We don't talk about fickle or seasonal podcast listeners enough. Or, when we do talk about them, all we talk about is how to convert them from being fickle to becoming loyal, rabid listeners who devour every episode yet remain hungry for more.
That sounds great, doesn’t it? Only, it's not very realistic.
Busy People Listen As Busy People Listen
Harsh reality time: A good percentage of your listeners don't and will never listen to every single episode you publish. If you’re wondering why your stats are different from episode to episode, this is why.
Serialized fiction podcasters see this less often, naturally. People may lose interest in the story after a few episodes and stop listening, sure. But no rational person decides to not listen to Chapter Seven of a novel, skipping ahead to Chapter Eight.
But for the rest of us, we need to realize that people are or get busy, sometimes too busy to listen to our most recent episode. They’re following our show in their preferred podcast listening app, but they don’t always prioritize listening to our episode over the other episodes from other podcasts in their queue.
We podcasters have two different tools that we can better employ to ensure that these fickle listeners—sometimes seasonal listeners who dip in and out of podcast listening depending on other aspects of their lives, like work or school—don't really miss out on an episode of ours that they would have loved to have heard.
Those two tools: the title of your episode and something called a cold open.
Two Rules For Podcast Titles
I’ve harped on podcast titles many, many times over the years, so use the search feature if you want some deeper insights. But for this episode and article, I’m sharing two quick, never-fail rules when it comes to titling podcast episodes:
- Make every character count
- Give them a reason to hit “play”
That means no extra bits in your title that are available elsewhere, like season and episode number. No just relying on the guests’ names. No publishing dates. Nothing resembling a hashtag unless you’re being intentionally ironic. The title should compel your audience to mash the play button. No, it’s not easy to write a compelling title. It’s the last thing I do on each episode, and I go through 3-4 revisions before I’m happy.
But enough on title. Let’s get to the fun part!
Use A Cold Open To Keep Them Listening
If one of your subscribers/followers/collectors (wtf, Pandora?) makes the conscious effort to hit play on your episode, they are very likely to keep listening. Great job titling the episode!
But a lot of your subscribers/followers (no, I’m not calling the collectors anymore, sorry) never make the conscious decision to hit play. Many of them just let their podcast listening app serve up episodes to them. Some have spent a lot of time building playlists, stations, or other groupings. Some just rely on the “what’s new” section. But for all of them, they hit play once and their app takes it from there.
Remember for a moment that these listeners of yours are busy, and they might have a little FOMO about what else they could be listening to today. Some may have a very tight window for listening today and are anticipating an episode of a podcast other than yours. Rather than sorting through their available episodes, they employ the dreaded “swipe left” (or “swipe right” in some apps, because podcast apps eschew standards; see “collections” previously) to quickly dismiss an episode.
This is when having a cold open really helps. If the first seconds of your podcast episode clearly spell out the intent of the episode and set the hook, the fickle listener who is hearing your episode on autoplay will know exactly what they’re missing if they swipe it away. If they just hear your standard opening, even if it’s only 30 seconds, that still 30 seconds of the FOMO part of their brain telling them to swipe away.
Now, it’s possible that the cold open you write and record for your episode doesn’t set the hook. Not because it’s a bad cold open, but because it describes a particular topic and angle that your fickle subscriber doesn’t immediately prioritize. That’s going to happen. And that’s OK. They’ll appreciate the heads up early and look forward to the next time your episode comes up on autoplay because you’re making their overall listening experience that day much better with your cold open.
I write ~200 characters for my cold open of every episode I produce. I do it right before I write the title, and I try to give a good overview of the angle I’m taking with the topic at hand. Bonus: I repurpose that cold open as the subtitle of the article that I post on my website and send to email subscribers.
Special thanks to Betty Dannewitz of the podcast If You Ask Betty for this episode idea. She asked me to speak to her class on the value of cold opens last week, and it was well-enough received that I thought it made sense to bring it here. Thanks again, Betty!
We’ll never convert every—or even most—fickle listeners to becoming rabid fans. There are too many external factors to account for. So all we can do is make it easier for fickle listeners to make better choices on our content. Please share this episode with another podcaster to help them better understand why some episodes are listened to less than others. Cold opens and better titles help better serve this underserved listener persona we all fall into from time to time.
If you liked what I had to say in this episode, please go to BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra. I’m happy to accept your one-off gift of virtual coffee. However, I’d advise you also consider membership which automatically sends me a virtual coffee (or 12) every month. I’ve some “enhancements” coming along with Season Four launching in a couple of months and all of my BMAC members will be grandfathered in.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.