What I’ve learned about podcasting

I started my first podcast six years ago and since then have published over 700 podcast episodes. But I don’t consider myself to be a podcast expert–I’m still learning what makes a good podcast and finding ways to be better at it. In this post I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned. There are many posts and classes out there about what you should and shouldn’t do on podcasts, some of which I agree with, some of which I don’t. This is just my experience, take it for what it is worth. If you are a veteran podcaster and disagree with my perspective, leave a comment below.

How to create a podcast that lasts longer than one year

If you want to do a podcast, it is relatively easy with few barriers to entry. If you want to make a podcast and keep doing it for several years, you have to have a reason. That reason can’t be to get a humungous audience (because you probably won’t). My reasons for doing this more than five years ago we’re to motivates myself to stay current in my chosen technology and to give myself a reason to get together with people I like and force myself to not work all the time. And it is still the same as what it was 6 years ago: make podcasts about business applications that I want to listen to. Pick your reason–that reason might change over time, but you need a reason to keep doing this long term.

Co-hosts

A good co-host is a great thing and generally makes your podcast more listenable. Unless you are Mike Rowe you probably can’t carry an episode by yourself that people will want to listen to. Don’t believe me? Look at Apple and Microsoft presentations–they rarely have the same speaker talk for more than 5-10 minutes at a time and they alternate between presenters.

But be careful with co-hosts, because their “why” for doing the podcast is probably not exactly the same as yours. It’s easy to find a buddy and say “wouldn’t it be fun to do a podcast?” But to last, you need more than that. Too often you will find asymmetries in co-hosts’ commitment to the podcast–this may not be anybody’s fault. Changes in life, children, jobs, and moving can change priorities. Also, one person is likely going to have more work to edit and produce the podcast. Beware of co-hosts with little skin in the game (to paraphrase Nassim Taleb) as they likely won’t last very long. My recommendation is have a pool of co-hosts so that when schedules preclude recording with one, you can alternate with other co-hosts. And one person should be the primary host/owner of the podcast. This is likely the person most invested in editing, producing, and publishing the podcast.

Advertising

After CRM Audio took off, I had companies reach out to me about sponsoring the podcast. This was very helpful at the time, because it helped us improve our equipment and pay for publishing costs as we grew. over the years we had great sponsors, and all of them were services that I really liked. It also let me share the sponsor revenue with podcast contributors and co-hosts.

But after doing that for. a few years, I made the decision to go back to a sponsor free podcast.

What I found was that while monetizing the podcast had some immediate benefits, it also had some downsides. the biggest one was I started to think of the podcast as a business or job rather than my original reason for doing it. Also, the pressure of making commitments to sponsors for a certain cadence of content production added to my stress level and made podcasting not fun anymore. By removing the sponsors, the fun came back to podcasting for me. I also like the episodes we have made since going sponsor free more because I’m making the content I want to, not the content I feel obligated to.

Unless you are popular enough to do this for your full-time gig (and I’m not), consider the cost in time and obligation before taking sponsors for your podcast.

Podcast names

I do podcasts about Microsoft technology, and if I could go back in my time machine, the number one thing I would change is the podcast name. As anybody who works with (especially Microsoft) technology knows, they like to change names. So while “CRM Audio” made sense 5-6 years ago, it doesn’t anymore. If you want to start a technology podcast, YouTube channel, or blog, don’t put the technology name in your podcast name. But now I have an established brand, I don’t want to change it and confuse the subscribers.

Statistics

I used to check the statistics for subscribers and downloads religiously, but now I rarely check them (except for when I need to update my activity report for the Microsoft MVP renewal). Why? Because it doesn’t really matter. I’ve realized that I have little to no control over it. The episodes I think will be really popular usually aren’t, but the ones that I feel are insignificant and cover stuff everybody knows are some of the most popular. Too much focus on number of downloads leads to two undesirable outcomes; arrogance if they are high, and discouragement if they are lower than expected. My recommendation is don’t focus on the downloads and stats, focus on making great content that is consistent with your why.

But if you do want to check your stats, remember that the average podcast has 50-100 downloads per month. If you have more than that, you are above average. And if you are making a podcast about a niche topic like a specific technology, realize that there is a natural ceiling to the number of listeners for that topic that you probably are not going to exceed, and that ceiling will likely become lower the more podcasts there are about that topic.

Show titles

When I started out I tried to be really clever with show titles. Someone would say something hilarious on an episode, and I would make that the name of the episode (probably motivated by TWIT). I’ve moved away from that because it confuses listeners. If they are deciding what to listen about, why would they listen to one called “MMMMM….Chocolately in the Autumn” (actual title of CRM Audio episode 7).

You aren’t nearly as clever as you think you are, stick with simple, non clickbait-ey episode titles.

Show length

Based on my podcast analytics, the optimal duration for a podcast is less than an hour. On average, a one hour podcast episode is played 65-70%, while a half hour episode is typically listened to 90-95% through. This tells me that the average person can’t focus on an hour or longer episode.

Instead of trying to be Dan Carlin, record shorter episodes. If you have more content, split it into multiple episodes and release more frequently.

Guests

Guests can be a mixed bag. The reality is that many people are just not that interesting, and they likely don’t have very good audio equipment. They also frequently have their own agendas to push, which may not be aligned to yours. So be very selective about your guests. I frequently have Microsoft partners and ISV’s reach out to me about wanting to be guests on CRM Audio, and I always ask them what they want to speak about. If it is the same thing everybody talks about without a unique point of view, I politely decline, because that would violate my “why” of wanting to produce content that I want to listen to.

Once you do find that great guest, let them talk. Too many podcast hosts like to hear themselves talk, and don’t let their guests talk, or feel like they need to comment on everything the guest says. Shut up and let the guest talk.

Equipment

“What kind of microphone should I use” is the question that everybody asks when starting to podcast. The answer is “use the one that you can afford.” It’s easy for equipment to turn into a black hole–there will always be better microphones, cameras, lighting, green screens, and other equipment that is better than what you have.

Bottom line–better equipment will not necessarily make your content better or increase the number of downloads per episode (beyond a minimal level of sound quality). Also, I believe that buying too much equipment when you are just getting started can diminish your chances of building a podcast that sticks–because it increases the cost and the learning curve to get started and amplifies your inexperience. It’s better to get started, create some content, and get in a rhythm and habit of content production then add equipment as you grow. There are some great microphones in the $100 range than are great to use to get started. Get a less expensive microphone, get started, determine if you really enjoy doing it, and then upgrade.

Wrapping up

So these are some of my learned lessons from podcasting for the past 5-6 years. And I’m still learning every day. I don’t consider myself an expert, I’m still learning. Please share your lessons learned, I’d love to have a conversation.

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