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How to Launch a Great Podcast: Smart Tips From a Business Podcast With Over 1 Million Downloads

Want to launch a podcast, but don’t know where to start? Worry less about equipment and more about ideas — and promotion.

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BY Jeff Haden - 28 Nov 2017

How to Launch a Great Podcast: Smart Tips From a Business Podcast With Over 1 Million Downloads

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Content marketing forms the basis of many company's inbound marketing efforts, pulling in customers rather than pushing ads at them (which usually only serves to push potential customers away.)

As Dharmesh Shah, the co-founder of HubSpot says, "Although it is still possible to blast the world with your message and offering, and try to interrupt your way into people's lives with your marketing, that's the most expensive way to do it. The cheaper and better way is to tell a story or share something helpful and useful -- that's the power of content marketing."

That's why a podcast is a great way to reach prospective customers -- especially if your podcast is helpful, entertaining, and tells a great story.

Even though a podcast can be a great owned-marketing channel, many people have a hard time imagining -- much less creating -- a show that moves the needle. If you're new to podcasting, where do you start?

To find out I talked with Meghan Keaney Anderson, VP of Marketing at HubSpot. Meghan hosts HubSpot's business podcast The Growth Show, which has been downloaded over one million times. They then applied what they learned about creating a good podcast to launching a second show, Weird Work, which was downloaded over 100k times in its first month alone.

Plenty of people listen to podcasts... but most hesitate to start their own.

Asking in 2017 whether you should start a podcast is like going back to 2004 and asking whether you should start a blog.

If you have an idea, if you have a story... podcasts are where people are, and the goal is always to put content where people want to consume it.

The typical response is, "But mine will just be another podcast, and there isn't room for more..." as if there is a limited amount of air to be filled.

Podcasting is a meritocracy. Cream rises to the top. If you have the resources and a good idea, you should start a podcast.

But where should people actually start?

There are plenty of guides on equipment: Low budget methods, high budget methods... but here's the thing. While sound quality does matter, and you should get the best sound quality you can, don't over-extend yourself because hands-down the most important aspect is a unique idea.

NPR studies their podcasts and found that the typical podcast loses 25 percent of its audience in the first 5 minutes. And that's NPR. (Laughs.)

Ideas matter. Content matters. That's true everywhere, not just with podcasts.

And that's why you should take the time to come up with ideas for at least four episodes.

You're a proponent of launching with not just one episode, but four or five.

Word of mouth matters. Momentum matters. So don't launch with just one episode. Have four or five in the can and launch those too. That way listeners can really dig into your content.

I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense. If I find a podcast and love an episode, I automatically want to listen to more... and if there aren't, I may never come back. Having multiple episodes right way gives you an opportunity to really hook me.

Absolutely. Then it's okay to go serialized, and release episodes on a regular cadence.

Striking a chord and giving people a chance to fall in love with what you do can also move them from one podcast to another. A big part of the reason we could launch Weird Work, and frankly the reason it did so well, is that we could layer it on top of the audience and success of the first podcast.

In effect you created a brand, and then extended that brand.

Definitely take the time to do the brand work. You need creative, well-executed cover art for your podcast, because people scan the Apple podcast app to determine what they want to listen to next. Your goal is to stand out, so put real effort into the artwork that accompanies your content.

Also also about how you title each episode. Most people listen through Apple's app, which cuts off your title after a certain number of characters. So definitely front-load episode titles.

Paying attention to all the little details can give you a real edge.

Partly that's because promoting a podcast is harder than promoting other content?

You can't get away with sub-par work because you don't have a lot of other promotion channels. If I launch a blog, I can promote it on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc, and that will probably work because those are written mediums.

Podcasts are different. Almost no one scans Twitter to find a link to a podcast. Going from written to audio requires a mental shift, one most people don't instinctively make.

And that means the standard playbook for promoting content isn't as reliable when you're promoting a podcast. You have to lean into the promotion mechanism within the podcast app. Apple is obviously the biggest podcast source by far, and doesn't publicly disclose much information about how their rankings work, but it's pretty evident that the number of reviews and frequency of new subscribers tip that scale.

So it's not just that you have 100k subscribers, it's the velocity of subscribers and reviews that will get you on to "New and Noteworthy."

Make sure you think about timing: Every influencer, customers, staff, partners... make sure all know to quickly subscribe, listen, and review.

Think about and put effort into the window in which you launch. After that, it's largely word of mouth.

Of course, guests can also help spread the word.

Choosing the right guests is a great way to maintain momentum. That's also true when you're choosing your first guests.

The perfect guest provides great content and helps you share it.

But just because someone has a big audience... that doesn't mean they'll be a great guest. I've spoken with "name" people with huge social followings who had very little to say.

Sometimes the "big names" aren't right for a podcast. They're too polished and too on-point. That's fine in some formats, but there's an intimacy to podcasting that relies on genuine conversations. You quickly lose listeners if it feels scripted.

In hosting the Growth Show, I've had to learn ways get some people off of their polished notes and get them to have a real conversation.

We have a couple of great producers that coach me, and one of their tips is that if you can't break someone out of a scripted, polished response pattern, dig in on a detail. If a guest talks about something impressive they accomplished, I'll say, "Take me to that moment. What happened?" Or, "Who spoke first?" Or, "How did you feel?"

Digging into details awakens a different part of their storytelling mind.

The key is to get your guests to stop thinking about what their next line will be... and just have a smart conversation.

Other tips about spreading the word?

Lot of podcasts do partnerships and cross-promotions, like a guest exchange.

We've done guest exchanges; one was with Buffer, and it turned out great. A guest exchange can provide greater exposure, lets you learn about other interviewing styles... and lets you both reach audiences with similar interests.

You can also place ads on other podcasts and try more traditional advertising strategies, but your goal should be to grow your audience organically.

Speaking of organic, a successful podcast can interest the audience in other forms of content.

Again, it comes down to ideas. It can take a lot to get people interested in your content, but once they are... for example, if they love Weird Work, they'll follow Weird Work on social media, and we can use that feed to share different types of content.

I see that in my own behavior with podcasts I love.

That's why podcasts are a great way to get people deeper into your content, into your thought leadership, and into your company. You normally can't get someone to listen to a podcast by tweeting a link, but you can get a podcast listener to follow you on Twitter.

That's not as much of a mental shift.

Are there any podcasts you not only love, but learn use to learn more about podcasting?

I'm a big fan of Reply All, which sits at the intersection of technology and really good storytelling. I listen to a collection of business podcasts like Slate Money, some of our peers like Buffer, and then storytelling podcasts like those on NPR.

If you want to be a better interview, The Turnaround is great. They talk to great interviewers about how to ask smart questions and build a compelling story.

If you're nervous about interviewing people, that's a great place to start. Having a great conversation -- one listeners will enjoy and learn from -- is something anyone can learn to do.