For most podcasters, joining a podcast network is a great idea. It is one great strategy for many to improve advertising techniques, increase audience reach, and target a specific niche. Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard discuss how to achieve these things by joining a community of podcasters, bringing your show to new heights. They also talk about the other side of podcast networks by highlighting the cons of joining one – and what you can do to mitigate the risks.
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How To Assess If Joining A Podcast Network Is Best For Your Show?
Welcome to the show. We have a good topic for a lot of podcasters to consider. If you’re a brand-new show or maybe you haven’t thought of this yet, but if you’ve been doing this for a while, you may have been approached by a network or another. This episode’s topic is how to assess if joining a podcast network is the best fit for your show. Is it a fit? Is it something you should consider?
Everybody will weigh those options based on their own needs, desires, the specific network that’s maybe inviting you to join them, or you may be soliciting a network to join them, but what we thought we would do is share some pros and cons of joining a podcast network. These are some things you may not have thought about that might present some challenges and provide you with some more information so you can make a better, more informed decision.
Especially because we’ve had networks on our network, Podetize is a hosting platform that is syndicating out networks, not just individual shows. We do both, and because of that, we’ve seen some significant failures in networks that had great promise. We also want to share some learnings from that with you as well. That’s where I want to start at. What is a network? Let’s define that for all of you and take it from that elemental level. Keep in mind that podcasting is over a decade old for many people. For us, it has been a couple of years of podcasting, and there have been networks that have popped up and disappeared over that time.
The reality is that they should have learned some things by now and that those that are popping up should be better at understanding what the failures are, but it’s so hidden behind the scenes that people don’t understand that some of the networks that seem to be successful are not, and others have disappeared and no one knows why. I think we could reveal a little bit of that here, which is going to help everyone get an understanding of what they should look for when they’re looking for a good network.
A network is a support system. It’s a community or a grouping of shows that come together to do something together, whether it is to support each other or group create listeners that are focused on the same audience, so they’re all trying to drive listeners to all the shows on the network. They might be in a niche like sports. There are lots of sports networks out there and they’re attracting sports enthusiasts, so by sharing everybody’s show and making sure that they’re publicizing the network out to sports enthusiasts, all the shows get visibility better. That’s the idea behind it.
The other networks are focused on ads, so maybe they are all focused on making sure that they get advertisers that are all around parenting. It could be something like that. That’s the difference. Each network has its own mission. I want to differentiate and say, iHeart is a network. Spotify has a network. The listening apps themselves are also networks because they have network shows.
Wondery is a network, but it’s owned by Spotify. We have these kinds of differentiation as to what they are, but their focus is more like a media network or corporation where their goal is to design and develop shows that are vehicles for advertisement, like NBC, ABC and CBS. It’s the same idea. Do you have anything you want to add to that network definition?
A network is a collection of shows, but I think it’s important to understand there are different purposes for those collections of shows and different structures to how those shows are accessed or presented. It can be as you were saying, a collective collection of shows in a similar genre or area of interest that make it easy for listeners to get a lot of value of different shows in the same area of interest, and then one of the goals may be that the network can appeal to paid sponsors who are interested in providing messages, promotions or calls to action to all of the listeners across all these shows. Maybe each one of those shows might not have enough of an audience to attract a sponsor on its own, but a collection of shows might because the collection of total listeners might be much larger then, and then there are others who are promoting on social media and cross-running the shows between them.
There’s another distinction between a collection of shows and a network of shows, and people are going to argue with me on this one. I’m sure we’ll get some negative comments once this episode is out there, but to me, a real network of shows is one where the listening experience is more curated and controlled. People don’t have to go subscribe over to this show or that show separately.
There’s an easier way for people to listen to all the shows on the network, whether it’s through a website where they’re all on one website, a mobile app that has been created just for that network, or our favorite method, a single podcast feed where all those shows are also available. They’re each available individually potentially, and we would often think that’s a good idea to do, but all the shows could be available in one podcast feed for the network.
It is the best of network feed, think of it like that, so it’s not every single show that the individual one puts out, but it is the best ones curated together. That might be a good example of that. I think the one thing we forgot was ownership. There is also an ownership issue, which I think is the most significant and most important one when you’re assessing whether or not you want to join a network. Do you care if you own your intellectual property or content at the end of the day?
iHeart, Wondery, those kinds of things own the content. You do not have the ability to put them on your website if you have a show from them. You have the ability to promote it on social media, but you only have the ability to promote the approved versions of things on social media, so it’s tightly controlled in many networks.A podcast network succeeds if its shows do not only offer different versions of the same content but compliments each other according to their niche. Click To Tweet
Radio networks typically work in an ownership model that is sometimes hidden, and I want people to be aware of that. Make sure you take a look at the contract in any network. They may end up owning your show even if you spend all the money producing it or even if you pay them a monthly fee to be a part of the network. At the end of the day, their contract says you’re still owned by the network.
I think the best networks do balance out the needs of the individual podcast hosts, the listeners and the network, because clearly if the network is going to be aggregating all this content and cost promoting it, there’s value the network will be providing too. We’re not anti-network or down on networks. All we’re saying is be aware, make sure you know what you’re getting into, and is it a fit for you.
At the end of the day, the show or your personal brand and them owning it is like they own your voice or they own you. Be cautious about that and make sure that your eyes are wide open as to what that means for you. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the failures that we’ve seen at networks and some of the successes as well.
Significant successes I see are when the niche is tightly curated. If it’s a sports niche, but it is sports enthusiasts that are the listening base and they are very clear about making a concerted effort to go and get listeners for all their shows, then they do a great job. That’s going to be highly valuable. There are a bunch of sports networks that have those kinds of focus that where they’re doing that.
Some of them are only focused on college sports, so then it’s college sports enthusiasts. It can even be tied deeper niche down, and that’s amazing as well because now, it’s going to get your show higher circulation. The benefit of one of those networks can be extremely high to your listener growth over time. Again, check and make sure it doesn’t cost you something you’re not willing to give, but if it doesn’t, then this might be a valuable community.
We also see that when there’s a match to that, that’s not just a match to the category and niche, like in this case sports, but a match in the audience that those two things going hand in hand like I was saying with college sports enthusiasts, that can be highly valuable. Any risks there that you have seen or heard of in that area? I think those are mostly the biggest successes.
Those are the biggest successes, I think so too. I also think the ones that succeed the most have done a really good job of curating shows and didn’t just take any show that wanted to be in the network. We’ve seen it happen where a network will let anybody in the network, and it becomes another place to listen to a whole bunch of different shows. It’s not a tight enough niche.
There’s not enough compelling reason to go check out the network or be a part of that.
I think what makes a network succeed really well when they’ve curated it is each show is not just a different version of the same content, but they complement each other and are each offering something unique that’s still within the niche, whatever it is.
One of those that we’ve seen is a niche completely focused on the military. It has both former and current military as the host of the show, so they have that background. The content of each one of the shows is focused on serving a specific demographic or a specific focus and topic around transitions between military and civilian life, so they cross over all of that, and they have a different show they feature.
They only feature seven shows a week or seven different podcasts, so they have one each day that goes, and I think that’s a beautiful model. They kept it nicely tight. Every show on it is getting support from their network to make sure that the quality of the show and the topics are up there and they’re all focused on gaining the same audience, and they do a tremendously great job.
What they don’t do is each have their individual show. In this particular one, each host has their day of the week as if they were a radio network where you have your time slot. Each show has a day of the week, but they’re all consolidated on one website in one feed, and that’s what’s working for them. The number of listeners grows because they’ve got seven X shows pushing that out for them and helping them grow there. I think they reached over one million listeners last time I checked on them, and that was quite a while ago, so I’m sure they’re much past that by now.If a podcast network promises you community and support, go for it. Click To Tweet
I think that if you have a network that has fourteen shows, two of them can publish each day of the week. There are ways not to limit you to seven because I think there are some networks that may grow to have dozens of shows. Maybe people see it’s convenient for the listener. Maybe the listener will only listen to 3 or 4 of the 7 shows or 5 or 6 of the 14 shows over the course of a week. They may have some they like better than others.
The advantage is they only have to subscribe to one podcast feed and not have to subscribe to many, so from a listening perspective and consolidating that listeners seem to appreciate and be interested in that, personally, I like the idea of having my show available separately as well, because you might have the occasional listener who doesn’t want to be bombarded with a whole bunch of other shows and they can subscribe individually, but there’s no right or wrong answer to this.
If it works for you and your goals, then that’s it, some of the fails that we see in the networks. The fails are some of them have so much focus on the ad dollars that they aren’t looking at the quality of the shows. Tom mentioned that before, and I think that’s what we see significantly in terms of declining the listenership over time because it’s so spotty as to you having a good show, a bad show or a mediocre show, and the listeners are like, “I don’t understand this.” They don’t understand why there isn’t better quality control over all of that. That’s important in the process. If the network is promising you community and support, that’s great. Go for it because community and support can only help you.
That’s what we try to do here at Podetize. That’s what our client group. We’re trying to do to engender support so that everyone will keep podcasting and keep going, and then if in addition to that you’ve got a similar direct mission to what you’re going to do with it or if they can bring you something that you don’t have. Maybe they can bring you connections to guests, maybe they can bring you connections to other shows where you could do show swaps and be on each other’s show, maybe there are things like that are valuable to you, but I would check on it.
That’s the next caution that I want to give everyone. I would really check that out, because if they make this promise, but in the end, it doesn’t promise. There’s this high level that I’m not going to out right now, but there’s this C-level promise that they’re bringing you C-level guests, and the reality is that they don’t. The reality is that the only guests they have are those who joined the network to seek C-level guests, and the C-level guests don’t participate in that at all.
The guests that come on your show that they offer up to you are not at the level you expected and you were promised, so be cautious about that. Is it happening in practice? Get some references. Call up those show hosts. Ask them what they think of the network. Be clear on that. That’s another double-check system. If they’ve got a website where they’ve got all their shows on there, go check out those shows and make sure they’re still publishing, because sometimes, we’ll go to a network and we’ll find out 90% of the shows are no longer publishing. They quit. They podfaded like everybody else. They are still using them on their website as shows that they have in their network, but they’re not active.
To me, this is a measurement of a good quality network. It’s one where the people are active. In fact, I think good networks should have a minimum requirement that every show would be publishing once a week, but they could make it at least once every other week. You don’t want to be carrying dead shows on the network, and are the podcasters are going to commit at least for a minimum period of time to the network.
As a podcast host or owner, and all of you that have podcasts are owners of your shows, to be clear about that or should be in our opinion anyway, you want to try to assess if the network is really wanting you on the network because they’re more interested in what’s in it for them, meaning having your show or more shows in their network makes their network look better and look big.
Is it more of the emphasis on offering you all sorts of stuff and getting you in the network because that benefits them, or is there real value and benefit to you to being part of a network? I think the best networks balance out those three things. Those are the needs of the listener, the podcaster or the network, and to strike a good balance of that.
The last section that I want to mention from a potential failure point, but also something to look out for and understand, is if someone’s promising you ad dollar as a part of the network. We go in and listen to those ads because a lot of times, what you find is this is classic Megaphone or classic Spotify. The only advertisers are Spotify and Megaphone on your show, and they run for over a minute at the beginning of your show through their process. They’re frustrating your core listeners and they’re not providing much value because that’s not a high-value advertiser that you want to be associated with.
When we had our 3D print show and it was associated with Hewlett-Packard, that did something for us to be associated with that advertiser and sponsor as much as it did for the sponsor. We want to have that mutually beneficial, so go check out some of their show ads. Make sure they’re of value and they’re going to resonate with your community because the last thing you also want are advertisers that are in direct conflict with the messaging and the intent of your podcast.
When you’re on a network, you don’t get a choice because typically, they stream those ads on. It just happens, so you don’t have any say in it at all. The same thing could be said of what we call a pod pod. If you’ve heard of a Facebook pod, Instagram pod or a LinkedIn pod, that’s where you have a group or a network that operates like that where they’re saying you’re required to share other shows on your show.The best podcast networks must properly balance the benefits they are getting with your needs and the needs of the listeners. Click To Tweet
On The Binge Factor, I’d have to share some random show on sports on my show, and what if it was something that I didn’t agree with? What if it was a show on something counter to my messaging? I wouldn’t have an opportunity to refuse that in the pod situation because cooperation and collaboration matters, so you also want to make sure that your pod is synergistic as well.
That’s still cross-advertising. It’s just more cross-promotion of a podcast and not an actual physical ad, but check those two things and make sure that you either have the ability to say no and refuse the ads, or you have the ability to check them out and say, “I feel like this is going to be valuable and something that’s going to be useful for my particular show.”
Those are some good suggestions there. We could go down a whole rabbit hole here, but I think that the point is really just podcaster beware. This 2021, we’ve had probably 10 or 12 different podcasters leave a network and come host on Podetize because those ads were not in alignment with their subject matter and their listenership. You said 1 minute, but we’ve had people that had 2 and a half and 3-minutes’ worth of ads for things that are common stuff like dish soap or Google ads. These were things that were not relevant.
Those are intrusive ads. That’s what I consider them. They’re interrupting the flow.
They annoy the listener. The last thing you want to do is have people not listen to your show, to not stay and get to the good stuff because there are too many ads running right upfront. There are ways to run ads. We’re not anti-ad or promotion either. I want to make this clear but run in small increments, small doses, and ideally, things that are more relevant because if they’re more relevant to your listeners and their areas of interests, their needs or their desires, they won’t mind listening to them. You’re providing them content for free in this show, and if you, for whatever reason, need to run an ad, they won’t mind. Sixty-five percent of podcast listeners don’t mind listening to ads, especially when they’re relevant, and you’ll find there’s a much higher conversion rate for your sponsor to those ads.
Then we’re talking about that trifecta Tom mentioned multiple times already here. We’re talking about the listener benefits, the network benefits, you benefit as the host, and then in addition to that, the advertiser is benefiting it. It’s a win-win all around, and that is critically important here. I want to end by saying that we are in support of networks here. We have been supporting networks.
Not all of them have made it, and many of them, we tried to give them advice and coaching, but they weren’t listening, frankly. There’s only so much we can do on our end. We are starting a spin-off show. This show has been in sets of spin-offs, and this is the first episode in that. One of the new ones is a specific support spin-off feed for networks so that we can help support those who want to build networks and those who are within networks as well. That’s going to be happening soon.
The first announcement of that is a support for femcasters. We’re excited about that. Corinna Bellizzi and Julie Lokun have started a network called Femcasters. They’re going to have mancasters and a bunch of other ones as they go forward, so it’s not just going to be women. We’re so excited about them coming on. We are super excited about their promise here.
Here’s another thing. When we were saying we were going to go a little bit deeper in supporting a network, we spent some time with them and checked them out. What we’re both impressed in is they’ve gotten this part figured out of what their community is going to be like, how it’s going to support each other, and then what its overall future goal is. I think that is going to take them on a higher path for success here. They’ve got that win-win scenario built-in. That’s why we’re here supporting them. We’re excited to have them as a part of our system on Podetize. It’s a network within a network, so we’re excited about that.
Look at them and check them out. They’ve already got quite a lot of members starting to join them. You’re going to want to check them out. I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode about networking. Check out that spin-off feed when it’ll be running. If this episode is running, it will be running, so you’ll be able to check out that new feed as well. You can subscribe specifically to that and not just the main feed if that’s the only thing you’re interested in.
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back next time with another great episode.
- The Binge Factor