Why is everybody suddenly talking about podcasts? Back in 2015, the majority of Americans had never even heard of them. But the next year the number who reported knowing what a podcast was topped 50 percent for the first time, and since then the figures have risen dramatically. Data from 2020 shows that 75 percent of American adults are familiar with podcasting, 55 percent have listened to a podcast, and podcast audiences have grown by more than a third since 2017.
Today, over 100 million Americans listen to a podcast episode at least once a month, including 49 percent of 12-34 year olds. Podcasting is catching on in a big way, and edupreneurs seeking to build their brand, attract an audience, and convert prospective learners into customers, they are a natural option to consider.
But how do you go about turning a podcast into an effective part of your content marketing mix, and what can podcasting really bring to your business?
In this post we’ll explore some of the essential steps, from finding an audience to podcast equipment and hosting to the overall pros and cons of podcast content marketing.
What is podcast content marketing?
Content marketing is an umbrella term for publishing content to build awareness of a brand or product and support revenue growth by providing an audience with valuable information. It is the content that demonstrates your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness and primes your prospects to purchase from you (without, in most cases, directly asking for a purchase).
While most people may tend to think of blogging, video, or downloadable documents (e.g., lead magnets) as the main formats for content marketing, podcasting is a powerful way to provide valuable content in a different format. It currently has less competition than more established content marketing methods and a rapidly growing consumer base looking for new creators to follow.
Your podcast could be about anything relating to your field of study, from a series of lessons (if your subject matter can be taught through audio), to coverage of the latest news, developments, updates, or general interest events in your field, to interviews with other experts in your field or related fields. You may even want to combine various approaches to build some variety into your show.
From all about knitting, to the legacy of concrete architecture, to – of course – the learning business – you can start a podcast on just about any subject and find an interested and engaged audience.
Finding an audience for your podcast
As with pretty much anything you publish on the web, “If you build it, they will come!” does not apply. Still, with the surging popularity of podcasting, more and more listeners are searching for new podcasts every day. Here are ten tips for getting your podcast heard.
1. Play the long game
According to Rob Walch of Libsyn, 50 percent of all the podcast episodes they host get less than 125 downloads in the first thirty days. I’m not sure we even got that many back when we started the Leading Learning Podcast back in 2015. Now we’re up past 7000 downloads a month.
The bottom line is that podcasting does take work – a great advantage for those willing to do the work – and the growing success of the field overall is no guarantee of your success. It can take a long time for your podcast to gain traction, so if podcast content marketing is something you are considering, be prepared to put in at least six months to see if it’s working for you.
2. Know your audience
In order to attract listeners to your podcast, you need to give them what they want. That means understanding who your audience is, and what motivates them. As an edupreneur, you want to attract learners, and that typically means providing content that teaches them something.
You don’t have to give away all your secrets—the point of content marketing is to eventually lead listeners to your paid offerings, after all—but basing your podcast around the subject you teach, and giving it an informative or educational bent, is a good place to start. Ask yourself what common questions your learners have, and how you can answer them through your podcast.
And, do err on the side of providing some of your most valuable information and insights. Edupreneurs often think they will devalue their paid offerings by doing this, but the opposite is usually the truth. Listeners who find your podcast incredibly useful and valuable will be much more likely to pay to get more from you.
3. Connect with your audience
Once you know the audience you want to attract, you need to find out where they are. If you already have a social media following, e-mail list, or contact details of past learners, they should be the first people to hear about your new podcast. Then look online to see where your target learners hang out. What social networks do they use? Do they subscribe to particular blogs, or are they members of a subject-interest social media group?
Most people online move in communities of like-minded individuals. Finding the communities interested in your field is an invaluable step toward successfully promoting your podcast to the right people.
Keep in mind that one of the best ways to connect with your desired audience is to build relationships with people who already have. That may mean trying to land a guest spot on an existing podcast or writing for someone else’s blog. Even if you may be somewhat competitive with them, most podcasters and bloggers need truly high quality content from people who understand their audience.
4. Use SEO to attract new listeners
When you publish your podcast, you have the opportunity to use search engine optimization (SEO) through the podcast name, episode names, and descriptions that you use. “Joe’s podcast, episode 6” won’t attract any new listeners from search engines. Instead, look at the common searches people in your field are making on search engines, and consider how to incorporate those search terms into your content and descriptions. Look at the “People also ask” and “Related Searches” sections on Google for good ideas.
You also have the opportunity to publish show notes and/or a transcript for each episode. At Leading Learning, we have opted for very thorough show notes that cover key points from each episode and also mix in additional resources, giving even those who have listened a reason to visit each episode’s show notes. For transcriptions, you can use a service like Rev.com. Either way, publishing text for each show helps the search engines find you.
5. Answer questions on Quora
Quora gets 300 million unique visitors every month, all of them looking for answers to their questions on over 400,000 different topics. That’s a huge pool of potential listeners (and learners!) who are searching for information that you can provide.
I’ll admit that this is a channel I personally have not made enough use of, but even in my dabblings with it, I can tell that it produces results. If I were just starting out with a new podcast, I would plan on spending some serious time there.
6. Help a reporter out (HARO)
Another great way to get your name out there is to provide useful information for journalists and reporters through HARO. In exchange for a brief bio, and maybe a link in an online publication, you can be cited as an authority on your subject and reach potentially millions of readers from major news publications.
To be clear, this is not an easy path. You have to keep at it and sift through a lot of possible leads, but let’s face it, if you can land even one citation from a major publication, it can really boost your listenership dramatically.
7. Encourage social proof
Nobody wants to be the only person doing something, and that includes listening to a podcast. “Social proof” is the general term for public feedback that convinces onlookers that something is good and popular. The more subscribers, “likes” and reviews your podcast has, the higher its social proof, so don’t be shy about encouraging listeners to share their thoughts online.
A resource I have found especially helpful in this area is the “Get Reviews” link that Simple Podcast Press can create for your Apple Podcast reviews (no charge). It provides for one-click access to your reviews page regardless of whether the reviewer is subscribed to your podcast. (Apple Podcasts, by the way, is still by far the biggest podcast channel, so you should definitely focus on getting reviews there.)
8. Publish at least 3 episodes on the first day
While most podcasts are released on a weekly, or even monthly basis, when a new listener discovers a podcast they probably want to binge a few episodes. That’s why it’s a good idea to produce more content upfront that you can release on launch day, giving you the best chance of hooking as many listeners as possible, straight out of the gate. Publishing at least three episodes provides enough content to capture listeners’ attention and keep them coming back.
9. Keep a consistent release schedule
How often you publish matters less than how consistently you publish, so don’t think you have to work yourself into the ground producing a new show every day, or even every week. Set a publishing schedule for your podcast based on how long it takes you to produce quality content. Then ensure your listeners know when the next episode will be coming out. As long as your audience knows when to expect your episodes to be released, they won’t mind waiting a little while between them.
This is another area that separates dabblers from the dedicated when it comes to podcasting. Most wannabe podcasters won’t stick it out, and if they do, they won’t be consistent. That’s a key reason there is such an opportunity for people willing to put in the work to carve a major content asset in their niche.
10. Pay for advertising
While paid ads shouldn’t be a primary long-term promotion method (in most cases), they are useful for getting more eyes on your podcast faster than SEO or social outreach. Particularly if you don’t have a large online platform before launching your podcast, investing in advertising the launch can help you reach new listeners and bring more learners into your content marketing funnel.
Personally, my preference for ads is Facebook – a significant percentage of most audiences is there at this point and you have a lot of control there over targeting the right prospective listeners. (For help with Facebook ads, check out Andrea Vahl’s site.)
Choosing the right podcasting equipment
When podcasting, the only way you have to communicate with your audience is through your voice. (Okay, I know some people talk about video podcasts, but in my book, audio is the real deal.) That means your production standards have to be high, because you don’t get a second chance to be heard.
When creating a video, your watchers use body language, lip reading, subtitles, and other context clues to understand what’s going on. That means video is far more forgiving for hosts who have pronounced accents or speak too rapidly for some viewers to follow every word. With a podcast, there is no such buffer. If a listener can’t understand what you’re saying, they’ll simply tune out.
In order to get the best production values, the most important investment you can make in your podcast is in a good quality microphone. Here are some options
- I use an Audio-Techica ATR2100 USB Mic, but it looks like this is no longer available on Amazon, so I’d recommend checking out the Audio 2000 S106A, which looks very similar and gets great reviews. Personally, I greatly prefer “dynamic” mics like this (as opposed to “condenser”) because they pick up much less background noise.
- Any of the desktop or portable USB mics from Blue Microphones, including the Blue Yeti. These are condenser mics (see bullet above), but if background noise is not an issue for you, they produce great sound.
- If you want to go much higher end, check out the Heil Pr 40. This is a dynamic mic and it is what Pat Flynn, host of the incredibly successful Smart Passive Income podcast uses.
- If you are using a smartphone to record yourself or others, I recommend an external microphone – usually a lavalier (i.e., a mic that can be clipped on) is most useful – this one is a good, solid choice.
Whatever mic setup you choose, purchasing a pop filter is an inexpensive way to avoid harsh vocal sounds, and a sound isolation shield will minimize background noise if you don’t have the luxury of a complete home studio. Even if your mic comes with a stand, it is usually also worth getting a boom arm of some sort to hold the mic steady at the right height. (You will usually see choices for boom arms to go with whatever microphone you select.)
In order to get the most from your audio equipment, make sure you’re using the right connectors to get the best quality recording. Not all mics are compatible with all recording devices. One way to improve your audio file, especially when recording using a video camera or smartphone, is to invest another $130 in a Saramonic SmartRig+. The SmartRig+ crosses the bridge between audio and computer equipment and ensures no data is lost between the two.
While it is possible to publish a podcast without any editing, in most cases you are going to be want to make at least some simple edits – for example, to remove a coughing fit or to add an intro to an interview. You don’t have to get fancy or complicated with editing software. The two most popular options are:
- Garage Band – Comes standard on a Mac. Does pretty much anything you need it to do, and I’ve always found it reasonably intuitive to use.
- Audacity – Free, open source software that is comparable to Garage Band – some Mac users even prefer it – and can be used on PC or Mac
Both of these applications come with good Help and you can also find tons of tutorials for either of them on the Web. You may also want to check out the sources on the Sourcing and Outsourcing page for music and sound effects that you can add to your audio and video projects.
Finally, while you can do a lot to manage sound quality using the editing tools above, I highly recommend using a processor like Auphonic to help eliminate noise in your podcast and adjust all of the audio to be at the same level. (I hate listening to interview podcasts, for example, where one person is much louder than the other). You can process up to two hours of content a month for free on Auphonic and buy credits at a reasonable rate for higher amounts.
Choosing a podcast hosting platform
Your next consideration is how to distribute your podcast. There are plenty of platforms that provide distribution channels for podcasts, known as directories. The biggest include Apple, Spotify, and Google, but there are plenty of small directories around that have a large cumulative audience.
To get your podcast into these channels, though, you need to host it somewhere, and it pays to host on a specialized platform (i.e., not your own Web site) that makes it possible to connect to as many of these channels as possible with minimal effort. You can do this with Libsyn (which is where my company’s Leading Learning podcast is hosted) or Bluburry, where I hosted a limited run podcast for the Learning Revolution book, but there are plenty of other podcast hosting services out there – just make sure they support easily publishing your show into major distribution channels.
A good podcasting host will provide better and more reliable audio streaming than you will get from a standard shared hosting plan from your website provider. And, in addition to automatically submitting your podcast and each new episode to major directories, many even provide monetization tools, meaning you can host your podcast and generate revenue all from one platform.
For purposes of podcast content marketing, keep in mind that the advertising tools provided by some platforms enable you to “stitch” extra audio onto the beginning or end of an episode as well as into specific places in the main content. Stitching means you can turn it on and off, replace it with new audio content when appropriate, and even target it to run only on specific episodes. We do this with Libsyn Pro hosting, for example, and use it not for outside advertisers but to promote our own products and events – or even other free content – when relevant. If that sounds interesting, be sure look for hosting that supports it.
You can get started on most hosting platforms for free, although this will limit the amount of audio you can upload, how widely you can distribute, whether or not you can monetize your podcast, and how long your hosting lasts. Still, most free hosting tiers are sufficient for the early days of a podcast. If you opt for paid hosting, it shouldn’t cost more than $25/month (and often a lot less) to host an entry-level podcast. (If you want a feature like the ad stitching mentioned above, expect to pay quite a bit more.)
The pros and cons of podcast content marketing
Let me be clear: podcasting isn’t for everybody. And that’s actually a big part of what makes it attractive for those who embrace it.
As a content marketing strategy, it can be hugely successful, but it also takes more time and attention than other content marketing techniques. Blog posts and emails can be written quickly in your spare time or outsourced. Videos can be shot on your phone and uploaded instantly.
Producing a podcast typically requires at least an hour of your time to record and edit each episode (though there are definitely shorter form approaches). The equipment and sound mixing costs (if you don’t have the skills to do the editing yourself) can also provide a greater barrier to entry than other content marketing efforts. Before deciding to start your own podcast, it’s worth evaluating all the pros and cons to see if podcasting is the right fit for your content marketing strategy.
The fact is, many wannabe podcasters struggle with showing up consistently over time with fresh content. There are plenty of dead podcasts out there.
All of that said, podcasting’s rapid audience growth is a significant factor to consider.
If you were to start a YouTube channel today, you’d be competing with 31 million other channels, uploading 500+ hours of video every minute. That’s a lot of competition. By comparison, the number of active podcasts just topped 1 million (double the number available in mid-2018). Less competition means greater discoverability, and lower niche saturation. If you want to produce a YouTube video on, well, anything, it’s already been done. If you start a podcast, you could easily still create the go-to show in your field.
The nature of podcasting also lends itself well to creating lasting relationships with your audience. Listening to a podcast is less like a lecture, and more like a one-sided conversation. As such, your subscribers can develop an affinity for you, like tuning into your show is chatting with an old friend. This is great for helping you position yourself as an authority figure in your field and building trust. If people feel that they know you and have a one-on-one relationship with you, they will be more likely to turn to you when they want to know more, and to buy your products when they’re ready to make an investment in learning.
As a bonus, I find that when I run into people who have heard me on the podcast, they are very excited to actually meet me in person. I often get treated like something of a minor celebrity.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to give away your most valuable educational material for your podcast – though, as implied earlier, I would encourage you always to give to the point where you feel a bit uncomfortable. You can always host a show on news, latest developments, interviews with other figures in your field, or anything else you can think of. Maybe there are common questions learners have asked you in the past, that don’t easily fit into the structure of a course or seminar but add interest to your subject and engage listeners. There are countless general interest podcasts already devoted to the weird minutiae of everyday life, and they are incredibly popular. Creating a similar podcast that focuses on your subject could have the same appeal.
Of course, you can also use your podcast as a teaching tool. Re-purpose old seminars to create content or use the podcast as a trial balloon for new classes and lessons. Auditory learning is a popular way of exploring something new, and podcasts are great for anyone who wants to learn on the go or multitask (yes, bad for learning, but let’s face it – people do it).
However, you go about it, keep in mind that by regularly producing podcast content – and, ideally supporting it with show notes and/or transcripts – you are creating a real asset for your business. Podcast content marketing creates a showcase for your expertise and, if done write, results in a lot of content that your prospective learners will continue to seek out and make use of over time.
Finally, although podcasting does come with a barrier to entry in the form of audio recording equipment and editing costs, it is generally lower than the cost of producing video content of a similar quality and length. While informal videos are the norm across social media platforms, most edupreneurs still prefer to maintain high production values in their educational videos. This typically requires a higher investment in video editing services or software, home studio equipment, and even makeup and wardrobe so you look your best on camera. By comparison, you can record a podcast in your pajamas, and your listeners will never know!
The Bottom Line on Podcast Content Marketing
Even though it has attracted a lot of buzz in recent years, podcasting is still a relatively new platform, and a great way to enhance your content marketing strategy and expand your learner audience, While it does require more commitment with less certainty of return than many other forms of content marketing, it offers a unique opportunity to get into a new type of content creation while it’s still early enough that you can make big gains without competing in an over-saturated market.
So, why not give it a go, and see what podcast content marketing can do for you?