I’ve been podcasting for almost two years, and I’ve had to learn some hard lessons along the way. I’m sure many other podcasters will attest to the fact that it is HARD to grow a podcast. We have the world at our fingertips when we engage in social media—yet so does everyone else—so how do you win?
Social media is powerful. There is no denying that. Getting in on it is easy. Knowing how to use it is a different story. I still don’t. It’s a constant trial and error. We all try many different things just to get people to click that fucking link. Is it images? Is it verbiage? Is it the time of day? Is it using a trending hashtag? HOW?
Truthfully its a mixture of all those things. Seldom, there are shortcuts. Auto DM’s grow stale. Random interaction has a low success rate. Paid promotion on Twitter and Facebook is just money better spent elsewhere. The truth is, a podcast is a hard sell these days. The market is saturated. As your follower count grows, and your DM lines drop into the water, you might from time to time get a response—usually someone else who is also trying to hock their own wares. It can get exhausting. I myself have taken several reprieves from social media, in an attempt to regain my sanity. Talking with other podcasters helps. A lot of time you’ll find a good support group to discuss the tedium in plugging a show. This is helpful, and sometimes it acts as a needed reset for your ambition towards salesmanship.
As I said in the beginning, I’ve learned a lot. Surprisingly, there’s one thing that took me a long time to learn, and its the reason I have decided to write this entry.
What are Bots, and how do they effect me?
Bots! The bane of every podcasters existence. Bots are the scourge of the earth in regards to accuracy in numbers. If you’ve podcasted for and length of time, and are someone who keeps an eye on the analytics, chances are you’ve spoken with other podcasters (albeit, vaguely) about numbers. It’s sort of an unspoken rule that podcasters don’t usually ask each other about statistics. Yet chances are you’ve heard someone boast about numbers or even post graphs that gave you a discouraging feeling in the pit of your stomach. Personally, I can say that the average number that I have heard from other podcasters is always around two thousand per week. That’s the average. Now, I’m not saying these numbers are impossible. I am friends with people who host truly great shows, with a very active fanbase, and it is easy to see how they have drawn an audience. People who are incredibly active and who put a ton of effort into keeping their listeners engaged. Yet there are other shows, who admittedly cannot even explain their own numbers and are seeing stats that far outweigh their expectations. In this next paragraph I’m going to deal with some information that is so seldom talked about, that it borders on taboo. Mainly because its a very common practice, and also because the implications could take a lot of wind out of a lot of peoples sails.
How do you Tweet an episode?
There are a few methods to Tweeting an episode. Some use provided links from their hosting service (Libsyn, SquareSpace, Soundcloud, etc). Others will use links to Stitcher, iTunes, or Google Play. And some will use links to their website. Most of these are fine for keeping some semblance of accuracy in analytics tracking. The problematic method that I will be detailing is the direct .mp3 link.
What is a direct .mp3 link?
On the surface a direct .mp3 link seems great. Basically you take the URL for your episode .mp3 file and paste it on Twitter. What could go wrong? You are making it accessible enough that your prospective audience need only click the link once and they are whisked away to sound of your respective episode. The problem is………BOTS. Oh, bots! Not you again! Yes, bots. When you link your episode in this way, it becomes prey for any bots shuffling through Twitter in search of key words or phases. These bots scour for both malicious and benign reasons, but the real problem for podcasters shows itself in the analytics. I have met a few podcasters who had the rug pulled out from under them when—all of the sudden—their weekly downloads were cut down to a fraction of what they were the week before. It sucks. It punches you in the gut. It makes you lose hope. It simply ain’t pretty. It’s just another thing, on top of the countless amount of things that podcasters have to worry about. As if social media wasn’t hard enough? So right now, if you are someone who is concerned about accurate (*more accurate) numbers, make sure when you click your own episode link that it does not take you straight into an .mp3 player. There are exceptions if you are dealing with a hosting service that processes your analytics and weeds out bots. Just be aware that these hosting services may do abrupt routine corrections that could drastically change your numbers at any given time.
To give this some context, our podcast does NOT do direct .mp3 links. After learning about bots I did a little experiment and started linking our episodes directly for a full twenty four hours. I then set the episode on scheduled retweets so that the link would be fed to Twitter every two hours. By the end of the twenty four hour period our analytics showed that our downloads had increased by almost 1000%. To a brand new podcaster this would have you planning to quit your day job, so that you could start looking for recording space somewhere close to Joe Rogan. The unfortunate truth is that it is almost entirely bots.
Shit……..so now what?
There are a couple ways you can take this. One is to simply not care. If this is something you do because you love it, then fuck numbers. If you’d rather take that one extra click out of the equation for a potential listener, then Godspeed. The other choice would be to set up your links so that they are not direct. Have the link go to the page where the .mp3 player is embedded. Your numbers might not be as pretty, but at least they will be accurate. I mean, we’d all love to measure our dicks (sorry ladies) with an arbitrary measuring stick, but at the end of the day an inch is an inch.
Lastly, I can at least offer you this bit of consolation if you are someone who has been on the receiving end of a bad vibe from another podcasters bountiful boastings. If someone tells you of stats that seem unattainable, simply check out how their links are being sent out. If you click it and see a play button, chances are they’re talking some bullshit. If it doesn’t….well…maybe they’re just lying…or not. Who cares. They’re just numbers. Remember why you’re doing this and just get out there and keep doing what makes you happy! There are many ways to find success at something. Initially, it isn’t always found in financial gain, or iTunes charting. Just keep doing the show that you love. If you build it they will come. Sometimes there’s a wait.
*it’s all kind of bullshit…