As far as I can tell, podcast audiences only come in two sizes: enormous and tiny. Heavy-hitters like This American Life and Serial are polished, professional, and aimed at the widest possible audience. The folks behind these shows are radio professionals making professional radio–they just happen to be releasing the shows online.
Most podcasts, though, live in the long tail. They appeal to a small audience of hardcore listeners who are really into the topic. A show like S-Town uses top-notch storytelling, editing, and production values to get you interested in a little town in Alabama that you otherwise wouldn’t care about. A show like the 1980s Movie Graveyard, on the other hand, doesn’t have to make you care. Only people who are really into the topic bother to subscribe in the first place.
I host a podcast called Department 12: An IO Psych Podcast that lives in the longest of the long tails. My audience is composed almost exclusively of industrial/organizational psychologists and IO psychology students. I get about 0.0002% of the weekly audience of This American Life. So why do I bother?
It’s not because the podcast makes money. It doesn’t. I actually lose money on it. At some point, I may break even, but I’m not counting on it.
It’s not because it raises my professional profile. It doesn’t. On a show like mine, the host is there to help the guest sound good, so I’m usually playing dumb. I don’t think my on-air persona would impress any potential employers.
So, again, why bother?
For one thing, hosting the podcast means I get to talk to interesting people in my field. I only know a small handful of IO psychologists in my “real life,” but hosting the show gives me an opportunity to connect with a lot more.
Aside from the guests, I also get to talk to the audience. Because it’s such a micro-niche show, it has a small audience, but they’re all people who care about the same things I care about. Hearing from them on Twitter and here on LinkedIn is pretty great.
Another advantage of the show is that I get to promote the careers of guests. One of my guests, for example, wrote a book called Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders. It’s damn good. If being on my show helped Bill Gentry sell a few more copies of that book, that’s something I can be proud of.
Finally, the show helps create a sense of community in my profession. Yes, we have professional associations and conferences, but the podcast meets a need that isn’t met by journal articles and poster presentations. It’s a forum for IO nerds to talk to other IO nerds. We can be more conversational than if we’re submitting something for peer review, but we also don’t have to worry about making everything accessible for non-IO nerds.
If any of that sounds appealing to you, give podcasting a try. It costs a bit of money, but probably not as much as you’re imagining. If you don’t have a “radio voice,” that’s good. The audience for these shows doesn’t want slick. They want content. If you don’t have content, even better. Get some guests on Skype and they’ll give you the content.
If you have questions about podcasting, connect with me here on LinkedIn or comment below and I’ll do my best to help out. You can find my show here or oniTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.