How to Measure a Podcast: The 4 S’s of Marketing ROI For Your Show
Here’s what we know: the way we measure podcasts is historically…pretty terrible. The metrics we’re primed to review — like downloads, subscribers, traffic, etc. — don’t measure what’s most important to showrunners: that is, whether your show will entice listeners to stay.
Great projects get killed early because we’re not measuring them correctly. We look at metrics like downloads and expect the numbers to be convincingly high as soon as we’ve launched our show. That’s like measuring top speed for a train that’s just coming out of the station. It’s the wrong metric. We need different ones.
As we try to make a show that will grow, we need to figure out how to measure whether the show is actually growable. Few marketers think about how to build expressly for growth and discover how to measure not just growth itself, but a show’s growability.
The way we currently measure podcast ROI is broken, but that doesn’t mean measurement is any less important. As you’re defining your approach to podcast measurement, consider the four S’s of marketing ROI for your show.
Don’t get me wrong — even though data for most of our shows is relatively limited, it’s still important. It just doesn’t tell the full picture of your show’s success, nor does it fully indicate whether your show has the potential to grow.
In assessing your show’s ROI, analyze stats on three different areas: 1) content consumption, 2) content sharing, and 3) content influence.
Content consumption statistics include measures like downloads, views, drop-off rates, and heat maps. Podcast platforms like Apple Podcasts and Spotify offer some of this data, while platforms like Wistia, built more specifically for marketers who make shows, have a more robust set of statistics available. Content sharing statistics go a step further by displaying the number of shares, the outlet on which the show was shared, engagement rates, etc.
The third type of statistic is more rare, but it’s very helpful to the sophisticated marketer. These stats help marketers identify whether the audience interacted with the show while en route to a desired outcome. For example, Nicolas Merlaud, the showrunner behind 360 Learning’s video series Onboarding Joei, created a new type of conversion widget simply to capture people who visited the website after viewing the show. He was then able to share those leads with the rest of the marketing department, so they could become marketing-qualified leads.
Here’s the main point to remember as you’re analyzing these metrics: Data tells us what happened. It doesn’t tell us why it happened. We often obsess over data as we strive for growth, because the object of analyzing numbers is to make the numbers grow. Focusing solely on data can lead to difficult internal conversations and can make it hard to justify continuing a new project, like a show, before it’s grown up. So we need more nuance in how we measure.
The theory behind creating a show is that people who spend significant time with you and your brand are way more valuable than the average consumer, because they have a way stronger relationship with you. Your podcast audience has proactively chosen to spend numerous hours with your company — audience members have invited your company’s ideas and your talent’s voices into some of the more intimate parts of their daily routine. They’ve chosen to hear you, and they’ve gotten to know you.
Thus, you can — and should — interact with them and talk to them directly. Insights into your audience yield a huge ROI, as insights are rare but valuable to extract. Once you do extract them, you can use them to inform both your show and other initiatives around the company. You can gain these insights by engaging directly with your audience via surveys.
Surveys come in two forms, in my experience. The first type gathers general information and asks questions like: Who are you? What do you do? What do you hope to get from the show? These are important in understanding the types of people who comprise your audience, and the reasons your premise may resonate with them.
The second type of survey provides insight on the show/market fit. Like the famous idea of product/market fit among startups, show/market fit is a quick way to tell if people actually care about and want your show. A positive show/market fit is a good signal that you should invest more into growing the show.
The show/market fit question is simple: If we stopped running this show, how disappointed would you be? Offer a scale of 1-3: VERY disappointed, somewhat disappointed, or not at all disappointed (you don’t find the show very useful or interesting).
Now, missing from both stats and surveys are some crucial details, which is why we need the next form of measurement…
Statements from listeners provide data that’s quite qualitative — but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as useful as quantitative data. After all, “data” just means “information stored for later use.” It doesn’t mean “numbers.” If we solely use numbers to analyze our shows, we aren’t being AS data-driven as we could be.
Thus, statements: the things people say to you on social media, via email, and in person. These forms of data can give voice to the intangible feelings you might have about your show.
Showrunners can often sense that their podcast is (or isn’t) working in a way that their peers can’t. For example, you may be at an event, where you hear a few times, “Oh, wow, I LOVE your show!” That’s an important signal, but in most cases, it never gets captured, which means it never gets used.
Capture that data. Connect with the person who made the statement further. Ask them more questions. And tell more people you work with about these interactions, because they’re data points that can help you analyze the success of your show.
Yes, I’m saying you need to actually talk to your audience. You can even program this a bit more proactively. I like to schedule 3-5 30-minute 1:1s with my podcast listeners each month. For 15 minutes, I ask them questions to learn about them. I then offer them the final 15 minutes to use however they want, however I can be helpful.
Each time I do this, I learn so much — I gain access to giant emotions I wouldn’t have been able to detect through a survey form or an analytics platform. I’m able to identify patterns and detecto similar words or themes various individuals use when discussing the show. I walk away with deeper relationships with those people…and endless great ideas for my show. What a huge return on your time! And speaking of huge returns…
Reader, meet Matt. Matt works for a 350-person software company called HomeLight that sells to real estate agents. He runs the podcast The Walkthrough, which, just like the overall brand of HomeLight, believes that a current industry trend is broken. Most real estate tech focuses on removing the agent. HomeLight, and Matt’s show, are all about making real estate more human, making the agent the focal point of the experience.
One way Matt and HomeLight measure the success of his podcast? Syndication. HomeLight writes a weekly newsletter to its audience. The vast majority of subscribers are not podcast listeners, yet the podcast helps 100% of the people on that list. Why? Because the HomeLight team can so easily pull ideas or even whole excerpts from the podcast to use as pieces of the newsletter.
If Matt wanted to write and share a brand new idea for the newsletter from scratch each week, that would take anywhere from four to six hours of his time. But thanks to the podcast, he can cut that time to half an hour! Every single week, Matt saves 3.5 to 5.5 hours of his time. That’s 14 to 26 hours PER MONTH! Matt gets an entire DAY PER MONTH back to invest in something else, something to help build the business and serve the audience better. Now that is a return. It wont show up in an analytics platform, but this is absolutely part of the podcast’s ROI.
When it comes to measurement for your podcast, don’t get hung up on the same stale metrics with which every showrunner struggles. They’re important, but they don’t tell the full story. Instead, focus on each of the Four S’s: Stats, Surveys, Statements, and Syndication, to ascertain whether your show is one that will entice listeners to stick around.
Founder of Marketing Showrunners, host of 3 Clips and other podcasts and docuseries about creativity, and author of Break the Wheel. I’m trying to create a world where people feel intrinsically motivated by their work. Previously in content marketing and digital strategy at Google and HubSpot and VP of brand and community at the VC firm NextView. I write, tinker, and speak on stages and into microphones for a living. It’s weird but wonderful.
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