How Morning Brew’s first podcast hit 1 million downloads

Josh Kaplan
Jan 13 · 7 min read

We launched Business Casual, our first ever podcast, on Sept. 24th. Three and a half months later, we have over 1 million total downloads. Here’s how.

Step 1: have an email list with 1.7 million.

OK fine…I get that most people don’t have the luxury of an email audience like ours. But we learned a few things that might help others.

  1. Create the right calls to action in the content
  2. Atomize your content across platforms
  3. Collaborate with the listening apps (the ones that matter)
  4. Prioritize teamwork

And before I dive in–read about my POV on enterprise podcasting and generating podcast revenue for more context.

1. Create the right calls to action in the content

Here’s how we do it in each Business Casual episode:

When recording…give people the ammo they need to talk about the show! Explain the show yourself so listeners know what to say when friends ask their favorite podcast. For example: Welcome to Business Casual, the weekly podcast from Morning Brew answering the biggest questions in business with the biggest names in business.

And be greedy–ask for listeners to share. Many podcasts rely on the typical “subscribe, leave a review and tell your friends” script, but I think it’s a broken record we can mentally skip like an ad. It asks for too many things at once.

Savvy listeners know how to hit subscribe and will do so naturally for shows they like. Right now, following on Spotify and subscribing on Apple Podcasts only makes it more convenient to find episodes later–it doesn’t create a relationship. I want to make listeners a real “member” of the show so we can engage later. Following on social or signing up for a newsletter is a much more valuable conversion because it allows us to know the listener and to ask for more feedback or subsequent actions later.

We test different calls to action (CTAs) to see which will work best — right now we like “before we tell you what awesome stuff we have in store for next week, do this” and “here’s a trivia question, go to the link in the show notes that takes you to our twitter to see the answer” to encourage specific behavior after the episode. Different CTAs keep it fresh–if you keep asking to subscribe but your best fans will do it without you asking, how can you keep finding ways to chat with or get value from those best fans?

I think dynamic insertion could be the answer. While dynamic insertion is typically used for slipping in advertisements at designated points, you can also just add in editorial content. I’m excited to test dynamically inserted post-roll content that updates to a new CTA at the end of the episode every week. That way even if you are listening to an old episode this week, you’re still hearing a new ask from the host and the show.

When publishing…we don’t really know how to optimize for growth. As far as episode titles go, we originally wanted to take our learnings from the email game to podcasting. Short, negative and allusive. And while we want to make it sexy, we have started to bet on the name of the guest and their brand recognition. Apple is registering the guests on shows to better index the catalogues. That should help with SEO-like growth and I’m excited to see how discoverability continues to improve in 2020. As for sending behavior, we took our newsletter mentality over to podcasting and believe that releasing at the same time and same cadence creates a consistent behavior with the core listenership. No real data to back this up but we remain big believers.

2. Atomize your content across platforms

OK–content, check. Now it’s time to make the audio easier to engage with wherever your listeners are. When Kinsey edits an episode she also creates a base layer promotional description. It’s basically what you see in the show notes. From there, we manipulate the same words to match different mediums.

  • Email newsletter — put a link in your newsletter–make it elusive and entice people into learning some sort of actionable piece of information. Our audience trusts us for quality content and we’ve seen better conversion when focusing on the topic over the guest.
Example of our newsletter promotion. Also thx Fundrise.
  • Instagram — post the show art and tag things we mention. Reshare listener posts.
  • Twitter — tweetstorm the biggest takeaways and soundbites. We also created a list of our guests but that hasn’t taken off yet. Retweet and engage with listeners.
  • LinkedIn — convert the message into more of a blog and send out via their newsletter module.
  • Website — post the transcript and backlinks to the episode on your website. The real value of the transcript is for hearing impaired users and non-English first but it also helps with SEO. Btw, here’s a great article on how to optimize the page for SEO.
tbh sometimes we’re behind on transcripts. sorry.

And there are a few platforms we are excited to experiment with this year:

  • YouTube — upload the video from the recording. YouTube is so big and has such a powerful algorithm that it’s surprisingly simple to set this up and grow an account.
  • Community — text! We’re hoping to test out texting as a means of communication with our listeners. Since podcasts are consumed primarily on mobile, I think it has less friction than email or social media DMs.
  • Quora — post questions the host asks and then post the answers with a source as the pod/the guest.
  • Reddit — conduct an AMA with the guest ahead of the episode to generate user generated content.
  • TikTok — tempted to post bloopers and behind the scenes stuff on there pending Kinsey’s approval… real business value TBD.

We are still figuring out which provide the most value, but given the light lift it takes to put similar content in different places, I believe it’s worthwhile to extend an episode in all of these ways.

3. Collaborate with the listening apps (that matter)

Business Casual is available on any podcast app we can get on and each new episode automatically pushes to all the listening apps. Here’s the consumption breakdown:

Put simply: we know where to focus our efforts.

Apple allows promotion submissions through their promotion tool. We were fortunate enough to be on new and noteworthy and featured at the same time and experienced a +30% bump. We’re considering breaking the show into quarterly seasons so we can remarket the show on Apple.

Spotify has a really helpful content partnerships team that we email our episodes to in advance. They then place those episodes on curated playlists.

Both teams are quite communicative and keep us updated on changes to the app and provide assets for promotional holidays like Spotify’s Wrapped campaign. My bet is that both listening apps will change substantially but if we have friends at both we can adapt with those changes.

As far as which platforms to promote when sharing the episode, we lean toward the platforms our audience enjoys. On Apple we link directly to the show because the subscribe button only shows up on the main page and not on the episode specific pages. Further, we took down the trailer after a few weeks so new listeners go for fresh episodes instead of wasting their time with a potentially outdated teaser.

Btw–LOVE the new listening apps popping up. We will always be game to test new things and help drive traffic to promising apps but for the purpose of truly moving the needle, I suggest focusing on the larger players.

4. Prioritize teamwork

I have my gripes with how this statement is perceived, but there are a lot of podcasts. Definitely many that don’t really need to exist. But using remnant ad inventory (aka the excess inventory that remains after you’ve fulfilled the ad impressions your team has sold) to run cross promotions with other podcasts is a great way to get in front of potential new listeners. Our assumption here is taken also from our newsletter experience–newsletter readers tend to sign up for other newsletters. Growth from podcast cross promotions is harder to track than that in newsletters, but with services like Chartable it’s getting easier (here’s a great interview with Dave, its CEO). Find other podcasters and work together. There’s an awesome slack group called Podcast Promo Exchange to find crossover opportunities–email me (josh@morningbrew.com) if you want me to add you.

And teamwork extends back to the content. Our guests have been incredibly helpful when promoting the show. When they share from their personal accounts and their company pages, we see dramatic spikes from brand new audiences that were previously completely inaccessible. We try to make sharing as easy as possible by sending links and reminders–if you don’t ask you, don’t get.

Parting note: quality content will always win

These growth tactics should always be secondary to quality content. If the show stinks, it’s not worth sharing. Simple as that. But if your team has the right people doing the right things, it should come easy. Everyone wants better audio content that’s better integrated into their discoverability and sharing habits. We’re focusing on quality content and frictionless engagement this year–can’t wait to see what’s in store.

Did this help? Am I wrong? Tweet me or email me (josh@morningbrew.com). Neither? OK fine listen to Business Casual and sign up for Morning Brew.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade