You just met someone new at a social event. Maybe it was a cookout, or your kid was at a birthday party and you had a great time talking with another parent. The conversation flowed, you got along and had overlapping interests and fun things to talk about. This might be a person who would be a great fit in your social circle, so you invite them to hang out with you and your friends.
Which of these two approaches might allow for that person you just met to have a better experience at the gathering?
A) Your new friend Kim shows up and your friends give her a slight nod but jump right back into stories. Jake tells about that time he and Kerri couldn’t unlock the car door, while Matt had to trek around in the woods looking for the key and fell in the mud — a funny story for those who were there or know the people involved. The evening continues with back references and inside jokes that Kim can’t or doesn’t feel comfortable participating in.
B) Your new friend Kim shows up and your old friends introduce themselves, giving her context about how they know you and try to include her by shaping the conversation so that it might be easier for her to participate.
I think the better way to introduce someone is B. Most podcasts use approach A.
Listeners need help knowing where to start
Shows like Serial, StartUp and Millennial are intended to be heard oldest episode to newest (one might say… serially) so that each new episode reveals additional information that builds on the last. I think we’ll see more shows like The Message and Limetown coming and it will be important that the first thing someone hears isn’t the last episode or finale. Take a look at how the Apple Podcasts app displays Serial, finale first. Spoiler alert…
Other shows that are more interview driven like Pop Culture Happy Hour, Fresh Air, Music Popcast and Bullseye with Jesse Thorn talk to authors, directors, musicians and actors who are on their PR tour. These are interviews with people who are talking about their recent book, movie or album so displaying and presenting more recent episodes to new listeners makes a ton of sense.
Another class of podcasts depend even more on recency, podcasts like the NPR Hourly News are out of date within the hour and podcasts like Anderson Cooper 360, BBC Global News or even sports focused podcasts like ESPN: Football Today benefit when listeners hear the most recent episodes.
Then there are shows like 99% Invisible, Love+Radio and Stuff You Missed in History Class are mostly individually digestible, where a listener can jump in right away to any episode. Even in those cases, some episodes are probably stronger than others and knowing that The Gruen Effect is a great way to start would help improve the experience for first-time listeners.
Other shows like HarmonTown, My Brother My Brother and Me and How Did This Get Made have so many back references that it can be hard to understand what is going on and why something is funny. These shows are better when you have developed a long term relationship with the hosts and characters. Recaps, trailers and summary episodes would really help new listeners catch up. Chris Rhoden here at RadioPublic reminded me “that The Adventure Zone did something like this — a supercut of the first episode that took a very long and complex 2 hours of content and turned them into 50 minutes”. Not quite the same thing as a two minute movie trailer… but a good start.
How might this be improved?
For starters, publishers could add better hints to podcast RSS feeds that would improve the experience for first time listeners. Ordering tags like <itunes:order/> exist but they can be misused and apps often deal with this by placing the burden on the podcast app user to figure out the sorting and ordering for each show, usually by the publish date.
Giving power to the user is fine and can work for people who are already listening and are more on the power user spectrum, but when someone who isn’t familiar with a podcast bumps into a show for the first time, they aren’t going to know that this podcast should be heard FIFO or LIFO and none of the existing RSS tags deal with the best of or recap/trailer situations. We can do better for the listener.
Apps like RadioPublic could provide a much better experience for listeners if publishers were to add these types of additions to the RSS they generate for their podcasters. We’ve been thinking about this for a long time and are working to create that better listening experience.
Are you a podcaster or publishing platform and interested in how we might make listening to your show better? Want to attract a larger audience? Please say hi. I’m firstname.lastname@example.org.