As a new MFA in Creative Writing student and longtime podcaster, I was excited to attend the recent GUS workshop titled “The Theory of Podcasting: A Conversational Art.” The class was taught by Mike Gravagno, who is a recent graduate of the MFA, and his cohost of the PopFilter.com podcast, Ryan Haley. I started my own podcast, The Survivor Specialists, four years ago, but I was surprised to see this no-credit (free!) class offered to graduate students in Wilkinson College. The emergence of podcasting has been covered in Forbes and The Wall Street Journal in recent weeks, so it’s terrific to see Chapman University talking about the Creative Industries.
What Mike and Ryan stressed most was that many new podcasters make the same mistakes. They become so enamored with audio quality that other, more important elements are forgotten. To this day, my cohost and I record our podcast through Google Hangouts (which means it’s technically a videocast, but we’re on iTunes!). We don’t use the best or most expensive equipment, but our fans forgive lower audio quality because we do other things right. Over time, our subscriber count has surpassed 3500 and we’re still going. How?
Tip #1: Make Time, Be Consistent
Lack of regularity is probably the most common mistake by new podcasters. You must have a schedule and you must follow it. I’ve done this for four years; it’s a serious commitment.
If you want to build a fanbase, you have to build trust. So, you need demonstrate to listeners that you’re going to consistently be there for them. When my original cohost, Will, and I started our podcast, our first episode didn’t crack 100 views. But we didn’t stop! In the offseason, when Survivor fans were hungriest but might wander off, we came up with content to keep subscribers engaged. When the new cast was announced, we recorded our first Cast Assessment and saw our numbers skyrocket. That video has almost 10,000 views on YouTube.
You can’t expect your podcast to be an overnight success. You need to become a part of each fan’s routine. Someoe needs to feel as if driving to church on Sunday wouldn’t be the same if they weren’t listening to your brand-new episode.
Tip #2: Develop Great Rapport with Your Cohost
Not good. Great. You can’t have a solid conversation with someone who is constantly trying to one-up you by being smarter, funnier, or more impressive than you. Instead you and your cohost must work together as a team. It’s not about cutting each other off, or pointing out each other’s mistakes. It’s about pushing on, putting jealousies aside, and correcting each other when that’s part of working through the ideas in the conversation.
As with followers, rapport will almost never come over night, even when the team knows each other already. Frankly, my first podcast episodes suck. Will and I had been friends for years, but we didn’t know how to talk with each other when there was an audience listening. We were scared to step on each other’s toes or challenge each other’s point-of-view. Eventually, we learned our roles. Now, the episodes flow naturally, even when we switch up cohosts.
Tip #3: Build a Community
Be creative as you think about and build a community around your podcast. In our first full season of podcasting, we needed to set ourselves apart from other Survivor podcasts. So, we organized a Bootlist game that only subscribers could enter, and we awarded the winner a Survivor buff. The number of subscribers soared because fans had a reason to come back for our next episode. To top it off, our first-ever winner was cast on Survivor three seasons later and actually won the game! AN ACTUAL SURVIVOR! Afterward, he joined us for an interview and took questions from our fans.
On another occasion, a fan told us about a Survivor event, which we attended for fun. Will spoke with the right people there and ultimately got hired to work on the ACTUAL show. I lost my cohost in the best possible way for the podcast. Thankfully, Alexa had already filled in when Will or I was unable to record an episode, so she stepped in more permanently.
Our listening community helped us complete a successful Kickstarter campaign too. We offered an appearance on the podcast to the first person who donated $100. That kind soul is now a regular guest on our show.
The most important advice for building community? Don’t be a jerk. No one wants to spend time with someone who is mean for no reason. Obviously, you want to give your honest opinion, but back it up and don’t take unnecessary shots. This is especially true if your podcast is about real people. If they’re listening—or their friends are listening—they’ll remember what you say about them.
So there you have my advice. Now, I hope other MFA students will get recording too. Our audiences are waiting!