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If ever there was a time to release bonus content, it's now, right? We are all reading extra content and occasionally hearing extra content from companies and people all around the world as they scramble to keep customers, clients, friends, and family updated during the pandemic.
Yesterday I talked about using a bonus episode to let your audience know how the COVID19 pandemic and subsequent social distancing measures are impacting you and your show personally. Today’s focus will a broader conversation that features some creative ways podcasters can make better use of bonus episodes.
Apple Podcasts gifted us the ability to make a distinction between “normal” (they call them “full”) episodes and “extra” (“bonus” to them) episodes. It’s a simple tag that can be set in the dashboard of your podcast media hosting company, and it denotes an episode that sets outside of your normal flow.
Regular broadcasters can't really do this. Simply because most broadcasting is done on a set schedule. The show you watch each week comes on Tuesday at 7p. If the hosts/stars of the show want to put out a special bonus episode... they really can't. No watcher/listener is expecting the bonus content, so they won’t know to tune in at a different time or on a different day than the scheduled broadcast slot. Of course, networks can run special announcements prior to this in an effort to get the word out, but that doesn’t always work. And it’s worse for most on-demand or streaming services because people aren’t “subscribed” to or expecting alerts or special announcements coming from their on-demand providers.
Which is where podcasting wins! For the people who are subscribed to our feeds, they’ll get any bonus episodes we release. Yes, we have (or you should have) a schedule and a cadence for releasing our regular episodes. But when we have something special or just different to say, we can say it with a bonus episode and not impact the regular flow of our content.
This is a tough thing for a lot of podcasters to wrap their head around. They're thinking -- rightly so -- that their episodes drop on Tuesdays at midnight, come hell or high water. But sometimes there’s a need to work around that publishing schedule. And that's what you do with bonus episodes.
Here are nine ideas for bonus content that you should examine for your podcast.
Announcing a break from publishing new episodes
Lots of podcasters do this already, and I highly recommended it. if you're taking a break, either planned or unplanned, make an announcement to your audience. Take a few minutes to hop behind the microphone and record a real quick “We're going on break and will be back later” message. Put it out maybe three days after your last episode published so no one's wondering what happened to your show.
Generate easier content in-between full episodes
Some podcast episodes take a lot of time to produce, causing many to struggle to keep up with a weekly schedule. Some savvy podcasters are releasing full episodes fortnightly, and then releasing an easier-to-produce episode on the off weeks, giving them a weekly schedule without the giant time commitment. Check out how My Dad Wrote A Porno does this. Brilliant!
Go behind the scenes
Don’t underestimate how much some of your listeners would love to see the sausage being made. But also don’t overestimate that every one of your listeners wants to hear this. They don’t. Trust me. So if you want to give a peek behind the curtains, be sure to tag the episode as a bonus to keep both types of listeners happy.
Feature a special co-host
If you find out celebrity is a fan of your show, why not get them on the program? Yes, even if you don’t normally do interviews or can’t find a way to roll the special guest in your regular show. Again, that’s a perfect way to use a bonus episode, so you get all that star power.
Release a music-only episode
If you feature music in your podcast, consider doing a show where you just talk about the music used to make the show. This is easier for podcasts that do lots of heavy music scoring, but it also works for those who use a single track for the intro and outro of every episode. There’s a story of why you picked it, and at least some of your audience wants to hear the whole track from start to finish. (Which you have the right to use, right? Right.)
Turn the mic around and give a reverse interview
Good interviewers ask the right questions so their audience really gets to know their guests. But often, they know little about you, the host of your own show! So find someone to interview you. It could be a past guest. It could be another podcaster. Regardless, you’re in the hot seat letting your audience know you better.
Interview your supporting crew
It takes a lot of different skillsets to make a podcast. And even single-person shows often rely on others in various supporting roles. Consider sitting down with your producer, reporters on the ground, your graphics dude, or whoever else you rely on to make the show. Featuring the people who don't necessarily have a voice on your program will be interesting to some of your audience, I promise.
Podcast non-podcast appearances
Live shows are popular (well, were popular and I assume will be once again when this pandemic is in our rear-view) with podcasters. As are various in-person speaking gigs or other opportunities where podcasters present to people other than their listeners. Record that stuff! Then put it out on your podcast as a bonus episode.
When news breaks
We’re surrounded by breaking news right now, and it’s a good less for all podcasters. If something happens in a news cycle that’s relevant to your show or your genre, you might need to get an episode out quickly. A bonus episode is a great way to do that without impacting the other episodes you have stacked up for the next two or three weeks.
And that’s just a start. There are all sorts of ways smart podcasters can use bonus episodes. But before you start, there are three major considerations you need to staple to your wall so you don’t forget to think about them before you drop a bonus episode.
1. Should this bonus episode live only in the feed or should it also be on the website?
I made the decision that bonus episodes of Podcast Pontifications would be feed-only. So far I’ve released 16 bonus episodes of my show, and none of them have a corresponding webpage. I'm not saying you should do that. I'm saying you have to decide what’s right for you.
2. How will you promote these bonus episodes?
Bonus means taking a different approach than your normal full episodes. So while you can (and should) use the same promotional machinery you use to promote your full episodes, you probably can't (or shouldn’t) do the exact same promotional things for these special episodes. Think through that before you release it.
3. What will new listeners think about your overall show?
These bonus episodes are different. Perhaps drastically different from your normal episodes. If you just shove a bonus out there without any explanation because you know your audience will get it, you run the very real risk of turning off new listeners who most certainly will not get it. New people are exposed to your podcast for the first time all the time, and they're going to get that bonus content before they get your regular episodes. So make sure that bonus content is clearly labeled -- in-audio as well as in-feed -- as a bonus episode that takes a departure from your standard fare.
Get together with your podcasting family and have a conversation about how each of you are (or are not) using bonus content. Tell them you heard about me talking about making bonus episodes and put forth the idea of collaborating together. That might be fun.
You know what else will be fun? Me coming back tomorrow to do this again for another Podcast Pontifications.