Nonfiction storytelling podcasts are some of the most well-known in the industry: even your grandmother has probably heard of This American Life or Serial. However, when it comes to marketing, there's hardly any guidance for these types of podcasts.
Reader Julie Reynolds Martinez of Gray Area Podcast emailed us on the topic, asking:
One thing I've never seen and would love to hear a podcast about is how to promote a storytelling podcast. My nonfiction episodes are highly produced personal stories. But unlike podcasts that cater to a specific interest group — such as gardening, cooking, technology, etc — this kind of audience is very, very general.
So how do “artsy” podcasts like S-Town, Criminal, Love and Radio etc. promote themselves and expand their audience? I've never been able to find any resources for marketing this type of show.
Julie has a point, but we aim to give her–and hopefully you–some guidance here.
Creative nonfiction is still creative
In my undergrad, I took a course specifically on creative nonfiction. One aspect of the form that was emphasized was how, even if the story is nonfiction, most aspects of fiction still carry over. Your story still has a plot, pacing, a narrative arc–and, yes, characters.
It may be strange to think of real people as characters, but they are. This should, of course, never be used to strip people of their complexity or dehumanize them. Instead, think about them as a character reading a fiction story might.
How will the audience relate to this character? How will they see themselves in this character? Listeners will connect with your podcast if these aspects of your story are emphasized in your marketing.
The same goes for the plot of your show. Nonfiction storytelling has a plot, and you should emphasize what will hook your audience in each episode. If your podcast is a serialized story, emphasize what will make them coming back each episode, too.
Your niche does exist
The next step in marketing a nonfiction storytelling podcast is to find your niche–which will exist even if it feels like it won't.
Let's take a look at Snap Judgment. Snap Judgment has all sorts of stories on all sorts of themes. But Snap Judgment is also surprising, subversive, and sharp. There's a sense of wily cleverness that comes with even the most tear-jerking episodes.
This American Life, on the other hand, has a sort of patient, hesitant nostalgia, no matter what the story is about. Even their funniest stories feel polished, professional, and somewhat reserved.
Look at your story, or your stories. What ties everything together? Try to focus less on the content and more on the tone of the podcast from episode to episode.
When you find that niche, implement it in your branding. Think about that tone when it comes to your colors, your fonts, and your social media.
If you cannot find that niche, I'd recommend putting more time into your curation. How do you want listeners to feel when they hear your podcast? Try using that as a guiding light on your next episodes.
Use your socials wisely
With a nonfiction storytelling podcast, quotes are going to be your best friend when it comes to your socials.
When a new episode goes up, take the most affecting line from the storyteller. Use a tool like Canva to layer it over a simple background that matches both the quote and your niche.
Then, spread it far and wide. Post on Twitter and Instagram. If you have a Facebook, share it there as well.
But also use your socials to get potential new fans engaged. Give them prompts and ask them to write a tweet-long story on them. Ask them to tell a story inspired by the episode.
And ask them about their responses to each episode, too. Facebook groups usually accomplish this well: Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People has a robust Facebook group where each new episode is discussed in length by thousands of people.
Your socials shouldn't be just a way of getting a new episode distributed. They should also be a way of making your audience into storytellers themselves.
When marketing a storytelling podcast, the first important tip is to remember that your show isn't too different from a fiction podcast. Talk up your characters. Talk up your plot.
Next, find what ties your stories together. Use that niche to hone your branding and make it more specific to your podcast. That'll help you stand out in the crowd and bring in like-minded listeners.
And be sure to use your socials to show off lovely quotes and engage your audience. Remind them that storytelling is communal, even though podcasts are one-way.
Still need help?
If you still want to chat about marketing your nonfiction storytelling podcast, be sure to join us in The Podcast Host Academy! In our Academy, you'll have access to forums with other podcasters, as well as live Q&A's with the Podcast Host team.
On top of that, there's courses on everything to do with creating and growing a successful podcast – including our promotion and marketing course 30 Days of Audience Growth.