What Makes a Podcast Successful?
Several years ago, while considering a job offer, I received some of the best career advice I’ve ever gotten. An industry vet told me: “Before you take this job, make sure you know what success will look like.”
Such a simple concept, but so important — and harder than you might think, particularly for people in creative professions. What does success look like for a marketer?
The answer for that job — and every other job I’ve ever had — started by defining clear, objective indicators of a solid performance, but that’s not where it ended. Each job has had a few distinct direct measures of success — increased blog traffic, increased newsletter subscribers, increased social media followers, increased conversions — as well as a litany of indirect ones.
These indirect success indicators have included improved internal awareness of the marketing department and our message, enhanced team cohesion, the impossible-to-measure helpfulness level to clients, and many, many more. If I’d only focused on achieving the objective KPIs, I would have missed so many opportunities for true success.
The same logic applies to podcasting. Before you make your show, ask yourself: what will success look like?
Direct vs. Indirect Benefits of Your Show
When we measure anything, we measure the asset and its relationship to the audience directly. When measuring a podcast, we do this by examining metrics like downloads, the amount of time the audience spends with the show, surveys in which the audience provides direct feedback, and more qualitative measures like affinity for the show and, consequently, for the brand.
Assessing the show’s performance by such measures is helpful and, of course, necessary. Understanding what’s working well and what isn’t for the audience helps showrunners create a better show, which in turn helps grow the audience. Setting expectations around the direct benefits of your show should be your first step in defining what success will look like.
But what about the indirect benefits of the show? What value does the show provide to people who do not (and may never) listen to it?
Value for Your Team
A (good) podcast is one of the richest forms of owned media a company can have. Each episode contains a veritable trove of branded content, as well as a distinct voice and personality that help breathe life into your organization. Content marketers hail a podcast’s ability to create a trickling flow of related content: the ideas within can produce standalone blogs and social media posts. They can contribute content to a newsletter. They can spark ideas for new pieces or series of content.
The value of that one podcast to the content team can’t be overstated. When it’s successful, a good show makes it easier for your teammates to do their jobs. It allows them to improve other projects and elicit ideas for new ones. It helps them ship content more quickly. It can help your team function more creatively and efficiently.
And all these benefits happen irrespective of whether or not anyone actually listens to the show.
Value for Your Company
A show’s indirect benefits extend beyond your immediate team. The entire organization can benefit from that type of content. It can elevate the profile of the marketing department within the company. It can inform external-facing teams about some of the issues and topics that are most relevant to your target customers. It can serve as a point of connection between salespeople and prospects who listen — or might want to listen — to the show.
And a show can essentially serve as business development by generating a direct, authentic relationship with your guests. When you strategically invite leaders within your industry to join you on your show, you have the opportunity to engage with them more deeply. There’s benefit in that alone, regardless of whether that guest’s presence results in any increase in listenership.
Looking within your organization: a show can boost company morale, as a point of shared interest and pride that unites multiple teams within an organization. Content has the unique ability to connect people and teams. A show is something stakeholders within various departments can point to and say “we made that. That’s what we stand for.”
Again — these benefits exist, regardless of the size of your audience or the number of times each episode has been downloaded. They exist — and although they don’t necessarily have an objective dollar amount attached to them, that doesn’t mean they should be discounted.
Value for You
The experience of creating, producing, and launching a show produces inimitable benefits for you, the showrunner. With each episode, your skill set will grow exponentially. You’ll become a better interviewer. You’ll learn to ask better questions. You’ll examine problems differently. You’ll become more empathetic to the challenges your audience faces. You’ll learn to create and relieve tension in a constantly undulating wave to hook, then keep, your audience. You’ll get to know your company and its mission better than you ever could have had you not set out to create this richest type of media.
Consider MSR founder Jay Acunzo. He became a better speaker because of his work on his Unthinkable podcast. That raised his profile as a speaker — another core component of his business. An indirect benefit of Unthinkable was that Jay could book more higher-profile gigs because of it.
And who knows where the indirect benefits of your show will lead you?
Share Your Vision
When you set out to create your show, remember: define what success will look like. And when you do, don’t just anticipate the direct benefits of the show — envision the copious indirect ones as well.
And importantly: share that vision with your team and your boss when making the case for your show. Allow your team to see what you see: that a show can be a far-reaching, multi-faceted gift that keeps on giving, regardless of whether or not it makes it to any Top 10 lists or earns any industry accolades. When measuring your show, don’t set yourself up to look narrowly at the ROI of the podcast itself. Instead, look beyond the podcast player to find the impact it’s having — on your audience, certainly, but also on your team, your organization, and yourself.
A somewhat accidental marketer, I’m first and foremost a writer. I’ve spent a decade working with global brands to craft on-target content and streamline complex ideas into clear (and even…exciting?!) language. Now, I get to spend every day immersed in content and strategy here, as Managing Editor of Marketing Showrunners, at my company, Molly Donovan Content & Communications. I’m thrilled to be a part of this community of eager next-generation marketers and marketing showrunners.
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