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Podcasting: dos & don’ts

Podcasting is now a well-established channel for publishers, but with over five million podcasts out there, how do publishers get their podcasts to stand out from the crowd? Firstly, says Ben Youatt, Immediate Media’s head of podcasts, make sure you truly understand your audience…

By Ben Youatt

Podcasting: dos & don’ts

In a digital era brimming with innovation, podcasting has created a reputation for itself as a burgeoning new content type with a proven track record for building highly engaged audiences on a global scale whilst at the same time showing consistent year on year commercial growth.

Podcasting was popularised by the independent content creator sector. This niche content type allowed content creators to break the firm, fussy, formalised “rules” of traditional audio broadcasting – opening the flood gates for a new wave of spoken word content that reached users in a more candid, intimate and no-holds-barred approach which audiences overwhelmingly found refreshing and liberating.

However, more than a decade on from the release of the Ricky Gervais podcast and shows like the WTF podcast becoming one of the largest podcasts in the US, podcasting has firmly entered the mainstream, and it’s easy to see why. With some reports estimating that the global podcast market will be worth 130 billion USD by 2030, it’s understandable why we are seeing more and more publishers and content producers wanting to get involved with this exciting, expanding media opportunity.

The dos

So, for UK publishers wanting to get involved with podcasting for themselves, what is there to know? What are the dos and don’ts?

Starting with the ‘dos’, the first and perhaps most important, involves developing a clear podcasting strategy focusing on the ‘Why?’ Why do you want to do a podcast? Is it to grow your brand? Is it to be commercially successful? Each of these objectives will demand a different content approach, so make sure you understand how podcasting works and what audiences expect before you start to engage with listeners.

Secondly, do create something users will find relevant. Podcasting is based on intimacy and trust so you must understand your target audience – Who are they? What interests them? What value can your podcast bring to their lives? How does your podcast personify you and your brand? The distinctive ‘voice’ of your podcast, its unique format and the personality you choose to personify – these are all crucial elements. Being mindful of these aspects not only moulds the success of your podcast but directly affects the level of engagement and resonance you establish with your audience.

Another significant ‘do’ involves leveraging your existing platforms for cross-promotion. This is a particularly useful strategy if you’re already a publisher with an established audience base, such as a well-liked magazine. The opportunity here is crucial; you can target this readership to generate interest and awareness about your podcast, especially when introducing a new show into the market. Ways to do this include placing prominent highlights of your podcast, embedding QR codes for easy and instant access, and regular mentions within your magazine’s issues. This strategy allows you to tap into an existing loyal audience base and introduce them to a fresh new product they are most likely to want to try. And, of course, magazines are just one example. This is just as important across your digital assets as well, especially on your website, newsletters, social, video etc. If you want users to trust your new content streams, you must feature it prominently and proudly across as many touch points as possible.

The third ‘do’ is to make sure you adopt a commercially viable model for your podcast. Various revenue models exist and can be explored, such as sponsorships, subscriptions and advertisements. It’s about finding the right equilibrium and model that aligns with your show’s content and appeals to your audience, making your podcast a rewarding and sustainable venture.

The final ‘do’ encourages you to push the envelope and experiment with different content formats. Before you have a large-scale audience in place, you have an opportunity to make learnings. Try new formats, hosts, guests, lengths, approaches to using social or video. My recommendation would be to try all of the above in as many ways as possible and find out what works best for you. Often, the most successful content creators are the ones who give themselves space to be flexible and who let the market determine their next steps.

However, success in the podcasting world doesn’t solely depend on following the ‘dos’. There’s also a set of ‘don’ts’ that one needs to be aware of and avoid.

The don’ts

Firstly, don’t underestimate the importance of production quality. The days of bedroom podcasters becoming international superstars are long gone. As a named publisher, audience expectations for your content to be best in class are incredibly high, and production quality is one of the first things audiences notice. Not only will a ropey recording be unenjoyable for users generally, but it also reflects badly on your guests and your commercial clients, so definitely one to prioritise as an all-round essential element to get right.

Secondly, don’t be swept away by unrealistic expectations of attracting a massive audience as soon as your podcast launches. Growing an organic audience often takes time. The growth process is influenced by a plethora of factors such as the quality of your content, the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, and the unique needs and interests of your target audience. Patience and persistence, in this case, are truly virtues.

Thirdly, don’t disregard the power of timing your releases strategically. For instance, if you’re venturing into releasing an entertainment series, you might find that it garners more interest during the colder months of the year, when streaming services typically push more content. By aligning your podcast release timeline with strategic moments in the year, you can potentially maximise audience interest and engagement.

Also, it’s important that you don’t prioritise quick commercial wins over your long-term brand reputation. Often, new podcasters get approached by a suite of advertisers and brands looking to sponsor your show. Always make sure to prioritise brands that align well with your audience. One of the biggest issues podcast audiences have is with the amount of ads they get served, but also the ads they are served aren’t relevant to them and their needs. So, it’s imperative that you partner with sponsors who share your standards, and who offer something your listeners will find valuable. I would encourage publishers to see a podcast sponsorship as more of a partnership rather than a straightforward transactional client relationship. A well-placed brand partnership from a well-known advertiser can do as much to establish your credibility as it can to advertise their products or services.

Lastly, don’t restrain yourself from exploring paid subscription models. Even if you only have a small user base to start, a core group of loyal subscribers can generate substantial revenue, especially when you are committed to consistently delivering high-quality, engaging content that your listeners value and eagerly await.

Taking your podcast to the next level

However, for publishers or content creators out there who may already have experimented with podcasting but haven’t found huge success with it yet, what other questions should they be asking themselves? For example, many publications may have recorded a podcast, made a feed, released episodes, and featured them across their other channels, but they are still not getting the breakthrough numbers they were hoping for. If that is the case, there are some key factors that publishers should consider if they want to elevate their podcast to the next level.

Firstly, I would encourage publishers to think of podcasting as a blank slate. Just because you have a well-known brand across other mediums doesn’t mean there is a pre-made audience waiting for your content to arrive in the podcast space. There are already more than five million podcasts globally, and most of the largest podcasts have accrued highly engaged, highly loyal fan bases over many years. So, as a publisher entering the space at this point in time, you will need to create something very special in order to win over existing audiences and win market share away from existing podcast incumbents.

In order to do this, you will need to understand the market, and how your content fits against your podcasting competitors. So, one way you can elevate your podcast is by making sure you do your research. Build a strong understanding of how podcast audiences behave and think about ways your content can fit into their preferred behaviours.

For example, if you are a news-based organisation, you might want to think about what time of day or what time of week you want to release your episodes? It might sound simple but it’s the simple things that publishers often get wrong, or don’t think to prioritise. If you have a daily news briefing podcast, make sure it’s on your listeners’ feed before they wake up each morning so that they can tune in whilst they are on their commute to work. If you have a comedy podcast that releases one episode a week, then set a fixed day in the week when your audiences know your content will be released and stick to it firmly. Podcast audiences enjoy the habitual nature of tuning into a collection of their favourite shows each week across different days. They look forward to it and they plan their listening schedule accordingly. So, when episodes are published later than promised, it undermines the trust and the reliability they put in you as a publisher. All of which will ultimately affect your ability to generate momentum and create continued growth.

In conclusion, achieving success in podcasting revolves around truly understanding your audience. Craft compelling content that resonates so that you can build a robust audience, and by deploying a viable and effective commercial strategy that suits your business, you should be able to make this a profitable venture as well.

Hopefully, publishers might be able to apply some of these strategies to propel their podcasts to an entirely new level of success and carve out a robust, dynamic and profitable podcasting business for themselves.

Extra reading:

Podcasting Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis

53 Podcast Statistics: Listeners, Growth & Trends (2023)

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.