Podcasters take on so many roles to get our shows made: writer, researcher, editor, interviewer, host, social media manager, web developer, designer, marketer. But one job that I don’t often see discussed is community management.
Community managers turn people with something in common into real communities and keep those communities healthy. They are what make tight-knit subreddits on Reddit different from diffuse hashtags on Twitter, creating the conditions for participants to organize, interact, contribute, and feel invested in their community. I don’t think any podcast active today has a dedicated community manager, and I suspect a lot of producers don’t even think about hiring one—but every single one of us could use one. Community, specificity, and strength of engagement are what make podcasts so special. We must devote time to our shows’ communities to help them grow.
Before you click away because you don’t have enough time to talk to fans, remember: word of mouth is the most powerful referral tool available to us. More than paid marketing, cross-promotion, guest appearances, and press mentions combined, the longest-lasting growth comes from listeners recommending your show to their friends. And the first step of increasing referral-driven growth is turning subscribers into members of your community. Here are some of the ways I have learned that help harness interest and enthusiasm in a podcast.
Twitter best practices
Let’s start with Twitter, which is a perfect place to forge real relationships with listeners and fellow creators. While community managers are not social media managers, they often use social media to strengthen communities. And the best way to build a community of your own starts with being a great citizen of existing ones. Build your audience by interacting with other podcasters: follow your peers on Twitter, participate in community conversations, and shout out work you admire.
You must give to your communities before asking for anything. Spirits, a podcast I co-host, regularly participated in discussions like #MythChatMonday, #FolkloreThursday, and #AudioDramaSunday before promoting our own work under those umbrellas. Join the Party, another show I co-produce, often (but not always) uses #dnd when sharing links or original content that we think fellow Dungeons & Dragons players will enjoy. Sharing your show might be the primary purpose of your web presence, but it can’t be the majority of your social media output. Share things besides your own show, things your audience would actually like to read, listen to, and participate in. Remember: reputations are harder to mend than to build.
These same principles of authenticity, generosity, and participation will help you cultivate your own community of listeners. Especially when your show is small enough that you can read every message listeners send you on social media, reply to them! Quote-tweet great responses and add your own commentary. This both rewards participatory listeners and models the kind of listener behavior you want to encourage. More on that below.
Submissions and sharing
Contributing to something is the fastest way to feel invested in it. Not every listener will be able to contribute money to your show, but everyone has a story to tell. Create opportunities for your listeners to contribute their stories and recommendations.
I love sharing the links and stories on social media that our smart, creative, funny listeners send us. It takes very little effort for us to share tweets, Facebook posts, and Tumblr asks, but it has a huge impact for the person that sent it. That sender will feel excited to hear back from you, flattered that you replied, and more invested in your community. Excited, invested listeners are the ones that recommend your show to friends, create fan works, buy merch, attend live shows, and show up.
We are lucky to have really highly engaged audiences for Spirits and Join the Party, and yet only 5-10% of each show’s subscriber base follows us on social media. The only place we can reach 100% of our audience is in our episodes, so we must think about how to build community using our show itself. Join the Party shouts out fan artists by name and recaps the stories and tips listeners post on social media in the mid-roll break of each episode. Spirits regularly publishes entire episodes where we hosts read listeners’ own spooky stories, and both shows thank every new Patreon supporter by name. Being recognized by someone whose work you admire is a powerful feeling. Challenge yourself to come up with ways to honor listeners while giving them the opportunity to contribute to a show they love.
Here’s an example of how we do this:
Even better, sharing (with permission) listener contributions allows other listeners to find and befriend one another. Creating opportunities for listeners to build relationships not only with you but with each other is another low-effort, high-impact way to enrich your community. How, you ask? Read on!
Discord, Slack, and chat rooms
Few things are better than talking to other fans of your favorite podcast—except maybe talking to the show’s creators! You can accomplish both for your community with Discord, Slack, and other chat rooms. With less than an hour of setup time you can create a space for listeners to discuss your podcast, make new friends, share photos of their pets, and recommend books and shows to each other. The more you participate the richer the experience will be for listeners. When you’re busy making your show or clocking in hours at your day job, your community will be entertaining one another.
You can choose to admit certain members of your community (ex: Patrons at a certain tier; donors to a crowdfunding campaign) or throw the door open to any and all. You have your choice of platforms: Discord is a free chat platform created for gamers that is fully integrated with Patreon that we use for Join the Party; Slack is widespread enough that your listeners may already know be using it; and Facebook Groups support events and multiple moderators. Whatever platform you use, chat rooms are a low-effort, high-value way to foster community around your podcast.
Podcasting is more than a decade old, but those are just pre-teen years when you compare the medium to TV, film, and terrestrial radio. We’re all figuring this out as we go along. So tell me: how are you building and managing your community? How are listeners contributing to your show? What tools and strategies are most successful for you?
Document your experience. Share your challenges, victories, and mistakes with your fellow podcasters. Give away for free what was costly for you to learn.
It’s up to us to make this weird, wonderful medium better and more accessible. I can’t wait to see what you contribute.