Evo Terra was podcasting before it was cool. Coming from a radio background, he began producing podcasts in 2004 and hasn’t stopped since. Today, his company Simpler Media Productions provides a range of services to simplify podcasting for business owners.
Evo has also written several books, speaks at podcasting conferences around the world, and hosts Podcast Pontifications - offering content creators powerful, 10-minute episodes four days a week. Through all these efforts, Evo is on a personal mission to make podcasts better, not just easier.
In this interview, James Deeney speaks with Evo about the current state of the podcast industry and what can be done to help the medium reach new audiences. They discuss the factors driving the growth of podcasting, the need for podcasters to focus on quality, the rise of the “bantercast”, podcasting best practices for business owners, problems with podcast discovery, and Evo’s industry predictions.
We’ve extracted and summarised some of the highlights from the conversation below.
Podcasting Isn’t Exempt From Sturgeon’s Law
In July this year, The New York Times published an article titled Have We Hit Peak Podcast?, which got lots of attention and annoyed podcasters across the globe. It argued that with hundreds of new shows being started everyday, we’re reaching a point of “cultural exhaustion” with podcasting.
When we asked Evo for his thoughts on the article, he was quick to point out that much of the controversy was fuelled by the deliberately provocative title.
“It was a terrible headline. Article headlines are often written by editors, rather than the writers themselves. They’re designed to get attention and clicks. And it certainly worked in this case. Claiming that we’ve reached “peak podcast” turned a lot of heads”
Despite this, Evo went on to explain that the content of the article itself did raise a valid point. Namely, that producers can’t keep churning out crappy content and expect it to reach millions of listeners.
Audiences will naturally shy away from content creators who aren't focused on the craft of podcasting.
People aren’t sick of hearing fantastic podcasts. They’re tired of slapdash, half-baked shows that seem to be proliferating at a rapid rate. Evo emphasised that podcasting is a skill, and to be successful, you need to master the craft. There are no shortcuts.
“Sturgeon's law states that ninety percent of everything is crap. And it applies to podcasting just like it does to everything else in life, from blogging to photography. To do it well, you need to put in the time, energy, and effort. If you treat podcasting as a side project then you need to accept it will always remain a side project. And for many people that’s perfectly fine.
“But if your goal is to get lots of attention, you need to focus in on quality… There’s no way listeners can possibly consume all of the content out there today. So quite naturally, audiences will gravitate towards things that sound great and are compelling. And they’re going to shy away from content creators who aren't focused on the craft of podcasting.”
For aspiring producers, Sturgeon’s law should be seen as a blessing rather than a curse. Since most podcasters aren’t devoting much time and attention to improving their show, it makes it easier to rise above the noise with content that’s well produced and offers real value to listeners.
Getting Real About Podcasting In Business
With podcasts surging in both popularity and influence, increasing numbers of business owners and entrepreneurs are now using the medium as a marketing tool. And used correctly they can be very effective for showcasing expertise, reaching new audiences, and building brand trust. All of which can help gain clients and drive sales.
But many businesses and brands get into podcasting with unrealistic expectations. They want to see huge download numbers in the first few months. So when they inevitably fail to materialise, frustration grows and shows get abandoned. But as Evo outlines, that completely misses the point of using podcasts in business:
“If you expect to get thousands of listeners by simply releasing your branded podcast to the world, you’re going to be disappointed. So my advice is to be very realistic in your expectations.
“Businesses should start podcasts because they’ve got an existing audience and want to demonstrate how smart they are as an organisation. That’s the overarching rationale for business podcasting. But understand that nobody is out there waiting with bated breath for YOUR business to start a podcast. They have no idea what you’re planning.
“Even if you put all the time and energy you can possibly muster into your podcast, people aren’t going to flock to it unless they know about it. You still have to engage in traditional content marketing tactics to build and grow your audience. Podcasting isn’t YouTube. There is no recommendation engine that will automatically serve up your episodes to listeners.”
As marketing tools, podcasts can and do deliver results. But they aren’t some kind of magical panacea. Just like other forms of content marketing, it takes time and effort to make it work.
You extract value from your audience by giving them value first. That way, when they have a need for the product or service you’re offering, they’ll come straight to your company.
For the vast majority of business podcasts, audiences grow slowly over the course of months and years. Not days and weeks. As a medium, podcasting rewards patience and perseverance.
But even if the audience for a business podcast plateaus and remains relatively small, that doesn’t mean there’s no value in it. Evo offered a helpful analogy for business owners that reframes the opportunity presented by podcasting.
“It's basically the chance to get on stage and speak to 100 people every week or every other week. Forget about podcasting for a minute. If you knew that every Wednesday at 3pm, you could walk down to the town square and get on stage in front of 100 people, that would be awesome. Most small businesses I know would love to have that opportunity.
“In that situation, you'd work out the best way to talk to those people. You'd find ways to encourage them to interact with your business. And you’d find ways to track whether what you're saying matters to the people that turn up every week.”
Just because the interaction is happening digitally doesn’t detract from its value. So as an entrepreneur or business owner, it’s important not to fall into the trap of obsessing over podcast download numbers.
“Your business doesn't grow because you grew your podcast from 100 to 300 listeners. You get zero extra dollars for every new listener. Instead, you extract value from your audience by giving them value first. That way, when they have a need for the product or service you’re offering, they’ll come straight to your company.”
Addressing the Podcast Discovery Problem
Despite all the growth in recent years, podcasting still has a discovery problem. That is, people want to listen to more podcasts, but finding new shows is still not as intuitive as finding a video online or discovering new music.
Other than Apple Podcasts’ Top 100 Charts, there aren’t many places where listeners can go to find niche content tailored to their interests. The crux of the problem lies in the fact that podcasting technology is set up for distribution, not shareability.
There is no simple solution. It’s going to take a little bit of AI and a lot of human curation. After that, it’s all about improving the user experience.
Podcasts run on RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, which came out of browser development in the late 1990s. This means podcasting is a decentralised system where creators retain ownership of their content as it’s their responsibility to host it somewhere. Apps like Apple Podcasts simply reference the content and pull through new episodes via RSS feeds.
Ultimately this means that while podcasts are pretty straightforward to send over the internet, they’re not easy to find on the internet. Most podcast directories have either lackluster podcast categorisation or no tagging system at all.
If you want to hear a true crime podcast narrated by an investigative journalist, how can you find that? Well, you can read the descriptions in each podcasts' summary, but finding them requires searching random keywords and hoping for a match. Not exactly ideal. Given this, we asked Evo for his take on solving the podcast discovery problem.
“It’s a significant challenge which will require several different approaches to solve. The kind of human editorial curation currently going on in apps like Apple Podcasts is great, but they’re surfacing content that’s of interest to everyone, not individual listeners.
“I think they’ll be able to make more personalised recommendations over time as they start to better understand the data their app gives them. But that’s a problem in itself. Especially in the GDPR world we now live in. We know data is required to create a good personalised experience. But at what cost? We’re still trying to figure that out and it’s likely to be a never ending battle.
“Looking beyond the apps, there are quite a few good content curators out there who have their own newsletter. They typically go out once or twice a week with a list of top shows critics have chosen to promote. As the audience numbers for these newsletters grow, the recommendations will improve through listener feedback.
“Unfortunately there is no simple solution. It’s going to take a little bit of AI and a lot of human curation. After that, it’s all about improving the user experience. A lot of work needs to be done to figure out how to present podcasts to people in the way they want and they’re going to consume.”
The problem of podcast discovery is likely to persist over the years ahead. But making progress in this area is key to helping the medium reach new audiences. To continue to grow, podcasting needs to become more approachable to people of all ages and backgrounds. Not just the tech-savvy middle class.