So you want to launch a podcast?
Podcasting has become an extremely popular medium in the last several years. It has become appealing to audiences for a wide variety of reasons; the podcast medium is very consumable, the barrier to entry is pretty low - you can play them on the teeny super computer that we all carry in our pockets. The cost is [mostly - there are some exceptions] free to consume something that is often highly aligned with your interests. There are some disagreements on the number of podcasts out there but, the estimates land around half a million, recording in approximately 100 languages with a total of almost 19 million episodes. 1/4 of all Americans listen regularly, to podcasts. The breadth of topics is stunning and there is literally something for every taste and interest.
What makes a successful podcast? What does success mean to you? Listener count? Engagement? Leads generated? Revenue?
Think carefully about this topic.
One of the most important success factors is the content, so choose your approach to this carefully so that it aligns to your business goals. What? You don't have business goals associated with your podcast project? Take a step back and think through what you aim to achieve and while you're at it, identify some KPI's that help you know if things are headed in the right direction. This activity should be a subset of your overall digital marketing strategy or content marketing fly-wheel. If you're a brand and the goal of developing a podcast is to build your business, you really should do some research into the topics or themes that are of interest to your core constituency and at the very least, weave these into your content over time. I could go on for a very long time about the value of good personas and keyword research informing just about everything you do on the web but, now isn't the time or place.
Production values are also super important to having an engaging podcast and being able to retain listeners. Have you ever been told about or discovered a podcast that aligns with your interests only to listen and find out that the sound quality is terrible? Or the podcast host has poor speaking skills? Or is a has a strange (in a bad way) dynamic with the others on the show? The equipment section below will talk about what you need to mitigate potential sound problems. I can't help you be a better public speaker, or have positive interpersonal dynamics with your fellow podcasters... but, its something that you should think about and strive to improve, always. Of course, driving awareness and engagement is important as well. How are people going to find out about my podcast? We'll cover that as well.
There are four buckets of issues you'll need to deal with when producing a podcast, beyond the actual production of podcast itself...lets dive in.
I can just record this with my iPhone and some Apple headphones right?
Sure, go ahead. It will sound terrible and people will stop listening, though. Do yourself a solid and invest a few bucks to get some decent equipment - if you're serious about this. A microphone, an arm to hold the mic and an isolation system, a decent pop filter, some headphones that sound good and don't annoy you (you'll be wearing them A LOT) should run you a couple hundred bucks. Reach out if you want a full list of the products that are widely agreed to be the best bang for your buck in each of these areas.
I've had people approach me about podcasting in the past, starting the conversation with, "...where can I rent studio space to record my podcast?" Or, "...I don't know how to build a studio but, I kinda want to do a podcast...." I always counter with a quizzical, why would you do such a thing? It doesn't have to be that complicated or expensive. Find a spot in your office or home where you can record uninterrupted. Make sure your chosen room, that will double as your studio is acoustically, as good as it can be with some acoustic tiles - you don't have to mount them on the walls permanently. No that old blanket isn't going to work for acoustic insulation. Order a few tiles, do a few test recordings, add or remove some tiles, adjust the settings on the microphone...its really a process to get the sound right but, definitely spend some time (and money) getting it right before you launch, if possible. If you want to hear some of the best sound out there in the small production podcast realm, listen to an episode of The Accidental Tech Podcast and strive to achieve the sound quality on display there, its pretty much the gold standard, in my opinion.
Content & Cadence
I need to do this ... how often?
Since you did the research that I suggested in the opening of this article already, go ahead and set about creating a content calendar using that topic list that you've developed. A lot of my favorite podcasts involve two or more people during each episode. These people collaborate on a shared document that becomes the outline for each show. I absolutely recommend this format as it de-risks the entire enterprise by sharing the content burden among the group. The content calendar can be the core of this outline for each episode with other additions to enhance each show - current events, questions from your audience, guests, etc. Once you've got that, you can start thinking about how long your podcast should be and your frequency. Many of the most successful, broad-topic podcasts out there post two episodes, or more per week. That's a lot to commit to, even if you're making this a very serious part of your life. Some of the most niche podcasts out there post once per month or even less often - see one of my favorites, Dan Carlin's Hardcore History as an example - if your content isn't SUPER compelling people are going to forget about you. Dan's show is so compelling that I get very excited when a new episode or series shows up in my favorite podcast app. That's no small feat. I recommend trying to post an episode per week if you're unsure, or twice monthly. Have it drop on a decently regular schedule (always on the same day) so your listeners can make a habit around your content. Joe Rogan's podcast is an outlier in that he's posting multiple times per week.
You also need to think about how your show will go on, time wise. Is it thirty minutes? Is it an hour? Is it multiple hours? I would encourage you to NOT make the podcast a specified duration. You don't need that stress. Just let it organically happen and I'm betting that within a few episodes, you'll fall into a cadence that makes sense for you and your co-hosts. Shoot for a time but, don't try to over-produce it and hit a "tight forty-five", you're not a radio or tv station and don't have the constraints they have.
Another thing that people are doing, driven by functionality in Apple's podcast database, is creating a "trailer" or "primer" for the podcast that introduces listeners to the show. I recommend it as a way to let people dip a toe into your podcast pool...so to speak.
So you've got your "studio" sorted out, your content approach is solidified and you're ready to do your first episode.
How do I record this? Once its recorded, what do I do with it? How do I edit it?
I recommend adopting an attitude of "whats in the show, is in the show" to steal a turn of phrase from The Great Merlin Mann. If you do this, you minimize any editing that is required in "post production." If someone accidentally drops an 'F-Bomb' for example, you can bleep that out but, otherwise mistakes, corrections and whatnot should be accepted as part of the show...and frankly doing so humanizes you - people do business with people they like. I also would recommend getting your friend who plays music to make you a intro / outro that you can append to each episode. You can credit them in the show notes (with a link) or at the end of the podcast as the outro is playing. If you don't have that friend, use a service like Fivver to get some audio production done on the cheap for your intro and outro. You may also want to have a segment bumper, or two, if you have things like questions from the audience or guests, in your show.
If you have multiple people on the podcast, they don't all have to be in the same place to do the recording. It is somewhat more post-production intensive if you're not in the same place but, its still almost as easy as if everyone is in the same room. You can record a Skype call, for example, with multiple people calling in. A lot of people use Garage Band on the Mac to do their podcasts. On Windows there is the Adobe offering and a wide variety of others. I recommend testing software while you're testing your physical audio setup because there is A LOT of personal preference that goes into software selection, just like physical environment setup.
You're going to need a place to host this podcast on the web. You can just throw an MP3 on any old web server someplace but, these days there a whole bunch of specialized hosts for podcasts that help deal with all the things that live within our next topic and will make your life so much easier over time from a [post] production perspective.
Distribution & promotion
There are a wide variety distribution approaches for your podcast but, the number one thing you need to be absolutely certain that you NAIL and spend significant time getting right - inclusion in the Apple iTunes Podcast directory, the Google Play Store Directory and Spotify. These directories are the source for the database for a large variety of the most popular podcast apps out there today, Apple Podcasts is the 800lb gorilla but, apps like Overcast are extremely popular due to some unique features and leverage the Apple Database of Podcasts. Some podcast applications have private databases that require submission, Stitcher is one of those. However, by selecting a really good podcast host, this distribution step can be handled for you to a large degree. A good podcast specific host generates RSS feeds that are compliant with the formats understood by these directories, ID3 tags that get embedded within the MP3 file and does a whole bunch of other cool things for you as well that will save you time and frustration.
You're going to need some creative - essentially album art for your podcast, something that is going to help draw your potential audience in, remember there are close to half-a-million podcasts out there - putting your best foot forward is highly recommended. You'll also want to create a home for your podcast on the web (and all that entails, ahem, social media). If you're an existing brand that wants to branch out into podcasting, I recommend registering the dot-FM version of your brand's domain name and redirect that URL into your regular website folder structure, thereby consolidating your authority on the web, as much as possible back into your primary dot-com (if you don't fit into this category, you've got a lot more options to consider). In this folder you'll want a few things, an HTML page that generally describes the podcast, linking to a page for each podcast host with bio information, this general page should also contain lists of all the episodes with a link to each (maybe an embedded player?), a snippet description and a link to the show notes for each episode. You may also want to have a full text transcription of each episode on this page...and if you're going to the trouble of doing this right, you may as well make sure that the pages are hard coded with all the right structured markup, allowing your pages to send clear signals to Google bot, as to what is going on there.
You're also going to need to make a plan to get some initial traction for your podcast, what this looks like in detail is highly variable depending on the nature of what you're producing and who your audience is. Getting that initial traction will require development of that specific promotional plan, ideally a budget for some targeted paid advertising. The good-will of your friends, family and co-workers is also essential to the success of your efforts. You'll need to ask people to listen to the podcast, privately give you some brutally honest feedback, then publicly write reviews and rate the podcast, in addition to sharing it on social media. All of these things are super important to getting some initial traction and you should NOT be shy in asking for these things. You'll want to promote it on your website, through your brand's existing social channels, periodic email marketing that you're already doing and some paid advertising (the options here are literally limitless)...but, make sure you get it out there and continue to build your audience, even after this initial push.
If your audience is appropriate to Youtube as a channel, you may as well post it there, too. Youtube is the second largest search engine, to Google itself and has an enormous user base of all types of people. Why not increase your chances of discovery? The how's and why's of Youtube is a whole other blog post.
Whoa. That's a lot of stuff to get done.
You wanna launch this thing, when?
It seems like a lot, I know. However, if you're able to concentrate your efforts, you should be able to get up and running with a really professional production in 30 days or less. I've seen a number of people do it successfully over the years and know that you too can make it happen for yourself or your company's marketing program. You should definitely reach out with any questions you might have.