Podcasting is hard. Finding an audience is hard. Growing that audience is hard. However, alienating your audience is surprisingly easy, so we should all go out of our way to avoid doing it.
I've spent the last few months thinking about what makes a (specifically, history) podcast appealing and while I acknowledge that every person who engages with podcasts has a unique set of criteria for determining whether or not a podcast is "good", there is certainly a set of basic things that we podcasters can do to prevent alienating the vast majority of potential listeners.
Here are ten such things :
Market Yourself Correctly If you are a comedic history podcast, tell people you are a comedic history podcast. If you are a bite-sized film podcast, tell people you are a bite-sized film podcast. Be up front and clear about who you are and what you do. Listen to your own episodes. If you thought you were creating a history podcast but it really ended up being more about modern politics, change how you promote yourself. An audience exists for pretty much any topic, but if you don't know who you are and promote yourself correctly two things will happen: the people who want to find you won't be able to and the people who want the thing you promoted yourself as being will be upset when you don't meet their expectations.
Engage with Your Listeners Listeners are the lifeblood of the podcasting world. They speak to each other when you are not around and their conversations help your audience grow or cause it to retract. Sure, if you're a podcaster with an enormous company behind you or are an celebrity, it might be impossible or unnecessary to interact, but for new and independent podcasts interaction is incredibly important. Don't turn your nose up at that listener who drops you an email or tweets to you. To them you might be a star or an authority on your topic. Thank them for giving you their time by listening by giving them some of yours by responding. (A notable exception should be made for trolls and haters, which I spent some time on here.)
Avoid Music Mania It's hard not to appreciate a good theme song, but there is such a thing as too much music. Personally, I prefer theme music to be as short as possible on podcasts, but everyone's threshold is different. The thing is, people want to get to your content. Your content is what attracts them and what makes you sparkle, so err on the short side. Few people want to sit through more than 30 seconds of music every single episode before they hear their host speak. Set your tone and introduce your show, don't waste minutes because you like the tune or think you need to play the entire piece every time.
Remember Your Topic Tangents are going to happen. I know I've had them on Footnoting History, because sometimes you're talking about a topic and it makes you think of a film you want to suggest or that time you visited a relevant historical site, and that's cool. The key here is to never stray so far from your topic that things go completely off the rails -- and if you do, don't be afraid to edit it out. Just always keep in mind what your topic is for the episode because if you get all the way to the end and never touch on the points you said you would at the beginning, the listener's disappointment will be real.
Don't Ghost Take time off, it's okay. I've written before about how You Deserve a Break and I truly mean it. However, don't leave your listeners hanging. Mention the hiatus in your episode or on social media or in your newsletter. An informed audience is a happy audience and will wait for you to return. An abandoned audience might not be so understanding.
Edit. Edit. Edit. Those chewing sounds, lawn mower noises, and cackles of laughter from the other room, and dogs barking that you find endearing might not be so fun for people listening. Unless you're a podcast that very quickly establishes itself as centered around the unpredictable (like, perhaps, an improv comedy podcast or a live stream), it's probably best to cut out the sound of your phone ringing or your co-host burping before you release the episode.
Be Consistent Don't promise anything you can't deliver as you promised it, when you promise it. A one-off mistake or extenuating circumstance won't be a nail in the coffin of your podcast, but a track record of inconsistency should be avoided. You want listener loyalty, with so many other podcasts out there that respect their listeners, if you keep under delivering you'll soon find yourself alone while others pick up those who left you.
Don't Beg Reviews are awesome and making money is cool but there is such a thing as solicitation fatigue. I've come across more podcasts than I expected where the hosts come just short of outright demanding people contribute to their Ko-fi, join their Patreon, or leave them a review. A gentle reminder every so often is great, an aggressive and unrelenting campaign...not so much.
Stay Humble No one likes a braggart. Celebrate your milestones and cheer about your successes, but celebrate the milestones of others too and help them celebrate as well. No matter how successful you become, remember how you started out and keep a level head. Patronizing and condescension read over the air, through emails, and in tweets, so the best way to avoid being seen as a podcasting elitist is to not become one.
Embrace Positivity I am quite possibly the world's biggest pessimist and many of the topics I choose to cover in my episodes are dark and dismal, but I keep my personal negativity out of them. Naturally, if you are podcasting about mental health or host a general chat podcast this won't apply to you, but for people like me who podcast about a topic that is not strictly related to their personal life it is a good idea to remain cognizant of the trends in your tone. Down times happen to us all, and acknowledging them is not a bad idea, but if you produce continually depressing content you may notice people start to flee because podcasts are an entertainment medium and for many serve as a break from the negatives in their own life.
How do we sum this up in one phrase? Deliver what you promise and don't be a jerk. Simple, right? Happy podcasting!