About a year and a half ago, I started a podcast for the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary called 2 Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem. Since it was recorded as a live radio spot, the two-minute format was pretty much baked in. By the time I added the intro, outro, theme music, and sometimes sound effects, the average episode was 3-4 minutes long. In November of that year, with about 30 episodes online, I was promoted from Education Director to Executive Director and my priorities shifted drastically. We kept the radio spots going for another couple of months, with the new education person, Courtney, helping out. Then it faded away.
I learned a lot doing those first 30 episodes. Some of my key takeaways were:
- Adobe Audition is a great audio editing tool. There’s definitely a learning curve, though. When you switch from recording or editing a track to editing a multitrack session, it feels like they yanked the whole user interface out from under you and made you relearn key parts.
- If you’re used to working with websites, blogs, web-based advertising, or the print world, you’ll be quite surprised at the statistical data you can’t get on a podcast. You can get “hits,” which is a wild overestimate of your reach, or “downloads,” which is a wild underestimate. The host (PodBean in my case) can tell you all about your listenership on their platform. When you try to figure out what’s going on with Apple/iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify, and their ilk, you’ll find that each one gives you different information and some barely tell you anything at all.
- On the other hand, simple stats can give you a feeling for trends and which topics are wildly popular and which ones people didn’t care about.
- A good way to compare episodes is to look at how many listeners (or downloads, or hits, or…) you get in the first two weeks. You still need to consider trends, though. A wildlife successful episode from two years ago may have gotten 200 downloads in two weeks, but if your podcast is much better-known today, 200 downloads in two weeks might be considered a flop.
- No matter where your podcast is available, marketing is on you. If you don’t promote it, the podcast hosts and aggregators won’t, either.
- Creating written transcripts sounds like a great idea, but nobody cares. Most of our episodes never had a single visitor to the transcript page, so I stopped doing them.
- Unless your reach is a lot better than mine, don’t expect listener feedback. Except for some friends that probably didn’t listen to it telling you how great it was. And that one friend that says statistically, you’d maximize listenership by making each episode six minutes longer, using shorter episode names, adding comprehensive show notes, inviting more guests, speaking with a Scottish accent, hiring a professional editor, releasing each new episode at 5:23 pm on a Friday, and having Taylor Swift write you some new theme music. We all have that one friend.
A few months ago, after nearly a year off the air, I decided I missed doing the podcast and I wanted to bring it back. I took a look at the stats and found that, lo and behold, I still had listeners! The download rate had dropped dramatically during the hiatus, but we were still getting a few thousand feed hits (a few hundred downloads) per month. Yep. It was definitely worth reincarnating. This time, though, I wanted to bring everything in-house and escape from fixed-length format imposed by the radio world. If a topic takes ten minutes to cover, I’ll spend ten minutes on it. If it takes an hour, I’ll spend an hour.
Since I hadn’t been paying for air time or studio time for a while, I had a few bucks in the budget to pick up a couple of USB Blue YetiCaster microphones with Radium III shock mounts and Compass broadcast boom arms. I ordered the equipment and went to work analyzing statistics (I love putting statistics on spreadsheets) and deciding what topics would work well for the new longer format. In the meantime, I started editing and releasing the last few recordings from 2018, which had never been published as podcasts.
The first episode in the new format was a 21-minute monologue about wolves. Even though we’d just come back from a year off the air, it broke our record for best first two weeks. The next was a 20-minute dialog with Courtney about chronic wasting disease. It did even better. Last week, we released the third, which spent 43 minutes discussing how animals end up in wildlife sanctuaries. It featured a phone interview with Laurie Wolf, Acting Education Bureau Chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. It hasn’t been up for a full week yet and it’s done almost as well as the CWD episode did in two weeks.
Clearly, the longer and more flexible format is working, although I’m not going to count my chickens before curiosity kills the cat that’s crying over the spilt milk. We’ll keep experimenting, and if you’re interested I’d love to have you give the podcast a listen! You can visit YellowstoneEcosystem.com or search for “Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” wherever you listen to your podcasts.