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Who Will Be Listening to Podcasts in 2023 and Beyond
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As the landscape for podcast hosts continues to evolve in change, are we keeping humans in mind? With all the tools and automations being used in the podcast industry, in many ways, we’re creating episodes for robots instead of for humans. When is the last time you asked yourself, “Would a human enjoy what I’ve created?” For many of us, we’ve forgotten the importance of the human touch. In this post, Alex Sanfilippo shares the future of podcast listeners and how they’re changing as quickly as the way we’re changing how we create content. Get ready to learn how to podcast for human listeners in this evolving form of content!
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In the summer of 2022, I had the opportunity to speak at a podcasting conference in Dallas, Texas.
While it was a great conference and I met many podcasters I enjoy listening to, something bothered me the entire time I was there.
And it had everything to do with the conversations that were going on there.
The conversations always seemed to be going in a direction that I did not necessarily agree with or think they should be going in.
I did not say anything about it at first.
Later, at a party, I finally got up and told a group of people around me what was bothering me
“You know what? I have been listening to the conversations throughout the event, and I keep hearing about downloads, new technologies, ways to streamline, and all sorts of things about how to get more exposure.
All of that is great, but at the end of the day, none of that is the most important element of podcasting on either side of the mic. The most important thing is impacting listeners’ lives.
Throughout the conference, I heard nothing about the listeners.
It was all about the downloads (by the way I actually think it dehumanizes the listener when we refer to them as downloads)
Are we really doing what we are doing for the people?
That was the last thing I asked them.
And that’s what I want to talk about today. This is a great reminder of why we podcast on both sides of the mic.
Digging Through The Data
As I was going through this process, I wanted to know one thing above all else, “The future of podcast listenership and who will be listening to podcasts in the coming year and far beyond that.”
Before I get into that, I think it’s important to point out that podcasting (from a show perspective) is not growing right now. Over the last 20 months, the number of active podcasts has not increased.
In fact, the number of active shows has actually decreased by over a hundred thousand in that time period.
While there are 2.6 million podcasts on Apple and 5.6 million on Spotify, in reality, there are less than 400,000 active podcasts and of those 400,000 active podcasts, 90% will be discontinued within the next 365 days.
Now you may be thinking, “Does that mean there will only be 40,000 podcasts left?”
That’s not what I am saying. Every day there are new shows and existing shows are being discontinued. That said, I think the number of active shows will continue to decline in the foreseeable future, because podcasting is difficult.
So when you start thinking, How do I get more downloads? How do I streamline? How can I do this or that? All these things will not get you anywhere and eventually you will stop.
You need a strong and purposeful Why.
Sit down and think about why you are really doing this. And it should not be about getting rich or famous. It has to be about the audience.
Whose life do you want to impact and how will their life change because of your message?
Once you have settled on that Why, tape it to your computer screen or do whatever you need to do and make sure you keep reminding yourself.
Then podcasting will really pay off for you and you will not be one of the 90% of the 400,000 shows that stop.
In this blog, the focus is on the listener. That said, below I’ll link a couple of resources for you on how to be successful on either side of the mic.
- 5 Main Reasons Podcasts Fail and How You Can Overcome Each
- How to Survive Your First Year as a Podcaster
I can not just give you negative news, right? The number of podcast listeners is growing faster than ever before.
And it’s estimated that number will continue to grow. As you might have guessed, the fewer active shows get to reach a larger audience. That’s a really great prospect (if we are among the ones who make it, of course).
The Top Three Reasons People Start Listening to Podcasts
How do people find shows? What causes them to listen to one show and not another?
These reasons are derived from the data I have gathered. I’ll start with number three and then work my way down to the most common reason.
#3. To Spark Their Creativity
To stimulate creative thinking or to get out of a creative slump. People listen to podcasts to help them get out of a groove, to get into a bigger groove, or to figure out how to be more creative in their craft.
So the question is: If someone is listening to you, can their creativity be sparked by what you have to say? If you are the host, can you bring that out of your guest? If you are the guest, can you convey that to the actual listener?
#2. To Feel Connected to a Community
This is why it’s important to niche down your podcast. People are looking for a community that shares the same passion as them.
If your podcast is very broad, it will not really convey the passion they are looking for. If you have a truly niche show, they can find a tribe that they can belong to and feel connected with
You want them to say, “You know what? I do not think there’s anybody in my town that thinks as I do, but there’s this podcast. There are 5,000 of us listening to it around the world, and we are this connected, like-minded tribe
#1. They Want to Learn Something New
People listen to podcasts because they want to find something new. They want to learn something new. I looked at the data. In one survey, participants were asked why they started listening to podcasts. 74% of them said they wanted to learn something new.
If you are the host, deliver the material in a way that makes the listener say, “Wow, this host interviewed the guest so well, I feel like I learned something from them.”
If you are the guest, are you actually delivering something that people can learn and apply? Or is it just a huge call to action to go check out your product or service?
If people want to learn something new or just be entertained, they have something in mind, and you need to deliver on that promise. People’s lives should change in some way from the time they start listening to your podcast to the time they finish it.
That might sound a little extreme, but make sure you are doing your best to fill in those gaps and help people learn something.
The Top Three Reasons Why People Stop Listening To Podcasts
Again, I’ll work my way down to the most common one.
#3. They look at the episode releases and see that they are inconsistent.
It’s not just the inconsistent episode releases. If you say, “Hey, we will be back next week with a new episode,” and it takes a month and a half for the next episode to come out, that’s really going to hurt you. You need to be upfront and truthful with your audience.
Inconsistent content that does not live up to the niche or focus of the show will also lead to a loss of listenership. So even if you release a podcast episode every week that does not live up to what listeners expected, they will leave because it does not feel coherent to them.
Here is an example. I live in Jacksonville, Florida, near the beach. If I start a surfing podcast and then after a few episodes decide to talk about marketing, what’s going to happen?
I will lose any listeners I had.
For a guest, before you jump on a podcast, find out if it is consistently focused on what it is supposed to deliver.
#2. The episodes are too long, the hosts and guests are boring, have irrelevant conversations, or refer to a live audience
That’s a lot of things, but it’s pretty all-encompassing.
First of all, the episodes are too long. One poll found that over 55% of people who listen to podcasts think they are too long.
That’s usually because of an irrelevant conversation that’s happening or because it’s aimed at a live audience. We have moved to a video-first approach when it comes to podcasting. We want to share them on YouTube and share some clips on social media
That’s great, but you always have to keep audio consumption in mind first. People want to listen to podcasts. That’s the whole point. They want to clean, cook, work out and drive while listening to an episode.
While it’s great to optimize the podcast for video, we need to think about audio first. You can not say, “Hey, Mr. Guest or Mrs. Guest, I really like that shirt. What’s going on in the background?” or “We have this great chat down on the live feed.” When I listen to that later, I am out of the loop and feel left out.
You want the conversation to stay relevant.
You need to keep it concise and short and make sure everything is focused on adding value.
There is also data that points to the benefit of weekly podcast episodes.
If you want to grow your podcast, you should release an episode weekly or more often. But I do not recommend more than once a week unless you can commit to it.
The second point is that the episode should be between 20 and 40 minutes long. This is not a hard and fast rule. If you need to dive deep into someone’s traumatic life story for an hour and a half, then go for it. I always say podcast episodes should be as long as they are good. But you should keep them as consistent as possible.
#1. People stop listening to podcasts that do not deliver what they promise
I have already alluded to this. This means that the show description, title, and introduction of each episode all point to a specific promise.
The actual podcast must deliver on that promise.
If you say that your podcast called Business Forward Podcast will help your listeners advance their business, you should not be talking about surfing!
That’s the most common reason people say, “I am out.”
Ask yourself: does the podcast deliver what it promises? If not, it may not be a good show for you.
The Top Three Ways People Discover Podcasts
#3. Host recommendations on other podcasts
This is why podcast hosts should be podcast guests. If you talk about your show on another show, a listener may say, “I want to listen to this show too because it sounds very interesting.”
The average podcast listener listens to seven different shows. Your show should be one of them. The best way to do that is to appear on other shows or have the host talk about your show.
This will really help your show get discovered and grow.
#2. Recommendations from friends and family
I think this is really easy to do. If your show delivers what it promises, people will not be reluctant to recommend it. In fact, they will enthusiastically share it.
Here is a little hack I did with one of my old shows that grew up by 20% almost overnight. I had hit a plateau and it was already a really big show.
I added a midroll of me saying, “Hey, if you like this episode, I want you to think of the one person in your life who would also benefit from hearing this episode. Would you please share it with them? I really appreciate you spreading the love and sharing this episode. I know it’s going to add value in people’s lives.”
That was it.
Overnight, people started sharing the podcast episodes and they were discovered by their friends and family. So make sure you have something like that.
#1. Searching on the internet
That’s the number one way that podcasts are getting discovered by people right now.
Apple and Spotify are starting to do that, but it’s not quite there yet.
That’s why I say every podcast host needs to have their own website as well. That will help with discoverability. As your show gains traction, do you create a separate blog post for each episode or add a transcript? That makes it easier for listeners to share the show.
When I ask someone, “Hey, can you share a link?” they usually send me an Apple link or a Spotify link.
But what if I do not have Apple or Spotify? Then I won’t be able to listen to the podcast. You want to have a hub that you can send people to. “Hey, here is my website. There’s the title, the description, and a link to anywhere you could possibly want to listen to the podcast.”
It’s important to get that right.
What About Social Media?
So far, I have given you the top three ways people discover podcasts. As you may have noticed, social media was not on that list.
People on social media are not necessarily looking for podcasts. They are probably sitting around bored and just wanting to scroll through.
It’s these three things that we want to get right:
- Host recommendations
- Recommendations from family and friends
- Internet search
Calls to Action (CTAs) For Podcast Guests and for Podcast Hosts
Here is how we will make sure we engage with our listeners in 2023 and beyond.
Let us start with podcast hosts. Here is my one call to action for you.
Talk to your listeners.
“Well, Alex, that sounds great, but I do not really know who’s listening.”
You can figure that out. If someone texts you, emails you, or even just likes something on your social media, find a way to contact them.
Say something along the lines, “Hey, I saw you liked this or listened to it. I’d like 10 minutes of your time. Can we set up a quick video call?”
If you have the opportunity to talk to your listeners and do it as often as possible, it will help your show a lot.
I want you to ask these five questions when you do that:
- How did you find out about the show?
- What’s your favorite part about it?
- What is your favorite episode?
- What one thing we could do to make the show even better for future listeners?
- What are you struggling with right now?
Get an Excel spreadsheet out and start logging all the answers to see when you can find common trends among what your actual listeners are telling you.
You might end up realizing, “Hey, every single one of them said the same thing that they’re struggling with.” Guess what? Now your podcast isn’t just a podcast. It’s a business.
You can go find an advertiser that works in that space and create a product or service that actress to that need.
That’s how we actually created PodPros!
My number one call to action for podcast guests. You need to make sure you’re showing up the right way. To that end I want you to ask yourself these three questions before you go on a show.
1. Is this a good podcast? In Example: Would I listen to this podcast if I wasn’t going to go on it?
The only way you can answer that is by going back and listening to some of their past episodes. If the answer is no, you probably shouldn’t be on it because it means other people probably feel that way.
2. Does the show deliver on the promise it makes in the title and description of the episode? Remember this is one of the main reasons why people stop listening to shows.
3. Is this podcast discoverable?
Open an incognito window on your browser and try to find the podcast. Type in some episode titles that you know exist. Type in the title of the show. Can you actually find it if you’re looking for it? If the host themselves hasn’t put any effort into making the show discoverable, your podcast episode won’t be heard by anyone.
Now again, if this show has potential and they’re saying, “We’re building the website for it or we’re working on our distribution,” then, by all means, be on it. Give them the chance.
It’s so important, we make sure that we are podcasting for listeners instead of for robots. At the end of the day, I believe it’s all about impacting that one life. If the right person’s listening and you do something to help them, then the whole thing is worthwhile.
I hope this inspires you to really think about the listeners in the future of podcasting, and I hope this really added just a lot of value to your life and your craft as a podcaster.
If you need to go back and read this blog again or listen to the podcast version (linked at the top of the page), do that.
About Alex Sanfilippo
Alex Sanfilippo is the host of the top-rated podcast called Podcasting Made Simple. He is also the founder of PodPros.com, a software company focused specifically on the podcasting industry. Alex and his team have created popular services like PodMatch, a service that matches podcast guests and hosts together for interviews, and PodcastSOP, a project management tool that helps podcasters keep up with their episode releases.
- Visit Alex Sanfilippo’s Website
- Listen to Alex’s podcast: Podcasting Made Simple
- Alex Sanfilippo on Social Media: PodMatch | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter