How to make a successful podcast

Tips on planning, gear, marketing and measurement

You can make a podcast about anything – if you do it well. Linda Hoang (Radio and Television – Television ’11) has proof.

Since January 2020, she has produced Here’s What I Think with her husband, Mike Brown (Radio and Television – Radio ’11, Plumber ’16). Listeners write in seeking life, career and relationship advice, and Hoang and Brown passionately argue their way to often conflicting conclusions. It’s thoughtful in a stream-of-consciousness way, and relentlessly funny.

But Hoang has another show that, in contrast to the former, serves a strictly defined niche. In 2017, she co-founded Don’t Call me a Guru, a monthly, insightful exploration of social media strategy (Hoang’s specialty), and it’s meant to showcase her expertise. That the two podcasts differ so much in approach and style shows how much consideration she’s given to using the medium successfully.

If we don’t all have a book in us these days, as the saying goes, do we have a podcast instead? For anyone with something to say, a topic to explore, or who’s keen on a new way to connect with the world, we asked Hoang how to make DIY broadcasting sound like the work of a pro.

Step 1: Set clear goals

“Figure out, before you start, why you want to start,” says Hoang. With Don't Call me a Guru, she wanted a platform to help establish herself as an industry leader. Rather than build a massive audience, she set out first to build credibility. That goal was essential to shaping her approach to formatting the podcast.

Step 2: Choose an approach

Given that Don't Call me a Guru aims to add to an ongoing conversation about an industry, episodes tend to focus on single topics and run as long as an hour. And, to expand the body of knowledge behind that industry, those episodes also involve industry guests, interviewed by Hoang.

But, she adds, “you can really go so many different ways.” You can partner up if the point is to debate people’s problems or other issues. Or go solo. True crime podcasts, which Hoang likes, often have one host who enhances a narrative with audio clips. A single person may struggle to hold listeners’ attention, Hoang warns, but, “if you think you have enough to say, go for it.”

Step 3: Know who you’re talking to

“You have to think about who your audience will be,” says Hoang. “Most podcasts start with the idea of a local audience.”

“If you try to talk to everyone, you talk to no one.”

While Don't Call me a Guru considers Edmonton its primary territory, Hoang is mindful that topics may have broader reach, such as an episode about the role of social media in the video game industry, which attracted listeners from as far away as Europe. Nevertheless, she strictly adheres to an old marketing adage: “If you try to talk to everyone, you talk to no one.”

Step 4: Get gear and get online

Getting online doesn’t have to be expensive, but cheaping out may come with a cost. “You can just use a phone to record a podcast,” says Hoang, and produce it using apps. But people won’t listen if the sound quality is poor, she cautions.

Some libraries have sound recording booths (NAIT has two, for students and staff), though scheduling them may be challenging. In that case, “it’s worth investing in equipment.” There are microphones to suit a range of needs, experience and budgets, as well as audio interfaces to connect them to your computer. The same goes for editing software and apps (Hoang uses Adobe Audition to make Here's What I Think, but Don't Call me a Guru is recorded in NAIT studios).

Once you have a file ready to post, you’ll need a place to post it. Hoang used Soundcloud for Don't Call me a Guru, but moved to Podbean for Here’s What I Think to take advantage of more robust analytics reporting. Expect to pay a fee for those numbers, and often to upload past a free trial period.

Step 4: Tell the world

“Most of the time, people who start a podcast hope that others will listen,” says Hoang with a laugh. That may sound like it needn’t be said, but it takes effort to get attention. As of April 2020, had counted more than 1 million podcasts and 28 million episodes.

Sharing links on social media is part of the strategy. Getting guests to share them is another. But those are small parts.

Be warned: This is a lot of work.

Hoang also tries to hook listeners who search for terms related to her podcast topics. Since this requires writing rather than audio, Don't Call me a Guru also exists as a website. Each episode is a page with a title comprising clear keywords and common search phrases. Be warned: This is a lot of work.

“It comes down to how much you want to push it,” says Hoang. “There’s a lot more that I could do with my own podcast, but it’s exhausting.”

Step 5: Measure your success

If you’re serious about your podcast, you’ll chart downloads and listens (this is where the extra money for a good hosting platform proves worthwhile). If you have a site associated with the episodes, you can monitor web traffic, too. Typically, says Hoang, if you’re not a celebrity, you could consider 100 listens to be a pretty good day behind the mike.

Another measure of success is feedback, she says. “Are you getting messages? Are you getting comments? Are you getting reviews?”

Of course, deciding whether the effort is worth it can be simpler. Hoang knows that not everyone will be trying to drive business, as she does with Don't Call me a Guru, or to rack up an audience, as is part of the aspiration for Here’s What I Think.

“Your measure of success is that you wanted to record five to 10 episodes and you’ve done it,” she says. “You can feel good about that.”

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