October 12, 2015 Allison Harden

What You Can Learn About Podcasting From NPR

If you think that podcasts have nothing to learn from Radio, you might want to take a look at NPR. According to NPR, about 20.9 million listeners tune in each week. Furthermore, a Harris Telephone Survey concluded that NPR is the most trusted news source in the United States. If you’re not convinced that NPR has some compelling lessons to teach, consider the fact that Slate called their annual pledge drives “cunning genius”. So if you’re looking to improve your podcast, it might be time to take some tips from NPR.

Tip #1: Take Your Cues From Your Audience

One thing NPR does really well is they take their cues from their audience. Considering their “We’re Listening” facebook campaign, where they encouraged listeners to join their panel, to give feedback on to participate in surveys, online forums, focus groups, experiment with new products and just give feedback in general.

Allowing audiences to contribute ideas, give feedback, and participate in audience forums does two things for NPR: 1) it allows them to get ideas from their audience about what sort of content they want produced, what they’re interested in, and what they like and don’t like about what NPR is already producing and 2) it allows NPR’s audience to feel like they are part of a community and become more integrated into the NPR brand and experience – this increased participation means increased readership and more intense fans, who are more likely to recommend NPR to their friends.

Even the way that NPR has constructed this panel is ingenious – it’s not just an open forum that any audience member can come and comment on (after all, NPR has room for comments at the bottom of each page) – it’s a closed forum that listeners can only access if they give their email and name. This also does two important things for NPR! First of all, it gives the group members a feeling of exclusivity and importance an open forum wouldn’t allow for. This increases the feeling of participation and dedication among members. The second thing it does is it allows NPR to target these people – dedicated fans interested in being part of their group and consistently giving feedback – using an email marketing campaign.

Tip #2: Ask For What You Need

Anyone who’s listened to NPR during pledge week knows the they’re not shy about asking for what they need. During pledge week, regular NPR programming is interrupted so NPR hosts can directly ask their audience to donate. NPR pledge weeks are very successful, using a number of strategies (flatteries, offers to match donations, gifts, offers to end pledge week!) to convince listeners to donate.

The most important lesson to be learned from NPR’s pledge week is a simple one – if you want your audience to take a certain action, ask them to. Repeatedly. If you want them to like your Facebook page, ask them to like your Facebook page at the end of each episode. Express gratitude to those who have already done so. Offer incentives to those who haven’t yet. And next week? Do it again.

Your audience is probably not going to buy your product, follow your social media account, read your book, write a review, or donate to your show unless you ask them to. Even if you have clear links in your show notes, it’s important to state these things explicitly during your podcast.

The tone of NPR’s pledge week is also very important. NPR doesn’t beg for money, or attempt to make their listeners feel guilty if they don’t donate. They use positive reinforcement and incentives, as well as a healthy dose of humor, in order to convince people to give money. Don’t try to cajole or threaten your audience into taking an action that’s important to you. Offer them rewards, flattery, and gratitude, and they are much more likely to do what you want.

Tip #3: Know Your Audience

NPR didn’t put all that work into getting feedback from their audience for nothing. NPR really knows their audience. The stereotypical NPR person is liberal, interested in receiving news from an “unbiased news source”, interested in both international and local issues, culturally literate, and middle or upper class. They care about social issues and are interested in other cultures. NPR writes and produces content for this person.

Because NPR knows their audience, the type of content they produce is consistent in quality, tone, length, and feel. It’s not hard to predict, or roughly estimate, what types of topics NPR will cover and what they will say about them. NPR’s audience appreciates this consistency – despite the endless influx of new information, there are rarely any surprises.

Strive to create content targeted at your average, or ideal, listener. Use your connection with your audience not just to develop new ideas from suggestions, or fix problems, but to try and really get to know your audience. How old are they? Why are they listening to you? What other things do they like? When are they listening to you? What sort of lives do they lead? Once you know who your audience is, you can begin to hone your content to their tastes. Honing your content in this manner will not only please your existing audience, it will draw in new fans who fit the profile you’ve outlined.

Tip #4: Think in Content Packages, Not Content Pages

When NPR creates a piece of content, say an article, they are not just creating and designing a content page.They are attempting to create a content package – something that has multiple elements that can be distributed ideally over multiple social media platforms. Some elements of a content package might include: headline, body text, audio file, long teaser, short teaser, and multiple images designed to look the best on multiple social media packages and coordinate with different teasers. This is a “create once, publish everywhere” strategy. Because of this strategy, NPR does not have to rearrange or add content every time they republish to a new social platform. Hashtags are ready for instagram and twitter, teasers are ready for Facebook, images have been optimized for pinterest and instagram, etc., etc.

Thinking in content packages instead of content pages is a great way to optimize the content that you do produce, and increase its shareability and accessibility. Ultimately, it is also a time saver that allows more resources to be devoted to creating more content, instead of modifying existing content. Furthermore, you won’t have to rely on your visitor to create a good image, caption, or teaser for your content – they probably won’t be able to do as good of a job as you will.

We hope these tips help you and your podcast to enjoy atleast a sliver of the success that NPR has had :). Keep up the good work!

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