If there's a universal want amongst podcasters, it's this: We want more engagement from our listeners.
The trouble is... the feeling may not be mutual.
Everyone Has An Opinion
When you zoom out and think about engagement on a larger scale, you realize that audience members aren't able to engage with the creators who make most of the content they consume.
Got a beef with how Apple re-imagined Asimov's Foundation? Who, exactly, are you going to call? Do you want to tell the showrunner of Glow Up: Britain's Next Make-up Star how much you enjoyed and appreciated that last episode you watched and have some suggestions for the next? You can't.
There's literally no way for you to do so, as those shows wrapped production months if not years ago. You simply cannot engage with those creators as they are creating. Not can you engage with them while you are actively engaging with their content.
And that's a reality for every other type of content you consume that is produced ahead of time. Every book. Every movie. Every class or course you take. Every blog post you read. Every meal you eat at every restaurant.
Now yes; you can comment on any of those above-listed items. And it is possible that your comments might actually make it back to their creator(s). But at no time are you able to engage with those creators while the creator is engaged in the creative process.
So why are so many companies trying to make it easier—perhaps better—for people to engage with the podcasts they listen to?
Is that something podcasters want? Or is this something we've been told that we want? And more importantly, is it something that our listeners want?
Blame It On The Radio
At least some of the perceived need to give and get immediate feedback during the creative process stems from the podcasting versus radio fight that we made up two decades ago.
And by we, I mean, yes, I had some culpability in that as well. Back then, we pitted ourselves against radio hosts, from disc jockeys to sports commentators to politics and even interviews. What we lacked in access we more than made up for in scrappiness, so we put out shows that rivaled theirs.
The radio side of the fight had their reach limited by the power of their radio transmitter or the extent of their syndication network. But we podcasters had the advantage of being able to reach anyone around the planet that had an internet connection and a desire to listen.
But the one big advantage radio had that we podcasters never would have was the ability to take live callers. And many of us thought that was a very big deficit for us and an advantage for them.
Back then, I had a foot in each of those worlds. I was hosting a weekly live radio show and I was producing and hosting a few weekly podcasts. I know firsthand the joy of seeing a fully lit phone bank when I was live on the radio station. And I also know the despair of looking for days at an empty email inbox when I've specifically asked for comments on my podcast.
So yeah. The struggle is real.
Should we podcasters give up on the idea of getting more engagement from our listeners? Well, no, not necessarily. But it does lead me to two thoughts.
1. Not all engagements need to be live
There's more to engagement than getting live, instant feedback while you're making your podcast. Yesterday, you heard from Pat about how PodInbox aims to increase listener engagement using publicly available messages, much in the same way that reviews of your podcast are publicly available.
I think that's a really smart move. Because it's still inconceivably hard—two decades later in a world where almost all listening to podcasts takes place on mobile phones—to leave feedback, give kudos, or do any engaging beyond leaning back and listening to your favorite podcasts.
2. Maybe we already have enough engagement
This is going to be a bit more controversial, so I'm glad my first point is true. Here goes: Listening to a podcast (or reading or watching, sure) is engagement enough for most listeners.
Searching through podcast apps is engaging with podcasting. Finding an episode to listen to is engaging with a podcast. The act of subscribing to or following a show to never miss an episode is an act of engagement.
These are forms of engagement that our listeners are doing right now. And honestly, it's the kind of engagement that podcasts are best set up to receive.
Feel free to disagree, but I think the last thing you want is notes from your audience when you're in the middle of recording or deep in an edit. That's not helpful at that moment. Nor is it a job that most of your listeners want to do either.
I almost hate to say it, but the majority of your audience will not get any benefit from engaging more deeply with you or your podcast than they already are.
Save for rare instances, podcasting is not live streaming. It's not live radio, live theater, or any other sort of live performance. So pining for the same type of engagement that live performers enjoy is probably something we should move away from. It's not healthy.
It is very natural for us to want more engagement from our audience. But we serious podcasters need to first make sure we're giving our audience good reasons to engage with our content in the first place.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.