So, You Want to Grow Your Podcast?

You finally went out and started that podcast you’ve been dreaming about – congratulations! You did the work and now your content is being streamed and downloaded by your listeners. But how many listeners do you really have, and how do you get more of them?

It’s a question that every single podcaster finds themselves asking at one point or another. And if you just go by the data available to you, you might have a hard time answering it. Because at the end of the day, your number of downloads doesn’t tell you:

  • Who’s listening to your show and why?
  • How did they find out about your show?
  • Do they listen to your show regularly, or just occasionally?
  • What could you be doing to attract more listeners like them?


What Downloads Are (and Aren’t)

It may sound controversial but at the end of the day, downloads are just a number. By definition, a download is essentially just a statistic that a server counts any time it receives a request for the file. Depending on how a podcast player works, it may pull that file every time your podcast plays, or it may not count it at all because the file is being streamed.

So why is this stat the standard for the industry if it’s so inaccurate? Advertisers have been wondering the same thing for at least a decade now, but the simple answer is that podcasts are audio files hosted from a server and provided to listeners via an RSS Feed that was originally released in version 2.0 in 2003… and hasn’t had much innovation ever since. The latest version of RSS is 2.0.11, which was released on March 30th, 2009… Almost 13 years ago as of the recording of this podcast. While other code has dramatically improved our ability to track user data and app engagement, the plucky RSS Feed remains the heart of Podcast distribution.

Of course, what counts as a download could be… anyone or anything without some sort of vetting practice. While the Interactive Advertising Bureau, or IAB has a very stringent process for filtering and vetting files to determine what downloads are real and not, that still leaves us with just a number.


Spotify & Apple’s Listener Data

Surely, the two largest podcast platforms can be of some help here, right? Well, technically they could… but as of today, the data they provide podcasters about their listeners might confuse you more than it helps.

Both Apple and Spotify have a narrower listener data point than just downloads based on user data collected through their apps. Apple calls these users Engaged Listeners, and Spotify calls them “Listeners,” which is a term not to be confused with IAB’s definition of “Listeners.”

Spotify defines “listeners” as the number of unique Spotify users who at least start one episode of your podcast. 

Apple defines “engaged listeners” as a unique device that plays more than 20 minutes (or 40%) of a podcast episode within a single session. 

So Spotify is counting users (even if they click play by mistake) as listeners, and Apple is counting devices as listeners (so long as they listen for long enough). As for which one is more accurate? Well, as complicated as trying to answer that question is, by a narrow margin we’d have to say Spotify. But it’s still not enough information for you to make informed decisions about your podcast. 


The Simple Way to Grow Your Podcast

Luckily, there is a simple way to identify who’s listening to your podcast and get feedback on how they found you and what they like about the show. The even better news? You already have it, and it’s completely free. 

If you have a podcast people are listening to, we have to assume that you’re promoting the show somewhere (hopefully everywhere!). And when you promote the show, you probably have people who are devoted to liking, commenting, and sharing what you produce. Maybe you have a few of these people, maybe you have a lot. Either way, the key is creating more of them. 

These people are what we would call True Fans. A True Fan is someone who shares your content, buys your merch, listens to every episode… you get the idea. Here’s a little-known fact about success in content creation: you don’t need a million listeners to be successful in podcasting. You just need 1,000 true fans

True Fans create organic growth, give meaningful feedback, and are the listeners most likely to convert to revenue on a regular basis. So how do you get more of them? Well, you create them. 

See, up to now, you’ve probably gotten at least a little lucky. Your content found the right audience and it resonated with these people so much that they became True Fans without any involvement from you. That’s amazing! But you don’t have to wait for that to keep happening. If you understand a concept called The Listener Lifecycle, you can actually understand where each member of your audience is in their journey to becoming a True Fan and help speed up the process. 

The focus of this lifecycle is on long-term organic growth. These practices are the baseline for having a solid podcast, good marketing, and an engaged audience. It is not for a quick-hit “get ranked in the top 100 in your first week” type of campaign; however, when properly utilized it will help ensure that once you hit the top 100 of your target category, you stay there.


The Listener Lifecycle

The Listener Lifecycle is made up of five key segments: Curious, Explorer, Follower, Subscriber, and True Fan.

Even though True Fan is the end state we want our listeners to reach, we’ll start this explanation there because they often play a big role in creating more people at the beginning of their lifecycle. Let’s say your friend Brad is a True Fan of the show you’re doing. Brad shares it with his audience, and 10 people in that audience click the link and go to your website. These are people who are Curious about your show. 

Next, a fraction of those Curious people will browse the website or listen to the trailer. They might go listen to an episode… maybe two or three. This exploratory phase is what we’d call an Explorer. They’re more than curious: they’re actively listening. But they’re not committed. 

If Explorers really like your show, they’ll click the “Follow” button. Once they make that commitment to ongoing listening on their player of choice, they become a Follower of your show. It’s in this phase that we’re right on the edge of knowing WHO is in your audience, and it’s also important to note that Followers still need to be consistently engaged. Just because they clicked “Follow” once, doesn’t mean they’ll ever come back to listen again. Good marketing and promotion is key to keeping them actively engaged.

Finally, we have True Fans. These aren’t just people who follow your show on Twitter, these are listeners you know by name. Like Brad! You know them because they post or share your content with every new episode. They’re the first ones to respond to your live show saying that, yes, they’ll be there and, yes, you’d better believe they got the VIP tickets to make sure they can see you in person. They care about the content you’re creating, and they share it widely; so it’s important that you don’t just think of these people as a loud minority of your show. They’re the people who care and can help you build your brand, and they ultimately get people curious about your show; continuing the cycle that started with a post from Brad.


How to Use this Information

We’ll be taking you step by step through each phase of The Listener Lifecycle, detailing exactly how to move each listener from one stage to the next so you’ll be at 1,000 True Fans in no time! Stay tuned here on the blog, or subscribe to The Humble Podcaster wherever you listen to podcasts because this season is focused solely on how to grow your podcast through The Listener Lifecycle. New episodes come out biweekly on Thursdays!