There are two main reasons that you might want to create a community around your podcast:
- To provide a space where listeners will have access to you.
- To provide a space where listeners can meet and interact with each other.
Both are designed to cater to existing listeners, which has been the recurring theme of this entire season. If you take care of your audience, it'll inevitably grow over time.
Access To You
People listen to your podcast for a reason – the content you're putting out there obviously resonates with them. If it didn't, why would they listen at all?
It's always topic-dependent, but the chances are you'll be helping your listeners in some way. That could be anything from teaching them a new skill to entertaining them on their morning commute – or even a bit of both!
The opportunity to get to know your listeners on a more personal level is one you should never overlook. This is far easier and far more scalable in a community environment than, say, in a one-to-one email conversation.
If you've been podcasting for a while you might have started to get questions in from listeners. Providing a community means that these questions can be answered for the benefit of everyone.
As your community grows, you won't even need to be the one answering every single question, either. Other members will happily help out those who're a bit newer to your particular field. Which brings us to the second main benefit.
Access To Each Other
When a group of people with a common interest get together, a lot can happen.
Ideas and information are shared, friendships are built, and collaborations are launched.
As the creator of your podcast community, every opportunity or success someone has from being a member will be attributed to you in some way.
This is a powerful thing. These listeners will talk enthusiastically about your community and your podcast, recommending it to others in your niche who have yet to discover it.
At this point you have a podcast audience that grows itself – as long as you keep looking after and serving those existing members.
So if you're sold on the idea of creating a community for your podcast listeners, the next step is to decide on where that community will exist.
One option is to use a pre-existing service such as Facebook or Slack.
These are quick and easy to set up. On top of that, they're usually free – although Slack does have premium priced options.
If you use a Facebook group to host your community, there's a good chance most of your listeners already have an account. It's very easy for them to get involved, and you're not giving them yet another place to create a profile and check regularly.
You've probably heard the term ‘building on borrowed land' before. There's always a danger that a service you don't own or control will drastically change, or even disappear.
Myspace is a classic example of this. A decade ago many bands built their followings on this platform but suffered badly when it all went down the tubes.
It's hard to imagine Facebook going away any time soon, but things can change immensely in technology in a very short space of time.
Customisation can also be an issue on third-party platforms. You're very limited in the way your community is designed, or operates.
Your second option is to build your community on a site you own and control.
And that's exactly it – full ownership and control of your community.
You can customise, design, and tailor everything exactly how you want it.
You also have the peace of mind that your community won't vanish overnight because the shared platform you use has folded, sold up, or changed their entire service.
This can be a costly endeavour in time or money; either you put in a lot of work to create the community yourself, or you pay someone else to do it.
Regardless of which route you take, you're heavily invested in it and can take a hit if things don't really take off.
Peerless communities usually exist as private forums or bulletin boards. A common reason for these communities not succeeding is that they're yet another place for people to check in on.
For your average smartphone user, having a look on Facebook is already part of their routine. It's harder to get your listeners to form the new habit of also checking in on your membership site.
Free vs Paid Communities
Should you charge people to join your community or keep it free? There are pros and cons of each approach.
Your starting point is your niche – is it a space where people are generally making money? If not, few are likely to pay to be part of your community.
If we think of a typical audience that is more likely to pay to be part of a community, it could be aspiring entrepreneurs.
If we think of a typical audience that is less likely to pay to be part of a community, it could be full-time college or university students.
Always make sure you know your audience.
Free Communities – Pros
Making your community free to all gives it the best chance of succeeding out of the gate, and it's all-inclusive.
Free Communities – Cons
With no barrier to entry, anyone can join. This means that now and then you might have trouble with spammers or trolls – dealing with them can take your focus away from helping your actual audience.
Paid Communities – Pros
A paid model acts as a qualifier. Everyone in your community wants to be there so much that they're willing to pay for it.
These listeners are also more likely to buy other things from you in future – as long as they feel like they're getting value for money out of their membership.
Paid Communities – Cons
Even the smallest amount of money is a huge barrier to most people. It can put severe limitations on your community's growth.
With payment comes an extra level of responsibility, too. Can you take a two-week holiday without checking in on your community from time to time? That's a decision you'll need to weigh up and make for yourself.
Reprimanding or kicking out a paid-community member who's stepped out of line can be a sensitive issue, too. Things are always more complicated when there's money involved.
One-Off vs Ongoing Payments
From your point of view, the regular income of subscriptions will probably be preferential to one-off payments.
However, the subscription model inevitably means you'll regularly lose community members. Now and then people look at their monthly bank statements to see where they can save some money, and your fees will always be under scrutiny.
If you're going down the subscription route, you could also consider offering a ‘life membership' in the form of a one-off payment. Some may be happier paying a larger sum once, than seeing money come out of their account every month.
Dealing With Spammers
There's nothing more depressing than a ‘community' with no discussion. We've all seen them – they've become a barren wasteland of self-promotion. Every single post is a link to that person's blog, podcast, or business.
So, how do you avoid that happening in your community, without having to become a dystopian overlord?
You need to take the lead and ask questions. As always, that's entirely topic-dependent, but ask your members how they do certain things, what they use to do them, and their opinions on these tools or workflows.
It doesn't always have to be shop talk either. If it's appropriate, ask people about their personal lives, hobbies, and interests, too.
An outright ban on self-promotion can be hard to police, and in many ways it's counter-productive.
Members sharing helpful, relevant content they've created can make the community an even more valuable resource for everyone.
Your podcast and community might even be geared around creating some form of content.
In either case, you may want to consider a weekly thread where you invite people to share what they've been working on and any new stuff they've released.
This is easy to manage, and it curates everything in one easy-to-find place.
It also stops your community looking like a Formula One car with adverts plastered all over it. Everyone wins.
Your Own Community
Hopefully this has given you a lot of ideas about what your own podcast community might look like. Or maybe you're already running one and just looking at refining certain aspects of it.
In either case, let us know about it. What are your plans? What's worked for you, and what hasn't worked so well? Leave a comment in the comments section below.
Growing Your Audience Series Guide
Chapter 1 – How Long Does it Take to Build a Following?
Chapter 2 – Building on Solid Foundations
Chapter 3 – Creating Shareable Content
Chapter 4 – Your Podcast Website
Chapter 5 – Getting Yourself Out There
Chapter 6 – How Do You Get More iTunes Reviews?
Chapter 7 – Building a Community
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