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Some Facts which can help in building a successful Podcast

written by Stefaan Lesage on 17/02/2009

The previous article focused on a few myths which I hear frequently when talking about podcasting, but in this article I will be focusing on a few facts about podcasting.

Although everyone can produce a podcast, it might require a while before you finally found out how to create a successful podcast which retain it's audience and possibly even grow. The facts mentioned in this article might help you in your quest to reach that goal.

Facts

Content is King !

Podcasting isn't any different to all other forms of media in that aspect. Good content is what will make or break a podcast. I could easily create a podcast about my cat and use different episodes to mention how it eats, sleeps, runs around and other things. This might be interesting to me and my family, but it won't have a lot of appeal to everyone else. It's almost certain that this podcast will never see big download numbers, and probably would fade away.

On the other hand if I would create a podcast about Pets in general, and how to take care for them, what food is best for them, what toys and other accessories are available on the market, .. that would be a completely different podcast. This podcast might be appealing to a lot more people, and there are even some possibilities to commercialize it.

Choose a Format

Once you have chose the topic of your podcast and have a good idea about the content you will be publishing, it is time to decide on the format. The format is actually the way you will be presenting your message to your audience. Deciding on the format or structure will allow you to create a production workflow, which will in turn reduce the time you need to produce a new show.

Wether you are producing an Audio or a Video podcast, there are many formats you could use to structure it. The list I have supplied here isn't a complete list of possible formats, but just a small collection of the different formats used in podcasts I'm subscribed to. For each format used, I will try to include at least one example of a podcast which is produced using that format.

Single Host Podcast

This is one of the most popular formats used by people who are starting a new podcast, and that is because you do not need anyone else to record it. As an individual this might be a good option, because you can record it whenever you have the time to do it. It is also one of the cheapest formats you can use, since it will only require one microphone and a simple recording setup. It might be hard to produce entertaining shows for a longer periou, but it can be done.

A good example of a Single Host Podcast is the Tips from the Topfloor podcast, hosted and produced by international photographer, videographer, photography instructor, blogger, an new media producer Chris Marquardt. Chris brings us well thought-out and interesting topics on everything related to photography for novices, beginner as well as professional photographers.

The Tips from the Topfloor podcast is also one of the best examples I've seen of a podcast which uses a mixture of different formats. Most of the episodes are Single Host audio podcasts, but from time to time he also brings us some Video episodes.

Interview

A second well know format is the Interview Podcast, where podcasters are interviewing other podcasters, members of their industry or even some well known person. It used to be a very well known format in traditional radio, and thus it is logic that it is commonly used in podcasting as well. The topic of the interview could be anything, wether you are interviewing a company about a new product or service they will be launching, interviewing experts in your field, or just want to interview colleagues.

This type of podcast does require a bit more work though. You will have to schedule the interview and prepare some questions you can ask, and might need some time to research a few things prior to asking your questions. Will you be interviewing over the phone ? Or do you prefer a personal approach ? Either way, you will also need to thing about the equipment you will need for the recording.

A good example of a relatively new podcast is the Mac 20 Questions podcast, in which David Allen has a chat with fellow Macintosh users based on a set of 20 questions.

Roundtable Discussions

A Roundtable discussion is more like an informal conversation on a topic with a group of qualified experts. It is the perfect format to get different opinions on a specific topic; which in turn will keep the discussion interesting and appealing to the audience. The goal here isn't to give every person an equal amount of 'air' time, but rather to produce a spontaneous conversation among friends or colleagues. It is a good idea though to have one person moderating the discussion to ensure that it stays on topic.

There are many different examples for a Roundtable Discussion format, but This Week in Photography is one of my favorites here. Each episode has typically 3 or 4 well known photographers (or important members of the photography industry) discussing different topics. When listening to an episode you might get the impression that a group of friends just gathered together and started a discussion. Although the podcast is sometimes very funny to listen to, it still remains very informative as well.

Screencasts

The previous formats can be used when creating an audio podcasts, but they could also be used in a Video Podcast. Another very popular format for a more educational type of podcast is what we call a screencast. This is acutally a video recording of a computer screen in which someone narrates or guides you through a specific process. Screencasts can be very helpful when demonstrating or teaching someone how to use specific features of an application.

There are plenty of screencasts available on the internet for many different applications, some are very professional, and others a bit less. Some examples here are ScreenCastsOnline in which Don McAllister brings us a new Macintosh Video Tutorial on a weekly basis. Another screencast type of podcast I'm enjoying a lot is the PhotoWalkthrough podcast produced by John Arnold. And whenever I have some spare time left, I am producing my own podcast which brings ScreenCast type of tutorials for the Dutch Macintosh Community which is called the iTutor Podcast

Plan ahead and stick to a publishing frequency

It is important to plan ahead of time and choose a specific publishing frequency. It doesn't matter how often you publish a new episode of you podcast. It could be on a weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly base, but what's important is : once you have chosen a publishing frequency, stick to it !

One of my early attempts at podcasting was a video podcast aimed at the Hiking community here in Belgium. Nothing special actually, just a little video of some footage I shot on a few organized walks here in Belgium. It had a rather small audience when it started, but as I delivered a new episode each month it started to grow a bit. It didn't last long before the audience was twice as big. At some point I couldn't keep up with the publishing scheme and the number of downloads quickly dropped back to around 1/4 of the audience I previously had.

Building a relationship with your audience is important !

A big part of a successful podcast is actually building a relationship with your listeners or viewers. Producing good content is one thing, but you need to get the word out and start building up your audience. It is as important for you to communicate with your audience as it is for your audience to be able to communicate with you ! It is a good idea to have a website for your podcast, and a blog is interesting because it allows your audience to give feedback and comments on your podcast.

It might take a while to build up your audience, but as your audience grows you will be able to build up a relationship with them. They might start to consider you as someone they can trust on that specific topic, and is what might bring other people to your podcast.

The most important thing to remember here is that it might be tough to start building up your audience, but it is even harder to regain their trust once they left your podcast !

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The main and most powerful advantage podcasts have over traditional media is actually the relationship you can build with your audience.

Because we're not over paid superstars we can interact one to one with the viewers and listeners that get in touch with us. I urge all podcasters to take every opportunity they get to make themselves available to the audience and to build a community around the show where listeners talk to one another as well as the show hosts.

Also consider bringing the audience into the show with listener questions and comments where it makes sense to do so. You'll not only give people a feeling that they're part of the show but you'll also be delivering tailored content that is *exactly* what the audience want to hear.

— John Arnold - PhotoWalkthrough

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