The Primary Politics of Podcasting
Even if you’re turned off by the whole affair, podcasting can learn valuable lessons from America’s political primary process. When you swap out “voters” with “listeners”, the similarities snap into focus.
This is not about politics. This is about learning lessons from the current frenzy that dominates the news here in America and abroad. Yes, I’m talking about American politics, but only so we can apply some lessons to the world of podcasting.
Think for a moment about what the current crop of Presidential wanna-bes had to do to get where they are now (or where they were, as the field continues to winnow). They had to (and continually have to) make themselves appealing to voters much in the same way we podcasters must make ourselves and our shows appealing to listeners.
Early in the process, they (and we) have to build (and maintain) a motivated base. These are the people who help build momentum by lending their support. Sometimes volunteering. Sometimes contributing funds. Members of the base have to ask themselves a singular question:
Should they help support your (or your show’s) viability?
In other words, do they dig what you have to say so much that they are willing to put out the time, energy, and effort to get your show off the ground? Do they find you and your content so compelling -- either in practice or in promise -- that it’s worth a few bucks to them each month to help shoulder some of your production costs? Are they willing to evangelize on you or your show’s behalf by rating and reviewing your show?
As is the case for a politician, the people who make up your small and close base are the ones who give immediate feedback to you most often. But only so long as they feel it worthy of them to continue to help support your viability.
Once your base is engaged and is supporting your viability, it’s time to take your message to the masses. In American politics, that means gaining the support of one of two (there are others, but let’s be real) political parties. In podcasting, the group you want to attract is the hard-core podcast listener. Just like the people who make up the political parties, this core group of podcasters has their own agenda that they care about more than they care about you or your show.
When evaluating your show, core podcast listeners will ask themselves one question, does your show increase the viability of podcasting overall?
In other words, is podcasting made better with your show in it? Is the content you are putting forth the type of show they can get behind? Unlike the dominant political parties in America, this core group of podcast listeners probably won’t kick you out if you don’t make a show that meets that goal. Instead, they’ll just ignore it.
But if you are producing the type of show that they feel exemplifies what podcasting can be, then you’ll get the benefit of their word of mouth. These are the people who engage with other people who also evangelize podcasting, and they like to swap show recommendations with one another. These are the tastemakers who have the ability to go beyond their immediate set friends when they make recommendations of what they feel is amazing podcast content.
The same concept holds true for the journalists inside the podcasting industry or those that cover podcasts for larger media outlets. If a journalist is energized by and engaged about your show, they will write about your show in their publication, giving you much more exposure.
So think about those people as our equivalent to political party members. Do they feel that podcasting overall gets better with your show in the mix?
The politician who makes it through those two groups - their base and the party core - to gain the nomination still has to then win votes from the general public if they are to obtain the highest office in this land. Only that’s not really true in either politics or in podcasting.
People running for office are trying to appeal to the people who vote. Likewise, podcasters should appeal to the people who listen to podcasts. And when doing so, they have to understand why a listener would choose to listen to them. As before, it comes down to an evaluation on their part:
Does your show validate their worldview?
Yes, it really does boil down to this: what's in it for them? Yes, the 30% to 40% of the people who listen to podcasts have an appetite for new content. If it’s good enough, they may be interested in listening to the content you put out. But it has to be more than good. It has to validate their worldview.
If a candidate’s platform validates someone's worldview, they’ll cast their vote for that candidate. If the content you make validates someone’s worldview, they’ll listen and likely keep listening to your show.
It’s helpful to focus on the true believers in podcast listening land. Think of them much like single-issue voters who cast their vote for a candidate based on one policy alone. Only for us, it’s not a zero-sum game. Your podcast is the only one they're going to listen to. They have room in their day to listen to lots of things, and they don’t expect a single podcast to validate all of their worldviews. Yes, they probably have many worldviews. Make sure your show hits at least one of them.
I’ll leave you with two key takeaways from this:
1. You don't have to make podcasts that appeal to everyone.
Politicians don't try and appeal to everyone. They only appeal to people who are likely to vote. Podcasters should make their efforts appealing only to people who are likely to listen to podcasts. And before you go to the larger world of podcast consumers, make sure you’re appealing to those inside of the podcasting community and to your own small group of base listeners.
2. Big shows don’t have to worry about a small base or the podcasting community.
At least not as much. So if you're taking inspiration from the uber-successful shows, keep in mind that shows with hundreds of thousands or millions of listeners play by a different set of rules. Sort of like when politicians change their focus after they get elected. If you're not at that level, you still need to tend to the care and feeding of all three groups of people.
Share this piece with your friends who also podcast. Ask them what they’re doing to make sure they stay engaged all the way up the chain. And if you think you’re doing an exceptional job in the second group, let me know, because I have a keen interest in making podcasting better.