A flurry of activity on social media last week, as Spotify’s Wrapped told users about their most listened to music and podcasts. Many then shared it across the internet. What’s great about this is that it surfaces different, personalised recommendations.
It’s a notable piece of activity because, in general, podcast discoverability remains pretty limited.
The vast majority of discovery comes in-app - from the device you’re listening to. Whether it’s the curatorial selections and charts of Spotify and Apple Podcasts or the algorithmic leanings of Google Podcasts, the place where you listen is mainly where you see new shows.
Many are surprised that it can just be a single human that chooses the shows on these platforms for the UK, and they’re often busy working on other territories’ editorial too.
Outside of the platforms, there’s press that covers shows, newsletters and occasionally they’ll be radio and TV features as well. But there aren’t loads of places out there helping podcasts get new audiences.
Recommendations (whoever’s writing them) generally come from three camps - star power, buzzy shows and personal discoveries.
Stars are good shortcuts that get mainstream listeners into sampling new shows. For the platforms, surfacing people that users recognise is important when they open the app. For mainstream media a new celebrity podcast is a good excuse to get them on a programme, or in print.
Buzzy shows - like any area that’s reviewed, come from reviewers congregating over things that they see in a lot of places. It’s much easier to highlight something that seems to be successful (or as at least generated interest). This can show the value of having PR teams pushing shows or just leg work for independents. The feel of momentum can often encourage others to feature.
When we created the British Podcast Awards one of our core aims was to help raise the profile of UK shows. We see from our own press coverage how much getting an award can help promote a podcast, whether it’s a hook for a write-up or it just allows someone to quickly build a list of ‘top comedy shows’.
Finally the holy grail is often an individual’s discovery of a show - something a reviewer stumbles over and can popularise seemingly out of nowhere.
Often though, this isn’t luck, it’s down to someone encouraging them to explore the show and explain why it’s of interest to their audience.
At the BPAs, we run a weekly newsletter, Great British Podcasts which has over 100,000 subscribers and we definitely can see chart bumps when we promote a new show. It now gets lots of interest with emails and press releases for new podcasts. As we say to respondents, the best way to get featured is to do what we ask in the newsletter and fill in our special forms.
Every outlet has a workflow, the challenge is to get into it. A press release can be easy to send out to lots of people, but is it tuned to the people you’re sending it to? We get lots of press releases announcing shows, particularly celebrity interview shows. There’s often very little in them to make you want to write about it - we’re trying to think “what’s different about this?” - it would be great if the release writers helped us out!
I’m also amazed at how few people include notable quotes from the guests. It’s the simplest way to demonstrate something that really stands out.
In the GBP newsletter we run ‘interesting guests’ each week and even have a special form for it. We’re always surprised how few submissions we get compared to the general show form. Is it because it requires more effort and planning?
I think a lot of it comes back to how often the marketing focus is on the launch of a new podcast, when perhaps it’s the power of individual episodes is what can generate better marketing returns?
Dave and I built Podfollow as a free tool you can use to promote podcasts on social media. Its special sauce is that it creates a magic link that redirects people based on the device they use, so if they click on a link in a Tweet and the user is on an iOS device they get sent to Apple Podcasts, if they’re on Android they could be sent to Google Podcasts or Spotify whilst desktop users could be sent to a show’s website or our Podfollow Profile page.
We get about 1million click thrus a month for the service, and we provide free stats to users from tracking the clicks. It’s also fascinating for us to see what links suddenly cause spikes in usage.
Whilst sometimes its a big launch, or people using our links for paid search campaigns, more often than not it’s that someone’s created an episode with a really good hook. Maybe that’s a great guest or it’s something where the tweeter has given a really compelling reason to tune in or is perfectly aligned with their audience.
What’s fascinating is that whilst the amount of a user’s social followers doesn’t really change, when there’s a great sell, or a perfect guest etc, the audience can be awoken, prompting them to jump in to listen (and often share it too) - sending clicks (and listens) soaring. It’s perhaps not a bad analogy for all your marketing efforts.
Podcasters have generally been focused on getting into the Apple Podcast charts and a sort of voodoo has been created around what you need to do to achieve this. Well, there was some on-the-record news last week, via Podnews Editor James Cridland who was asking Apple some questions about their Podcasts of the Year listings. This led to an unprompted explanation of how the main charts work. In his new Podland podcast, he revealed what they said they’re calculated from:
“A mix of new subscriptions, play-back activity and completion rate.”
New subscriptions was the bit that most people felt was how they did it. What that means is there’s an algorithm looking at how many people have clicked subscribe in the past hours and days. This demonstrates which shows have momentum, ascend the rankings, and stop the charts being clogged up entirely with big podcasts of the past.
The new information is that play-back activity and completion rate is part of the calculation too. This would seem to be a good way to measure quality. For example, if people listen to a whole episode, after clicking subscribe, then that would suggest the show must be pretty good.
Apple also said that:
“Ratings and reviews aren’t factored into these charts”
So perhaps you really don’t need to say ‘rate and review us’ on your podcast after all.
I think many podcasters hope that an Apple or Spotify plug is all they’ll need to turn their show into a big hitter. The annoying truth is that promotion, particularly for celeb-less shows, requires a mix of techniques and marketing targets to help generate success. There is no magic podcast bullet.
Indeed, the apps themselves are starting to lean further towards promoting their own in-house content. This has always been there, to a certain degree, but now that they’re doubling down on their own originals, it’s likely there’s even fewer promo spots for new shows to grab. Perhaps it’s time to rethink how you promote your shows.
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