Secrets of Podcasting: Slow Discovery Improves Audience Engagement

Lost and Found in Podcastland

A common barrier for podcast distribution is discovery. Where most social distribution platforms value short clips of visual content and search platforms value text and viewership behaviors, audio content is harder to share, navigate, and discover.

Podcast listeners don’t want fast and disposable content, though. They only listen to a handful of podcasts at any one time, and they have a tendency to socially invest in the shows they enjoy. This can lead to bad metrics if you look at podcasting through the lens of social media performance, but it can actually produce a higher customer lifetime value when paired with the right media tactics.

Slow discovery isn’t a problem, it’s a feature.

Podcasting UX

The way podcasts are discovered and consumed isn’t a technological issue, it’s a user experience issue.

Despite the accessibility of RSS feeds and the plethora of podcasting apps on the market, the average podcast listener doesn’t behave like other media consumers. Podcast listeners subscribe to an average of just five shows at a time, and they tend to stick with the shows they like. They’re unlikely to “binge listen,” and their most common discovery route is through other podcast listeners.

Most listeners prefer unobtrusive platforms that let them listen to their shows, without anything else (including discovery) getting in their way. The normal user experience loop, independent of platform, is built on receiving a notification, starting the episode within 24 hours of release, and listening to it at home on a mobile device. It’s a closed loop that’s consistent across multiple apps and devices.

Users may discover podcasts through social media and search, but the discovery cycle takes them off from those platforms almost immediately; they click through, listen, and then subscribe through their app or platform of choice. Their discovery path exists separately from their consumption of the podcast itself.

And while there are apps that seek to solve this through curation and playlists, these platforms are in the minority. Outside of the content produced for NPR One (the main platform for Pandora-like podcast listening), podcasts don’t fit into a passive listening paradigm. Listeners set aside time for specific shows.

All of this combines into a very specific user experience loop, which can admittedly feel like an obstacle.How can producers connect with listeners if the listening experience doesn’t allow for ad interjection or on-platform discovery?

Leveraging the Closed Loop Experience

The barriers that keep podcast listeners inside their own media loops ensure higher information retention and more engagement with on-show recommendations and endorsements. Podcasts are communities, and focusing on the community turns the UX obstacles into leveragable features.

Since the podcast subscription model encourages consistent listening, podcast audiences are more likely to notice when and how shows respond to feedback, and a responsive show that incorporates community ideas will keep its audience for the long term. This retention and engagement is incredibly valuable, especially in a world that has traded customer Lifetime Value (LTV) for platform metrics.

Where social media, content marketing, and email marketing suffer all from saturation issues, podcast audiences limit the noise. This user-maintained barrier, supported by other discovery limitations and the syndication-based distribution model, creates an effective “quality check” that benefits both producers and listeners. It’s like lead qualification for the entertainment industry.

If you’re running a business that has just recently launched a podcast, you’ll find that the conversion speed of social followers to podcast listeners will be slow. That’s fine. Use the speed that podcasting moves at to your advantage, and develop a closer relationship with your audience instead of trying to pump out content (and pump up numbers) at the rate that other platforms move at. Use Q&A’s, hangouts, listener-submitted topics, and other high-engagement content tactics to make the most of the closed loop experience.

As a podcast producer you have a voluntarily captive audience. Use that.

Networking Inside a Closed Loop

While podcasts still need to be supported by traditional social and PPC advertising techniques to raise awareness (and to maintain the overall growth curve of the podcasting market), audience growth inside the market often benefits more from networking and affiliation than typical web techniques.

Networking with other podcasts, both in once-off situations as a guest host and in recurring situations with official affiliations, is incredibly effective. The presence of a guest host, or the creation of a collaborative short-run, can have a huge impact on an audience. This allows for the selective engagement of adjacent audiences and it encourages resource sharing among producers.

Many of podcasts you’ll see in the top 10 and top 20 lists have media affiliations. NPR member stations, print publications, and coastal media producers are all heavily represented in the podcasting space and a surprising amount of venture capital is involved. At the same time, independent productions can still be found in the top 5 and there is a consistent trend of at-home operations drawing serious attention.

A savvy producer looking to break into the podcasting scene will research not only their competition in the space, but also their opportunities for collaboration within the space, lining up potential affiliations that would be advantageous for both the intermediate and long term. Simple things, like recurring guest roles and partner series, can be incredibly powerful in the podcasting space and they shouldn’t be ignored.

Networking, as a podcast producer, allows you to benefit from the core user experience loop that limits discovery.

Understanding Audiences

For businesses that rely on low-engagement long-reach social strategies, the idea of relying on growth obstacles to improve audience engagement sounds counterintuitive. The podcasting market is, however, defined by those factors in many ways.

High-engagement media channels can be incredibly valuable for the right businesses, and high-engagement media channels that have comparatively low financial barriers and a focus on collaboration and innovation shouldn’t be ignored. Podcasts have attracted the attention of almost every media sector, and businesses both large and small have leveraged podcasts in order to build stronger connections with their audiences.

Look at the growth and discovery barriers of podcasting as a means of qualifying your audience, as well as a way to segment and target them with tailored content. Building a large audience may take time, and the marketing may require more one-to-one networking and cross promotion, but the end result has demonstrable value. Podcasting is a unique market, and the factors that make it unique shouldn’t be treated as obstacles.