Should You Produce An Episode About COVID19 (Or The Next Crisis)?
Does your audience expect you to say something about the pandemic? How do you balance your compassion as a human with your content production plan as a strategic podcaster? Or should you just stay silent?
If you're like me, your inbox is overflowing with COVID19 announcements from every single company you’ve ever given your email address to. Of course, some of those are good updates. I want to hear what airlines are doing to keep me safe when I fly since I really can't escape from that aluminum tube for several hours at a time. I want to know what local businesses I might still frequent are doing to make sure that I am safe if I have to go inside.
Those businesses have already made their decision to talk about the coronavirus. Many podcasters are struggling with that same decision: Should you say something to your audience acknowledging the reality of the pandemic?
On one hand, listening to podcasts is a great way to practice “social distancing”. And since most (?) podcasters produce their shows alone or with guests or co-hosts in remote locations, the act of making a podcast is also good social distancing put in practice.
Still, our audiences might wonder what's going on with the people that make their favorite podcasts. And as human beings who make podcasts for listeners, we often feel a desire to let our audiences know what’s going on with us personally in times of crisis.
Take Jayson Sacco for example. He’s the host of The Ankylosing Spondylitis Podcast. His show is hyper-focused around a specific medical condition. He knows it doesn’t make sense for him to break format and switch to COVID19 reporting. But many of his listeners are immunosuppressed. For this engaged at-risk group, they definitely want to hear from him, if only to know how he’s coping with the current situation.
For others, the line is less direct. If you produce a show that never covers current events, should you say something? If you work very hard to make your episodes are “evergreen” -- meaning they are relevant not just now but will be for years to come -- you have to be cognizant of what could happen if you “date” an episode.
It may feel natural to put a “Merry Christmas!” message at the top of your episode when you release it around December 25th. But when someone listens to it on June 16th, that innocuous message might give them the reason to skip it. Podcasting is time-shifted media, and that holds true for times of crisis as well.
Then there’s the risk of surprising your listeners. If you start your next episode with talk about current events but your show’s episodes are never about current events, will your listeners be confused? Worse, will they skip the entire episode because they just don’t want one more person talking to them about COVID19?
What if you're in the middle of a six-part series on the history of apples (or anything non-pandemic related)? A “special announcement” at the beginning of your fourth episode would be terribly off-putting and impact the flow, wouldn’t it?
These are all questions that you have to answer for your own podcast. But remember: if you do decide it’s a good idea to say something, you don’t have to drop a note at the beginning of your next podcast episode. Nor do you have to put out an entire full episode about the pandemic.
A bonus episode might be just what you need.
Bonus episodes (thanks, Apple!) are just that: extra content that lives outside of the linear or sequential flow of your podcast. True, most podcast app developers have been slow to fully adopt bonus content, so it’ll likely just be presented as the “next” episode to some of your listeners. But don’t let decisions made by lazy developers stop you.
Bonus episodes need not follow the format of your normal episodes. If you decide to put out a bonus episode on your nine-person audio drama that usually runs for 45 minutes, you don’t have to use all nine voices. And it probably shouldn’t be 45 minutes.
Instead, put out a short -- like a minute or two -- bonus episode that says “We're here, we're okay, (or maybe we're not okay), and we hope you’re OK”. Or whatever makes sense for your situation. Your audience wants to be updated and informed about how you and your show are coping with this global crisis.
Here’s your North star for this: If you feel like you need to say something to your audience, either to let them know how you are coping, to let them know that you're in this together, to let them know changes to your production schedule, or whatever else you feel it might be important to say to them: I think you should say something to them.
How you deliver that message is up to you. Remember: your podcast is more than just the audio you put out on your RSS feed. Does your show’s website have a role to play? What about the social media channels where you engage with humans every day?
Just make sure that you do say something… if you want to say something. And consider saying that something as a bonus episode.
On future episodes, I’ll say a bit more about bonus episodes, because I think we underutilize them. And I’ll also talk more about the communication stack beyond your podcast episode. But that’s for another day.
For now, you have some decisions to make. But no matter what you decide, keep communicating with your fellow podcasters during this time of crisis. We’re all in the same boat with you, and we’re each struggling with how to handle our new reality. Strike up a conversation in Slack or in one of the Facebook groups, telling the active podcasters “Evo says we should be telling our audience what's going on with our show as we ride out the pandemic, but what do you think?” and see what other have to say.
I hope you're doing well during this time of coronavirus. We're okay on this side, fully adopting social distancing and self-quarantine methods as we do our part to flatten this curve. Hopefully, you are as well.
And tomorrow, I'll do it again. On another Podcast Pontifications.