In a crowded communication landscape it can be effective to use multiple vehicles to make sure that you’re reaching your target audience where they are.
I often get asked for advice on starting a podcast by communications professionals who are looking to engage an audience with their message. I’ve been running an monthly internal podcast at my company for over six years with tens of thousands of downloads.
They’re usually expecting advice on microphones, platforms, editing software, distribution channels, and other tactical questions. This is what I tell them they need instead.
Your podcast has to be about something specific.
Every podcast that you know and love has a focus area or scope. It has to be specific enough that your audience will recognize it when they see it, and flexible enough to allow exploration within it.
My podcast is about the “challenges and opportunities driving” the organization I make it for. It is pretty broad (we’re a big group) but has clear boundaries.
A specific audience
Think about the humans you hope will listen to your podcast.
What do they have in common? How does that relate to the niche that you’ve selected? What are they already doing that your podcast can help them do better? What do you want them to be doing that your podcast can show them how to do?
My audience is employees who have a vested interest in our organizational success.
A way to provide real value to your listeners
A podcast that is also a communications vehicle has to satisfy both sides of that equation, otherwise it’s propaganda. What can you provide listeners with that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get?
Sometimes that starts with access, especially in an interview format. Access to people and information. You could also be providing convenience by collecting all the information about a given topic in one easily consumable format. Maybe you’re providing opportunities by suggesting ways that listeners can get involved with something that will improve their situation.
My podcast features timely deep dives with subject matter experts into organizational initiatives that listeners can get involved with to grow their careers.
A podcast (and in fact most content) contains both information and a message. The message is a suggestion of how the audience should interpret and take onboard the information you’ve shared. Oftentimes the message is implicit; explicit is better.
The message of each episode should further the aims of your organization and the people involved in producing it. A good way to make sure your podcast has a message is to develop an outline collaboratively to answer the question: “what do I want listeners to take away from this?”
This applies at the series level as well. The message of my podcast series is that with the application of my company’s values, behavioural multipliers, and the open source way almost any challenge can be overcome.
A willingness to edit ruthlessly
You’ve finished recording, and are now sitting with 47 minutes of pure knowledge shared by some of the smartest people in your niche. Should you ship it as is? Who are you to delete this knowledge from existence?
There is a pretty good chance that the recording contains repetition, or tangents sparked by questions that weren’t part of the original outline. So ask yourself: is there anything in here that doesn’t a) reinforce the message of the episode and 2) provide real value to the audience. And start cutting because you respect your listeners’ time.
I try to keep my podcast episodes as close to 30 minutes as possible, with some exceptions. Often the unedited recordings are 45 – 50 minutes long. That means I’ve cut a lot of extremely interesting and probably otherwise unknown things over the years.
A reliable cadence and a built-in bailout point
A podcast lets you build a parasocial relationship with your audience. If you show up sporadically and unpredictably you’re putting yourself at a great disadvantage. Pick a cadence you can manage and stick with it.
Often would-be podcasters stumble because they feel locked into their cadence basically forever. That’s where the idea of a season is super powerful; it gives you a start and end point, and opportunities to evaluate your approach and make changes if required. It lets you make a commitment to your audience that is not indefinite.
Maybe you thought it would be a bi-weekly show but as you work it becomes clear that monthly is going to let you produce better quality episodes. Finish your season to satisfy your audience’s expectations, and use the endpoint to set new ones for the next season.
And the rest
The technology and hardware choices you make matter, but only if you have these seven things figured out. Revisit your idea to see how many of them you have covered.