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All The Rules For Podcasting Are Wrong

As you’ve probably heard, I’m a podcaster. On the internet, I tend to hang around podcasterly spaces. Podcasters tend to be pretty into DIY, so a lot of the time podcasters spend in podcasting space is spent advising other podcasters about podcasting.

And, well, look. There are a lot of rules of thumb about podcasting that get tossed around, and they’re just not true. Some of them might have been true once, and some of them are just myths and I don’t know where they came from. I just got a great example of this from a recent conversation on LinkedIn. I heard a bunch of the old rules there (again) and they sound good — except for the part where actually, they just aren’t true.

Top Five Podcasting Rules that are Wrong:

1) Consistency – Post shows on a schedule and stick to it. Pod fade is entirely too prevalent. If your schedule is inconsistent your audience will vanish.
2) File Size – Encode at a bit rate no higher than 160 and use mono as opposed to stereo if the show is over 30 minutes in length. This helps prevent large files that are difficult to download.
3) Style – While you own a particular style and should stick to it, one voice speaking to anyone for an extended period can become monotonous. Break up the show into segments with audio elements in between, preferably music. It will help keep the listener tuned in and will lend an air of professionalism to the show.
4) Engage your audience as much as possible – Give them a way to call you (K7.net is free), provide a forum or chatroom, answer emails on the show, Tweet…anything to remain connected to the listener and to keep them engaged.
5) Podtact (to coin a phrase) – Contact other podcasters who share your interests and invite them onto your show. Speaking with them can help not only make you a part of the podcasting community but will also give your audience a new perspective. It also provides opportunities for cross-promotion.

Let’s hit this point-by-point.

Consistency. This is bad science. Once upon a time, it was said that the majority of podcast listeners were just visiting your site and listening to your podcast through your little player widget, and they’d be expecting something on a schedule so you’d better have something ready for them. If you did it right, your stats would go up.

When it became apparent that, yes, there were lots of drive-by listeners, but there wasn’t any way to count on that sort of traffic, the argument switched to “release on a schedule, because you’ll get in the habit and keep releasing”. The result was a lot of podcasts that released regularly for a year and then faded because they were burnt out from trying too hard to keep to a schedule that didn’t work for them.

Podfade isn’t a moral issue, folks, it’s just disappointing to the listeners. Now we know that the podcasters who don’t fade are the ones who don’t let the pressure to release get in the way of the fun of podcasting. A regular schedule isn’t nearly as effective as one you can personally stick to.

A final note on consistency: The more podcasts you release, and the faster you release them, the higher your stats will be, and the stronger your google juice will be. Period. This is greatly enhanced by doing the same thing with the same website for many years. This is good SEO, learned from the bloggers. If you’re a professional podcaster, this is a very important rule of thumb to remember.

You aren’t a professional podcaster, are you? Relax a little. It won’t make that big a difference.

File size. Ignore everything that rule says. Unless you want to release incredibly high-res music or have some very good reason to do something different, release mp3s at 128kbps, constant bit rate, with joint stereo. There are all sorts of different options when you encode an MP3, and most of them aren’t well implemented across mp3 players, even today. Just keep it simple.

And don’t worry about filesize! Mp3 players are big enough to handle anything anymore, and anyone who’s still using dialup internet either knows what they’re in for or doesn’t know what a podcast is. People are used to downloading bigger files now, so relax.

Style. Sitting around listening to one person talk on and on about something can, indeed, be a little boring. The solution is to make your show shorter, not longer. Don’t pad your show with music if it’s not relevant to what you’re discussing. Respect the listener’s time by giving them a tight, informative show without any filler. It’s not nearly as easy to edit up a tight show than it is to throw in music bumpers here and there, but it’s better.

Get to the point fast, hit it hard, and let the audience move on.

Engage the audience. Yes, engage your audience, but don’t go nuts with it. it’s easier than you think to try way too hard at this. There’s nothing sadder than a podcast that has a message board that’s got tumbleweeds blowing through it, and nothing more pathetic than a podcaster who constantly gives out a voicemail number and never ever gets any voicemail.

Twitter currently seems to be the best way for podcasters and audiences to meet and mingle, with Facebook trailing in second. If you need more than that, the audience will tell you. If you don’t know what your audience thinks, ask them, and then they’ll tell you. Anything beyond that is wasted time.

Podtact. This one actually isn’t bad. Network with other podcasters in your genre, get on each other’s shows, meet new people, have fun. However, let’s be perfectly honest. The point here isn’t to “give your audience a new perspective”, the point is to poach the other guy’s audience.

It’s not even poaching, really, because it’s incredibly unlikely the listener will replace the old podcast with yours. they’ll just listen to both. Win win for podcasters who aren’t douchey mealy-mouthed polyannas.

So, that’s that. Screw the rules. just have fun and make some podcasts.

made this mess on November 18th, 2010 and filed it under Audio, Random Drips

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