I have a complicated relationship with community-driven podcasting groups and events. On one hand, I've started plenty of successful community-driven, podcasting groups and events. Also, I've been plenty involved in the podcasting groups and events shared by others, either as a presenter or active participant.
But I also deeply question their value, especially to established working podcasters.
Community is one aspect of podcasting that people—me included—love about podcasting. It's great that we can quickly turn to an online support group and get our questions answered, or provide answers to questions. And once the pandemic is over, it’ll be great to again gather in real life at conferences and meetups, sharing stories and lessons learned with other podcasters face-to-face.
Generally speaking, everyone in podcasting is quite helpful. That’s a big reason why these online support groups and in-person gatherings have swollen in size in recent years. If you’ve been podcasting for less than a decade, it’s quite likely that you’ve personally received loads of value from community-driven sources at one time or another.
Not All Podcasting Advice Is Created Equal
Because what’s the alternative? Using a search engine and trust a company that continues to stumble around podcasting to give you the best answer to your podcasting-specific question? Good luck with that. SERPs—search engine results pages—are lousy with bad ideas, outdated information, and myths about podcasting that refuse to die.
Sadly, lots of these myths and dead-ends are propagated throughout podcasting’s community-driven arenas as well. How is a podcaster—especially a brand new podcaster—to separate the wheat from the chaff? Sure, these communities are somewhat self-corrective, and bad advice is often lambasted. But still, it persists.
When Anyone Is An Expert, No One Excels
Spend some time in these community groups or attend a few podcasting conferences, and it doesn't take you very long before you are asked to chime in with your ideas or to pitch for a speaking slot next year. Again, I think that's a Good Thing and I’m thrilled we’re not a bunch of elitist pricks and are instead quite welcoming of new voices into the fold.
But it literally requires no credentials other than having a loud voice to start providing advice down the chain, either in online groups or at podcasting events. How are the group or event organizers to vet the people who want to speak or offer advice in their forum? It’s nearly impossible to check much beyond “do they have a podcast?”, especially with 10x as many people applying or interested to speak than there are speaker slots available.
It doesn't take credentials to get your opinion heard in the podcasting world. It just takes longevity.
The Mediocritization of Podcasting
When a few weeks of experience is the only thing separating someone asking a question from someone providing an answer, the result will be mediocre. And mediocre advice leads to mediocre shows.
Groups and organizers do their best to bring in true professionals because they want to increase the quality of advice given to their members. But that’s really hard to do, especially when members or attendees have a huge range of abilities and understanding of the medium.
That makes it difficult for anyone to get value from group interactions with professionals. When the pro comes in and says “I want to be helpful, ask me anything!”, most of the questions and answers are irrelevant to most of the audience, meaning most of the audience isn’t getting any value. Questions asked by someone who started podcasting yesterday—or has yet to start podcasting—aren’t likely relevant to someone who has been podcasting for five or six years with an established audience of 10 to 20,000 who came to the event to learn how to grow even further.
Think of it this way. If Serena Williams, the tennis pro, held an open group lesson where literally anyone who could hold a tennis racket could attend, would anybody get real value from attending? Other than hanging out with Serena Williams, I mean. Would lower-level-but-still-pro tennis players or collegiate-level athletes get value when the vast majority of the attendees probably couldn’t return a single one of her serves?
No, they wouldn’t. Instead, Serena would wind up lowering the level of her advice to appeal to the majority in attendance, resulting in a very mediocre lesson from someone at the top of their game.
Dumbing It Down For Experts Is A Bad Idea
Solutions to this reality aren't easy, something I know first-hand. When I was asked to write Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies back in 2007, I was excited! And not only because it was my 2nd book, so I knew I could command a higher advance! But my excitement quickly turned to dismay as I struggled with the problem made self-evident in the title: What the hell is an expert dummy?
I made it about 25% into my portion of the book and knew that I wasn’t having fun. Worse, I had zero confidence in the supposed “expert” practices I was outlining. Lots of it was from imposter syndrome: Other than being in it from the beginning, was I really an “expert” with solid “practices” to share? But I’m good about pushing through imposter syndrome. The bigger problem was trying to write for everyone. I knew the book would wind up being mediocre. So I contacted the publisher and worked out a way to phase me out of the project gracefully and still let the book be published.
There’s a reason why Podcasting for Dummies is on its 4th edition yet you’ve never even heard of Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies.
Avoiding Mediocrity For Your Podcast
I don’t know if a solution exists to this problem. Again, the open nature of podcasting and the willingness of the support groups and events to admit anyone interesting in podcasting is a Good Thing. But I have a couple of ideas for you if you don't want your podcast to get caught up in the mediocritization.
1. Turn to your own peer group.
Find—or create—a peer group of podcasters who have close, but not necessarily matching, skill levels. Again, this is a grouping more based on skills and ability and less a grouping by type of content created. There’s great value in also belonging to peer groups filled with others who make similar content, so do that too. But for this nugget, having a smaller group of “podcasting friends” to turn to, some a level or two above you, and some a level or two below you, tends to lift all participants up to the higher level.
I have a few groups like this, all of them informal. And when I have a question, I turn to one of these peer groups first, because I trust the advice and know that the people I’m asking are true experts. And smarter than me!
2. Don’t abandon your joy.
If you truly enjoy helping newbie podcasters, either in groups or at events, then you should absolutely keep doing that. If it charges your batteries helping up-skill those who need help, go for it! As stated, I’ve done a lot of that during my tenure in podcasting. In order to keep podcasting a welcoming and open place, we need people like you! It’s also a smart market to target, as there’s a never-ending wave of new people coming to podcasting who need help doing things—even the basic things—the right way.
I’m staying focused on podcasters in the middle.
I like talking to working podcasters, so that’s going to remain my focus. Some beginners will get value from my content, though it’s not specifically aimed at them. And I’m sure some pros will also find nuggets as well. But it’s those of us under the mid-section of the bell curve that I’m trying to serve with this show and other efforts. I hope you enjoy it.
And if you know a working podcaster who needs to hear this kind of advice, please share Podcast Pontifications with them. If I’ve done my job right, I should be presenting a markedly different angle than what they’re used to encountering.
And if you really liked what I had to say, you can go to BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra and toss a couple of sheckles my way.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.