Podcasting seems to be popular again. I don’t know if it ever wasn’t popular but it seems like more and more marketers are talking about it. I’ve been podcasting since 2006, with my longest running show, Stuttering is Cool, still going strong. So, I thought I’d share my audio podcasting best practices. In no particular order…
1. Content is still, and always has been, king
Just like blogging, choose a topic you’re passionate in and run with it. Just like blogging, it’s no use to wonder if anyone would listen to what you have to say. Give it a try and see where your show goes. But you must offer something of quality. And like blogging, it can be about your day, your favourite movies, the line of work your in, or… well, like I said, whatever you’re passionate in!
2. Audio podcasting is the most intimate medium
Years ago I’ve had the pleasure of attending a podcasting workshop by Tod Maffin who worked in radio. He mentioned how the headphone, or ear bud, is physically right next to us. Touching our ears. Video can’t do that. Blogs can’t do that. Hence why Tod also advised that in you shouldn’t address your audience in the plural form in your shows. For example, instead of saying “Hello everybody!”, you should instead address it as if you were speaking to one person. “Hello! I hope you are doing well”. Or something to that nature. Instead of “I’d love to receive feedback from everyone”, you should say “I’d like to hear from you”.
Why? Podcasting is not traditional radio that is one-way. Just like blogging, it’s a two-way medium. Listeners can send in their own audio which you can play on a future episode. Your audience member can also engage with you on your show’s website, Twitter feed, Facebook, etc. Yup, just like blogging, you can engage with your audience across social networks.
3. Respond to incoming email
Unlike traditional radio, your show has a human face. Not a gigantic brand behind it. Our smaller audience allows us to reply to listener email personally. I’ve made many friends and met influencers this way over the years. I’ve also engaged with them on Twitter, Facebook groups, good old web 1.0 forums, and other social networks. It’s also a great way to grow your audience, find new topics to talk about, and find new people to interview.
4. No need for slick production
Just like blogging and home made videos posted on YouTube, podcasting is most engaging with an informal tone. There’s no need to rent a studio or even buy equipment costing hundreds of dollars. In fact, before I bought a pretty good, not-so-expensive microphone, for years I’ve used my iPhone voice memo app to record in-the-field segments and a cheap Skype headset to record interviews. I’ve always been complimented on how great my audio sounds!
While listeners are forgiving with sound quality, don’t go too far down the quality scale.
Some of my podcaster friends use a mixing board. Others like myself use audio mixing software like Audacity (it’s free!) while others use apps like BossJock to do all the mixing and uploading right on their mobile device! Some prefer a professional set up while others, like I did – just use their smartphones.
5. Get a website
This can be a WordPress.com one, Blogger, Blogspot, or your own hosting. If you just don’t want to get a website, you can always get an account on SoundCloud or Libsyn but having a website is ideal. It lets people (and search engines) find you.
Make sure your website has an RSS feed so iTunes and similar software and sites like Stitcher and TuneIn can be used by listeners to subscribe.
6. Get a Feedburner feed
Speaking of RSS feeds, it’s best to use something like Feedburner. You enter your RSS feed url into it and get something like a vanity url. This way, if you ever need to change your domain, you won’t have to go to the trouble of informing your audience to update their feeds. Especially if you plan on using a free service like WordPress.com then later decide to host your own domain.
7. Provide a transcript
A transcript is a great way to generate SEO and also include listeners with special needs. Though I’ve struggled with this one on my podcast since I have a lot to say on my shows and it takes time to transcribe audio and post it. There are programs out there that can transcribe for you but they usually come at a high cost and from the reviews I’ve read, they aren’t that perfect.
8. Include show notes
Show notes are good for SEO and, obviously, they let your audience know what to expect. Be specific and try to avoid fancy headlines.
9. Keep episodes to a reasonable length
Unless your content is that interesting, try not to go over an hour. In fact, I try to keep my episodes under 30 minutes. But sometimes I go over by 5 or 10 minutes. It’s not a big deal. Sure listeners can pause your show and return to it whenever they can, but it can be a chore to do so. Listeners may also have other podcasts to listen to. Many are an hour long. You wouldn’t want to risk losing your audience in the noise of other podcasts.
10. Try to keep off topic intros at a minimum
One of my pet peeves of group podcasts. Yes, your listeners can fast forward over your 15 minute off topic banter before you finally get into the topic of the show, but sometimes listeners can’t. What if they’re listening while driving? Though at the same time, off topic banter is engaging to listeners as they want to know about your day. My advice is to try not to overdo it.
11. Get a wind guard and watch out for dry mouth syndrome
Don’t talk too close to your mic or smartphone or else you will be very muffled or annoy your listeners with really pronounced Ps. And if you’re like me who gets dry mouth after talking for a while, drink lots of water (be sure to aim away from the mic when drinking or pause the recording if you can). Also avoid eating or drinking dairy before recording as it causes dry mouth. Actually, avoid recording right after a meal so no spontaneous stomach noises creep up!
12. Edit mindfully
If you need to edit things out of an interview, make sure you don’t end up making the person you interviewed sound like a jerk. It’s amazing how much a sentence or context of a conversation can change with one word edited out. If there’s a glitch of some sort that does change things for the worse when it’s edited out, I prefer to keep it in. Listeners are forgiving about production quality.
13. Ensure audio levels of background music isn’t too high or too low
It can be quite tricky to ensure background music isn’t drowning out my voice or that of the person I’m interviewing, or the music isn’t too low. Both scenarios are distracting to the listener. Many times I’ve ensured levels are ok only to find the opposite upon later listening and posting! I’ve searched for a formula over the years and it seems there isn’t one. Just keep trying and you’ll pick it up.
I use the audio waveform as a guide. Also, not all pieces of music make good background audio. Sometimes an instrument here or there drowns out the human voice.
14. Have fun!
No explanation needed here.
I have many, many more best practices but these are my top ones. Maybe I’ll write a follow-up post with the rest. Your turn. What are your podcasting tips?
Photo credit: Christopher Penn, one of the earliest podcasters. He also co-founded PodCamp with Chris Brogan. Ahhh those were the days. I entered the podcasting community in early 2007 and made so many great friends. Some of them have made quite a big name for themselves! Our little community would meet at least once a year, sometimes three or more, in different cities to share podcasting tips, best practices, and well hang out! Some of the people in the photo are also from CBC Radio. We sure kept great company! I’m the one in the green shirt on the right with the camera strap, smiling at the camera, slightly out of focus.