"You Can't Do That on a Podcast!" (yes you can)

A line you might see in articles that seem to come out every few months is the idea that podcasts are "the wild west of media." While I don't necessarily agree with the idea that podcasts are new (shameless plug for my podcast The Story Behind Podcasts), I love the idea that new podcasts are being created and new formats are being experimented on all the time, and it's wonderful.

"You Can't Do That on a Podcast!" (yes you can)

I get disheartened when I see emerging podcasters lose steam when they see a podcast that's similar to what they are producing or, maybe even worse, not seeing any podcast that sounds like the one they want to produce.

But that's the great thing about podcasting. Could anyone have predicted that following a true crime investigation of a single case for 12 episodes would be a huge breakout hit? Or that a guy in his garage would get to interview the president of the United States? Or that indie shows like a show with the premise of ghost tours for the theater of the mind would surpass 2 million episodes and thrive on being entirely listener-supported? Or that a stack of found letters between two girls and their landlord would become a cult phenomenon?

I feel like every time I meet a new podcaster and hear about their show, I may come across as a crazed fan-girl because I really believe anyone who gets behind a mic and talks about what they love or what means something to them or with the intention of entertaining others is an amazing human being. Even if the concept has been done before, every new person puts a new spin on it.

"But I want to be just like [fill-in-the-blank-podcast]."

Unfortunately, you can't. You will always add something different to the mix, and that's a good thing! The great thing about podcasts is you're not competing with others in the same genre or with similar shows. Podcasts are an on-demand medium. If listeners like a show, they're more likely to seek out similar shows for the weeks when podcasters take a break or when the listener has run out of old episodes to binge on.

If you're a part of the Facebook group Podcasts We Listen To (and I encourage you to join, if you haven't already), you will see at least a few posts per week along the lines of "I'm out of episodes to listen to of [fill-in-the-blank podcast], what do you recommend I listen to next?"

Your podcast app recommendations can only take you so far with its algorithm of showing similar shows or what others subscribe to. But the best way to hear about other podcasts is through actual listener recommendations. Think about it in terms of television shows. Are you more likely to watch a show because a commercial, geared to appeal to a broad number of people, make it look fun and flashy? Or are you more likely to try out a new show if a trusted friend recommends it to you? 

"My podcast is like nothing else out there, where will I find my audience?"

Start easy. Let your friends and family know you have a podcast (believe it or not, I see this simple step skipped by a lot of emerging podcasters, maybe because of the fear of actual people they know listening to them). Even if it's not their style or even if they don't like podcasts, they will at least be aware you have a podcast. If the topic should come up in conversations they're in, they'll be able to say, "Oh! I know someone with a podcast! It's called ..."

Next step is to find groups on social media your show would appeal to. Check Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags, subReddits, etc. And you don't just go barging in, leaving a link to your show and asking everyone to listen, right? No. Start off by introducing yourself and joining conversations. If the subject comes up naturally, that's when you could talk about your show. Some Facebook groups even have specific days or posts for people to show off what they're working on.

You may not even know you have a potential audience in groups you already belong to. For example, I belong to a few groups on Facebook for introverts. Every so often, someone will start a thread to ask what creative projects we are into, and whenever I mention I produce podcasts, either people will click on my profile to see my show (you do have your show listed in your social media profile, right?) or they might ask about it.

You can also ask your existing audience to reach out to say hello. Befriend these early listeners and treat them like royalty. These will become your shows ambassadors, especially if you are a personable host they know will take the time to respond to them and start conversations with. One of the reasons I love indie podcasts so much is the hosts are usually always up for a conversation via social media and I get to know them quite well. Not to say the bigger shows' hosts don't do that sometimes, but you're more likely to be able to reach out and interact with a host who doesn't have thousands of people Tweeting at them on a daily basis.

Actionable Tips

  • If you have an idea that's out of the ordinary for a podcast, GO FOR IT!
  • If you're worried about starting or continuing a podcast because there's already a similar podcast out there, DO IT ANYWAY!
  • Open yourself up to new podcasts and become interested in other podcasters. Be a part of the community for podcasters and listeners.
  • Take part in conversations about podcast recommendations, even if your show doesn't fit the bill, become an advocate for other podcasts, in general.
  • Tell people about your podcast. Don't hide it (unless, of course, it's a podcast that might not be suitable for all ears or might get you in trouble at work).
  • Nurture your existing audience. They will be lifelong fans if you foster a relationship with them early on.