Audience: Growth Speed
Okay, I wanna give you one final lens to look through when it comes to audience development. And this is a lens that I like to call slow and steady versus growth spurts. And I know we've talked a lot throughout this week about sort of the pace of growth of shows and I mentioned earlier that when you look industry-wide at the year over year growth of the number of people who say they are listening to a podcast on a regular basis, it's slow right? It's one or two percent. It's small, single-digit, year over year percentage growth, industry-wide. Slow and steady is pretty normal, but growth spurts are possible. And I wanna talk a little bit about growth spurts. I probably sound like a broken record but podcasts really are a medium that are, it's based on loyalty, it's based on habits, it's based on routine and I think the gold standard for any show that plans to have a long shelf life and continue on into the future, the gold standard is to become a show that somebody loves and become a s...
how that fits into people's routines and lives. Roman Mars, who is the creator of 99% Invisible, somebody once asked Romans Mars why audio and podcasts don't go viral and his answer was that podcasts do go viral. They just go viral, very very slowly. (audience laughs) And I love that answer, 'cause that is largely the nature of podcast listening. It is usually a very slow, very steady build. This is normal, this is from a show that I work on. There's no hockey stick-like growth, right? Until there is, and sometimes this happens. And I think a lot of us would really like for this to happen to our shows. The question is, how do you make a growth spurt happen? So I think you need to be completely fine with slow and steady growth, that is the norm, but if you can engineer one of these, how do you do it? That's what I wanna talk about. What do you think might have happened here? Just any guesses. What do you think may have happened?
Famous guest or--
Famous guest, great example.
Earned media, absolutely, that could totally be it. What else?
A lot of people drop out, and kind of stay with it the longest (mumbles) perseverance.
It could be perseverance, although that's a heck of a lot of perseverance. But yes, all of those are potential. This is my show. This is Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids. This is the subscriber base. Something very interesting happened at the point that the arrow is indicating. We were featured on the front page of iTunes in Canada and the United States. Lot of people look at the front page of iTunes, right? That's the kind of thing that can happen, but it's not the only thing that can happen. So that was my big spike, and then you're not seeing the rest of the graph, it continues to go up. It's a great show, you should listen to it, but... (audience laughter) That was my spike. There are lots of other types of spikes, and lots of other things that can drive spikes, and that's what I really want to talk about for the next little bit. I asked a bunch of really smart podcasters, podcasters that I admire, about their needle-moving moments. Like what really did create this kind of sudden uptick in either downloads or subscribers? And I got a bunch of different answers, and I just want to sort of walk through a couple of them. So this is Shannon Cason, Shannon Cason makes a show called Shannon Cason's Homemade Stories. It's a great show, it's one of my favorite podcasts. He's great, I love him. And Shannon Cason is a storyteller. He tells stories from his life, he tells stories of his family, of his community. He's an amazing storyteller. And when I asked Shannon what his show started out as, he said, "I was getting, monthly, "a couple hundred downloads. "On a good month, a couple thousand downloads." And that was the beginning of his show, very early on. It was very very slow and steady. Very typical. But because Shannon Cason is a storyteller, and because he's a very smart storyteller who wanted to build his podcast audience, he realized that there was an opportunity to pitch the work that he was already doing to other shows. And I'm not gonna just say other shows, I'm gonna say other, bigger shows. That's the key. So Shannon tells stories live on stage, he tells stories in podcasts in his small studio, he's a storyteller, and he looked around and he said, "Who else is doing this kind of thing, "and who else is a lot bigger than me?" So he found the Moth Radio Hour, and he found shows like Glynn Washington's Snap Judgment, which both have very strong storytelling components. And he just pitched. He pitched, over and over, not unlike a freelancer doing public radio ten years ago would have pitched to shows. But as a podcaster with a show of his own, he had an even stronger interest in getting on these shows. So he pitched his stories and pitched his stories, and over time he got traction. And the Moth Radio Hour ran one of his stories, and Snap Judgment decided, "We're gonna run an entire episode "of Shannon Cason's stories as an episode of Snap Judgment." That was the moment, right? That was the big needle mover for him. Where he's got this huge show like Snap Judgment featuring his stories. And he said, he's dogged about making sure that he gets credit and attribution, and that if you run one of his stories, you're probably not gonna pay him a lot of money, but you gotta mention Homemade Stories. He was adamant about that. So he went from a couple hundred downloads a month, or a couple thousand downloads a month, and then Homemade Stories was an episode of Snap Judgment, and boom, the next month he told me, a hundred thousand downloads. Right? That's the kind of thing that can happen. This is a one-person shop. He makes his show in a small home studio, right? With some help, production help from other people. But appear on other, bigger shows. That is a potential needle mover. Who in the room, whether you've got a show or you're thinking about making a show, who's got sort of a bigger version of their own show that exists right now? Who's thinking about a show that you could pitch content to? Flesh that out, and start pitching. Like, if what you want is a big audience, hang out with the bigger fish, alright? And be useful to the bigger fish. And pitch the bigger fish, and then suddenly you may find yourself a bigger fish. Is this preaching to the converted, or is this growing the pie? (audience mutters) This is preaching to the converted. If your podcast is mentioned on another podcast, you're only hitting podcast listeners. Snap Judgment's a little different because there's radio syndication involved, but by and large, I would call this a preaching to the converted example. I'll show you another one. This is a show called Moonshot, it's hosted by a guy named Christopher Lawson, and it is a show about technological disruptions that may not have happened yet. So it's sort of futurism and technology and what might be coming down the line. It launched a little more than a year ago, March 2017, and I asked Christopher, I said, "How many downloads were you getting early on?" And he said, "I was getting hundreds of downloads a month." He's got, he's putting a ton of work into these episodes. They're beautifully crafted, they sound amazing, the audio quality's great, the storytelling's great. The artwork is gorgeous, like there's lots of stuff, and he was getting hundreds of people downloading the show. Which for some people may be happy, but this is not where he wanted his show to be. He wanted to be a lot bigger. And a couple of months after Christopher launched Moonshot, it was featured in the hero's spot in Pocket Casts. Christopher's Australian, Pocket Casts comes from an Australian development company, there are overlapping circles of people there, and somebody heard about the show, listened to it, and thought it was worth featuring. Pocket Casts has one featured spot that rotates roughly weekly? It's great to be the one show in the featured spot that week. That's what Christopher got. And I asked him, and he was fully transparent with these numbers. He went from hundreds of downloads for those first couple of episodes, to, the week that this came out, 60,000 downloads. Right? Boom. That is the power of being on one of these platforms. Now, not everybody gets to be featured, right? And I said to Christopher, I said, "Okay, good for you. (laughs) "What about everybody else who wants a shot?" And he said, "That part was out of my control." He said, "What I chose to do "was focus on the things that I did have control over, "which was the editorial quality of my show." So he made beautiful artwork. He made gorgeous recordings. He booked interesting guests. He edited the heck out of this show, and he made a really really good show. And it paid off because somebody in a position to feature it heard it, liked it, recognized the quality, and featured it. So I think the lesson here is you can't plan on being featured by Pocket Casts, or Apple, or Spotify, or, you just can't plan on that being your golden ticket. But, you can focus on making really really good work and making sure that it gets to the kinds of people who might be able to put you in that position. And Christopher told me that that jump from hundreds to tens of thousands of downloads, and I think he's farther beyond that now, meant this project, Moonshot, went from... hobby... This is his main thing now. So that kind of thing is possible. And he is a, I think he's a one- or two-person shop. It's a small operation. But the ad revenue is now to the point where he can do this as his main thing, right? So that is possible as a small soul prop, or sort of just as an individual podcaster. He says it directly changed the success of the show, that featured spot. Deliberations, this is an audiobook show. I talked to the creator of Deliberations. And Deliberations is produced by Chelsea Cox. I think she may have invented this genre? So it's a drama, it's fictional, it's improv, so it's improv fiction, and it all takes place in a courtroom. So it's improvised courtroom audio drama. Which I think was, I had never heard of that before. But that is totally a thing, and that is what Deliberations is. And when I talked to Chelsea about her big moments, she told me, "I made this thing, "and it doesn't really fit into any category." But she looked for adjacencies. So she said, there's not a lot of other improvised courtroom audio dramas out there, (audience chuckles) But there are a lot of true crime podcasts. And the kind of person who might be into a true crime podcast, some subset of those people are probably gonna dig my improvised courtroom audio drama. Because it deals with crime, and there're, there's obvious overlap there. So that was her hunch, that true crime fans were going to enjoy her fiction series. And what she tried to do was just make a list of similar shows, in tone or in format, and then she reached out to them and bought ads in their shows. So, we played the earlier examples of Hackable, Inside, Reply All, and that's a really tight match. Tech show, tech show. Or the Red Hat example, another one. Tech show, tech show. Like, same category. What Deliberations is, is... It's not a direct comp, but it is adjacent. And I that's what's really smart here, I think that's what the lesson is. Think about not just who is in your immediate circle, but who's in the circle just over here, where there might be overlap between your two audiences. So she ran paid podcast sponsorship for Deliberations inside shows like Undisclosed, which is a very popular true crime podcast, and because the subject matter was a really really good fit, and because she sent copies of her show to the hosts she was paying to advertise it, they could give a very authentic read, sounding like they'd actually listened to and enjoyed the show, because they had listened to and enjoyed the show. They were really authentic, really genuine. And when you get a podcast recommendation from somebody that you trust, like a known host, an audience is way more inclined to check that show out. Chelsea told me she, you know, it's hard to measure this kind of stuff, but she says she regularly hears from listeners who says, they say, "I first heard about your show "because of that ad on this other show." She says, also, she had tried paid social, she had tried cost-per-click advertising, lots of digital advertising, she said the one thing that really moved the needle was buying ads inside other like shows. So I guess the way I would ask this question to myself is, what're the shows that are out there that my next fans are already listening to? And make that list of shows. Then get in touch. And see what it costs to advertise on their show. It might be less than you think. Is this preaching to the converted? Or is this growing a pie? (audience murmurs) This is preaching to the converted. Which you've gotta do. And you gotta be smart about, I would say, this is very very smart about preaching to the converted. We talked a little bit earlier about how host star power can unlock PR opportunities. With Walter Isaacson, in that example I showed earlier. You can also work with big names, and use those big names to gain credibility with new audiences. So there's an Australian podcast company, they're called Whooshkaa, they did a project with Mercedes-Benz, the vehicle company, and they made this show called Tough Conversations with Henry Rollins. I'm not super familiar with Henry Rollins, but what the folks at Whooshkaa told me is that Henry Rollins is a rock star, a punk god, and he epitomizes what it is to be sort of a stereotypical masculine guy's guy, right? So what did Mercedes-Benz wanna do? They wanted to sell trucks. And what they did is they worked with Henry Rollins, the sort of stereotypical guy's guy, to have conversations about what it actually means to be a man, what it means to be a tough guy, what it means to be a guy that many people perceive Henry Rollins to be. What does that actually mean right now, in this particular moment? It's a really interesting conversation series. They did video, they also did a podcast. And they cast this beautifully. Because there's star power there, and for the kinds of people that they were trying to reach, Henry Rollins is a god. That's what the folks at Whooshkaa told me. So I think the lesson here is if you are casting a show, if you are choosing, if you've got a budget, and you're working with talent, that is not just an editorial decision, that is a marketing decision. That is 100% a marketing decision. So if you're working with a budget, and you're thinking about, who can we cast a host or who can we cast as a guest? If you're working with no budget and you're thinking about, who can I invite on as a guest? Think about those people in terms of how they're going to potentially open up new audiences for you. Who can you work with, who can connect to your desired audience in a credible way? Is this preaching to the converted, or is this growing a pie?
Growing the pie.
This is growing the pie, right? So you can have needle movers that are, in a lot of the examples that we just looked at, you can have needle movers that are very preach to the converted, like most of the examples that we looked at. But you can totally grow the pie with a well-executed piece. And I would argue that this is a very, very well-executed piece. So I kind of wanna wrap up, and I know we've got some time for questions, which is great. I really do want to wrap up where we started, which is where this idea of creative bravery and commitment, and multiplying those two things together to create a successful podcast. And I think whether you're an indie podcaster, and I am an indie podcaster, I have my own show that I do for fun with my wife in our spare time, whether you're an indie podcaster, whether you are a big brand, I work with a bunch of those as well, the fundamentals are the same. Make really high-quality content, make creatively brave shows that are distinct and will set you apart from the pack, and then commit to them. Make a great show and tell people about it. It sounds ridiculously simple, but you would be amazed at how many people only do one half of the job. And all of us, and I include myself in this, should constantly be thinking about this and figuring out, how can we up our game? How can we improve this? How can we make better stuff, and how can we do a better job of telling people about it? And again, the choice is yours. Same, same creative bravery. Very different levels of commitment. And the great news is you get to pick which one you want.