There are many reasons why you might want to start a podcast. Perhaps you have a product or service that you’d like to spread to new audiences. Maybe you do some client work and you’d like to get new referrals while simultaneously bolstering that income via podcast sponsorships. Or maybe, you just want to boost your profile in the web industry.
Sharing your knowledge in the form of a podcast can be a great way to drive any of these goals, but it can be daunting to get started and grow an audience. I’ve been a part of two video podcasts (The Treehouse Show and Doctype) and I’ve gained a lot of experience along the way. In this article, I will summarize the lessons I’ve learned so that you can get started faster.
If you’ve never seen an episode of The Treehouse Show, here’s the most recent episode:
Stick to One Subject
We live in a time of many voices. People can gather information from a huge number of sources, so rather than water down your signal with a bunch of noise, it’s almost always better to provide a concentrated shot of one thing. Give them the purest dose of exactly what they want and they’ll crave more. If it sounds like I’m talking about drugs, it’s because a good podcast should be highly addictive.
Know Your Audience
Related to picking a subject, it’s important to know your audience. What are they interested in? What types of questions and feedback do they give you? Listen to them carefully so that your personality and subject matter can adapt and feel relatable. For example, if you’re giving an analogy, some comparisons might work better than others. As you advance your understanding, you’ll even start to develop a sense of when it’s appropriate to crack jokes and when you should treat a subject with reverence and respect.
You may even want to invite questions and commentary. You could answer viewer questions during your show, or you could include a “question of the week” segment where you ask the audience something. The more you listen, the more you’ll understand exactly what they want. Then you can give it to them.
Audio and Video Setup
There are many successful audio podcasts, but I strongly recommend you create a video podcast instead. A smiling face and subtle body language creates a powerful psychological connection with your audience that audio alone cannot easily duplicate. Furthermore, this will make you very recognizable when you attend web conferences. This is especially great if you’re an introvert like I am. You won’t have to worry about starting conversations with people, because they’ll come up to you first.
Video and audio gear doesn’t factor into the success of a podcast as much as you might believe, but high quality video and audio can increase adoption of your show because it’s simply easier to watch; it demonstrates that care went into the end product. Money definitely makes it easier to achieve this, but the rapid consumerization of video kit has made it possible for one or two people to create something that still plays great. The two better known podcasts I’ve worked on have completely opposite budgets. For The Treehouse Show, our full time production crew paired with our world class studio produces a show that’s on par with cable television. Pair that with our design and dev teams working on our various web properties and you have what amounts to a multi-million dollar production. Compare this to Doctype was shot on consumer camcorders out of a spare bedroom. The Treehouse Show definitely looks and sounds better, but Doctype isn’t miles behind like it might seem. The big difference is that The Treehouse Show doesn’t consume massive amounts of my time because there’s lots of people that work on it. If you’re doing everything on your own, running a decent podcast takes a ton of work.
You could shoot video on a nice DSLR camera, but the cameras on most smart phones are so good now that a small tripod might be all you need. No matter what camera you use to capture video, you have to make sure you capture audio externally. This probably sounds obvious to many of you, but you’d be surprised how many video podcasts ignore this step and use the microphone that’s built into the camera. Lav mics are best for this, and while they can be fairly expensive for professional grade audio, a sub-$100 mic that plugs into a standard 1/8th audio jack should be all you need to get started. If your podcast grows and it makes sense to invest more money, you can purchase better gear.
Keep It Short
The Internet has dramatically constricted the average attention span, and platforms like Twitter, Vine, and Instagram have only fed into the mindset of instant gratification even further. Nobody has time for a rambling 3 hour podcast. They barely have time for a movie trailer.
If your podcast lasts for more than 10 or 15 minutes, you’re going to drastically reduce your chances of success. Keep it tight and stay on subject.
Make a schedule and keep it. I recommend that you release a new episode every week at exactly the same time. Don’t mess around with this, especially once you have a captive audience.
Cable television is dying, but there’s a lot they get right. Imagine if you were hooked on a TV show and it came on at a different time every week. How would you know? If you were only half interested, would you go out of your way to find out? Probably not. Releasing at the same time every week allows you to build up the audience anticipation and then release that promotional energy in one burst. It’s a Pavlovian effect.
You should also never skip an episode. Again, drawing upon the television show analogy, imagine if the producers just didn’t feel like making an episode that week. You’d probably be pretty upset. So far The Treehouse Show has only had to skip one episode in a year of running, which is a pretty decent track record.
Syndication and Promotion
Once you’ve put all the work into creating a great new podcast episode, you should try to get as much mileage out of it as you can. You should definitely syndicate to YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, and Twitter. Beyond that, it depends on your audience. For example, if your podcast is about programming, you might want to consider posting to a few other places related to that topic. After a few days, post it again later in the week. Posts on social networks are fleeting and it’s easy for people to miss stuff amidst all the noise. Don’t be afraid to be a little bit self promotional. As long as you’re providing good information and you’re humble about it, people will generally appreciate your efforts. If anyone complains about your free podcast, offer them a refund!
All that said, don’t push to more places than you can manage, because it spreads your community thin. If you can’t keep up with the comments on 4 or 5 social networks, then keep it a little bit more exclusive to one or two places. For example, when I post a link to The Treehouse Show, I almost always post the link to our YouTube channel so that the conversation is focused there.
Monetize Your Content
You might just be spreading awareness about a product or service, as is the case with The Treehouse Show. However, you may want to monetize your podcast more directly. There are two good ways to do this, and you can even combine them if you choose to do so:
- Sponsorships: Contact companies and services that might be willing to advertise to your audience. Then, you can create a customized mention on the show for them that will resonate well with viewers. Nobody knows your audience better than you, so most companies are happy to let you advertise their product in whatever way you think will work best. As long as you don’t bash people over the head with it, you should be OK.
- Subscriptions: This isn’t as common, but you might even choose to charge a modest fee. You could do $1 per episode or charge some other price for a monthly subscription. A steady income for your efforts will help justify the time and expense that you invest. Over time, this could even turn into your full-time job.
Podcasts come in many flavors and varieties, so if you have any specific questions about your show idea, feel free to ask in the comments! I’d be happy to answer.