Turn listeners into superfans: 3 steps to build podcast listener engagement

Turning casual podcast listeners into superfans isn't easy, but there is a method to it. Here's how to build your podcast listener engagement.
January 19, 2024
Newt Schottelkotte
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I realized the power of superfans in February of 2023. That was when I crowdfunded the third season of my fiction podcast, Where the Stars Fell. We raised over 110% of our goal, creating not just season 3 but a double-length Halloween special, as well as the two bonus mini-episodes released as crowdfund milestones. 

When I talk to my fellow podcasters about audience engagement, I always bring this up because it illustrates an important point: the biggest draw to our fans for supporting the show monetarily and getting us to reach our goal was the promise of more content. More of the thing they loved. 

The kind of people who spare their money to support the show and spare their time to tell others to do the same? They’re superfans. They're the grease that helps keep the wheel of a show turning by listening with a special kind of passion. As podcast creators, we love these listeners, and we'd love for there to be more of them. But how?

Turning casual listeners into superfans is a long, slow process, but I think it breaks down into three main steps. 

  • Step 1: Find your "draw"
  • Step 2: Play to your strenghts
  • Step 3: Make the ask

Caveat: There’s no quick fix

The biggest myth I want to debunk right away is that there's "one weird trick" for turning casual listeners into the kind of folks who shout your show's praises from the rooftops. 

If someone enjoys a cup of coffee but is perfectly content popping in a Costco-brand Keurig pod and calling it a day, you can't immediately shove a Moka pot and a bean mister in their hands and expect them to be interested. You have to garner passion. You have to show them what it is about coffee specifically that lights a fire in them, and makes them want to engage more with that interest. 

Step 1: Find your “draw”

The first step you can take is to figure out what it is about your show that your superfans gravitate towards. Look on social media, podcast player reviews, and where your show is being discussed, and make a note of what people are specifically bringing up when they praise the show. Maybe it's your great selection of guests, or your hosts' wit and chemistry, or the depth with which you dive into the topics your show covers. Maybe it's even something as simple as an attention-grabbing intro or cover art. For Where the Stars Fell, I knew it was the characters. 

Screenshot of the Ologies subreddit
In the subreddit and Facebook group for the podcast Ologies, listeners start their posts the same way the host starts each episode: "Hi, it's me," followed by a description of a relatable object.

‎Step 2: Play to your strengths

Once you've identified your draws, then you can get to work. Take these draws and make them the core focus of how you build your online (and offline!) presence. If people like your guests, put together a social media package they can post when their episode drops to encourage them to bring their fanbase to you. If the show's hosts have garnered a cult of personality, play that up by hosting a live Q&A or two. When choosing clips to use for audiograms, search for moments that connect to the reason people come to your show. You always want to highlight your content's best asset.

Here’s a post that poked fun at a character of Where the Stars Fell:

This actually ends up working twofold: it draws new listeners to your show, but it also highlights to fans the aspects of your show they really love. Once they begin to engage more with that love, you're well on the way to finding more superfans!

Step 3: Make the ask

Asking listeners to do something, like subscribing to your YouTube channel, following the show on social media, or leaving a review on Apple Podcasts, might seem like the wrong way to get superfans. After all, don’t people like you when you do something for them, not vice versa? 

In fact, these kinds of calls to action (CTAs) are a really effective way to grow your throngs of superfans. That’s not only because they can help build your follower count and boost your rating in the charts, but also for a very important, often overlooked reason: they keep listeners engaging with the show after they finish listening. 

Recency bias is, put simply, the tendency of humans to give greater significance and positive attributions to recent events over ones further in the past. By giving your listeners a call to action (and creating a show good enough that they'll want to take those calls), you can retain a spot in their recent memory through not just good content but the completion of a physical action. We tend to remember the things we've done better than the things we've seen. You might not remember what you wore to a yoga class, but you'll certainly remember that pose that had you falling on your face. 

Calls to action also get your fans used to doing things for the show. Not in a "selling their plasma" way, but much more in line with small actions that help the podcast grow and thrive, that take time and effort but feel fulfilling to do. You can start out with the aforementioned call to action, then try a social media post that asks them to share their favorite moment or episode. Vote for the podcast in an awards show! Send in their question for a Q&A! These small asks can go from feeling novel and laborious to routine and simple with consistency and a slow build.

Conclusion

The most important thing to remember is that being a superfan should feel like a great time not just because of extrinsic rewards, as if this is a secret special club, but because getting to engage with the content you love on a deeper level is fun and invigorating. It's why the people who dress up at fan conventions and carry around their favorite props look like they're having such a great time: they're letting themselves really enjoy the thing they love! 

As creators, we want superfans because it feels essential to know that the work we put so much time and energy into is being met with equal passion. As superfans ourselves, we want to feel like the people making the thing we love appreciate that passion. It is a symbiotic relationship of shameless joy and that, more than anything else, is what makes its existence so important.

Newt Schottelkotte
Newton “Newt” Schottelkotte is an all-around podcasting person and the head of Caldera Studios. Check them out at https://newtschottelkotte.com/
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Turn listeners into superfans: 3 steps to build podcast listener engagement

I realized the power of superfans in February of 2023. That was when I crowdfunded the third season of my fiction podcast, Where the Stars Fell. We raised over 110% of our goal, creating not just season 3 but a double-length Halloween special, as well as the two bonus mini-episodes released as crowdfund milestones. 

When I talk to my fellow podcasters about audience engagement, I always bring this up because it illustrates an important point: the biggest draw to our fans for supporting the show monetarily and getting us to reach our goal was the promise of more content. More of the thing they loved. 

The kind of people who spare their money to support the show and spare their time to tell others to do the same? They’re superfans. They're the grease that helps keep the wheel of a show turning by listening with a special kind of passion. As podcast creators, we love these listeners, and we'd love for there to be more of them. But how?

Turning casual listeners into superfans is a long, slow process, but I think it breaks down into three main steps. 

  • Step 1: Find your "draw"
  • Step 2: Play to your strenghts
  • Step 3: Make the ask

Caveat: There’s no quick fix

The biggest myth I want to debunk right away is that there's "one weird trick" for turning casual listeners into the kind of folks who shout your show's praises from the rooftops. 

If someone enjoys a cup of coffee but is perfectly content popping in a Costco-brand Keurig pod and calling it a day, you can't immediately shove a Moka pot and a bean mister in their hands and expect them to be interested. You have to garner passion. You have to show them what it is about coffee specifically that lights a fire in them, and makes them want to engage more with that interest. 

Step 1: Find your “draw”

The first step you can take is to figure out what it is about your show that your superfans gravitate towards. Look on social media, podcast player reviews, and where your show is being discussed, and make a note of what people are specifically bringing up when they praise the show. Maybe it's your great selection of guests, or your hosts' wit and chemistry, or the depth with which you dive into the topics your show covers. Maybe it's even something as simple as an attention-grabbing intro or cover art. For Where the Stars Fell, I knew it was the characters. 

Screenshot of the Ologies subreddit
In the subreddit and Facebook group for the podcast Ologies, listeners start their posts the same way the host starts each episode: "Hi, it's me," followed by a description of a relatable object.

‎Step 2: Play to your strengths

Once you've identified your draws, then you can get to work. Take these draws and make them the core focus of how you build your online (and offline!) presence. If people like your guests, put together a social media package they can post when their episode drops to encourage them to bring their fanbase to you. If the show's hosts have garnered a cult of personality, play that up by hosting a live Q&A or two. When choosing clips to use for audiograms, search for moments that connect to the reason people come to your show. You always want to highlight your content's best asset.

Here’s a post that poked fun at a character of Where the Stars Fell:

This actually ends up working twofold: it draws new listeners to your show, but it also highlights to fans the aspects of your show they really love. Once they begin to engage more with that love, you're well on the way to finding more superfans!

Step 3: Make the ask

Asking listeners to do something, like subscribing to your YouTube channel, following the show on social media, or leaving a review on Apple Podcasts, might seem like the wrong way to get superfans. After all, don’t people like you when you do something for them, not vice versa? 

In fact, these kinds of calls to action (CTAs) are a really effective way to grow your throngs of superfans. That’s not only because they can help build your follower count and boost your rating in the charts, but also for a very important, often overlooked reason: they keep listeners engaging with the show after they finish listening. 

Recency bias is, put simply, the tendency of humans to give greater significance and positive attributions to recent events over ones further in the past. By giving your listeners a call to action (and creating a show good enough that they'll want to take those calls), you can retain a spot in their recent memory through not just good content but the completion of a physical action. We tend to remember the things we've done better than the things we've seen. You might not remember what you wore to a yoga class, but you'll certainly remember that pose that had you falling on your face. 

Calls to action also get your fans used to doing things for the show. Not in a "selling their plasma" way, but much more in line with small actions that help the podcast grow and thrive, that take time and effort but feel fulfilling to do. You can start out with the aforementioned call to action, then try a social media post that asks them to share their favorite moment or episode. Vote for the podcast in an awards show! Send in their question for a Q&A! These small asks can go from feeling novel and laborious to routine and simple with consistency and a slow build.

Conclusion

The most important thing to remember is that being a superfan should feel like a great time not just because of extrinsic rewards, as if this is a secret special club, but because getting to engage with the content you love on a deeper level is fun and invigorating. It's why the people who dress up at fan conventions and carry around their favorite props look like they're having such a great time: they're letting themselves really enjoy the thing they love! 

As creators, we want superfans because it feels essential to know that the work we put so much time and energy into is being met with equal passion. As superfans ourselves, we want to feel like the people making the thing we love appreciate that passion. It is a symbiotic relationship of shameless joy and that, more than anything else, is what makes its existence so important.

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