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People - listeners - are attracted to popular podcasts. Other people - podcasters like us - do very little to promote the popularity of the podcast we produce.
Broadly speaking and en masse, people like to do the things that lots of other people are doing. There are notable exceptions, obviously. Tastemakers and trendsetters enjoy searching for an obscure band, a crazy TV show from Poland, or other unknown gems. But the majority of humans take (and seek out) comfort in knowing the thing they are consuming is also being consumed by others.
Lay the blame on evolutionary biology if you like, but humans tend to follow the crowd. It’s safer.
But from where does “the crowd” get information on popularity? Offline media - radio, TV, billboards, etc - put a lot of credence into audience measurement. You’ve probably heard of Nielsen Audience Measurement or the equivalent in your country, but it’s less likely you or anyone you know is a subscriber to the service. This valuable service the industry relies on is worthless to the audience of these media.
It’s worse in podcasting, as the most commonly used podcast metrics have little to do with audience activity.
Instead, the crowd picks up signals from… well, the crowd. Popular media is discussed publicly in places like Reddit forums, Discord servers, fan pages, chat rooms, messenger services, emails, and countless other places where people talk to other people.
Other Media Leave Podcasting In The Dust When Popularizing Popularity
Content may be king, but only if the king is popular. You may not want to admit it, but you’re much more likely to watch a video with a million views than a video with zero. Why else do you think view counts and the number of subscribers to the channel are so prominent? The fact that both are flawed is meaningless in this context. They aren’t mean to be accurate. They’re meant to show popularity. Or, in the case of the Podcast Pontifications Videos channel on YouTube, a lack thereof. 😢
Every social media site does the same, with indicators showing how many followers an account has, how often their content is re-shared, how many people have left a comment, and how many people liked the content. You may think you ignore these little numbers and focus on the content itself, but you’re either fooling yourself or you’re an outlier. Which of those is true doesn’t matter, because everyone that does matter lives under the bell curve that responds well to those data.
We’re not immune to this, podcasters. People really want to know the content they're engaging with is worth their time before they engage with it. Heck, before they even sample it. Especially in a high-friction and isolated medium like ours. Before investing, would-be listeners want some assurances. Is the content any good? Is there enough content to keep them engaged? Or to sum it up, is this podcast popular?
Pushing Proof Of Podcast Popularity
The most widely available proof of popularity for podcasts comes in the form of ratings and reviews collected inside a handful of podcast listening apps. I remain skeptical in-app ratings and reviews influence a significant number of people. And judging by the way the apps treat the display and collection of ratings and review, I think the podcast app makers are skeptical of the value of these data as well.
But we can take matters into our own hands, podcasters. We can take those public-facing ratings and reviews to spread the valuable social proof they offer. Each review - assuming it positive and earned - increases the warm fuzzies people have about our podcast. But only if it’s seen.
To that end, I’m going to modify a long-held position of mine and suggest a two-step course of action that I’m calling R&R Blitz and Harvest.
Ratings & Review Blits & Harvest To Promote Your Podcasts Popularity
This strategy starts with some common advice that I’ve never felt quite right about: get a bunch of ratings and reviews for your podcast. Even if your audience is small (and hopefully dedicated) you can ask them to leave a rating and a review of your podcast. But that’s only the first step.
Step two, and why I’m feeling better about this, is to harvest those reviews repurposing where they will do additional good for your show beyond the siloed app where the review was left.
Your website is an obvious place to start this repurposing. Simply take a screenshot of the review and add it to your website. Where you add it is up to you, but I’d make it prominent. I’d make sure it was seen by new people however they discover your webpages (which means more than just your home page). And I’d make sure it helped people on the fence about listening to click to listen or subscribe.
Your social channels are another obvious place. Share the screenshot and, if you’re able to make the connection, tag or mention the person who left the review for you. And include a link back to your show that everyone can use!
Share Your Podcast’s Popularity, Not Your Downloads
Forget that you’re a podcaster for a moment. As a listener, which of these gives you the warm fuzzy that a podcast is popular:
- This show has had almost 34,000 all-time downloads.
- This show has nearly 1,200 monthly listeners.
If you can’t get past the “big numbers are better” problem, you probably had a hard time with denominators when you first learned fractions. Bigger isn’t always better. More meaningful is always better.
The first bullet tells people nothing. It gives zero indication of popularity. And while the 2nd bullet is far from perfect (like, how many of those monthly users sampled and bailed?), it clearly indicates popularity, limited though it may be.
Pressure your podcast hosting company to provide this info to you. All of them can. Switch if they don’t. Captivate.fm does. (Disclosure: I’m on their advisory board.) And publish the meaningful metric everywhere you can.
Push Yourself As A Podcaster To Show Your Own Popularity
Don’t forget the role you, the podcaster, play in increasing awareness and demonstrating the popularity of your own show. Actively seeking out guest spots on other podcasts (ideally in your niche) is a smart way to do this. My default answer is always “yes” when asked to be a guest on podcasts. It’s relatively low-effort for me, and I’m confident a goodly number of listeners to the episode I’m guesting on have never heard of me. And for those who have heard of me but haven’t yet listened to Podcast Pontifications, hearing me on a variety of shows they do listen to showcases my popularity, which becomes associated with my show’s popularity. Some will (finally) listen.
Don't ignore places where non-audio content rules the day. Writing articles for publications - on and offline - that showcase your expertise or POV helps prove your popularity. As does appearing on live streams, guest lecturing in an educational setting, and even cozying up to the local news stations in your town. Popularity begets popularity. And you have something to say. You’re smart if you say it (or write it) on someone else’s platform too.
All of these and more are smart ways to milk your podcast’s popularity for all it's worth. With that, I'm going to make a rare request as I try to eat a little of my own dogfood. Please go to RateThisPodcast.com/PodPont where you will see options relevant to your current operating system where you can rate and review Podcast Pontifications.
I need some specific help with Stitcher, where I have zero reviews of the show. Not that I care deeply about R&R on Stitcher. But diversity of platforms is important as I start showcasing new reviews. Podchaser only shows 11 ratings, and a whopping 20 show on Apple Podcasts. If you review Podcast Pontifications in one of those places, I will screenshot your review and put it on my website. I'm going to modify the home page and other relevant pages to accommodate this new “social proof” section, including the audience numbers I mentioned previously. I hope to have that done by the weekend, so don’t miss your chance to be featured. For free!
See you tomorrow for another Podcast Pontifications.