“Slacking” in Podcasts

A few months ago I had noticed how a few podcasts had started a Slack community for their podcast audience to engage. However I couldn’t find any news/tech articles on the trend. So I decided to investigate for myself why podcasts specifically, were going to Slack. I decided to do so in a paper for my communications class, and it was one of my favourite papers to research. I then thought it would be maybe helpful to post this instead of only my teacher’s assistant and myself getting to read what I found. Below is essentially an excerpt of my paper on the three different podcasts and their Slack teams. I also compared to them other popular Internet communication platforms. I apologize if some of the writing seems very formal, I tried to make it less formal in some areas and added helpful links throughout

Many podcasts use many different media and applications via platforms like blogs and forums to communicate and receive feedback and follow-up on their shows. CGP Grey’s and Brady Haran’s podcast Hello Internet, for example uses Reddit for after episode discussions. Many of the podcasts on the network Relay FM, uses IRC clients to discuss the show live while it’s being recorded, as these clients are very accessible and operating system agnostic. Many other podcasts use social media like Facebook, as many listeners are on there, to communicate with their audience. Some even use YouTube comments where they put their podcast up as a video with a still picture or video of them recording the podcast. However the following podcasts use Slack often to connect with their audience.

These three podcasts were Theology Mix’s Tech Reformation, The Incomparable’s Ring Post and Gimlet Media’s Reply All. All three were contacted over email or Slack with three main questions regarding their thoughts on their Slack team in regards to their podcast. The questions varied slightly depending on the podcast but for the most part the first question asked why the podcast hosts decided to make their Slack free or with a paid barrier. The second asked about the hosts’ choice of platform; the last inquired about the audience themselves.

The first was Theology’s Mix’s Tech Reformation podcast. The Theology Mix podcast network is “an open forum to discuss and debate Christianity in a myriad of angles.” The Tech Reformation is a podcast “where the world of technology meets the worldview of Christianity.” Every week four Christian podcast hosts all working in or having worked in the tech industry. They discuss technology news, technology recommendations and how it impacts their lives all from a Christian worldview. They frequently discuss feedback and follow-up from the Slack in their show and advertise it on the podcast, on social media and on their website. For this podcast, it is free to join and they provide many ways of doing so.

In a very meta way I contacted the hosts of The Tech Reformation via their Slack team were and asked them about their… Slack team. The first if you recall asked about their choice in allowing their Slack team to be free. The myriad of answers boiled down to wanting as many people as possible to join and therefore have as few barriers as possible. The reason for this that they gave was that they wished to have conversations with people about their topics and that they are not in it for the money. The second question addressed their choosing of their audience engagement platform. Again, in summary the hosts answered that Reddit and IRC was a suggestion but the variable content and ugly design/usability pushed them towards Slack. They described Slack for its aforementioned features, as well as it being a pleasant middle of tech geek-friendly and therefore fitting for their audience, but still user-friendly enough for anyone who wanted to join. They briefly mentioned several listeners who “lurk,” that rarely post or comment in the Slack team. They also surmised that their audience included people from other podcasts from the same network. However most of the audience included people who wanted to talk about their interests and common topics that their attributing podcast had brought up depending on the channel. The Incomparable’s Ring Post demonstrated this same motivation in their audience as well.

The Incomparable is a network of podcasts that focus on talking about various media of popular culture. The Ring Post is a fortnightly podcast about pro-wrestling, where they discuss the pro-wrestling world and pro-wrestling news. Their Slack team are promoted within the show and it is free to join if the listener personally contacts the hosts through social media or email. Their Slack is also discussed in the show for follow-up. Via email the main host, Myke Hurley, was contacted and asked about the show’s Slack team. All questions asked of the Tech Reformation’s podcast were essentially the same and interestingly the answers were similar in tone. Starting off the first answer was basically the same as Tech Reformation’s. Hurley wanted to have a community of people who love to talk about pro-wrestling. To the second question his answer was similar, he said that Slack was how he worked already and it allowed him to have necessary control over organizing it the way he wanted. Lastly, he responded his audience who joined the Slack were “the most passionate of listeners” and joined because the listeners wanted a community of people who enjoyed discussing pro-wrestling like he did. While Hurley’s answers were like the hosts of Tech Reformation Gimlet Media’s podcast engagement was different.

Gimlet Media is a incorporated network of podcasts focusing on narratives of understanding humans in diverse approaches. Their podcast Reply All is a mostly weekly podcast about the Internet and the stories that evolve from the world online. Unfortunately, while the Reply All team was contacted via email, there was no response. However, supplementary research was conducted to understand the necessary aspects of the Slack team at Reply All. Their Slack team in this instance is different from the other previous studied podcasts. If a listener wanted to gain access to the Slack they first must become a member by paying five dollars a month. However, listeners who do so also get other perks as well, including access to the behind-the scenes of making podcasts and early previews of new podcasts in the making.

In reality, for Gimlet Media, having a five-dollar fee is merely the cost of membership. In fact, according to The Observer the Slack was later added as a perk to Gimlet Media’s membership program and was not an original part of the membership package. The Observer also noted that the Reply All team and all the Gimlet Media staff use Slack already in house. Therefore, it is fair to state that turning to Slack rather than any other platform was rather easy for Gimlet Media to do. While they do have their own subreddit, it was not started by any company employees and most audience follow-up within the show comes from the show’s Twitter account. The listeners on Slack has thousands of listeners not just from Reply All but also Gimlet Media’s other shows. It is also understood from “Hot Pod News” that Gimlet Media describe their Slack as something like from “Second Life” where the listeners are creating their own channels and own culture within the team.

So back to informal blogging writing, what does this mean for podcasts? I don’t really know, I had to conclude my research paper by directly connecting to some course concepts in order to pass the paper so I had to tailor my research to that. I probably would’ve liked to ask and see if there were any other platforms that were coming up in the podcast world. I also would’ve liked to find more podcasts who used Slack. These were only the podcasts that I was aware of. I also would’ve liked to know if Slack actually increased audience engagement or even audience numbers. Like a listener saw they had a Slack and was more enticed to join because the podcast had a Slack. Anyway I hope this was helpful for you. I love talking about God, the Internet, podcasts, communications, social media and a bunch of other stuff.

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