I wonder how many of the subscribers to or followers of your podcast have followers remorse? And by your followers and subscribers, I of course mean my followers and subscribers as well.
By followers remorse, I mean someone who took the time to add your podcast to their listening app... but now they kind of wish they hadn't. For whatever reason, your show is no longer for them. But they haven't removed your show from their listening app.
If you or I found ourselves in that situation, where a show in our subscription or follow list was no longer for us, we'd unsubscribe or unfollow that show with haste.
Or would we?
If I've just described your behavior every single time, then kudos to you. But that's not most people's behavior.
Most people, especially the more casual listeners of podcasting, tend not to unsubscribe or unfollow. Anathema, right?
But I'd bet you don't unsubscribe or unfollow shows you've stopped listening to as often as you think. Even for shows that don't pan out the way you had hoped.
Beyond Binary Thinking About Podcast Followers
If you've listened to my podcast or read my articles for any length of time, you know that I actively rail against binary thinking. And the thinking that people who want to listen subscribe or follow until they don't want to listen anymore at which point they unsubscribe or unfollow... that's binary thinking. And it's wrong.
We know that's wrong because we see it in the data. Compare the download metrics from any podcast's hosting provider to the listen metric from the podcast apps and the reality stares you in the face. Reality, as is often the case, is messy.
Reality dictates we should learn to embrace this "middle" listener. No, that's the wrong word. The "middle" subscriber or follower. Because they don't listen as much as we'd like.
A quick caveat for the producers of serialized podcasts, like fiction, docuseries, or other multi-part contiguous content: you probably don't have this problem. At least not to the same extent, as your content is designed to be listened to in order, without skipping an episode. You're not immune from this, but the problem probably isn't as acute.
The Rise Of The Middle Follower
There are a lot of behaviors wrapped up in this concept of a middle follower. In most cases, middle listeners had every intention of listening to every episode of the podcast they subscribed to or followed. Chances are, they started out eagerly consuming your episodes, but then stopped. For whatever reason.
Maybe they got everything they needed from you and your podcast after listening to just a couple of episodes and are keeping the connection in case they have new needs.
Maybe their interest in the topic your podcast covers slowly waned over time.
Maybe they discovered and prioritized a different podcast or a different set of podcasts that better fits where they are today.
Maybe they're very good at triaging their podcast listening app, deliberately choosing which episodes to listen to, using their own decision tree or sorting methodologies to make decisions you just can't know about or influence.
Maybe they keep the subscription or following active as a show of solidarity for your show or yourself, like some fort of a badge that says they are part of your tribe.
Or maybe they view your feed updates as transactional, keeping you and your show top of mind for them, and weirdly happy enough just to know you're still producing content because maybe someday they'll listen.
It's Easier To Ignore Than To Unfollow
For people like you and me, unsubscribing to or unfollowing a show isn't a major tech hurdle. We know how to do it. But for a lot of the more casual listeners, I don't think that's the case.
Consider what happens when your inbox gets full of email marketing sends you don't care about. In each of those unwanted—to you, at least—email messages is a clear and obvious "unsubscribe link". It's right there when you're reading the email and decide it's not for you.
We don't have that in podcasting. Not at the episode level. When you're listening to a podcast episode and realize you don't want to hear episodes of that show anymore... where's the unsubscribe or unfollow button? It's not provided at the episode level. Just the show level.
So you have to bounce back up, out of your listening queue, to the show's listing in your app, and then look through the settings or some other indicator to chance your following/subscription status. Sure, some apps make it a simple swipe to remove a show completely, but most don't.
It's not very easy. Not nearly as easy as that trade commission-mandated unsubscribe link in every email marketing send.
What should we do about these middle followers? Anything? Should we wish for a way to clear out those who've stopped listening just so our listening stats match up with our download stats? No, I don't see much value in that. No one incurs any significant costs in keeping the connection active. And you never know when a lapsed follower might again become an active listener.
Should you try to convert as many of these middle followers to dedicated listeners as you possibly can? Well, yeah, of course. But that's something that's probably not very much in your control. You don't know why someone became a middle follower in the first place, right? So you'll have a hard time figuring out what you need to change to make them into a dedicated listener. Again.
But that doesn't mean you should stop trying.
I'll have more thoughts on this concept of middle followers as the season progresses, but for now...
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.