Podcasts have exploded in popularity in recent years, and while some may consider this form of expression as nothing more than an audio-based forum for the opinionated, the truth is that this medium has opened a breadth of content possibilities, not just for individuals but also for businesses.
Podcasting now represents a core component of the audio market, with more than one million podcasts and 30 million episodes available to download. This form of on-demand content has rapidly become an ideal way of reaching an international audience of like-minded individuals. But is the podcast market oversaturated?
Podcast consumers listen to an average of seven shows per week, but many may find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer number of podcasts available, particularly because nearly 3,000 new shows are launched every month. With such abundance, consumers are holding podcasts to a higher standard and becoming more picky when it comes to what they listen to. Both aspiring and established podcasters have to stand out from the crowd in order to hook new listeners and retain their existing audience.
The good news is that podcasts are decidedly habit-forming. Podcast listeners are notoriously loyal, with 80% listening to most if not all of every podcast episode. In addition, podcasts are among the most convenient methods of consuming content; not only can most shows be streamed on any device or platform, but—unlike video-based media—podcasts can also be enjoyed while multitasking, for instance while commuting, doing housework, exercising or running errands. However, as the often-quoted marketing adage goes, content is king—and this holds even more true when it comes to podcasting. You could have the best recording and producing equipment available and a host with a golden voice, but it means nothing unless you have something interesting to say.
A good podcast depends almost entirely on producing enjoyable content that is consistently engaging. So, what does it take to make a successful podcast?
1. Be open and vulnerable
In some ways, podcasting is a far more intimate medium than videos or blog writing. You’re putting yourself out there. You’re quite literally in another person’s ears, talking directly to them. This can be an incredibly rewarding experience for both podcasters and their audiences. People tend to respond to authenticity and honesty, even if they don’t necessarily agree with you. Look at the success that Joe Rogan and Dax Shepard, who hosts Armchair Expert, have had with their podcasts because of the vulnerability and honesty they display with their guests and their audience. By letting your guard down and speaking honestly and openly, you can build a personal connection with your listeners. As entrepreneur Brian Casel puts it: “Going off-script and showing your true self—your opinions, your insecurities, your emotions—is what people will really connect with. Having the balls to say that thing that you might not even tell your closest friends, but blurting it out on the Internet airwaves… That’s the secret sauce.”
2. Have a unique point of view
Unfortunately, your podcast doesn’t exist in a vacuum—there are hundreds of thousands of other shows out there. So, while your content doesn’t have to appeal to everyone, it should be unique and targeted specifically to your ideal audience. Who do you want to be listening to your podcast? Who did you create your podcast for in the first place? Remember—it’s better to be something to someone than nothing to everyone. While you’re most likely not going to be the first to the market when it comes to a specific niche or topic, find ways to make sure your podcast differs from the other shows out there. Like any good business idea or product, your podcast will have the best chance of being successful if you can identify and capitalize on its unique selling point.
3. Aim to be the very best
All successful entrepreneurs will tell you—there’s no point doing something if you’re not trying to be the best. Take a moment to do some introspection and objectively consider whether your podcast fully leverages your strengths and is something you’re completely committed to. Don’t settle for mediocrity. After all, there’s thousands of ‘pretty good’ podcasts out there. Why would you add one more? Take the plunge, commit to it and pour your heart and soul into your podcast. After each episode, consider how you could have improved and then implement those changes for the next one. You’ll be surprised at how quickly this kind of perfection-oriented approach can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, research shows that goal-setting is intrinsically linked to achieving your objectives.
4. An engaging host is half the battle
Regardless of how interesting or unique the content of your podcast is, a boring host can completely destroy your chances of growing your audience and keeping them engaged. Even the most fascinating subject becomes less than riveting in the hands of the wrong narrator. In contrast, a natural storyteller automatically understands the flow and arc of each individual episode and how to keep their listeners absorbed and fully engaged. Despite themselves, podcast hosts become characters in the drama of their shows and the intimate connection they form with their audience is crucial for maintaining engagement. Your content will have the best chance of having the impact you want if it’s told in the most engaging way possible.
5. Don’t compromise your audio
Podcasting relies entirely on a single dimension of sensory input—audio. Therefore, one of the most important elements of success is ensuring that your audio is recorded and edited to a consistently high standard. This means that your audio should be clean (i.e. with no background noises), the dialogue clear and recorded at a consistent volume and any sound effects or music should be both appealing and appropriate to the content. A podcast with poor audio comes across as unprofessional and makes you seem like an amateur as well as disrespectful of your listeners’ time and comfort. Why force them to listen to the auditory equivalent of a blurry or out-of-focus movie, when you have the power to make the experience as pleasant and coherent as possible?
6. Provide value but keep it concise
What is the purpose of your podcast? What do you hope that your listeners will get out of it? Most podcasts—unless hosted by actual celebrities—require actionable content in order to attract and engage a large audience. In simple terms, you need to give people a reason to tune in. This means that your content has to hold value for your listeners, whether as a form of entertainment, inspiration, education or information. That being said, human beings are simple creatures with a limited capacity for new information. Research shows that most of us can only remember a maximum of seven items in a list. So make sure that you don’t overwhelm your listeners with too much information or too many calls-to-action at once.
7. Keep it consistent
As mundane as it sounds, one of the simplest hacks to a successful podcast is to publish on a schedule, whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly. Think about it—all of the most highly ranked podcasts have a strict schedule and publish accordingly, barring extreme circumstances. Listeners appreciate knowing that they can rely on a podcast airing when expected; moreover, having a set schedule can build up excitement for certain episodes or events ahead of time, like a much-anticipated guest or controversial topic. On top of that, knowing that you have to record and produce a new episode by a certain date allows you as the podcaster to plan accordingly and provides accountability, motivating you to keep on track.
Today, anyone with a device and an Internet connection can become a content creator. Despite fears that the supply of podcasts has exceeded demand, it’s important to remain grounded. This year, an estimated 70% of the U.S. population has heard of the term ‘podcasting’; 51% of Americans have listened to at least one podcast. Much like other forms of media, it’s likely that demand for podcasts will increase accordingly as more content becomes available. After all, YouTube channels continue to proliferate, despite over 500 hours of video being uploaded every minute. Additionally, while there are over one million podcasts, only 850,000 of them are actually active. Therefore, depending on your chosen niche or topic, it’s probable that you’re only really competing with a handful of other shows. Given this, podcasters should take every opportunity to give their show the best possible shot at success.