If you’re anything like me, you recommend media properties to people pretty frequently, and you have your go-to list. If someone asks about TV shows, I’m going to recommend Ted Lasso. It’s the best writing on television and isn’t about soccer. If someone needs a book recommendation, I’m going with The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, as it’s one of the most imaginative and ambitious sci-fi series recently published. And if they’re asking for a podcast, I’m probably going with My Dad Wrote A Porno, because it’s hysterical, well-made, and not at all what anyone is anticipating.
But these aren't the only media properties I'm aware of in each category. I watch a fair amount of television shows and am subscribed to just about every streaming service. It’s a rare day when I don’t read at least a couple of chapters of a book, as I tend to read multiple books concurrently. And, as you know, yeah... I listen to a whole lot of podcasts.
However, I only actively proselytize for a very few.
While I enjoy all the media I consume (I’ve a low tolerance and will quickly quit when I’m not hooked), it’s the rare few that hit the “recommendability” level Tom Webster spoke of during his keynote presentation at Podcast Movement 21 last week. And that’s what I'll be breaking down with you this week on Podcast Pontifications.
Today, we’re tackling this bullet point: Know who you are for, and why they are there. (You can't give your listeners the unexpected if you don't know what they expect.)
Now there's a lot to unpack there, so let's just take it in stages.
“Know Who You Are For...”
The addition of for at the end makes this interesting and keeps us from isolating out “us”—our podcast and “them”—the listener. Both are worthy of understanding. But it’s the Venn diagram overlap between the two where things get interesting.
There's a very good chance you listen to Podcast Pontifications, at least in part, because of me, the information I present, and the way I present it. But that in and of itself is not enough.
I’ve made a lot of podcasts in my days, and most of the Podcast Pontifications audience has never heard any of them. More to the point, I don’t make Podcast Pontifications for the same audience I made my prior podcasts for.
I knew exactly who The Bangkok Podcast was for when I produced the 70-ish episodes as co-host a few years back, and it wasn’t working podcasters like you. And even though Bangkok is one of the top destinations in the world and may very well be a frequent or aspirational destination for you, odds are that you aren’t a regular listener. Even though it’s a really good show. For that audience.
You, working podcaster, were not who I was writing Writing Awesome Book Blurbs for almost a decade ago. And even though I made a podcast version, that podcast version wasn’t for you. So even if you did or do decide to listen, I certainly don’t expect you to recommend it.
“… And Why They Are There”
Do you know what makes your listeners tune in each week? What they really are there for? They’re there for you, clearly, as I’ve just established. And they’re there for the content you work hard to create for them. But beyond that… how much do you really know about their motivations?
The good news is that you can infer quite a bit about those motivations with data available to you right now. I infer a lot by looking at episode-level consumption data provided by Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. Maybe I’ll do a workshop or show-and-tell episode at some point to help others break down what can be inferred from those reports.
If you’ve built a community around your show, that’s also a good source for inference. I’ve been getting some good info from the Advancing Podcasting community. Twitter is, for me, an excellent source of listener feedback. And I can make some assumptions on what people need/want to hear from me by listening to the shows produced by the people who support me on BuyMeACoffe.com/evoterra.
While all of those are good proxies, they fall short. Luckily, Tom Webster and Edison Research have graciously gifted us a straightforward way to get better, more purposeful data on why people are listening to our shows. Because figuring out what consumers want is Tom’s profession. It’s not mine. And it probably isn’t yours. So let’s stand on the shoulders of that giant so we can see further, shall we?
Implement this survey. It was made by professionals who want to help you understand the motivations of your listeners. Don’t screw around with it. It’s chock-full of outstanding questions that go well beyond demographics. Stick it in a Google Form or some other service and start getting your audience to fill it out. My goal is to get it on my site today/tomorrow, and I hope I can convince you to take it.
You Can't Give Your Listeners The Unexpected If You Don't Know What They Expect
This article—like the audio episode—is already getting long in the tooth, so I’m going to tackle all 14 of those words in one fell swoop.
One of the tenets of success in any business is the concept of surprising and delighting your customer. The conjunction and is as important as the other two words, as both have to work together.
A without a delight is rarely good, and we’re lucky if the customer tolerates delight-less surprises for long.
Delighting your customer is great, but without some surprise, delight fades to expectation and becomes commonplace.
When your podcast audience growth reaches a plateau, it means you’re consistently satisfying your existing audience. Good for you! Your audience loves what you do and they're sticking around. Audience retention achieved!
But as you’re noticing, very few people in your retained audience are excited to share your consistent meeting of their expectations. Content that meets expectations is just another word for average. And there isn’t much recommendability tied up in average.
Let me repeat Tom’s wise words once again: Know who you are for, and why they are there. (You can't give your listeners the unexpected if you don't know what they expect.)
Tomorrow, I’m going to dive into the second part of Tom’s recommendability suggestions: ensuring your show is easy to recommend. Because, chances are, there are recommendability roadblocks in place that you’ve overlooked.
If you got value out of this episode, any past episodes, or any of the thoughts and ideas I put out into the world about making all of podcasting better, please return some of that value on BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.
Podcast Pontifications is written and narrated by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy, corrected the transcript, and edited the video. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.