Your guests are an opportunity for audience growth, part 1

This is part one of a two-part series. We delve into pre-publication production in this first article, and the second covers post-publication plans.

This duo of articles is part of a series on how podcasters can use RadioPublic to grow audience and engagement for their shows. Check out the rest of the series here.

If you’re a podcaster who frequently features voices other than your own on the show, awesome! As you may have learned already, guests are a great way to bring new perspectives to your show, and it’s also an opportunity to bring new listeners, too. As such, I decided to bring in some new voices into this article: I spoke with nearly a dozen podcasters to learn more about how they prepare for guests on their show and how they think about their guests as a way to grow their audience.

There’s an estimated 180 million people in the US aware of the term “podcast,” an estimated 124 million have ever listened to a podcast, and an estimated 48 million listening weekly – between all those numbers there’s a gap between those who know the word and those who know what actions to take when they hear “listen to a podcast.” I’d posit that between Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and the 18.5 million episodes (and counting) out in the world, it’s quite likely that if you’re in the US or another English-speaking country, you know someone who has been on a podcast before.

Did you know that they were on? Probably not. But that’s okay: we’re here to provide some guidance on how a guest can help your show go beyond your existing audience.

How to navigate reaching a new audience through a new guest

A gracefully executed ask will acknowledge the delicate balance of who is doing what to help who when it comes to being a guest on a show: you don’t want to ask too much of their time, yet you also want to make sure to properly encourage each other’s audiences toward one another as appropriate–without feeling too horn-tooting self-promotional on either side of the equation. A guest on your podcast will, by default, reach the existing audience of listeners you have simply by being on the show, and we’re here to help you make sure their audience can become podcast listeners, too.

Public relations folks and podcasters who have guested on other shows are quick to say that the best way to reach a new audience is to borrow someone else’s. While I would generally agree with this approach, I also see, over and over again, two points of oversight:

  1. This cross-pollination through guesting on another show goes both ways. Even if the assumed reach of one show is much larger than the other, you never know if someone knows about the other unless you explicitly tell them about the guesting experience. It’s far more likely that a small time podcaster angles to get in front of a big time podcaster’s audience than the verso, but given the millions of people who will listen to their first podcast this year, consider that a small, slowly developing show of someone close to the show’s creator will, in fact, be their first entry point into podcasts.
  2. Being a guest on someone else’s show does not mean that their audience knows how to become a fan of your thing, and assuming that’s obvious is a missed opportunity.

This guide serves as an outline of steps before, during, and after you ask a guest to join the show to best prepare your podcast and your guest for bringing new listeners to your podcast – and to podcasting in general.

Before the guest joins your show, some things for a host to think about:

A guest’s motivation to be on your show might also determine how you can help reach each other’s audience. Whether they’re building their personal brand, passionately nerding out about their personal or professional area of expertise, hoping to bring new ears to a narrative or experience heard about less often, or simply interested in talking with someone who cares to listen, any and all of these drivers can help you figure out how to best connect their appearance on your show with the listeners who would like to hear it.

As you’re initially reaching out to a potential guest, consider:

How will a guest feature in this episode?

Tara Anderson from Five Things notes that because of her show’s interview structure–in which a guest shares five personally significant items as symbolic of who they are–the preparation for the interview is important. Without these five items, there’s no interview, which means the pre-interview due diligence is vital. Related: rarely are episodes of Five Things time-sensitive, so show notes and accompanying articles are more likely to feature longer-term links to work or projects than an upcoming event.

A more free-form conversation like Higher Ed Social still includes some additional behind-the-scenes preparation, according to co-host Jackie Vetrano. Part of preparing a higher ed guest for the show is learning where a guest lives online as well as what’s happening on their campus, so at the pre-interview stage Jackie and her co-host Lougan Bishop are already collecting reference points for their show notes and accompanying article.

For a more reported episode, a guest adds something different depending on the style of a story. James T. Green from The Outline World Dispatch identifies three approaches for a daily podcast:

  1. The supplementary interview style asks questions to expand on a written piece published on The Outline, using clips from the reporting to supplement their facts, as shown in How a queer fabulism came to dominate contemporary women’s writing (for this style, a guest supplies the audio and has their notes handy before coming on the show)
  2. A straight narrative style begins with a written piece that’s edited to be radio-friendly, supplemented with recorded narration, such as Sex workers protest a post-Backpage world (for this one, a guest is asked to look over narration before coming on the show)
  3. An experiential piece will utilize field recordings and archival from reporting, such as A glimpse into Autism Day at Six Flags (for this style, a guest comes in ready to talk with the host)

And depending on a guest’s involvement with The Outline, links to their online homes will be included in the show notes and accompanying article.

What will enhance an episode for a listener?

For a show like For Keeps, a podcast about collections and connections, photographs are a key part of enhancing an interview. Host David Peterkofsky will include a link to a previously published article on the guest’s collection to verify what’s in a collection, as he doesn’t travel to do his reporting, and whenever possible, he’ll link to a guest’s website, Twitter, or another online presence.

Does your guest know what a podcast is?

Tara from Five Things also said that in many cases, she’s interviewing people who have never heard of podcasts, so it’s likely their episode of her show will be the first one they’ll ever listen to. She’s even gone as far as subscribing someone to the show in person in the past. David from For Keeps also notes that sending over a previous episode of the show helps a guest learn more about your show and listen so they acclimate your style.

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Who does your guest consider to be a part of their community?

Scientists Dan Quintana and James Heathers from Everything Hertz are building relationships with other scientists all the time on Twitter, and more often than not, their potential guests have engaged audiences on social media. This informs the show’s decision to do much of their promotion on social media, including creating social media specific audio clips as show teasers.

Where does your guest live online (and off)?

Ask a guest for their website, preferred social media accounts, or other online homes for them so you can include resources in the show notes or in the accompanying article on your website helps a listener learn more if they are interested. Asking is not only a way to learn what’s most important to a guest, it’s a respectful approach. As Svea Vikander from Art Crush (podcast coming soon!) notes: it confirms that the links you include are the ones that are best representative of themselves and their work without bringing up information they don’t want affiliated with the show.

Production time:

Realistically, it’s unlikely that you’ll have time to do anything but actively listen as you record the show, so consider some of these tips during the pre-publication production process:

  • As you edit, note any outside references they make to their work during your conversation and include links in your show notes. You can even build in these opportunities into the structure of your podcast, as Mike Schubert from Potterless does: at the end of the episode he turns over the floor to his guest to plug whatever they want, and he’ll add that to the show notes.
  • As you’re writing your show notes and/or an accompanying article, revisit the above question of “Who does your guest consider to be a part of their community?” With that audience in mind, what additional knowledge would be useful supplements to your conversation? This shouldn’t necessarily affect how you make your episode, but your show notes are another venue for new listeners to feel at home when they reach your show for the first time through your guest.
  • As you prepare your accompanying article or website update complete with an embed player, include a short explanatory section on how to listen to the podcast, either at the end of the article or the website footer. Consider that this particular link might be the first introduction someone has to your podcast, or to podcasting in general, and making it easy for them to listen for the first time is a small win now and a big win for future listening. (We’ll provide a guide on how to create a how to listen section in part two of this series.)
  • Consider what publications are relevant to this guest, including but not limited to industry publications, blogs, or a local newspaper. As you update your press kit/release to pitch this episode, include the collected website and online homes of your guest along with the link to the episode on your website and the embed code for this episode.

Y’all still with us? Great. We’re going to pause here to let you chew on all of this, and then you can ease into part two where you get to put all these audience growth tips into action once an episode is published.

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