Ask not what your listeners can do for you: Ask what you can do to keep your listeners engaged in your show, and coming back for every episode.
Engaging listeners comes down to more than exciting content — although that is one component. The podcasters with the most loyal fans are the ones who take the time to connect with their listeners outside of the show, and to factor their feedback and even their voices into their podcast. Giving them shoutouts on the episodes doesn’t hurt either.
The golden rules of listener engagement could be summed up as: keep it consistent, be original, and make it communal. Here’s how to incorporate these into your podcast, to ensure every episode of your show is a must-listen.
1) Keep your production schedule consistent and your content fresh
Humans are creatures of habit, and that extends to our entertainment.
For example, think about your favorite weekly TV series. If the first three episodes came out on consecutive Mondays at 6 p.m., followed by no episodes for four weeks, and then another episode aired with no warning on a Friday at 3:30 p.m., you’d be pretty frustrated. You’d probably find a different show to watch.
Podcasts are the same. That’s why one of the fundamental elements of creating a successful podcast is sticking to a consistent schedule. This benefits you and your listeners: They know when to expect every episode without having to constantly refresh the feed, and they’ll make time to download and listen.
However, as much as humans like routine in our schedules, we also get bored very easily by the same kind of content. Which means that you need to keep the substance of your episodes as fresh and original as possible.
Keep track of the topics you’re covering and the people you’re talking to, and make sure it doesn’t get too samey.
For example, New York Times podcast Sway (recorded using SquadCast!) is an interview show based around the broad theme of power. The subjects include actors, authors, historians, politicians, CEOs (and not just in tech), and at least one behavioral economist.
Knowing that the show attracts such a variety of interesting guests, listeners will keep checking in just to see who host Kara Swisher is talking to in that episode. Even if they don’t like a particular person, they’ll come back next time, because they know there’s a good chance it will be someone with a completely different perspective.
A consistent schedule reassures people that an episode will be waiting for them when they want it: Originality ensures they’re intrigued enough to bother.
2) Build a community
Out of ears, out of mind — the podcast equivalent of “out of sight, out of mind.” Hold your listeners’ attention and keep your show in their mind in between episodes by connecting with them online.
Here are a few reliable ways to start your online podcast community:
Make a Facebook Group
Facebook Groups can be a good way to reach a lot of your listeners in one go, while also giving them the opportunity to start conversations among themselves.
When people start discussions with each other of their own accord, you still get that marketing push with no extra effort. That said, you should have some oversight over what is being posted, to make sure no conversations that could hurt your brand — not to mention people’s feelings — kick off on your page. Want a quick and dirty primer on building a Facebook group for your podcast community? This video from Pod Sound School’s Veronica has some great tips:
Connect on LinkedIn
You can write blog posts and updates on LinkedIn, as well as connecting directly with listeners and potential guests. This is especially relevant if your podcast covers business or entrepreneurial themes.
Chat on Twitter
Twitter isn’t just for posting one-liners. In a recent SquadCast crowdcast, Garret Kruger and Sabrina Ricci, hosts of dinosaur podcast I Know Dino, explained that they like to unite their listeners on Twitter with special hashtags around a certain theme. Once a month or so, Garret and Sabrina give out the hashtag, and everyone who wants to join the discussion includes it in their tweets, so it’s easy to find each other and interact. They also use hashtags to crowdsource questions for guests.
Send out a newsletter
Newsletters are a quick and effective way to keep your listeners up to date between episodes, and to let them know a new one is coming. OG pod master Evo Terra puts it well, “Without the time (and money) investment required of an audio episode, an intentional newsletter can be used to keep information flowing to your audience.”
You can keep them short and informative, or flex your creative muscle. Incorporate relevant news, listener surveys, or funny GIFs. This is an opportunity to communicate and bring some personality to your brand — which is ultimately what will keep your listeners coming back.
3) Welcome listener feedback
Once you’ve created opportunities to regularly connect with your listeners online, use these platforms to ask for feedback. That might be around the structure of the show, a new segment you’re trying out, or merch ideas. You can also ask for topic suggestions, and which guests they’d like to hear from.
You can easily create polls on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, or just post an open-ended question (if you’re feeling brave!) This is the easiest way to find out why your listeners keep coming back to your show, what they want to hear more of, and what they’re less enthusiastic about.
Garret and Sabrina also look at Reddit for inspiration. Even if you don’t want the hassle of starting your own Subreddit just for your podcast, you can still look through other relevant parts of the site to see what people with similar interests are talking about.
4) Incorporate listener mail into your show
In the words of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” author Dale Carnegie, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” That includes on a podcast.
Incorporating a “Listener Mail” section gives people the opportunity to hear you say their name on the show, and share their opinions — two things everyone loves. It’s best to put this at the end of your episodes. That way, people who are keen enough to write in still have to listen to the rest of the show, and you won’t annoy the people who just want to get to the main event.
It might be hard to generate enough interesting (and airable) listener contributions at first. You can get the ball rolling by asking for responses to a specific question at the end of every episode, and on social media and your newsletter.
If you haven’t already, set up an email address just for these responses. That way you have them all in one place, without clogging up your inbox. Since podcasts revolve around audio, also consider setting up a free Google Voice number where people can leave you voicemails you can add to the podcast.
Once you’ve got a few seasons under your belt and have built up a regular listener base, people will start emailing with less pushing from you.
For example, Stuff You Should Know (they also record using SquadCast!) have been around since 2008 — making hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant bona fide godfathers of the medium. The podcast has had a listener mail section for most of that time. People mainly write in about previous episodes, with extra tidbits or even corrections.
Don’t be afraid to include the latter: people appreciate honesty and efforts to keep them in the loop.
The fact you have listeners you’d like to engage with means that you’re off to a good start. And a podcast doesn’t need hundreds of listeners to be successful: sometimes loyalty is more important than high download numbers. With these tips, you can build a community of fans who catch every episode and engage with you in between — a podcaster’s dream.
Natasha Lavender is a writer, editor and podcast nerd. She has a BA in English and American Literature from the University of Birmingham in the UK, which proved especially useful when she moved to Chicago, IL, in 2016. This content was produced collaboratively with PodReacher.