Amanda McLoughlin, Eric Silver and Julia Schifini led a workshop at PodCon 2017 on how to grow your community, make money, and market your podcast. We had a ton of fun and met a lot of incredible podcasters!
The audio from the session is above. Our slide deck is here, the session handout (great for taking notes!) is here, and notes are below. Let us know what you think! We're @shessomickey, @juliaschifini and @el_silvero, and the workshop hashtag is #podconcommunity.
Materials by Amanda McLoughlin. Slides by Eric Silver.
Session Notes: Monetization, Community Building & Social Media
Why is community important?
We’re all here so we probably know why. Community is powerful. (Amanda wrote about why, and more specifics on the strategies below, here!)
The thing that makes podcasts so different from other kinds of media is the strength and specificity of podcast communities. And we must devote time to our shows’ communities to help them grow.
Word of mouth is the most powerful referral tool available to us. More than paid marketing, cross-promotion, guest appearances, and press mentions combined, the longest-lasting growth comes from listeners recommending your show to their friends. And the first step of increasing referral-driven growth is turning subscribers into members of your community.
Twitter Best Practices
Twitter - not just for learning what new helltrash is coming! It’s the perfect place to forge real relationships with listeners and fellow creators.
Follow your peers on Twitter, participate in community conversations, and shout out work you admire.
Keep your ratio regular!! Ideally <10% following:followers
You must give to your communities before asking for anything. #MythChatMonday, #FolkloreThursday, and #AudioDramaSunday. Or #DND - subject specific hashtags that work like hashtags should.
Remember: reputations are harder to mend than to build.
Especially when your show is small enough that you can read every message listeners send you on social media, reply to them! Quote-tweet great responses and add your own commentary.
Out-teach your competition. Be transparent, help others. A rising tide lifts all ships.
Discord, Slack, & Chat Rooms
Few things are better than talking to other fans of your favorite podcast — except maybe talking to the show’s creators!
With less than an hour of setup time you can create a space for listeners to discuss your podcast, make new friends, share photos of their pets, and recommend stuff to each other. The more you participate the richer the experience will be for listeners. When you’re busy making your show or clocking in hours at your day job, your community will be entertaining one another.
You can choose to admit certain members of your community (ex: Patrons at a certain tier; donors to a crowdfunding campaign) or throw the door open to any and all.
You have your choice of platforms: Discord is a free chat platform created for gamers that is fully integrated with Patreon that we use for Join the Party; Slack is popular, so your listeners may already know be using it; and Facebook Groups support events and multiple moderators.
Submissions and Sharing
Create opportunities for your listeners to contribute their stories and recommendations. When you get to help something, you feel more invested in it. (More on that manifesto here!)
Very easy to do this on social media!
It takes very little effort for us to share tweets, Facebook posts, and Tumblr asks, but it has a huge impact for the person that sent it.
That sender will feel excited to hear back from you, flattered that you replied, and more invested in your community.
Excited, invested listeners are the ones that recommend your show to friends, create fan works, buy merch, attend live shows, and show up.
Harder to do this in your podcast.
But you should. If you can incorporate listener voicemails, or at least listener emails/messages into your show, do it!
Example: Spirits turning a one-time request for listener stories into monthly all-listener episodes
And if you can’t do that, you can at least thank new Patrons and shout out specific listeners in your intro or outro.
Example: Join the Party shouts out fan artists by name and recaps the stories and tips listeners post on social media in the mid-roll break of each episode.
Do you need to make money?
No. Define for yourself what success means, and realize that it doesn’t have to include profit.
You’re allowed to want to make money, though. Money is helpful, and it helps you invest back into your show—but more on that later.
Once you do start making money, keep track of it! Here’s how, along with a free spreadsheet template.
Real, lasting, meaningful. You are probably not going to get rich from Patreon, but you can probably make enough to cover your costs and maybe pay your electric bill.
Patreon itself has a ton of really great resources for how to set up and run your Patreon page. We’ll just add that it’s important to design your rewards to be sustainable.
Example: Spirits Patreon. Supporting producers, audio extras, director’s commentaries
Example: JTP Patreon. Early access and custom rewards for top-tier donors
Example: Potterless Patreon. Commentary episodes for many if not most of his episodes, episode notes as Patron extras, and tee shirts just for Patreon supporters
Your first one doesn’t have to be Audible! Start small, be specific, be a person, and be honest about what you have to offer.
Example: Join the Party’s ongoing sponsorship from indie game store Twenty Sided Store
Example: Spirits’ first sponsor was a custom wand maker Central Curios
Put together a few slides about your show. People love slide decks, and they’re a good way to present a snapshot of yourself and your show without sending an email that’s a wall of text. (Example in the Google Drive folder!)
Don’t pad your download numbers. Don’t promise sales. Some sponsors just want to get their brand name out there, whereas some are trying to drive signups or sales. Talk to the sponsor about what they want to accomplish.
Ideal CPA (cost per acquisition—aka how much the sponsor spent divided by how many signups they got) is $15-25. Estimate how many signups a sponsor could expect from your audience, multiply by $25, and use that as a starting point for negotiations.
If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. As your show grows, you may begin to get contacted by agencies willing to sell ads on your behalf. Some of them are sketchy, some of them are great, but this will sort of be a moot point until your show is regularly getting 20-30k downloads per episode in its first week.
The Care & Keeping of You
Don’t hate read! Don’t hate listen. Don’t go on chat spaces that you don’t like. Don’t punch down or sideways. Don’t read the bad iTunes reviews. Don’t go on Reddit. Don’t listen to interviews with people you don’t like!
Give yourself permission to ask for help, to take a break, to decrease your output, and to make stuff that is less than your best. We all want every episode to be better than the last, and take half as much time, and come out twice as frequently. But that’s not always going to happen. So if this is something you want to do for a long time, or want to keep enjoying, be kind to yourself. Give permission to a partner or teammate or friend to tell you when it seems to be too much for you.
Taking Care of the Whole Team
Do you have a team? You should! Here’s how to start finding collaborators.
Your relationship with your teammates is a business asset. Take care of it.
Monthly business meetings keep you accountable to each other, give you an opportunity to talk about thorny or awkward issues, and encourage you to treat this like a business—or at the very least a Real Hobby.
Don’t be afraid to change up how you do things! The workflow you unknowingly established with episode one doesn’t need to be what you do for episode 100. If you end up hating a thing you volunteered to do, tell your team!
Go to Dave and Busters together! A team should do dumb stuff together THAT IS NOT the podcast.
Example: Join the Party has a “no shop talk” rule when we’re together socially
Podcasting & Day Jobbing
This is a professional skill. Many people do it badly: audio, video, social media, you name it. As the millennial in the room, you may be saddled with this responsibility. But if you want to, you can turn that burden into an opportunity. Here’s how to start thinking about everything you do through the lens of professional skills.
Organization, keeping your day job and creative lives separate if you have to (I used to work at an investment bank, and you bet they didn’t want me working on my drunk podcast during the day!). Here’s some help on project management tools for podcasters and creators.
What Will the End Look Like?
What is a successful end to your podcast? Ask this question early, ideally before you start.
What would make you want to stop? Each person should list a few things—feeling like work and not like fun, not growing, losing money, running out of material. Think it through. The show is going to end somehow. You might as well think it through now.
Write a podcast will. How does it all shake out if someone leaves? We’ll link to a template agreement we found helpful when writing ours. Though we are super duper not lawyers, and it may make sense for you to spend a few hundred bucks now getting a really airtight document made.