Professionalism in Podcasting (and Everywhere Else)
Podcasting, despite appearances, is very rarely a field where one works in complete isolation. It is true that at the beginning, especially if you are not working with a team, you may feel like you are completely on your own. But, if you stay with podcasting long enough you will inevitably cross paths with other podcasters. This could come in the form of anything from collaboration requests to encounters at conferences or through various social media platforms.
Just like in any other field, to grow your podcast, you will end up networking. However, with indie podcasting you tend to have more control over how you network than you might when employed by a larger company. No boss is going to tell you that you must go to this event or you must wine and dine that person, because you are your own boss. Regardless of your chosen method of interaction, you're going to want to put your best foot forward.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you begin interacting with your podcasting peers:
You are the embodiment of your podcast. No matter where you are, if people know you are a podcaster, you are going to be seen as a representative of your podcast. If it is listed in your social media bio or on your name tag, the people you talk to will have their impressions of you as a person in their mind the next time they encounter your work. If you use your podcast's social media account to chat with people, this is doubly true because every single time your comments pop up in someone's feed they will also be hit with your branding. To every person reading this, what counts as acceptable to say and do is going to be different, and that's okay. Just make sure you know what you want people to associate with your podcast through the way you present yourself both on and off the internet.
Do your research. If you are initiating contact, know who you're contacting. I can't tell you how many times we have gotten solicitation emails that begin "Dear Footnoting," and never once attempt to show that the writer has a clue who we are. Meanwhile, there is a full page of bios and titles on the Footnoting History website. We've also had people write to us proposing collaborations that don't have topics remotely aligned with what we do. We've had many great interactions that began with being cold contacted by other podcasters, but you are going to look better and have a higher chance of a positive response from someone if you show them you know who they are and are contacting them because their specific work appeals to you.
Be prepared. At first glance, this might appear the same as 'do your research', but I apply this specific point to a different aspect of podcasting. If you are being interviewed for a podcast or you are conducting an interview, or if you are giving any form of talk or having any kind of interaction that you know about ahead of time, show up ready to go. It is always better to be overly prepared than unprepared. If you're on a panel, your fellow panelists will appreciate it if you have your presentation planned and stick to your allotted time. If you know the topic you will talk about in an interview, prep on it beforehand and don't be afraid to have notes in front of you when you record. If you're conducting the interview, get to know a bit about the person behind the the other microphone before you talk to them. If you're ready to work, you're going to get a reputation for being a team player who cares about what you're doing and is a good asset to any project.
Be helpful. All podcasters were beginners once and even those who have been at it a long time will have a period of struggle. If you see someone struggling and you have the ability to offer them a figurative hand to pull them up, by all means do it. However, it should be noted, that a public correction or scolding is not really a great look except for in extreme cases, so take care before you start offering criticism unsolicited. Few people enjoy getting a "well, actually..." so always pause before you tweet and ask yourself if you are being helpful and whether or not giving an opinion, correction, or critique would be best expressed through private DM instead of on a public forum of any kind.
You don't have to like everyone. You will not like every other podcaster you encounter. You do not have to work with people you don't like. You do not have to be friends with people you don't like. At the same time, no one else is required to work with you. Keeping your distance is perfectly understandable.
Be courteous. "Please" and "thank you" can go a long way. So can "I'm sorry." If you're working with someone else and they expect something of you that you realize you cannot do, it does not make you appear weak to say "I'm sorry". It shows that you value the other person's time, made your best attempt to fulfill your end of the bargain, and regret causing any difficulty to their work. Complimentary to that, if someone is an excellent co-worker or colleague, or if they help you in some way, thank them. Let them know you appreciate them.
Remember others have value. Try to make sure that you give your peers the respect they deserve. Sometimes podcasters can get so obsessed with promoting themselves that they forget to share the love. Always do what you can to promote the people who have helped you or whose work you just happen to like. Leave the reviews you want others to leave for you. Spread the love.
Be honest. It is okay to admit you don't know something. It is okay to say you cannot do something. It is okay to tell your guest or the person interviewing you that you had a recording problem. It is okay to tell them that something went awry and the episode is going to be late or not air. It is okay to have to cancel an event or to ask for more time on a project. The people on the receiving end of whatever news you need to share with them will be infinitely more receptive and forgiving if you are completely honest with them about it from the start. It's harder to clean up a mess when everyone involved knows it could have been avoided with a bit of honesty at the beginning.
Be sincere. Quite simply, no one likes a faker. It's important to cultivate an image and a reputation, yes, but make sure that your image and reputation are genuine. People will be able to tell if you don't really care about them or if you preach things you don't do yourself. Even if you think you've fooled them, it will eventually come out.
Have fun. There is a lot of competition in the podcasting community, even from people who claim otherwise, but you shouldn't enter every interaction trying to weigh whose podcast is more important or more influential all the time. It's okay to just be friends with your peers. Laughing with people can foster community and no one will understand the unique struggles of being a podcaster like another podcaster. Entering into all your interactions with an open mind and a sense of humor will help you go far.
Podcasting can seem like an informal field. You can do it alone, in your house, while wearing pajamas, but there are real people behind it. It can be a good community or a bad one, depending on how you approach it. You don't need a suit and tie or a lot of money to be well-received by your peers, but a good attitude and a clear vision of how you want to be treated that guides how you treat others will set you on the path toward building a network of friends and contacts that you won't regret making.