Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

I recently wrote about an unexpected early success with a podcast that I'm producing. The subject matter is extremely niche - which is ideally what you want in a podcast. Think of it as "narrowcasting." The more specific and unique your content, the more likely it is to connect with your listeners.

Even so, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of downloads and subscriptions my podcast received. I have heard traditional media types trying to gauge the value of a podcast by asking about the number of listeners. While this can be impressive (or disappointing, depending on your expectations), I don't believe it fully captures the value of a podcast. If a traditional broadcast engages with only 10% of its audience - or if it only has a fraction of their attention - doesn't it sound more appealing to have nearly 100% engagement?

Today, I'd like to share some of the steps behind my podcasting success. These are not comprehensive; there may be many other ways to achieve solid results. But these are what worked for me.

I had been thinking about creating this podcast for 8 months and I could have launched it at any time, but I wanted to make sure I did everything correctly and did it well. Here then are some of the key factors to which I attribute success:

Patience & Preparation
It's tempting to just jump in and start a show because you've got the passion, you've got the knowledge and the technology is so easy to acquire. But don't let this throw you off, because if you haven't got a plan in place, you'll be susceptible to podfading. I know a company that wanted to do a podcast, but in their haste to "just get something up," they made the common mistake of posting a single episode and letting it linger on its own for six months. Big mistake. You'll never build an audience that way.

You should spend a lot of time thinking about what you want to talk about and figure out the logistics behind the process. Things to think about include:
  • A name for your show and where it's going to live on the Web.
  • A registered domain name (see "branding" below) is a wise choice. An easy to use site is GoDaddy.com
  • A blog - yes, you'll need a blog for a podcast, as you want a place to write show notes, post mp3 links, contact information and to encourage people to subscribe. WordPress, TypePad, Vox, Blogger - there are plenty of platforms.
  • You'll be hosting the mp3 files somewhere, so you should do some homework to see what services are available out there. Personally, I like LibSyn.
  • Get yourself registered with iTunes and follow their instructions for podcasting.
  • Not everyone uses iTunes, so be sure to register a feed with Feedburner.
  • You can start by reading How to Do Everything with Podcasting by Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson.
Editorial Plan
There are many components to an effective plan, the first of which is an editorial calendar - what you're going to talk about and how often you'll produce a show. You probably have a lot to say about your subject, but it works best to put the major topics down on paper, so you can determine the order of the episodes. If you're going to produce an ongoing podcast, I think it's wise to have a six-month editorial plan in place.

If you're not ready to make a long-term plan, you might think about a short podcast series that is limited to say, 10 episodes. That way you're giving your audience something of value but not locking yourself into an eternal commitment.

Part of the editorial planning process is determining frequency - how often will you be able to record and produce your podcast? You should take into account how long each show will be, the editing time required, and how often you'd like your listeners to expect new content. There are some podcasts, such as For Immediate Release, that are produced twice a week; Trafcom News comes out every other week. Both are excellent shows that are worth your time, even though they're produced on vastly different schedules. Either way, you should set expectations for your audience as to when they can expect to hear your new episodes. Not everyone subscribes, so you want to make it clear how often they should be checking your site.

The point is: put a plan together that makes sense for you, tell your audience about it, and stick to it.

There are plenty of excellent podcasts with a single host; there are also some very successful ones with co-hosts. As you think about how your podcast will work, you should take a personal inventory and determine if you can handle a podcast alone. If not, you might consider co-hosting it with a colleague who can provide additional perspective.

Then decide how each episode will work. Perhaps a straight narrative style will work for you. Or maybe you'd like to mix it up with interviews. Or an interview-only format. Again, it depends on the type of content you'd like to cover and the value you'd like to give to you listeners.

Whatever format you choose, it should support the content that you'd like to share and that is interesting to your listeners.

Whether you're producing a podcast for business or personal reasons, it should have a brand - that is, a distinct look and feel that connects on an emotional level with your audience. When people hear your show or when they visit the web site, they should be able to identify it immediately. This means you should have some non-generic graphics that reflect your show and music (if you plan to use any) that is consistent with your brand.

Podcasts by their very definition are episodic, which allows you to make a consistent brand over time. While you may work out the kinks in your first few episodes, over time you'll find a comfortable style and format that work for you. This includes certain "regular features" that you may want to assign to your show. One example is New Comm Road, hosted by Bryan Person. In it he has a very useful segment called "Tools of the Trade," in which he highlights some of the websites, applications and technology that his listeners should be aware of.

Fresh or Canned?
I recommend that you start by having a few episodes "in the can," or recorded by the time you launch your podcast. For certain topics, you can record some episodes that are timeless and can be aired at any time. Depending on your topic, you may want to have a show that addresses current events or trends, in which case you should be able to record and produce a show in fairly short order.

Examples of some time-sensitive shows include industry events, product releases and major announcements. Record an interview ahead of time and discuss the timing of the release with the subject; depending on the goal (building awareness, driving event registrations, promoting product sales, feedback, etc.), you can determine when it's best to air the episode. In particular, if you're airing an episode prior to an event, I find that it's helpful to have a follow-up episode in which you air comments and interviews about the event after it has occurred. For those listeners who couldn't attend, they feel they've been given an inside scoop and may have reason to attend the next one.

People...People Who Need People
If you currently have a community of contacts across the Web, by all means, leverage your relationship with them as you launch your podcast. It doesn't matter if they don't fit the demographic of your target audience. The point is, you've developed some kind of meaningful dialog with them over some common interest, so use that connection to help promote your show.

You may have friends on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Pownce, del.icio.us - the list goes on and on. Essentially, any social networking site that you use already has a built-in community. Use the power of the community to help grow your show. And when your show is up and running, ask your listeners to tell their friends about it by being specific: ask them to tell just three people about your show. Over time, your numbers will grow.

Are Ess What?
Let's face it: even though you and I may be familiar with the ins and outs of new media technology, your audience may not be. They may only have passing familiarity with a blog, let alone RSS feeds, podcasts, iTunes, etc. It's essential that you not only cater to the lowest common denominator, but that you create options that everyone can feel comfortable with.

For example, when I started my other blog, I made sure I had a FeedBlitz email subscription option, because I knew many of my readers were new to RSS. And I was right: the ratio of email subscribers to RSS subscribers has been somewhere between 2:1 and 3:1. And then, for good measure, I threw in a Twitter feed as well.

Your show should be available on an RSS feed, on iTunes, through email (Feedburner or FeedBlitz can handle this), and directly on your site. Listeners should know they can listen to your show on their mp3 player, their computer, their phone or burn a CD. The point is, give them every possible option to listen to and subscribe to your show, because you don't know how they prefer to consume audio.

I did all of the above, plus I integrated a Flash-based player from SplashCast for each episode and for all of the shows to date. You can customize the image so it contains your brand and you can determine how you want the shows to be presented. It's easy to create and super-easy for your listeners to play. You can see it in action on my podcast web site. In addition WidgetBox has a number of audio players you can use as well.

Letters, We Get Letters
One of the best features of any new media production is that you can get direct feedback and comments from your listeners. And you should be encouraging them to participate, because you are in a unique position to give them exactly what they want from your show.

Again, you need to give them a variety of choices. Certainly, since your show lives on a blog, the comments feature should be enabled. Give them an email address where they can reach you, either by using one that comes with your domain name or setting one up through a free email service like Gmail. Establish a call-in number so they can make a phone call and talk to you directly and (this is the good part) you can play it on your show. There's nothing like hearing what another listener has to say. You can find and set up numbers through Skype or k7.

Duly Noted
Finally, you should write up notes for every show that you produce. While this may seem like drudgery, I cannot underscore enough the importance of this. First of all, it gives your listeners an idea of what to expect and how long the show will run. And secondly, the show notes are indexed on the search engines, giving you much more power to attract future listeners. You'll be easier to find. They don't have to be long, but plan to spend a decent amount of time on them so they are descriptive, useful and contain the key search terms that are appropriate for your show.

One Last Thing
There are lots of widgets and add-ons out there to spice up your site. Check them out and use one that works for you. In my case, I was getting a lot of compliments on my theme music, so I used MyxerTones to create a mobile phone ringtone of the intro. It's gotten a lot of attention.

So, that's it! I know this was a long post, and if you've made it the entire way through, I thank you. If I missed anything or if any of the above is unclear, please let me know. I hope you found this useful.

Post script: Donna Papacosta has a very handy check-list that is a must-read for any podcaster.

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