The podcast industry is booming, but the proliferation of podcasts makes it difficult for producers to attract new listeners. In the social media era, visuals and texts are often shared more easily and widely, adding to producers’ promotional challenges.
IJNet talked to Hebah Fisher, co-founder of Kerning Cultures, a podcast that brings audio stories from the Middle East and its diaspora to the region and the world, and Maeve McClenaghan, founder of The Tip Off, a podcast that tells the behind-the-scenes story of investigations, to find out how they grew their podcasts and what they learned in the process.
Both independent podcasts began with low numbers of listens — and both podcasts now boast audiences in the thousands.
Kerning Cultures began three years ago with 100 listeners. Fisher and her co-founder, Razan Alzayani, didn’t have a specific marketing strategy at the beginning. Both had invested their savings into production and didn’t have any resources for promotion. However, the podcast grew and now each episode is downloaded more than 5,000 times, according to Fisher. Kerning Cultures recently welcomed a new team member who will focus on marketing, and the team has developed a strategy to grow the podcast’s audience.
The Tip Off started about a year ago as a passion project. “At the time, I didn’t know if anyone was going to listen to it,” said McClenaghan. “I thought if I got a hundred listens per episode, I’d be delighted.”
She has been producing the podcast on her own as a side project and has been learning to promote it along the way. This year, The Tip Off won the “Best Podcast of the Year” award at the British Podcasting Awards and it now averages 18,000 listens per episode, according to McClenaghan.
Here’s what both founders have learned along the way about promoting a podcast:
1. Target your audience on social media
Fisher has found that being active on social media — across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — helps a lot. Her team is also working on being more consistent in their language and messaging across networks in order to establish a clear brand. They are also adapting their strategy for their audience and creating video trailers for each episode.
“Podcasting in the Middle East is still quite new. Video, however, is quite common,” said Fisher. “We started to create something like film trailers to tease our episodes, and that seems to be working really well.”
For The Tip Off, McClenaghan focused on Twitter, where most of her audience is, given her limited time to dedicate to the podcast. She shares images, text and occasionally audio clips of episodes. You can use free applications like Headliner, Wavve or Audiogram to make your audio clips.
McClenaghan purposely released episodes with well-known journalists who had many followers at first. Through her guests’ tweets, she was able to gain more exposure.
2. Aim for media exposure
McClenaghan sent out press releases out to email addresses of podcast reviewers and other journalists in the podcasting industry.
Several publications — especially in the U.S. and the U.K. — have podcast reviews, including The New Yorker, The Guardian and The Financial Times. There are also a number of independent publications or newsletters like Bello Collective, Earbuds Collective and Sara Weber that recommend podcasts. More specialized trade newsletters include the Hot Pod and PodMail.
Kerning Cultures began in Dubai and as a new podcast company in the Middle East, many publications wrote about the team’s work.
“We’ve had not only listeners, but also some of our producers, find us because of the press that they read,” said Fisher.
3. Connect with your audience in real life
The team behind Kerning Cultures hosts listening parties in venues such as coffee shops, art galleries and yoga studios around the world. At first, team members were in charge of organizing, but listeners have started organizing the listening parties as well.
At these listening parties, the podcast team curates a good listening experience on the behalf of the visitors. They choose an episode that they play to a group in a cozy space and then facilitate a discussion about it.
“One listener in Dubai told us that it’s a kind of meditative experience to sit in a room full of strangers, where nobody is looking at their phones and you just listen to the stories together,” said Fisher. “These events go on for hours and the discussions are very, very rich. It’s a very visceral way to get to know Kerning Cultures, which I think has a lasting impression on people and they tell their friends.”
McClenaghan hopes to host her first live recording session in September. She is currently working on organizing and producing the event.