If there’s one thing that all podcast creators try to do, it’s growing their shows. Increasing the size of one’s audience from a few thousand to tens of thousands of downloads per episode and beyond, requires diligent effort and a lot of grit. For current and aspiring podcast creators who want to market and grow their show effectively but don’t know where to start, this is the guide for you. Here, we discuss the three big steps creators should take to achieve impressive growth with their show.

Step 1: Set Up Your Podcast So It’s Easily Marketable

Many podcast creators think they should develop their marketing strategy once their podcast is up and running, with at least one episode already out. In fact, marketing your podcast effectively means thinking very early on about how marketable your show actually is.

Marketability isn’t an amorphous term. These are basic considerations like picking the right name for your show. Does your podcast’s name clearly communicate what the show is about? Avoid going for a clever referential or punny name that obfuscates the premise of your show for the layperson. Your show name should be shorthand for “this show talks about this subject.”

If you’re still preparing your podcast’s launch, or if you’ve already created your show and and changing the name is out of the question (and we wouldn’t suggest changing a podcast’s name except for the most serious of cases), take another look at your podcast’s cover art. Every podcast in the Apple Podcasts directory needs a JPEG image of minimum dimensions 1400 by 1400 pixels that serves as the face of the show. Creators should take the cover art of their show seriously: your cover art communicates what your show is called, as well as the tone and content of the show. It also serves as advertising for the show - any listener who’s browsed podcast listings in Apple Podcasts or another platform like Stitcher can attest that cover art has an out-sized influence on whether they click on a show. With that in mind, make sure your cover art does the following:

  1. It has the title of your show in it, in a large enough font that it’s readable in as a thumbnail.
  2. It isn’t too busy, but rather has a simpler color scheme or a single image (such as a picture of the host or a visualized drawing).
  3. It indicates in some way what the show is about. Our partner podcast The Lonely Palette covers art and art history, so it makes sense that its cover art is a stylized picture of the Mona Lisa.

These two considerations, show name and cover art, may seem superficial, but they’re incredibly consequential decisions that podcast creators must make early on. And there’s one underlying question with both of these decisions: what is the purpose of your show? Simply put, it’s harder to market a podcast that has an ill-defined topic. What niche does your podcast fill? Podcasts that tend to serve niche audiences tend to work better than more general shows.

Step 2: Build a Listener Avatar

Maybe your show is up and running, and you’re adjusting your marketing strategy now that you’ve got a few episodes under your belt. The single best way to market your podcast is to engage with your listeners and know who’s listening to your show. But how do you do that?

The go-to answer would be to post on social media: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. But this is passive engagement. Maybe you post a tweet about a new episode, some of your listeners see it, maybe a few of them like or retweet it. But the most valuable kind of engagement would be direct participation from listeners. So how can you achieve direct listener engagement? Setup platforms unique to your podcast where listeners can congregate and interact with you and each other. Here are a few options:

Make a Facebook group. Many podcasts run public or semi-public groups on Facebook. Here, hosts can provide listeners with a space to discuss recent podcast episodes, connect with listeners on common interests, provide suggestions to the hosts in a direct way, and get to the know the host outside of the podcast. Hosts can run the Facebook group however they’d like - as a public group or a moderated one where listeners have to request to join. Hosts can add group-specific features like polls for upcoming show content, contests for prizes, or listener-only live streams using Facebook Live. The added benefit of doing a Facebook group for hosts is that they can do research on listeners that join and take part, noticing demographic trends and collecting data on which parts of your podcast listeners like the most.

Talk to Listeners One-on-One. This idea is a bit harder to implement, but can have an out-sized impact on your core audience. The idea here is to offer to have a conversation with individual listeners on the phone or via Skype. When talking with them, try to figure out why they like the show, what you should do differently, and how you can improve your show. It’s an unusual method, but also highly effective - how many listeners know of podcast creators who take the time to speak with them one-on-one? Greg Clueniss, a podcaster who presented at Podcast Movement 2018 in Philadelphia, described how he uses this method to create incredibly dedicated listeners for his show. He spends up to an hour a day having calls with listeners about his podcast. For many creators, that amount of dedication might not be feasible. But creators should think big when it comes to engaging with listeners, even if it’s outside the normal window of marketing tactics.

With all of these engagement tools, your goal is to learn who your listeners are, why they enjoy your show, and how you can improve your content to attract more listeners like them. There’s a concept in marketing call a “customer profile,” which reflects a company’s average customer. It describes who the average customer is, why they buy the company’s product, and what their demographics are with regard to age, gender, income, and profession. This concept applies to podcasting as well. We can refer to this as building a “listener avatar” for your podcast. As a podcast host, every engagement you have with a listener should add to your knowledge about your listener avatar, the sum average of all of your podcast listeners. Once you’ve engaged with listeners using the methods listed above, take time to write out a few paragraphs about who your hypothetical average listener is, what their demographics are, why they listen, and what they like most about your show.

By understanding your listener avatar, you can shape your podcast’s content to become a more focused, niche product. For instance, if you run a podcast about building a startup business, listeners might report that they enjoy your expert guest interviews, but don’t care for the ten minute casual chat at the top of the show. That kind of information can help your content planning in the future, and the end product will be a better show where your listeners are more engaged and more responsive to advertising.

Step 3: Make It Incredibly Easy For Listeners to Share Your Show

Don’t make it so that the only person marketing your show is you. Podcast discovery is largely an organic process; people find new shows through recommendations from friends and family. The most successful podcasts are those that have listeners who evangelize about the show to others.

As a creator, you should prompt your dedicated listeners to talk about your show with others, and make it as easy as possible for them to share it. How can you do that?

Give a Call-to-Action in each episode of your podcast. This means spending 10 to 15 seconds at the start or end of your show (or both) mentioning to listeners that you’d appreciate it if they shared the show with friends and family they think would enjoy it. Describe why it’s important to you as a creator to get your message out to as many people as possible.

Do a giveaway for listeners who share the show. A common tactic for increasing listener sharing is to provide a giveaway. These giveaways can take many forms, but a common setup is to challenge listeners to send the show to X number of friends, provide proof of that sharing to you via social media (such as a screenshot of messages or share links sent), and then you as the host can enter the listener into a random drawing for a gift card or a show-specific perk. The main draw here for listeners isn’t actually the gift card, though that can be a driver. The draw is the combination of an incentive and the opportunity to help out a show they enjoy.

Make sure your podcast is incredibly shareable across all social media and podcast apps. Podcast listeners who are willing to share your podcast will want want to share it across all types channels: social media like Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat, plus the dozen or so podcast apps and platforms. Not everyone uses Apple Podcasts to listen to their shows, especially those who use an Android smartphone. As a creator, you need to provide links to all of the podcast directories and provide links for all of them in your show notes. If you see a directory below where you haven’t manually submitted a link to your podcast, click on it to go to the directory’s submission page and provide your RSS feed URL:

Also be sure to include a shortened URL link (usually to your Apple Podcasts page) in your show notes. This makes it easy for mobile users to copy and paste the link into messages and on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Bitly.com is a free and easy site for shortening your Apple Podcasts page.

Growing your Podcast is all about Marketing with Purpose

Figuring out how to get your podcast from a few hundred listeners to tens of thousands of listeners doesn’t need to be hard. It takes diligence and time, to be sure, even before you’ve published your first episode. After that, though, you need a bit of creativity, plus an understanding who your audience is. With those two things, you can set up your podcast to have dedicated followers who are ready and able to share your work.