I ended my first podcast and started a new one for several reasons. For one, I wanted the opportunity to get a fresh start. While there were plenty of successes in that first show, I made some mistakes that I could not go back and fix. So, I wanted the chance to launch a new podcast and do some things right from day one.
Many of the mistakes I made were the result of jumping into podcasting too quickly. I could've avoided some problems just by doing more research and investing more time into planning. Nonetheless, I'm now able to pass these lessons on to fellow podcasters and clients. Here are some of the things I did wrong:
I didn't spend enough time on the concept
I guess you could say I made developing a concept harder (or maybe easier) that it should've been. On the upside, I understood that I couldn't pick a theme that would quickly limit the amount of topics I could discuss. The downside is I overcompensated. Instead of just talking about movies and/or TV shows...I opened it up to critique music, commercials and anything else I could squeeze into the content. I thought I could have listeners take an active role in those discussions. I would call it - The Critic Show.
I spent 3.5 years producing content for the Dallas/Fort Worth NPR affiliate, and everything we did at that station was audience-driven. I wanted to infuse that principle into my first show by pushing for audience participation. Little did I know how hard it was to grow audience and get them to participate in the program. Most people would rather just listen, so you need to have a large audience to get frequent participation from different people.
I shouldn't have uploaded my first episode
I've heard Cliff Ravenscraft advise people to record your first few episodes, but don't upload them. Instead, upload maybe episode 7 or 10 as the first one you present to the public.
You're likely going to make so many adjustments as you record those first few episodes, it could sound like a completely different show by the time your get to that 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th show.
This was true for me. I knew I wanted to have celebrity guests on, but I didn't think I'd be able to book them regularly. However, after my first six shows, I booked six guests. My guest for the seventh episode was Mayim Bialik of The Big Bang Theory. Suddenly, my "critic" show had become a tv/film interview program.
My format was all over the map
It's hard to believe I actually launched a show where I was the only one that talked almost the entire time. In my defense, I didn't really know how I could get a co-host.
My first show was a mix of commentary and audio skits. I soon asked myself, "What is the audience getting out of this? What's the reason they will keep coming back?" After thinking about that, I added a news/reviews segment.
Later, I understood the value of other voices and found ways to incorporate more people into the show. Over time, I realized that the interview was usually the segment that most people cared about more than anything. It was the only part of the show that stayed consistent throughout the two year run.
I changed the title of the show
Even though I heard experts strongly discourage people from doing it, I had to change the name of the show after the first year. By then, I had interviewed several guests, and I built different segments around each discussion to fit an episode theme. Plus, there was just something uncomfortable sending an interview request to be on the CRITIC show.
So, I came up with a creative way to announce that the new title would be Beyond the Screens. Lana Parrilla of Once Upon a Time was my guest. So, the opening of the show featured a "storytime" segment in which the narrator talked about a queen that declared The Critic Show will henceforth be known as Beyond the Screens...
And her people rejoiced.
I needed more frequency
A new episode of The Critic Show/Beyond the Screens ran the 15th and end of every month. I started to second guess that schedule after attending my first big social media/content conference in San Diego. I went into a podcast session focused on rules and tips you could apply to any podcast. One of those tips was this:
If you can...release a show on a WEEKLY basis (via the same day each week). Doing so increases the odds of gaining subscribers because they can count on your content to come out on a consistent basis. In other words, you become part of their routine.
Honestly, it took time to book those interviews. So, a few days rest was really good after all the work that went into them. However, the concept made sense to me. It was a key factor in deciding to end the show and start a new one.
My theme was still too broad
Despite changing the name and settling on a movie/television spotlight show, my concept was still too broad. Audience numbers would fluctuate because one day I would have a guest on who was known for doing something in the 1980s, and the next time it might be someone who's involved in something today. It wasn't a bad concept, I just worried that I was making it harder to grow a consistent audience. The hosting service I chose back then wasn't able to give me the most in-depth information on my downloads and stats. So, I was left to ponder and worry.
In September of 2013, I launched the Assembly of Geeks podcast with two co-hosts, an established format, and a targeted weekly schedule. In two years, the format and schedule have been pretty consistent. Not to mention, mistakes have been minimal. So, the way I look at it now is that there would be no Assembly of Geeks success without The Critic Show failures.
When someone designs a website, a lot of work goes into producing the layout, navigation and copy in a way that engages the visitor. If one or all of those elements fail to engage someone who lands on the site, they can be gone before really getting to know you. I think you have to approach your podcast the exact same way. You have to care about making that first impression, or risk losing a potential listener.
As a podcast producer, I'm always thinking about how audiences (new and existing) will react to something they'll hear on my shows. When I listen to other podcasts for the first time, I get can a sense of how much they care about the way they present themselves. It's all about that first impression.
With that in mind, here are a list of podcaster habits I think will likely make a bad first impression.
There isn't an open to the show
If you're show starts off with just someone talking, I don't think it's a deal breaker. However, it does make your "show" seem like less of a show. Between free programs like Audacity, music/sound content hubs like Pond5 and affordable voiceover/production services on Fiverr, you should be able to produce an open for your program. If anything, it's a first impression element that signifies that you're serious about what you're offering to the audience.
The open drags or creates confusion
If someone reads your show description and wants to hear your commentary/discussion on a topic...don't keep them waiting. In other words, please don't attach an open that features music or a song that runs for an extended time. I've heard podcasts that open every show with nothing but a long music bed or a song. Don't do that! The listener wants to hear you, and if they tune in for the first time, don't make them feel like they accidentally got a radio station.
I've also heard podcasts that start with a bunch of clips from previous shows that are pieced together in what is supposed to be something that resembles an open. A lot of times there's no cohesion or flow to it, and the listener has no idea what they heard.
Keep your open simple. Give it music or flare, introduce the program and be done. If you currently have a long open that is 70, 90, 120+ seconds long...try to shorten it. Don't make new listeners wait forever to get to you, and don't make returning audiences have to get through that every week.
Do what it takes to make the sound quality as good as it can be. Doing so proves that you care about your listener and the quality of the show. Does it have to be NPR-style broadcast quality? No. The most important thing is being able to understand you as you speak. However, it boils down to the type of impression you want to make. It can be jarring to hear a high quality show open, followed by a host who is using the mic that is built into the computer. It just sounds bad.
If your new listener read that you were going to talk about summer movies, but you don't get to that discussion until 10-15 minutes later, that can be a problem. Again, this is a first impression. So, if someone wants to hear how you discuss summer movies, but you spend 10-15 minutes just shooting the breeze with the co-hosts for too long...you can lose that new listener.
I'm not saying to never spend some time letting listeners get to know you or learn something personal about you. There's value in that. However, there's also value in structuring the presentation in a way that doesn't waste time or become annoying.
It makes me a bit crazy when a show starts off with 2-3 people just laughing at each other or talking about random stuff as I wait for the content to really get started. You cannot forget the listener is there. Make them feel like they are part of the conversation and not eavesdropping on it. This perfectly leads us to the last first impression risk.
The hosts are trying to be something other than themselves
Look, I get it. It makes sense that if you listen to other podcast or radio shows, it can be easy to try to emulate them as you create your own program.
While it's easy to understand...just don't do that. Don't try to be like another podcaster or radio host. Also don't think you have to use overly excited or loud voices that overuse excessive amounts of broadcast diction (reporter/announcer-like fluctuation in the voice).
There are radio shows that have hosts that come on and talk about nothing, jabber on like they're killing time and laugh at each other. I've heard this happen on sports talk shows, and I turn it off because I don't want to hear that. I want to hear them talk sports. I've also never been a fan of a wacky morning show crew show, so it doesn't appeal to me in podcasts either. This is especially true if I find myself waiting to them discuss specific things promoted in their podcast description.
You don't have to be any of those things to "sound" like a show host. Just be yourself, remember who's listening, and show them you care enough to present them with something of value.
Granted, people's tastes in podcasts tend to vary somewhat. However, these are not only bad impression triggers for me. I've also heard other podcast listeners complain about them as well. At the end of the day, you don't really know how much time someone will give you to make that first impression...
The first words after the open?
The first indication of sound quality?
The length of time they have to wait before someone speaks?
Consider all of it as you develop the very first sounds a new listener will hear when they hit play for the first time.
There are several reasons why I love watching shows like Shark Tank and The Profit. For one thing, I'm fascinated by the decisions people make when it comes to growing their business and what inspires them to make such decisions. Many times, I've seen the experts on those shows criticize CEOs and entrepreneurs for over-expanding their products or businesses.
In the view of the business owner, more shops or more products meant more money. One of the reasons the experts warn against this is that it can pull attention away from what's working. If you sell shoes and you have five different types that kill it in sales, adding too many more variations can hurt you. This is especially true if those other products don't sell.
You'll be putting time, energy and money into them even though people don't love them as much as your big five. Another self-defeating decision is choosing to open more stores when you haven't given yourself enough time to maximize potential in the first store. If there aren't successful standards established in one place, how can you expand any demonstrated qualities into other locations?
Podcasters can make similar mistakes for similar reasons. These errors can be equally as counter-productive and embarrassing. Just like a business might start adding more products/stores thinking it will automatically translate to more dollars, podcasters unnecessarily add more content thinking it will easily translate to more downloads. First of all - that's NOT why you should add content.
You should add content because it provides a clear value to listeners. Or you should be able to clearly state why new content is something they would want from you. In other words, adding content should be about them...not you.
These aren't the numbers you're looking for
It's true - if you add more shows, that means more downloads. That means bigger weekly and monthly numbers for you to promote, right? Well, it does give you bigger numbers, but in most cases, it also means you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror everyday after cooking the numbers. If you have 400 subscribers that listen to Podcast A, you probably only have about 400-600 downloads a week. However, if you add a second podcast...you'll have (assuming all of those people want to hear the new stuff) 800-1200 downloads a week, and it will also jack up your monthly totals!
The problem is, those stats are misleading because you haven't actually grown. It's the same amount of people listening to two shows instead of one. You not only need to be honest about your listenership, but also learn to not put too much stock in monthly podcast downloads.
Too much, too soon
I've consulted with podcasters who (understandably) want numbers to look so good when they launch, that they said they were going to start off with posting content 5-7 days a week. I strongly advise against that for several reasons. The main reason is that you have absolutely no data or reasoning to believe that your listeners are even going to WANT that much from you. Plus, it's likely to stretch you too thin.
This goes back to the business analogy. After businesses learn trying to open more stores too soon is hurting them, they have to close those stores. That never looks good in business, and it looks bad in podcasting too. You don't want to be putting out 3-4 days of content only to see that the numbers suggest that people only care about 1-2 of those days. Then, you have to explain why you're removing content.
Again, put all of your effort and energy into doing ONE show really well. If your listeners grow over time, and the success of that show is on auto-pilot, then consider adding more content. It's best to have a clear reason to do it later than to do too much too soon and have to cut back.
The new content has to make sense
If you choose to add a spin-off show, don't do it just because it sounds fun. Make sure it perfectly connects with your other show and fulfills needs that the original program can't meet. For example, in the first year of Assembly of Geeks, the idea of spin-off shows wasn't even on the radar. The first time I chose to do one, it was an experiment. I launched The Peggy Carter Podcast knowing it would be a limited run.
It also accomplished something the flagship show couldn't provide - a laser-focused discussion on ONE geek topic. It was crazy successful, and listenership has grown in its second year.
The other two hosts and I are not comic book fanatics, and I'm really the only one that could be classified as a gamer. I didn't like how that limited our means to discuss those two very important elements of geek culture. So, I launched Comic Book Noob and The Gamer's Dominion.
All three shows fit the Assembly of Geeks umbrella, and they fill some of the conversational gaps of the flagship show.
When I look at the numbers, I stay true to what they all mean. I also focus primarily on daily/weekly downloads for each program. It doesn't do me or anyone else any good to exaggerate the real statistics.
So, remember...before you consider multi-day content:
1. Make sure your doing one show/one day very well
2. Make sure you take what works best out of that program and apply it to the new content
3. Make sure the concept makes sense for your overall theme
4. Make sure it's something your other program cannot offer
5. Make sure you can make a clear case as to why your audience would want it
Finally, there's nothing wrong with just producing one show and focusing on improving it every year (without adding more content).
One of the things I love about being a podcast consultant is I get to share in someone's excitement about launching their first show. Another is getting an opportunity to share my knowledge with someone that might help them not learn certain lessons the hard way. Over time, I've discussed several different concept scenarios and production challenges, but there are some specific tips that I end up sharing with every new podcaster. Here are some examples:
Pick themes that create topics that last
One of the traps that podcasters fall into, is launching a show before they've fully fleshed out their concept. If the goal is to grow audeince/subscribers, your best bet is to produce a weekly show. That means, you need to have a theme that gives you 45-50 discussion topics a year. For example, a podcast dedicated to Saturday morning cartoons of the 1980s could be a short lived podcast. Once you run out of shows to discuss...you might have nowhere to go.
Think about the value to the listener
As a content producer, it's sometimes easy to fall into the trap of getting too caught up in what YOU think is a great idea. You have to take time to analyze what your show is offering to everyone else. As you develop episode content, ask yourself, "What is the listener getting out of this?"
More importantly, ask yourself what's in your show that is going to make someone want to come back and get more every week. If you have trouble really answering those questions, you need to go back to the drawing board or enhance your concept.
Pick a format and stick with it
I can never stress this enough. Once you decide what your show is going to be about, pick a format and stick with it. If producing a quality show that gains subscribers is the goal of the podcast...then don't just hit record, talk for an extended period of time and upload it. Instead figure out:
How many segments should this show have?
How many guests/co-hosts should be featured?
What's a reasonable running time for each segment?
For example, if your show is mainly focused on weekly interviews, it's probably best to make that a 20-30 minute show MAX:
2-3 minutes for production elements (opening/close/bumpers)
4-5 minutes for an introduction & quick chat with listeners
15-20 minute interviews.
If there's more going on, be smart about the amount of time you're going to spend on each segment. One of the most popular times people listen to podcasts is their commute to work, and the average commute time (one way is about) 30 minutes. So, if your show is running more than 45-80 minutes...it better be worth it to them.
If it's a business podcast, don't turn the show into an advertisement
One of the reasons businesses are looking into podcasting is that it helps reach new audiences. However, it's important to remember that the show itself is NOT a big commercial for your business. There's nothing wrong with saying your website at the beginning and end of the show, but everything else should be content that represents your expertise, your brand and your value. Let the podcast humanize your organization in a way that inspires listeners to want to know more about you on their own.
Get reliable hosting
If you're going to be serious about podcasting, use a reputable hosting service like Libsyn, Blubrry, Buzzsprout and others. Don't "host" your audio podcast with sites like Soundcloud or YouTube. Instead, post clips and previews of your show that encourage people to get more on iTunes or your webpage. Also, don't split your audience up by running your episodes on iTunes/Stitcher/etc. and on YouTube. You want people to get it from places where they can subscribe to your feed.
Make the LOGO a priority
I once heard a speaker at Podcast Movement say, "If you have a $500 budget to launch your podcast, spend $350 on a logo. The logo might as well be the sign out in front of your store. It is something represents you and your show. Once you produce one, make sure you can still read the text when it's 125 x 125. When iTunes shrinks it down, you want people to still be able to read it. Take a look at this great guide to podcast art.
Put YOUR stamp on it
I love listening to Chris Brogan point out how many podcasts sound exactly alike as a means to remind people to not be like everyone else. The podcasting realm is a crowded space, and if you sound like everyone else, you can't stand out. One great way to stand out is good production/audio quality and following the advice listed above. After that, think of ways to put a creative or unique spin on your presentation.
Consider warm-up episodes
This is advice I wish I'd known when I launched my first show. Now I can share it with you so you don't learn it the hard way. You should consider recording your first five or six episodes, and then launch your 7th, 8th, 9th or even 10th podcast as the first one that you share with the public.
The main reason is that it is very likely that the seventh episode will sound very different than your very first. As you listen to those first shows, you'll add, remove and tweak things as you move forward with the show. Working out some of those kinks early will allow you to make a good first impression when the public hears the first episode you upload to the internet.
The race for audience tends to be a marathon (not a sprint)
Many podcasters think that since there are millions of people on the internet, it should be easy for thousands of them to find and listen to their show. It doesn't take long for producers to realize that is not the reality.
According to Libsyn's figures in June of 2015:
The adjusted average of podcast downloads are at 2,150.7 downloads per show
The median 50% of podcasts average about 158 downloads per episode
They view any podcast that gets 500+ downloads per show to be a successful podcast.
It takes time, effort, strategy and consistency to build an audience. However, it's important to be thankful for any number of people who take time out of their day to listen to your content. Some of the tips I've shared here should help you launch your show with the full potential of growing a listenership.