How To Pretend Your Podcast Is A Hit!
Congratulations, you’ve made a podcast and no-one is listening to is! Welcome to the world of 99% of all podcasters.
Being a podcaster can often feel like an exercise in having your dreams punctured. You want people to listen to your show? Well, guess what? You’ll probably end up with just a handful of friends and family tuning in out of politeness. You want to be on the front page of Apple or Spotify? Well, let me tell you, most of those shows are either made by Apple or Spotify, or by major publishers who have a long-standing relationship with those platforms. You want to make enough money from podcasting that you can quit your day job? Well, buddy, it’s 2022. DO NOT quit your day job.
But sometimes the best way to feel better about yourself, is to bring others down to your level. So here’s a handy guide about how you can pretend your podcast is more successful than it is — and it might give you some insight into the tips and techniques used by your competitors.
Disclaimer: this is not a how-to guide, but an explanation of why you should be credulous about other people’s claims to success. Pretending is easy. Later in this piece, I’ll spell out a few simple ways to spot genuine success.
- Game the charts. It is a fact, not always wholly appreciated from the outside, that the podcast charts are calculated by a mysterious mix of factors, and not solely by listening numbers. If I wanted to claim my podcast had been in the ‘Top 10’, I would choose a less competitive category (for example, in current affairs, ‘News’ is much more tightly contested than ‘Government’). I would push very hard on the first episode (Apple, particularly, rewards brand new shows in their chart positioning), getting people to not only listen to that show for a minute or two, but also do a bunch of other interactions: search for it, rate it, review it. Spend time both listening to it and on its landing page. Your show will likely plummet like a stone in a swimming pool as its run continues, but you’ll always be able to say “My show has been in the Top 10 on Apple!” (or Top 20! or Top 50! or Top 100! — the fact is, most people have no sense of scale and therefore don’t know what is and isn’t impressive). And remember also, whatever chart we’re talking about (Apple or Chartable or some weird thing cooked up by some random dude you met in the park) you can refer to it as though it is the only show in town.
- Enter pay-to-play awards. It’s really hard to win, or even be nominated for, serious podcast awards. But, then again, there is no standout gong in this industry and most awards, the credible ones and the phoney ones alike, sound similar. The International Podcast Awards or the Podcast Publishing Awards or the Global Podcast Production Awards — would you feel qualified to say whether any of those (fake) awards are a good indicator of a show’s success? Most awards come with an entry fee, and as a rule of thumb, I think that the price of the entry fee is inversely correlated with the credibility of the awards. There are plenty of places where entry costs more than $100, or where you get special consideration if your company is willing to shell out for a table at the awards ceremony (a cost that often runs into the thousands of dollars). In exchange, they’ll find a way for you to win an award. You’ll get a crappy little trophy you could’ve bought off Amazon for the price of a pumpkin spiced latte, and you’ll forever get to refer to yourself as an “Award-winning Podcaster!”. This sort of symbiotic relationship between rich podcasters and racketeering awards ceremonies is the bedrock of modern capitalism.
- Spend, spend, spend. Another bedrock of modern capitalism is outsourcing, for pitifully little money, tasks to contractors, particularly in south Asia. If I go on Fiverr now and search for ‘podcast promotion’, I can find the following services (with costs in parentheses): “I will promote your podcast and help increase downloads” (from £4.57), “I will promote your podcast on iheart radio” (from £41.15), “I will give insightful reviews on your podcasts” (from £4.57). Will any of these work? Probably not. But possibly you’ll find some click-farm who’ll generate 500 extra impressions on your show, which will make it seem like it’s going great guns. And if you don’t want to use these dodgy sellers on Fiverr (it’s telling that if you select the ‘Pro Services’ filter on Fiverr, it returns 0 options) you can always spaff money on social advertising on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. People sneer at social media advertising for podcasts because the cost per impression is SO DAMN EXPENSIVE but hey: if you’re willing to spend money to pretend your podcast is a success, there’s a price for anything.
- Fudge the numbers. What is a good number of listeners to a podcast? 100 dedicated listeners who recommend the show and interact with it are, obviously, worth far more than 1000 listeners who are nothing more than an aggregate figure. Except when you’re trying to pretend your podcast is a success. Then, it’s quantity over quality. So how can you fudge the numbers? Well, the most tried and tested way is to collate all plays across social media clips and multiple formats, and pretend that they can all meaningfully be part of the same data set. I know many very successful podcasters who would claim, in pitch documents and marketing materials, that a clip on TikTok, played for 10 seconds, constitutes the same thing as a podcast, played on Spotify for an hour. If your podcast gets 500 listens and you need it to reach a thousand, put a few audiograms out on Twitter and Instagram, maybe a truncated version on LinkedIn and YouTube, and a red-hot clip on TikTok and Snapchat (is that how Snpachat works? I’m too old). However random and unpopular you are, you’ll end up with an extra few hundred plays. Terry Nobody from the Arse-End of Nowhere can get 100 plays on a video published on Twitter, just because those spiders that trawl the web, harvesting our data to make their silk, inadvertently trigger the ‘play’ mechanism. If you use this system with enough dedication, you can double, triple or even improve your audience figures by a factor of ten! All without having to improve the quality of the show!
The above is designed to show how easy it is for people to claim their podcast is a success. And perhaps your takeaway will be to give one of these methods a try — I wouldn’t blame you. You can slog away for years with little or no recognition, all the while feeling like your peers are getting ahead of you. Sometimes it’s nice to appear in a chart, however cynically, or receive an award, however disreputable.
But what are the signs of a podcast that is actually a success?
Well, it’s very hard to know from the outside, beyond that handful of shows that achieve cross-industry cut-through. No-one needs help discovering that Off Menu or Redhanded are hits. But, all the time, I’m encountering claims that podcasts I’ve never heard of are doing really well, and there are a few things that I look out for as signs that the claimant isn’t just full of hot air.
- Are they still doing well (Top 50, let’s say) in the chart after 10+ episodes?
- Do they have more than 100 ratings and reviews? And do those reviews appear to be written by real humans who have actually listened to the show?
- Switch your Apple store to a different territory (Australia, say, or Canada): do they have any ratings or reviews in these other English-language territories?
- Put the show’s name into speech marks (“HERE”) and search that on Twitter: are people organically discussing the show? Repeat the process on Reddit.
- Ask people, exhaustingly, what podcasts they’re enjoying at the moment. If you get 3 recommendations from 100 people (who are not podcast professionals) you will likely cover most of the podcasts that are doing well right now. Nothing is a surer sign of success than an organic recommendation.
But obviously, above all else, it doesn’t matter whether other people are real successes or fake successes. This article is not about disproving people’s claims, but adding a sprinkling of realism to an industry which can feel highly promotional at times. No, everyone around you is not a huge, unmitigated success. Almost everyone is just faking it til they make it — and often for several years after.