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How to Run a Listener-Driven Podcast

By Justin Christensen

For many aspiring podcasters, running a listener-driven podcast sounds like a dream. No struggle to find good material, no lengthy prep process before each episode, just a constant stream of questions and content provided by your adoring fan base. It sounds too good to be true, but for a well-known podcast with a solid listener base that’s not too far from reality (look at Joe Rogan – that guy just grabs anyone in the world and records himself having a casual conversation with them).

You’re not a well-known podcast with a solid listener base though. You’re brand new to this game and the only ones who know about your podcast are your friends and the barista who overheard you making plans. It’s safe to say that the experience is going to be a little different for you, at least until you gain some traction.

Just like any good thing in life, building a successful listener-driven podcast takes work – a lot of it. The early days for this type of show are probably going to take even more work than something that’s more independently functional.

The hard truth is that fans aren’t going to magically appear with their arms full of golden podcast content ready to throw at your feet. You’re going to have to poke, prod and pester your way into the ears and (more importantly) hearts of your future audience. That may sound daunting, but you should never let a bit of hard work scare you away from chasing your dreams.

Here are 4 tips to help you hit the ground running and generate listener interaction fast.

Ask for Help

Hopefully this seems obvious, because it’s the most important thing you can do to generate interaction with your listeners. It’s also one of the toughest things to make yourself do, since it means putting yourself out there and being “that guy” who’s always bringing up his hobby.

No one is going to approach you with podcast-ready content if you haven’t expressed a need for it first though. If you don’t ask for help, you won’t get it.

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You should ask for help both on and off the show. On the show this is pretty easy – I end every episode of the Just Add Friends Podcast with a request for our listeners to submit questions. That’s a good rule of thumb, since people aren’t naturally inclined to reach out to the creators of the media they watch (have you ever emailed Netflix?). Mentioning a way your listeners can contribute to the show, and then asking them to help out by doing that, is the foundation for driving interaction.

Ending your episodes with a call to action is good, but your long-term listeners may start to tune out regular or repeated bits of “housekeeping”. It can also help to ask for help in a different spot every few episodes, like during a discussion where the hosts disagree, or if you’re split between two ideas. This sort of “random ask” can get through to someone who is used to hearing you ask for questions or content at the end of the show, or someone who routinely skips the housekeeping.

Asking for help off the show is usually more stressful, but also more effective. Every time I’ve walked up to someone I know and said “hey, can you do me a favor and think of a question for my show”, they’ve come through for me. Making yourself ask real people in the real world for help can be stressful (just typing that sentence gave me anxiety), but it will do more for to drive listener interaction than anything else.

I like to ask acquaintances to submit content at least once a month. I make a note each time I’ve asked someone so I can ensure that I’m not asking the same person too often. This also pushes me to talk to new people, and sometimes I’m surprised to find friends of mine who still don’t even know I have a podcast.

Remember – nothing ventured, nothing gained. You’ve got to ask to make things happen.

Smash Social Media

Talking to your friends and listeners is great, but it’s a slow way to grow. Yeah, sure, if you tell 10 friends and they each tell 10 friends, etc. you’ll have a ton of listeners – but if that was as easy as it sound we’d all work for MLM’s.

Social media is an effective way to broaden your audience. Every podcast, no matter what the topic or style, should be using social media platforms to advertise already, but for a listener-driven podcast you should also use it to generate content.

Most people are more willing to tweet at your show than to email your show. Social media is informal, and easy to use. Your listeners are likely using it every day already. Not only is it accessible, but it’s already churning out content. Twitter is sort of like a giant hole in the internet full of people foaming at the mouth trying to put in their two cents. Harnessing that energy can be as easy as asking the right question.

Make social media accounts for your show, and start interacting with people. You should be posting daily to maximize your impact. Any discussion you start online is fuel for your show.

Remember that a post on social media doesn’t have to be geared towards your podcast for you to use it. If you see something that would work great for your show, reach out to the poster and ask if you can use it. Even if they say no, their followers will see the response and your show will get more exposure.

Contests and Giveaways

This one is tricky for a new podcast, since you probably don’t have a lot of revenue. It is, however, very effective. If there’s one thing people in this world are willing to work for, it’s free stuff. You don’t have to offer $10,000 cash like a big radio show either. For example, you could ask a question and instruct people to tweet their answer using your shows hashtag, with the best answer getting a $10 Starbucks Gift Card.

One of my favorite things to do is run a contest to choose a guest host. Most people who love your podcast would love to make an appearance on it, and would be more than willing to do a little work to make it happen.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a lot of responses at first. Every bit counts when you’re just starting out.

Fake it ‘til You Make it

This is the most important advice I can give to a new listener-driven podcast. If you plan effectively, you should have a fair amount of content built up before you start recording. When that initial build-up is gone though, you may find yourself scraping the bottom of the barrel for something to use on your show.

If recording day comes and you don’t have enough to get through a full episode, you’ll have a choice to make. Skip the ep, or create your own content. It might not be what you had in mind, but anonymously submitting content to your own show will help you fill in the gaps without leaning too heavily on your dedicated listeners. It’s a temporary solution, but one that you shouldn’t be afraid to use.

A listener-driven podcast is a great way to get started in the podcasting community. Make sure you have a game-plan before you start, that includes asking your family and friends to help you spread the word. Make your social media accounts before you release your first episode – use them to advertise and start making a name for yourself. Plan for things to get a little shaky, and brainstorm some fun contests to try if you think your show needs a boost.

Most importantly, don’t give up if you’re not generating content fast enough. Fake it ‘til you make it. Running a listener-driven podcast takes work, but it’s worth it. Hopefully using these tips can help you get the ball rolling!

Justin has been listening to podcasts for years, and co-hosting the Just Add Friends Podcast since 2018. Find them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Written by:

Guest Podcaster

March 1st 2019