Podcasting: where content marketing meets the earbuds

Main illustration: Nate Treme

You wouldn’t build a product that reaches users through just one interface or in only one context, so why limit content marketing to just one medium?

This was our thinking when we began publishing a companion podcast to this blog in the summer of 2015. A blog is an ideal channel when your audience is glued to a screen, actively looking for new information they can quickly read or scanning Twitter for headlines. But what about during a morning office commute? An evening run? A weekend break from the Monday-Friday grind of desk work?

There are other benefits to podcasting besides increased engagement:

  • Similar to YouTube and Medium, podcast platforms like Overcast, Stitcher and SoundCloud come with an established community seeking new content.
  • The free-flowing, long-form structure of a podcast allows for deeper exploration of themes and ideas you’re already writing about.
  • As opposed to spending days working through edits and revisions, a contributor simply slides behind the microphone and holds their end of a conversation. It’s low friction and less formal than a writing assignment.

Following a successful, six-month cupcake, we doubled down on podcasting last year by improving production quality, building small recording studios in our Dublin and San Francisco offices, and dedicating one of the team to the show’s editorial execution (that’s me).

We’ve produced nearly 60 Inside Intercom episodes to date – roughly 30 hours of audio content – and for the past six months have averaged more than 25k listens/month. Along the way we’ve learned our share of lessons (some harder than others). Here’s a quick look at some of the tactics that worked especially well and things we wish we’d known when starting our own program.

1. Design your MVP
Before making a meaningful monetary or manpower investment into the podcast, we committed to 10 episodes over two quarters to prove the concept. Would those reading our content become listeners in their free time? There were a lot of finicky Skype interviews and unconventional, unideal recording locations, but this allowed our team to work out the kinks in format, structure, run time, etc away from the microscope of a larger, newer audience. Our own blog was the primary driver for engagement, with longtime readers lending the show word of mouth and early feedback.

2. Find your format
Intercom products are all about conversations, and we used this as the foundation for our editorial direction. Each episode of Inside Intercom is a single conversation with someone whose work we admire in product management, marketing, design or support – key disciplines at internet businesses that might user our product. The aim is to unearth insights that help listeners build better products and businesses, something Intercom can help with too.

You’ll see a similar approach in other popular branded podcasts. Basecamp’s The Distance, for instance, tells the stories of small businesses that have survived the stress of time; Hubspot’s The Growth Show unpacks the way someone has achieved meaningful career or personal growth. They all connect back to their product, and appeal to those who might one day purchase it.

3. Lean on your networks
Often the quickest way to find and grow an audience is through well respected guests who have a large following of their own. But it’s hard to get big names to give you their time without a reputation that precedes you or tangible evidence that you’ll deliver a professional product. Ask everyone in the company to open their address book so you can find the best guests early. Try putting together a wish list for guests and circulating around the company to see who can make intros on your content team’s behalf. These early guests are invaluable for two main reasons:

  • They’re often willing to promote an episode to their own audience.
  • You can cite them in outreach to future guests.

4. Enlist a showrunner
As you scale to a regular publishing cadence (more on that below), there will be multiple episodes in various stages of production at once. Pinpoint a dedicated member of your team to manage the show. It’s this person’s responsibility to source stories or establish a guest pipeline, and to make sure each episode has complimentary yet nonrepetitive content. For us that means ensuring that every product manager isn’t dissecting roadmaps, or every designer isn’t getting quizzed about the limitations of chatbots.

They’re also the source of truth when it comes to what’s in our pipeline – which we manage and collaborate on using a basic Trello board.

5. Be prepared…
Similar to the way a magazine editor pre-reports a story before making an assignment, the majority of your prep time is spent researching a guest or subject matter long before any mics are turned on. If you’re producing an interview-centric show like ours, begin by reading, listening to or watching any media they’ve produced elsewhere, and use that info as a baseline for your own talking points. What follow-ups do you have? What’s changed since they last considered the topic? Which part of their take is contested elsewhere? These questions build a bridge from a guest’s established expertise to fresh, original content.

6. …But not scripted
Often guests are most comfortable seeing topics or questions in advance (some PR teams will require this), but it’s paramount to stress that no homework is necessary. An overly rehearsed guest can lead to a lack of interaction, robbing your host of spontaneous follow-up questions that unearth the most candid and insightful anecdotes. At worst, answers are read aloud, reminiscent of an impersonal teleprompter broadcast.

7. Establish a cadence
The average podcast listener engages with five shows a week and subscribes to six. To break through the noise and stay top of mind, you must establish a regular cadence that listeners can rely upon. Our podcast MVP episodes were released sporadically which made it hard to build momentum. When we began serving our audience regular touch points (first bi-weekly, then weekly), daily listenership improved at a much quicker rate.

growth in podcast listens

8. Find your listeners where they already are
Although most of our listens come through iTunes, listing your show their alone puts a ceiling on engagement. TuneIn, Pocket Casts, Overcast, Google Play, PodBean, Stitcher and more can send incremental traffic your way. Look at creating and sharing bite-size previews of your content across social media, rather than just links. To do this, we use a tool called Audiogram. Learn more here, or grab the code to try it yourself.

9. Stay evergreen
We’ve written at length about the value evergreen storytelling has brought to this blog, but the same principles apply for podcast content. 40-50% of our show’s monthly listens come from our growing back catalogue. Don’t give your content a short shelf life by building conversations around current events. An evergreen approach also offers you a chance to re-promote episodes when a story or guest finds their way into the spotlight.

Remember that podcasts are a very “top of funnel” marketing tactic. In many cases you’re introducing people to your brand for the very first time, and keeping tabs on when or how listeners engage with the rest of your marketing remains a challenge.

Earning the earbuds of listeners and building a back catalogue takes patience. But by creating content that engages and provides value, you have a rare chance to build awareness with an audience who might need your product down the line. The payoff compounds over time, and all the while, you get attention in situations where you’d otherwise be an afterthought.