Podcasting: Many see it as an amazing opportunity but don’t really understand the nuts and bolts of how to begin, how it compares to other marketing channels, and how to evaluate your ROI. Today we’re going to change all that by having a great discussion with Sarah Rhea Werner, the host of the Write Now podcast. As a columnist for Forbes on the topic of podcasting, she’s definitely an authority on the topic. If you’ve ever considered podcasting, you won’t want to miss today’s episode!
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- How and why Sarah got into podcasting.
- The types of opportunities Sarah has had since starting podcasting that blogging wasn’t bringing her.
- Audience-building advice for marketing teams and companies.
- Why it’s so important to create your podcast based on what your listeners like.
- Tips on striking a balance between providing value and marketing yourself through your podcast.
- Why it’s important to make sure any selling that you do on your podcast is delightful, interesting, and fun.
- How a podcast is both similar to and different from different marketing avenues.
- Some of the tactical challenges and practices of podcasting.
- Sarah’s best final advice for a brand who is toying with the idea of a podcast.
Jordan: To many marketers, podcasting looks like a blue ocean of opportunity. While there are hundreds of millions of blog posts published every single day and endless noise to compete with on social media, there are proportionately few podcasts. Could a podcast be a valuable marketing channel for your brand? If so, where do you begin? Should you view it differently in comparison with other marketing channels you’ve tried in the past? And of course the million dollar marketing question, can you really measure ROI?
To answer these questions, I’m talking with Sarah Rhea Werner. Sarah is the host of the popular Write Now Podcast for writers, she’s a columnist on podcasting for Forbes and a definite authority in the podcasting space. I’m Jordan with CoSchedule. Let’s jump into my conversation and learn more about podcasting for brands with Sarah.
Hey Sarah, thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show today.
Sarah: Thank you, Jordan. I’m so excited to be here with you today.
Jordan: Can you fill us in a little bit about what you’ve been up to in the world of podcasting?
Sarah: I love podcasting. I started out with my own writing podcast, it’s called Write Now because writers and tons is the thing. It’s a nonfiction podcast that helps people find the passion and courage they need to pursue their passion and write everyday. It initially started out as a blog. I just wasn’t getting the traction that I wanted as a blog, I was maybe getting two clicks a day on these posts that I was working four or five hours to create and it was so frustrating.
Blogging was so overpopulated. It was so hard to stand out in that very crowded space. My good friend, Peter Aadahl, who runs 168opportunities.com which is also a podcast, encouraged me to translate what I was doing in blogging to podcasting. This was in 2015 or 2014 and he said, “There are a very few women podcasters out there today. You can really make a splash by turning your blog into a podcast.” I said, “Okay, I’ll try it.”
I just spent a year or two digging into what a podcast was and meant and could do, the capabilities, the possibilities. Launched my show in January 2015. It grew very slowly, it was not a huge overnight success because there is no such thing as a huge overnight success. I always like to say that because it’s so true but our perceptions are so skewed. I got into podcasting, it was terrible at first. You think you know what you’re doing until you realized all of the things that you don’t know and then you start to learn those and you get better.
Now it’s been about two and a half, three years, since I started that show. It’s been an absolute, amazing learning experience. That is the best, in my opinion, experience that you can possibly have.
Jordan: One of the main reasons I was excited to talk to you today is because at CoSchedule we’re all about content marketing, that’s what this podcast is about. You brought up a good point because blogging is so crowded, there’s so much competition, it’s a low barrier to entry, high yield platform or channel but that can means you have, however, hundreds of millions of pieces of content that you’re swimming in the sea with.
We looked at podcasts and the last stats I saw there, probably in the realm of a quarter million podcasts out there right now but proportionately that’s nothing compared to blogging. I know podcasting has really opened up a lot of opportunities for you. I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit more about what kind of opportunities that’s opened up and then let’s start talking about it from a marketing and channel strategy angel.
Sarah: It’s all maybe things that in retrospect seemed obvious but I didn’t think about. The first thing was I was invited to speak more. If you wanna wait to solidify yourself as an expert and to get additional readers for your blog or for your book or whatever it is that you are doing content marketing for, do public speaking. It’s a great way to connect with the community, it’s a great way to show your energy and your passion for whatever your authority subject is on stage. That was the first door that opened.
Another door that it opened was meeting other people, this sounds really stupid but I have met the absolute coolest people in the entire universe by doing a podcast. It’s a great in with influencers. If there is someone whose work you admire, invite them to be on your podcast. The worst thing that they can do is say no. Take a chance, invite them. You get to have a conversation with someone you admire and it’s amazing. What a great opportunity.
The other thing that it did was, as I got further into podcasting, I joined a bunch of communities because I like to learn and I like to share what I have learned to help other people. I joined this amazing Facebook community called She Podcasts. It’s ostensibly for women, it’s She Podcasts. I think that they let anyone in, you might have to check. It’s a great female podcasting community. It was started at the time, again, when there wasn’t a big female voice in podcasting.
Women banded together and said, “Let’s do this, let’s just make our own community and do this.” I started offering pointers and answering questions and really enjoyed being a part of that community. There’s a lot of people lurking there and one of the lurkers was an editor from Forbes. She said, “I checked out your podcast. You podcast about writing and you give great advice to people, you’re investing in this community, how would you like to write about podcasting for us?” I was like, “Yes.”
I’m doing that now, I have a column about podcasting in Women@Forbes. That has opened its own doors. This all goes back to my first podcast, it all goes back to getting out there, starting a podcast, experimenting. It’s all been an experiment, experimenting with this amazing form of content.
Jordan: One thing that really peaked my interest is, we’ve known each other for a while and when I heard that you got this gig at Forbes, I know there are so many people, solo marketers but also people on marketing teams who are trying to get guest columns in Forbes and trying to attract influencers, we’ve got influencer marketing, we’re trying to promote our stuff on Inc. and Forbes and all these different places, we’re all trying to do this and then you start walking through and being able to do this and podcasting was your venue.
I thought that was a really interesting play for you personally but I know you’ve also had experienced and have a pretty good understanding about what a branded podcast can do for marketing teams and for companies. I wonder if you have some audience building advice for us. Do you think brands should consider creating a podcast? What value do you think it will hold for them?
Sarah: I’d like to answer in a nontraditional way. That will be yes but also no. I’ll clarify what I mean. I think it goes back to why you want to start a podcast. We can get into some of those reasons a little bit. If you want to get into a podcast because you want to talk about something, if you’re passionate about something, if you work for a pencil factory and you love pencils and you really wanna start a pencil cast, then do it.
If you want to start a podcast to game a system, I think you’re gonna be disappointed because it’s such a weird medium. We throw around the word authenticity and we say, “Podcasting is such an authentic medium because it’s a voice in your ear.” Unlike acting, unlike writing, I guess also visual, you can’t hide things in your voice. If I’m nervous right now, my voice will shake. I can’t hide that, we can’t hide things in our voices, that’s why it’s so intimate and so authentic.
The same thing goes when you’re podcasting. If you’re coming from an inauthentic place like if you are doing a podcast about pencils not because you love pencils but because you want to make money or sell something, I think listeners know, I think that they can sense that. I think that this is gonna sound like super new AG but a lot of the energy that you put into a podcast, that’s what you’re going to get back out. If you are genuine and earnest and passionate about what you’re talking about, then I think it will work. If you’re just doing a podcast to do a quick jump on the fad train money making thing, then I think you should not do one.
The other thing is a podcast is a ton of work, it is a ton of work. It’s worth it but it’s a ton of work. I would advise not jumping in until you know that this is something that you really want to do and that you’re prepared to stick with it. I hope that I don’t sound like a huge naysayer because I am a huge advocate for podcasting. Absolutely, a podcast is a wonderful way to grow your brand but it also has to come from a good place and it has to be authentic.
Jordan: That’s a fantastic answer. It’s interesting to me because it makes me think of almost like a listener intent. Why are listeners so interested in podcast? Could you talk a little bit about that for brands? Do you think there’s a place for understanding that psychology of that listener intent? Why are people gonna show up and listen to my voice in their ears?
Sarah: This is one of my favorite things to talk about. I think every creator, whether you’re blogging, whether you’re podcasting, whether you’re creating a TV show or you have a YouTube channel, whatever you’re creating, you can’t think about yourself first, you can’t say, “I wanna create a podcast because I want to blabber on about this.” You’ll say, “I wanna create a podcast because I wanna share this information with other people because it will help people,” or “I want to create an entertaining show that will make people or will make them think or will make them consider their own views or learn more about themselves.” There’s a million different reasons. If you’re starting pencil cast, maybe telling people good pencil care, make sure you sharpen it.
Jordan: That’s branded in TM, by the way. No one can steal pencil cast. If you are looking at a brand, obviously they wanna pair well with listener intent. You’re saying don’t just create a bunch of commercials because that’s gonna be a ton of work and you’re not gonna see ROI. Marketers, we’re here to help make money for our companies and make money for ourselves, that’s what marketing does.
At the same time, it has to actually add value to people. You’re talking about that. Can you help us think through as a brand if we have these two circles? We have the circle of what we wanna talk about and then we the circle of what our audience wants and what they’re looking for and how to make those Venn diagram. How do we bridge that gap between we wanna talk about our products and services in a non salesy way so we can see return but we want to add value crazy to people so they actually keep coming back. How do we think about that?
Sarah: I have three things that I wanna talk about in this vein. The first one is empathy. Put yourself in your listener’s shoes. When you listen to a podcast, there’s been all sorts of variedness guided things about podcast advertising, going on in the podcasting content world. When you listen to a podcast, what do you like to listen to? It’s almost as easy as that. Do you like ads? Probably not. How tired are you of Blue Apron and whatever else is out there, MailChimp. You get a little tired of that.
When we talk about how much we sell, there’s the 80-20 Rule. 80% should be providing value, 20% should be, maybe, sales. Keep it limited to the end. I think you just need to take the mindset of value first. Think of what the listener wants first, limit yourself to no more than 20% of your podcasting time should be advertising. Ideally, 0% of your podcast should be advertising because your podcast is not a vehicle for ads, your podcast is in itself, if you are doing it correctly and passionately, it is itself an advertisement.
Jordan: Can you tell me more about that?
Sarah: I am a writer and I have the Write Now Podcast, I don’t say, “Hire me as a writer.” All I do in my podcast is talk about my love and passion for writing and I encourage people to pick up a pencil, I encourage them to read a book. Through that, it’s very subtle, but they say, “Sarah knows a lot about writing.” They make this connection in their brains that, “I wonder if I can hire Sarah to help me with something.” They email me. In that very subtle way, my podcast is an advertisement for my writing services, I do ghostwriting, I do all sorts of different writing.
Never once in my show do I say, “Hire me to write something for you.” It doesn’t need to be explicit. I think we’ve evolved past the come on down to big ads used cars where we’ve got the best deals in Texas, we’ve evolved past that. I think people understand subtlety and we make those connections, we say, “This is a good thing.” You don’t need to push your pencils in your podcast, in pencil cast. You can just say, “I love pencils, here’s how you take care of them. You don’t need to say, “Buy 400 pencils today.”
That being said, you also wanna make sure that you have a call to action in every one of your podcasts. Just make sure it’s not salesy, make sure that once again you are leading with value. You say, “Join my email newsletter list. I have all these fun things I wanna send you. I’m really excited about sharing my love of pencils with you or my love of writing.” Your email list is gold as I’m sure has been explained on this particular show many, many times.
Sarah: The third thing is that you wanna make sure, in addition to adding value, that you bring delight. At the end of the day, people listen to a podcast because they want to listen to podcasts. If you absolutely must sell, if you absolutely must include an ad and do a hosterad because those perform the best, if you absolutely need to do that, make sure it’s delightful, make sure it’s in line with your show, it’s in line with your message and in line with what you wanna say. Delight is very underrated but it is absolutely one of the most valuable things you can put into your show.
Jordan: Delight is tough to do as a person, sometimes, in life much less a brand. Could you talk about the delightful brand experience and how podcasting is an ideal avenue for that?
Sarah: This is one of my favorite things to talk about. We touched a little bit earlier on authenticity which is important. You need to be earnest and you need to be passionate about what you’re doing but you also need to a, not try too hard and b, not take it too seriously. Podcasting evolved from this person in the basement ranting into a mic image. It still carries a little bit of that with it today.
The reason that people listen to podcasts is because they want to listen to a podcast, they wanna be entertained, they want the unexpected. This is something that’s very elusive, I think, for a lot of marketers and it’s an element that belongs in so many other types of marketing. When you see it done well, you remember it. I’m thinking those old spice commercials, those were delightful. They’re remembered well because they were delightful.
They didn’t necessarily add value so they didn’t teach us anything but they were just whimsical and fun and they added entertainment value. I think that’s really what I’m talking about when I talk about delight. There’s no reason not to put it in. I worked for a bank for many years where we were not allowed to be delightful in what we produced because there was compliance and there was the bank’s image to consider.
If you can show people that you’re human and that you have a sense of humor and that you’re not trying too hard to sell them something, you end up creating something very delightful.
Jordan: Marketers, do you like listening to the show? Here’s what our new bff Mikee Eugene said in a review, “So much content and actionable steps to be learned. If you’re in the business of marketing or content creation, you’d be missing out if you’re not listening to this religiously.” Thank you so much, Mikee.
If you’d like to let us know what you think of the show by leaving a review on iTunes, we’d love to send you some CoSchedule swag as a thank you. Simply leave a review then shoot an email with your name and mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org, then keep an eye in your snail mail for some freebies from your friendly neighborhood marketing calendar crew here at CoSchedule. Now let’s jump back into my conversation with Sarah.
If we talk about podcasting and stack it up against other marketing channels, if a brand is new, thinking about a podcast, should their frame of mind be different than thinking about a podcast versus white papers, blogging, reports, that kind of thing. If so, how so?
Sarah: I think my answer to that is two fold and that is, a, podcasting can fit in very well with many other channels. We can maybe talk about that in a second. Podcasting takes maybe a little bit more planning and coordination than a lot of these other things. I don’t mean that in a sense that you need to plan better for the content, I’m just talking about if you are interviewing somebody, wrangling an interview can be a very, very forming because people have different schedules and stuffs.
Going in with that mindset that yes, it’s a little bit different. We’ve talked about a few of these things already, a podcast needs to be authentic and more so than your average white paper, more so maybe even than your website content, more so than your blog. At the same time, I think it can also inform those mediums and help warm them a little bit, help give them a human touch and a personality.
I think in some ways, you can look to your podcast to maybe lead the branding or maybe lead the evolution in your branding to the next step, to make all of your branding that much more authentic and honest and earnest.
Jordan: That is fascinating. Almost think of it as really establishing a voice and tone for your brand and even being the leader for that. Thinking of it in an overall channel makes a way but a very tactical use for your podcast saying, “This is who we are, this is our personality.” At CoSchedule we like to say, “People buy from people they know, like and trust.” Get away from that marketing funnel idea. What you’re saying is that this can be a voice and tone establisher, this can be a huge spear tip for your overall branding strategy?
Sarah: Yes. I had not thought of it in those terms but now that you said that, I absolutely love it. Nobody wants to buy from a corporation. I don’t want to go out on Instagram and engage with brands, no, I don’t wanna do that.
Jordan: You’re kidding me, you don’t wanna do that, Sarah?
Sarah: Leave Friday night just engaging with brands. Who wants to do that? Nobody. They wanna engage with people. Podcasts are great at making you sound like people. I love what you said about making that, it doesn’t have to 100% inform your voice and tell them, your website copy shouldn’t be like, “Hey friends, it’s me.” You need to maybe smooth that out a little bit and make sure that what you’re creating is appropriate for the medium that you’re creating it for. I think that it can go a long way in helping us be more authentic.
Jordan: What are some of the tactical elements of podcasting now as a social media strategy when we think about things like your Friday night Instagram brand engagement habits? What are some things that we can think about that are really tactical ways to make podcasting work as a social media strategy?
Sarah: In one side of things, there’s been this ongoing difficulty in podcasting like, oh my gosh, I can’t embed an episode in a Facebook post or a Tweet and it’s really frustrating but they’re getting better. I think that very shortly, if it’s not happening already, we will see a way to embed a full episode within Twitter, within Facebook. There are shortcuts for now. Instagram has video, you can do a quick preview of your episode and say, “For more, click the link in my bio. Listen to the full episode.” Make sure that the link to your latest episode is up there.
There are wonderful things, audiograms, wave, and there’s a whole bunch of them out there, these tools where maybe you’ve seen it on Facebook or Twitter, it’s an animated GIF. It’s just a square image and it has little soundwaves over it and it can either be an image or it can have a sound behind it but lets people know that there is something to listen to here. It lets you share your podcast that way.
Another thing that I’ve seen, two things for Facebook, one of them being using Facebook as a way to understand, and I guess Twitter as well, who your audience is. This was something that was a problem for me when I started because when I started, I made some assumptions about who my audience would be. I’m like, “I’m gonna be talking to millennials who are working at Starbucks and they’re frustrated because they have a degree in literature and they wanna be writing but they’re stuck in a job or maybe they just need a little encouragement to get started.” That’s who I assumed my audience was.
When I started looking at who’s following me on Facebook and Twitter and even Instagram, I realized that I had been way off. My listener base was baby boomers largely who were stuck working cubicle jobs that they hated and they felt like they were in a dead end place. This is who was following me. I said, “Maybe this is who I’m attracting and speaking to.” That let me evolve my brand a little bit and let me pivot to use your word and really consider what I was doing and better tailor my show and my marketing efforts toward the audience that wanted to hear what I was saying.
If you’re open to it, really look at who is engaging with you, not even just who you’re engaging with but who’s engaging with you and who is the audience that you’re really serving. Take a look at who those people are, Facebook gives us the data, it gives us pictures of everyone who’s following us. You can see very quickly who’s interested in what you have to say.
Along that line, also with Facebook, I started a Facebook group. It’s been a great way to get new people talking about not only my topic which is creative writing and creative writing balanced with your work and home life but also get them interested in my show. I started a Facebook group for writers. If you’re doing pencil cast, maybe you’ll start a Facebook group for people who love to write by hand or people who love to sketch and draw, maybe kindergarten teachers.
I started this Facebook group and it caught on really quickly. Most of the people who were attracted to the group had not heard of my show before. I’m up to about 1300, 1400 members now. It’s just been this really, really wonderful vehicle for my show. I hope that that is a little bit helpful as well.
Jordan: Absolutely. Even 1300 or 1400 members, that’s nothing to shake a stick at. There are plenty of brands who would love a Facebook presence that had that many people. The beautiful thing too is, because I’m a member and I’ve seen what happens in that Facebook group, there’s a ton of conversation and it’s a real community. It’s a real community that’s connected and it’s not all about you though. You’re almost being able to capitalize too on some user generated content. Can you talk about the value of creating a form where people are talking and you don’t have to be at the center yet it’s still very much a part of your platform?
Sarah: I think that a community, a devoted community is the best thing that a brand can hope for because what you’re doing is creating your tribe, you’re creating your circle of advocate. It’s such a powerful place. A forum like a Facebook group allows people to talk freely, it allows them to share ideas. A few things that I’ve learned along the way are that, a, yes you are absolutely right, this group is not about me, it’s not even about the brand I’ve created, it’s about the community itself, it’s about helping people become better writers, inspiring them, answering their questions because writers have a lot of questions like, “How do I self-publish? How do I spell this word?” There’s a wide range of questions.
If you get people interacting with your group, Facebook notices that and it promotes it to even more people. The more conversation you have going on in your Facebook group, the more people will join. It becomes a self-feeding machine a little bit after a while. You have to baby it a little bit at first to nurture it, do your own seed contents, post question like, “What are you all writing today? What’s your biggest struggle as a writer?”
Have people answer, engage, let them know that it’s okay to post their questions while at the same time, and I hate to say this, being willing to remove posts that are not related to your topic, block the trolls. I had a huge problem with trolls at the beginning. I almost just shut down the group, I don’t have time to baby sit adults because that’s what it felt like a little bit. You have to stick with it but if you can come out on the other side of that, if you can be strong and just start blocking people who are abusing your group, make sure you have very clear guidelines setup so that you have a reason to block them, then it can get into just a really good place.
It’s like what I’ve said at the beginning of the show, just in a same way that a podcast can very subtly market your brand without explicitly doing so, this Facebook group does the same thing because my name, my podcast name, my picture are all at the very top of the group. The group is called I am a Writer with Sarah Werner. It’s subtly branded. It’s still mine but at the same time I’m not like, “Listen to my show.”
Jordan: I like the conversation about moderation too because that’s a huge PR thing for brands. If you’re on social media, that’s a reality that you have to deal with but the idea is you know there’s gonna be some weeds but it’s still worthwhile to garden. You’re gonna have to do some weeding, you’re gonna have to do some work but ultimately the yield can be worth it. Let’s talk about that yield, this is my last question because I’m a marketer, I have to ask how can you measure ROI on a podcast? What are your thoughts there?
Sarah: It depends on what you want out of it. It depends on what you’re looking for. As an independent podcaster, you’re maybe looking to make money, you’re maybe looking to monetize your show in which case you can do hosterads, you can do Patreon, you can do dynamically inserted ads with the companies. That might get you the ROI you want. If your goal is to sell more pencils, then that’s clear, we launched the podcast this day, we saw spikes and web traffic at this date. It depends what ROI means to you.
Jordan: I understand what you’re saying though. Would you recommend that there’d be some of special offer or some kind of traceable, trackable call to action so that brands can know, our podcast was directly driving this, or do you think they should embrace the fact that it’s a little bit more nebulous because it is in that branding space and maybe it’s share a voice you’re trying to look at or those kind of things?
Sarah: This is just a perennial problem in marketing. I did content marketing for many, many years and I would always have people say, “This is great but what is it really doing for us? How many pencils did we really sell because we wrote this blog post?” Some part of me is like, “I don’t know” but you’re contributing to the conversation. That’s more than if you would not be contributing to the conversation.
There’s a little bit of that element in there. I think a lot of the Return on Investment for things like podcasts are, I hate to say this, unmeasurable or unknowable. It’s like when you go out and you have a coffee with someone and you shake their hand and then three years later they’re like, “Can I work with you?” It’s a lot more than a white paper or a lot more than even a talk because what you’re doing is you’re building a deep level of trust, you’re really going beneath the surface.
That beneath the surface stuff, you can’t see it, it’s not visible and it’s hard to measure but it’s impactful. I really feel like podcasting has this really deep impact, the potential to really deeply impact people. You think of visible media like a billboard or a TV commercial, that’s the tip of the iceberg, that’s what people can see but what’s under the water is what they feel. Your podcast is under there, the boat is going toward it, that’s really what’s gonna rock the road, is that deep relational trust that you are building with the people.
Jordan: That’s fantastic. Sarah, any final words for a brand who is toying with the idea of a podcast.
Sarah: Think about it, if you think that it makes sense for you, it probably does. Make sure that you go into it with lots of enthusiasm, make sure you go into it not necessarily looking for overnight success or immediate results, it’s one of those things that lingers in people’s minds for a while but that’s, I think, the absolute best kind of marketing. If you wanna start a podcast, start planning for it, just dive in and see what you can do.
Jordan: Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to be on our show today. It was a pleasure.
Sarah: Thank you, Jordan. This has been a delight.