 5  years, I’ve learned a lot about what not to do, and think it’s worth sharing to anyone else who might be interested in the hobby.

Regarding free-form podcasting
Free-form discussion podcasting is probably THE most popular podcasting format for new podcasters. This is because everybody knows how to talk, and nobody likes to feel limited in the kind of subject matter they can discuss. So, they just create a “soap box” podcast so they can express themselves however they want, with no consistent focus or organization.
I can tell you with much certainty that unless you’re already at least somewhat well-known like Ricky Gervais or Jimmy Pardo, you’re not going to get a very substantial fan-base (and therefore, monetary support) by having free-form discussions. This is something we discovered with The MadCast (our first podcast), which, while it had a respectable number of listeners for being so amateur, did not get nearly as much of a fan-base as some podcasts that had a more specific focus, even if we felt like our overall quality was better. Why? Because listeners aren’t that interested in just listening to YOU! They have no pre-established connection to or interest in you, like they do with Adam Carolla. They’re only interested in listening to something that piques their interest. A random guy talking about random stuff is not going to pique someones interest. But a random guy talking about their favorite TV show or favorite activity or favorite subject matter.
In my case, this area has always been a weakness, because I hate the idea of limiting what I’m going to talk about. We finally narrowed it down to the basic idea of “making fun of everyone and everything,” but we still often stray from that. But, then again, my main purpose in this isn’t so much to get a bunch of people to listen. I’m really doing it because it’s fun, and it’s a great opportunity to just goof off with my best friends.  The fact that people are half as entertained as we are with it is really just an added bonus. Also, it’s often just sort of therapeutic.

Listener involvement
The BEST way I’ve found to keep listeners is to get them to participate. Like I said, listeners don’t want YOU; they want the topic that relates to them.  In other words, they don’t want YOU, they want THEMSELVES! They want discussions that reflect or relate to their thoughts/interests, and then they want to be able to voice their opinions on the matter.
The first step is to make sure you provide your contact information. A lot of new podcasters have difficulty knowing how to finish their episodes, and end up saying, “Well, I guess we’re done. Talk to you next time.” Instead, just say “Thanks for listening. If you have any thoughts on Subject X, please feel free to email me at Email Y. And don’t forget to visit our website at bestpodcastever.com, and leave us a review on iTunes!”
There are few things more exciting to a podcaster than to know that not only are people listening to the podcast, but they’re willing to invest time in contributing! That is so exciting!

Segments
One thing I’ve learned both through listening to and creating podcasts is that LISTENERS LOVE ORGANIZATION! They like podcasts to have a pattern that they can expect, and they like to have variety within the focus. The MadCast started out as free-form, and gradually evolved into having a few segments, but the best thing is to plan ahead before the very first episode and outline exactly what the template will be for each episode. For example, if you’re going to have a show about Poker, some of your segments could include: “Chip Tips: Quick ways to improve your game” or “Tales from the Chip: Funny/Interesting Poker stories” (those titles might also work for a potato chip enthusiast’s podcast, as well).
You kind of have to think of it as a magazine. If you picked up a magazine about Food, you wouldn’t want the entire magazine to be a single discussion about salsa. You would want organization: segments, tips, recipes, reader submissions, etc. Sure, they might have the occasional issue that’s focused on a specific type of food, but they’d still have it broken down into different segments/sub-topics.
No Show has been a definite improvement for me in this area, and it’s helped us to provide better, and more consistently quality content, because it requires some prior planning.  However, if you tie your segments into listener involvement, and ask them for their submissions, it becomes easier and easier to provide that content. Our Craptastic Products segment has reached a point where we never have to worry what product we’re going to feature, because we have a backlog of listener submissions.

Length of Time & Frequency
Listeners like consistency. They want to know how long your episodes will generally be, and they want to know when to expect new episodes. When I first started The MadCast, I released episodes as soon as I recorded them, whether they were 3 days apart or 3 weeks. I don’t recommend that. Instead, with No Show, we generally get together every 2 weeks, and record 2 episodes at once. Then we space those episodes out  and release them on Fridays, 1 week a part. That tells the listeners when to expect an episode, and how often.
Length of time is a tricky one, but you should consider how much content you’ll be providing on a consistent basis, and how long it will take to cover it. Then you’ll want to try to stick with that length of time. We generally shoot for 45 minutes, give or take. The best advice I can give is that less is more. hour-long shows can be a little too long, and it’s better to leave your listeners begging for more than to have them wondering when it will end.

Building Connections
The best thing I’ve ever done to get new listeners is to SHARE my listeners with others. I’ve connected with other podcasters, shared advertising time, and made references to other podcasts.  This has worked to my advantage in sometimes unexpected ways. When the Nobody’s Listening podcast temporarily ended, some of their listeners started submitting content to us for segments we didn’t even have, because they were looking for something to fill the void!
Once you’ve outlined your podcast format and focus, I recommend recording a couple promos that you can share with other podcasters such as myself, to play on their shows.

Making Money
I don’t know anything about this. Like I’ve said, No Show is missing one of the key components that generates a solid fanbase: a narrower focus. That’s fine by me, since we’re just in it for fun.  In all honesty, podcasts just simply aren’t known for generating any substantial funds.  But, if you want to hear a success story in that regard, you should check out Cliff J. Ravenscraft at gspn.tv –especially his Podcast Answerman podcast. This guy is a podcasting genius who has built his career from podcasting, and it all started with an amateur podcast about the TV Show Lost. Now, people PAY money to subscribe to his “premium” podcasts, and he is making probably close to 100k or more between subscriptions, podcast consulting, and selling podcast equipment!
Some things that can definitely help with this are making sure you have a way to track your downloads/subscriptions. Podtrac.com is one great resource, as they will not only help you track statistics, but they can also help you find advertisers.
I also use feedburner, which does some tracking, as well, but I’m not as confident in it’s accuracy. The MAIN benefit, though, is that it generates an RSS “mask” that redirects to my actual RSS feed, which is something like “noshow.net/podcast/podcast.xml” (I don’t have it memorized). The RSS feed that feedburner generates is the one that I submit to iTunes: feeds.feedburner.com/noshow. That way, if I ever want to change my domain or reorganize my URL, let’s say to noshow.breakroomstudios.com/rss.xmll” all I have to do is tell feedburner that I changed my URL, and it will start directing to the new URL without requiring me to resubmit my RSS feed to iTunes or try to convince my listeners to resubscribe to my new URL (and potentially lose some subscribers in the process).
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  • Firstly, awesome post. I really like the focus on the form and structure of podcasting (or lack of) over the more typical content you find in posts like these that focus on technology, equipment and sound quality.

  • This article inspired a series on Podcast Structure. http://podcast.nlcast.com/podcasting/podcast-structure/

  • You need more tags on this post.

    • LOL don’t get me started. It’s embarrassing. I was trying to figure out SEO at the time. Obviously… hadn’t quite grasped it