Growing your podcast’s audience - actually increasing the number of people who listen, not just boosting questionable download numbers - isn’t as easy as you want it to be. Even if you’ve been super smart and spent loads of time on audience segmentation and other analyses to drill-down on your exact avatar. Even if you’ve taken that data and determined there are huge numbers of people interested in your topic. Even if you have an outstanding marketing campaign to reach a significant chunk of those interested people.
Even if you do all those things right, you’ll likely find that your podcast will only attract a tiny fraction of people who are interested in the topic of your show.
Interest Levels May Not Matter So Much
Don’t be so quick to assume this is about the “care level” people have about the topic. You might think that the problem has to do with where the people fall on the strength-of-interest spectrum, dismissing those who don’t listen as having only a casual interest in the topic, where your podcast will attract those who are really serious.
And sure, maybe those are factors in some people’s decisions. But I think that ignores the reality that people have medium preferences. Here’s what I mean.
I've always enjoyed cooking. My mom taught me how to cook when I was a kid, and I’ve been the cook in my household ever since Sheila got married 31 years ago.
But I've never once listened to a cooking podcast? And I doubt I ever will. Because I have no desire to listen to a cooking podcast.
And I think that it’s desire mixed with medium preferences that determine whether someone listens to your podcast or not.
Medium Preferences, Desire, & Reaching Potential listeners
Let’s stick with my interest in cooking to explore these concepts of medium preferences and desire more closely. And we’ll start with the original killer app: email.
It goes without saying that I have an email account, just like you. But ubiquitous as email may be, I don’t subscribe to any cooking newsletters. I don’t get emails from cooking companies or cooking-related content providers. (And if I do, I quickly hit unsubscribe and report spam.)
I’m quite active on social media. Yet I don't follow any cooking accounts, foodie personalities, or other cooking-related content providers on social media.
I have a TV and subscribe to more than one OTT streaming service. But I don't watch cooking shows. Nor do I watch shows with cooking-adjacent content. I don’t even watch “how to” cooking videos on YouTube, so I obviously don’t subscribe to any cooking YT channels either.
So here’s me, a person with a high amount of interest in cooking - I cooked probably 75% of the meals we eat even before the pandemic - who simply doesn’t have the desire to consume cooking-related content in any of those mediums. Content providers on those mediums reach me all the time. But I don’t engage with that reach. I’m not going to take the action they want me to take. I’m not going to subscribe. I’m not going to watch. I’m not going to listen. I’m not going to click through.
I simply do not have the desire to do so.
This is what we’re up against in podcasting. If money were no object, we could reach just about everybody who happens to be interested in our topic. That could be thousands or millions of people. And we could reach them with highly targeted and customized messages that extol the benefits of listening to our podcast.
But we’re only ever going to convert a small fraction of those we reached to become listeners of our podcast.
Making the decision to listen to a podcast is often not a binary choice. All things are rarely equal, and this choice is no different than most others we make every day. It’s not a coin toss to decide to listen to a podcast or not.
Time is a big factor. Someone might have a high interest in the topics you cover on your show, but do they have the time to listen? This isn’t me once again telling you to make your episodes shorter (though, seriously, make your episodes shorter). This is about the discretionary time - real or imaginary - available for the person with high interest.
Need is another. Sticking with the cooking theme and paying homage to the time of year when this article was written: I’m quite happy with our family’s pumpkin pie recipe. I don’t need another one. So I certainly don't need five other ones. It doesn’t matter how much your podcast scratches a particular itch if the would-be-listener is already getting that itch scratched by another podcast. Or five other podcasts. They don’t need to add another one.
Or it could be an issue of taste. My wife loves pie, just not pumpkin pie. A new recipe won’t help fix that. The content you create on your podcast or the way you cover your topic may not fit the desired flavor profile of someone else interested in that very same topic.
Most likely, assuming you’re making a top-notch show that is worthy of growth, is the harsh reality that the person with high interest in the topic may have no desire to consume content about that topic in podcast form. Because I think I can stretch the food metaphor a bit further: think about the last time you ordered a bowl of cereal from a restaurant. Now think about all the times you eat cereal at home.
Podcasting A Path Foward Regardless
I hope you haven’t thrown up your hands in despair this far into the article. Some of my missives can be a bit depressing, I know. But I’d rather harsh your mellow than have you believing in mythology. And it’s not all bad news.
Accepting the fact that interest in a topic does not equate desire to listen to a podcast on that topic is key. It’s not enough that lots of people are into the thing that you podcast about, because many (most, actually) just don’t have the desire to listen to a podcast about the thing they are into.
Repurposing content can help. Those same people into the thing may have a desire to consume content about the thing in a different medium. What medium? I don’t know. Try all of them! Or as many as you can accommodate. Yes, that means more effort on your part to repurpose the content you’ve already dedicated a lot of time to make as a podcast into other forms. But maybe you’ll find that the growth you were looking for expressed in one of those other mediums. Wouldn’t that be interesting?
In the meantime, you need to continue to activate your existing listeners. Your existing listeners already have the desire to listen to your show. By “activate” them I mean ask them to spread your show through word of mouth. Chances are, they're interacting with people who have similar desire levels.
That's why every episode of this podcast includes a short plea to my own listeners - and my readers - that they take a moment to share it with a friend. Because the only way Podcast Pontifications grows is when one working podcast shares the show or newsletter with another working podcaster.
Are you doing something similar in your show? Are you asking people who listen to share your show with other people who share similar interests? I’d love to know how that’s been working for you. You can leave a comment here to start the conversation.
And now I have my CTAs (never have more than one CTA, by the way) out of order, so here’s the reminder to visit BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra to support the program in the form of a virtual coffee.
I shall be back tomorrow for yet another Podcast Pontifications.
Podcast Pontifications is written and narrated by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy, corrected the transcript, and edited the video. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.