Podcasting Part III: Building A Loyal Audience

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

First we showed you how to create an mp3, the main ingredient in the podcast recipe [November 2005 Issue]. Then we took you through the options of adding the RSS (Really Simple Syndication) that makes an mp3 an authentic podcast. In that article we even shared with you a list of options for “publishing” your podcast [April 2006 Issue]. This time, veteran podcaster Steve Webb rejoins me to share with you some marketing tactics and tools.

You’ll certainly want your production efforts to count by attracting as many listeners as possible. As it is with a web site, creating a podcast doesn’t guarantee an audience. Therefore, it is essential that you employ the best strategy possible to attract listeners. Essentially there are two key levels of promotion that must be done. One is more technical in nature and the other is simply good, old-fashioned networking and marketing.

First, let’s talk about the technical things you can do to promote your podcast. Similar to search engines like Google, podcast directories help listeners find the content that suits their fancy. Apple’s iTunes may be the most recognizable directory for podcasts, but if you’ve done even a cursory review of that site, you’ll see that trying to find content can easily become a pursuit of finding a “digital needle” in a “virtual haystack”. Further, iTunes has leaned toward heavily promoting “big market” podcasters such as ESPN and ABC News.

You’ll find less competition with other directories, including podcastalley.com, podcastpickle.com and christianpodder.com. Podcast411.com is also a site you can check out.

Another place you can find podcast information is on “listing web sites”. Web sites such as audio.weblogs.com or technorati.com are more simplistic than directories in that they don’t include all the details you’d find in a full-blown directory, but they’re important to keep updated. Steve Webb reminds us that the original directory, www.indiepodder.com (originally called www.ipodder.com) the site that “podfather” Adam Curry put up at the very beginning of the art.

As it is with web site search engines, it pays to list your show on as many podcasting directories and listing sites as you can. As a podcaster, you will need to send out pings to both listing sites and directories so that these venues have the latest and greatest information regarding your show. All a “ping” does is tell a directory or a web site that a new show (podcast) exists and that it needs to update its records with your latest show information. To clarify, pinging is like calling the advertising representative to buy an ad in the Yellow Pages. However, as you know, placing such an ad doesn’t automatically make the phone ring. Likewise, updating your podcast directory content will only ensure that the podcast “yellow pages” have new listings when listeners go to search for content, but getting them to check out your show is something we’ll cover in a moment.

Pinging can be done either manually or automatically. If you’re using a blog to host your podcasts (as we explained in the previous article), most blogging software allows you to set up an automatic ping. This includes blogging services such as Moveable Type, Blogger and TypePad. Libsyn is really in a category of its own. It’s more of a hosting service for podcasts. The blogging service it provides is a support to the hosting. Each time your blog is updated, it can send out pings to the directories and listings of your choice, if you’ve set it to do so.

If you don’t use a blog to host your podcast, or if your blog provider doesn’t offer the ability to ping, then you can go through the pinging process manually. While time consuming if pinged one by one, the process is easy. In fact, veteran podcaster Steve Webb says there’s a brand new web site that touts that it simultaneously submits your podcast to more than 60 directories and listings. It’s found at www.triyo.com. It is really important that your podcast information is filled out completely and correctly wherever you enter it, because if it’s not, the ping will be useless and would-be listeners probably won’t give you another look.

So how do you get “the phone to ring” or in our case, attract people to check out your podcast and ultimately subscribe to your show? It points us to our podcast production and marketing secrets!

Who do you, in fact, want to reach and what do you want to talk about? “Well, I want to reach the planet and talk about anything I want to,” are great answers, but this is a case where Mrs. Rozelwinger, your high school English teacher, as much as we hate to admit, had great advice when she said, “Narrow your subject and define your audience.” It is advisable to look for a niche’ – preferably something you know the most about or have a special knack presenting. Granted, sermons can and should be re-purposed as podcasts. But what the world is crying out for is exactly what podcast Steve Webb gives them – a “life spring”. The LifeSpring Podcast is the name of his show.

“While I hope Christians listen to my show, quite frankly, they aren’t my target audience. My style is pretty simple: Keep out “Christian-eese” as much as possible, and keep my message very basic. I don’t get into doctrinal “fine print”. Also, I’m putting my show out there with ‘the world’ as much as possible, to be as visible as possible,” Steve says.

Your audience could very well be your men’s group, your Sunday School Class or a yet-to-be-formed group who you seek to build a relationship with through a podcast. The key to podcasting (and ministry for that matter) is relationships. It’s difficult to build a relationship with someone you don’t have anything in common with. Relationships are formed on common ground, and this should be the starting point for your show.

You can never figure out your marketing plan until you’ve settled on the concept of your show – because you’ll need to go to wherever your target audience “hangs out” – whether in real life or virtually – to get their attention. I’ve seen several cool, inexpensive yet classy marketing ideas, including sign magnets on the back of a vehicle driving down the interstate or even parked in the parking lot where a huge church conference is being held. Cleverly designed t-shirts worn to just the right venues where your target audience hangs out is another great idea.

Podcasting certainly brings on the desire to be an international celebrity. However, even with this 21st Century technology, starting local is key. Although we can spread the Gospel across the world, let’s not forget that podcasting can help build relationships with our own congregations and our communities and towns.

Newspapers, especially the small town variety, are always looking for good feature stories, so creating a media release announcing your new podcast is a great way to get a hometown headline.

Planning your show is all about creating the puzzle pieces that together will provide a product that is interesting enough to hold a listeners attention. Some podcasters put no planning into their shows. They just “press” record and jabber. Here’s where I believe we’re different. Frankly, our message is not our own, although we are given liberty how we present the message of the Gospel. Personally I’ve spent a great deal of time reading the books the Apostle Paul wrote (Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Colossians) keeping an eye and mainly an ear out for what Paul said and how he said it, and asking myself, “How would Paul use podcasting in his outreach work?” I asked Steve Webb how he prepares and I believe his answer is right on: “Lotsa prayer!”

“Once the Lord gives me a direction, I study extensively,” he says. I research my library here at home, search the ‘Net, talk to trusted, godly people.”

You really should subscribe to Steve’s shows (www.lifespringpodcast.com) like I have and listen to them over the course of time. Of course, Steve has his niche and his concept is his own, but I hope you see the amount of effort he takes to build a relationship with his listeners and how he executes those strategies through just the right music picks, his choice of words and his conversational approach.

“I just checked my log files, and in the past year, people from nearly 100 countries have been to my website!” Steve has used the podcast directories and web sites that we mentioned at the start to help build his following. In addition, he has also produced “promos”, short promotional vignettes that other podcasters have been kind enough to include in their own podcasts. “If their show can be endorsed [and isn’t counter to your values], then you can return the favor and include their promo’s in your show,” Steve says.

He says demo CDs handed to the right people at the right place are good and participating in on-line forums (another place your target audience may hang out) is another great idea.

Subscribing to a podcast, with just a few rare exceptions, is free. Further, digital equipment has never been cheaper. However, there is a cost so many overlook, and it has claimed many a podcaster. It’s spelled: T-I-M-E. Steve describes how time intensive his productions are.

“The original ‘Lifespring’, well, if I am able to work straight through with no interruptions – Hah! Fat chance of that ever happening! – I could probably do it in about six hours. As life really is, I put in about 12 to15 hours for each 30 minute show.

“The three minute, 18 second show I do called ‘In Touch With God’s Character’ takes me about an hour. The “Lifespring! Weekend Music Show” takes me about three hours. Since it is more music and less talk, it doesn’t take quite as long as the original “Lifespring”.

Before taking off with a podcast fantasy, make sure you can handle the time investment or else you’ll “pod fade”. Yes, that’s a real term that Steve says is all too common in the business.

This idea works for building podcasts as well as cars. “As Rob Walsh from Podcast411 says, ‘Content is king, but sound (quality) is queen.’ People are less likely to return to your podcast if it is difficult to listen to because of the quality of your sound.”

Our production values need to parallel the greatness of our message. Said another way, we don’t have a substandard message, so please, no substandard podcasts! As I’ve scoured the Internet, listening to various shows of just about every imaginable – descent – topic, two things have caused me to press “stop” on my player faster than anything else: poor production values and somebody droning on and on in a fashion that, left unabated, would have sent me into solid slumber. You’ve got to make it interesting for the listener.Finally, in listening to many church-produced podcasts, I am stunned at the number of blatant copyright violations I’ve come across. Using any music (or any other element) you don’t own and have not been granted proper permission to use, through the proper channels, is illegal – illegal!

Your CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) license does not cover you here! Nor does your CVLI (Christian Video Licensing International) license.

Please seek the proper permission, through the correct channels before using others’ material. Podcasters are being monitored closely by copyright authorities.

Podcasting is fun, more affordable than ever and with just a little bit of effort can be a fantastic tool to build relationships, even everlasting ones.