How To Build A Successful Podcast
My learnings from 200 episodes of The Recruiting Future Podcast
I started my podcast in 2015, when I was looking for a side project to distract me from a tech startup failure. I loved the idea of combining the industry research, which is vital to my work as an independent talent acquisition consultant, with my love of all things audio. The Recruiting Future Podcast was born.
I had no real expectations of audience size and could therefore have never predicted that four and half years later, I would be publishing episode 200 having amassed over three-quarters of a million podcast listens to date.
Unsurprisingly I’ve learnt a lot about podcasting in the last 55 months and wanted to share some of my experiences to celebrate my 200th episode milestone. I hope they will be helpful to other podcasters and indeed anyone thinking of starting any kind of regular content series.
As an interview-based podcast, guests are critical to my success. Having a content strategy so I can make sure I’m hosting guests with insights and experience that are relevant to my audience is vital. I’ve never restrained myself by operating a strict content calendar but instead work within broad evolving themes. This approach gives me the flexibility to accommodate a fantastic guest at the last minute and ensure that the podcast is always moving with the times.
One of my most important learnings is that I’m not my audience. Very often the most popular episodes of the show are not the interviews I would have earmarked for runaway success. I’m always asking for feedback, and I’m lucky that the audience sends me lots of it and, over time, this has really helped to refine my content strategy.
My overall aim is to give my audience of talent acquisition professionals access to content that is not always available within their usual networks. I look for guests with interesting stories to tell which might not have been previously widely heard. As the audience and credibility of the podcast has grown, I have also been able to persuade some very well known thought leaders from outside of the recruitment industry to share their thoughts on all things talent, and it has been a delight to interview people such as Bruce Daisley, Francesca Gino, Shane Snow and Tom Goodwin.
I always find it interesting that equipment seems to be the most popular podcasting advice topic. In the last couple of years, I’ve seen countless photos of home studios complete with expensive kit, built by budding podcasters who are yet to release a show. Very often the podcasts they subsequently create are the ones that podfade before they get to 10 episodes.
It is important to say that sound quality is essential. The best advice I was given when I started podcasting is that a critical consideration for growing an audience is making sure you have audio that people can actually hear! This might sound obvious but back in 2015, several podcasts in our industry were poorly produced and sometimes impossible to hear. My benchmark has always been to make my audio quality good enough that someone with headphones on a plane can clearly listen to it.
You don’t have to have expensive equipment or a home studio to produce good quality audio. If you want to be a successful podcaster, buy the cheapest kit that gives you sound that is good enough and spend the majority of your effort focusing on content.
I recorded the first three years worth of my podcast on a Zoom H2N voice recorder that cost me £90. Only in the last12 months have I upgraded and moved to the admittedly excellent Zoom H6 and proper microphones. I won’t be building a home studio any time soon, not least because sticking audio foam all over the walls will do nothing for the ambience of our spare bedroom!
New podcasters also nearly always underestimate the scale of the post-recording production process. There are lots of steps, and it can take a lot of time to edit and get your show out there. Building a standard process and constantly refining this though automation and, by removing unnecessary steps as podcasting evolves, is critical.
One of the unavoidable facts about podcasting is that you cannot dictate how and when your audience listen. Attempting to channel everything into Soundcloud because it is easy or your website because it might drive useful traffic is the road to ultimate podcasting failure.
One of the most important pillars of the audience growth of The Recruiting Future Podcast has been to make sure the show is available everywhere the audience might be. Apple still dominates podcast distribution but are seeing substantial challenges from the likes of Spotify and others. The number of different channels can seem overwhelming, but using a good podcast hosting company takes most of the pain away. I can’t recommend my own host LibSyn highly enough as their service has supported me every step of the way. My podcast is currently available in Apple Podcasts, all the leading podcasting apps, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Radio.com, via its own app, via its own website and has just gone live on Pandora.
As far as I’m concerned, audience growth is the key to podcast longevity. If your audience is growing, then you know you are providing value. The global podcast audience is currently very unevenly split with the vast majority of listeners being in the USA, and my current audience breakdown reflects this:
Top Countries (in order of number of listeners)
USA, UK, Australia, Germany, Canada, Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, India, Singapore.
Top Cities (in order of number of listeners)
London, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Sydney, Berlin, Boston, Atlanta.
The global audience split is changing and as podcasts increase in popularity across the world the future potential of the medium is incredible.
I’ve learnt that there are only two things that drive genuine podcast audience growth, word of mouth and tenacity.
Social media and other forms of marketing are useful for raising awareness and promoting specific episodes, but they never really move the needle on long term subscriber growth in the way that people think they do. There are now 700,000 podcasts out in the world, and the most reliable way of finding shows that are relevant to you is asking for recommendations from other podcast listeners. I’m fortunate to have a growing number of advocates who consistently recommend my show (thank you!), and it has also appeared on several curated “must listen” podcast lists (thank you again!)
Consistently and regularly releasing content is absolutely vital to establishing and growing an audience. Tenacity is an essential part of this because podcasting is difficult and takes up ten times more of your time than you think it will. In the early days, it was tenacity that saw me through when I was pushing out shows to a small audience that wasn’t growing particularly fast at the start. It only started to hint at the potential to grow at its current rate after I had published 50 episodes! Producing the show still takes up a massive amount of my time, and although sponsorship has helped me find more time in my work schedule to dedicate to podcasting, it still means a lot of late nights as well as recording interviews and intros weekly, wherever I might be and whatever else I might be doing.
So what’s next? Well in the short term I’m really excited by the guests I’ve got lined up in the coming months, in the medium term I’m currently working on some exciting plans for the show in 2020 (more details soon) and in the long term I’m already thinking about what I can be doing to celebrate episode 300 of The Recruiting Future Podcast!