Even if you make a great podcast episode, you can't always be sure that your listeners are going to stay subscribed.
This is especially true for podcasters who get momentary spikes in listens. Maybe they had a great interview guest on who helped promote the show, or maybe someone important talked their show up on social media. These factors will direct new listeners to an episode – but it might not convince them to stick around.
So how do you make sure your podcast keeps your listeners coming back? There are a few ways that can help you reel in those listeners you want to catch.
Think about narrative structure
One thing I wish more nonfiction podcasters would consider is making seasons versus just releasing regularly. Not only does a season structure allow you some time to rest, reflect, and plan better future episodes, it also allows you to think of some narrative structure.
What I mean by narrative structure is tying your season together with a theme. Serial is the classic example of this: each season focuses on a different story, but the podcast as a whole is true crime.
This means that while there's an idea behind the podcast as a whole, each season gets a narrative structure. The listener wants more of the story, so they're going to listen week after week.
You don't have to create investigative journalism to think about narrative structure. Consider doing a series of episodes that all focus on one topic related to your podcast's topic, with each episode showing a different side of that focus.
Have recurring special episodes
I love the podcast Spirits, but I especially look forward to their “Your Urban Legends” episodes, a series in which listeners submit urban legends from their hometown to intrigue and unnerve the hosts. The podcast usually discusses mythology and folklore from around the world with great research, and these informal episodes are always a joy in the mix.
Even if I didn't love Spirits as much as I do, I'd want to keep coming back for those urban legends. If listeners have special recurring episodes to look forward to, they'll keep returning, and they'll probably listen to your other releases along the way.
Think about what fun, somewhat format-breaking episodes you could weave in every month, every other month, or even annually. Listener Q&A episodes work well, but if your podcast's topic allows for more creativity, always take that route.
Have “carry-over questions”
If you think a narrative structure or special recurring episodes just don't work for your podcast, “carry-over questions” are a great way to create return listeners.
A carry-over question is a question you ask at the end of one episode and answer at the top of the next episode. Questions could be relevant trivia or other game-like questions (especially if you reward correct answers with giveaways or shoutouts on the next episode) or asking listeners their thoughts on something from the episode.
Not only will listeners want to hear the answer or discussion next episode, this method also encourages engagement by asking the listener to participate.
When you answer the question on the next episode, be sure to not just share you answer, but also what listeners said. You want to make sure the question isn't just for you, but is for your podcast's entire community.
You are also your podcast's topic
Remember that when people stay subscribed to a podcast, it's usually not just because of the topic. I don't listen to every episode of 99% Invisible because I care a ton about, say, shipping crates. I really don't care about shipping crates at all.
What I do care about is Roman Mars and his incredible team of producers and researchers. I don't trust the topic; I trust the creators to tell me a great story each week.
This is even more true for conversational and comedic podcasts. I don't keep returning to My Brother, My Brother and Me because I love the structure of the show. I return to it because I love listening to the McElroys.
The key to getting listeners to come back is you.
This doesn't mean you have to change who you are or try to be something you're not. This means you should focus on what you're great at and be sure to play to your skills.
If you're hilarious, bring that into your podcast even if it isn't a comedy podcast. If you have a calm, welcoming tone, allow yourself some softness and tenderness with how you deliver your discussion.
Anyone can make a podcast about your topic. But only you can make a podcast about your topic hosted by you. Listeners aren't going to stick around for the subject matter. They're going to stick around for what you can bring to it.
If you want to make sure your listeners stick around, try to think about how you can tie episodes together and leave your listener wanting more. Maybe this comes in the form of narrative seasons. Maybe this comes in the form of asking a question in one episode to answer in the next.
Probably, though, your listeners are going to keep coming back because of who you are as a host. Play to your strengths. Think about what makes you different from others in your niche. Remember that listeners care more about you, usually, than the topic.
Still worried listeners will leave?
Then tune in next week, where we'll answer this question and–
Oh, wait. Never mind.
If you've still got worries about listeners coming back, be sure to join our Academy! Not only will our community act as a support network to help quell your worries, you can also use it to bounce around ideas for narrative structures or carry-over questions.
You can even ask us directly during live Q&A sessions! We'll be happy to help you get your listeners to keep coming back for more.