'Why You Don't Need A Massive Podcasting Audience'
How many times have you identified with the following statement
I love being a history podcaster, but I wish I could get a bigger audience on side.
What if I told you that you don't need hundreds of thousands of listeners to feel fulfilled as a history podcaster? What if I told you that you only need one thousand 'true fans' (for most of us, you would need only half that number, so don't despair if 1,000 seems impossible!) in order to feel like you've made it and, if you're interested, make a living as well? What on earth am I on about? Well history (podcasting) friend, read on...
1,000 True Fans
If you weren't aware, in 2008, a guy called Kevin Kelly devised this idea called One Thousand True Fans in a blog post which you can find here. What's fascinating about his idea is the message of hope it sends to independent creators like us - you do not need to have millions of followers, downloads, supporters etc. to have made it, and you don't - strictly speaking - need to aim for such impossible levels of stardom either. All you need really are one thousand true fans - people who genuinely feel a connection with you, who will go above and beyond to support you and get your stuff, who will tell others about you and who will join you on this journey through thick and thin.
You could have several reactions to this. My immediate reaction was 'that's great and all, but how do I get 1,000 true fans in the first place?' The answer to that is obvious - you have to keep plugging away with what you're doing. However, I would also wager that it doesn't have to even be 1,000 true fans. It could be as many true fans as is necessary to sustain you creatively and perhaps financially. The point is, you should be aiming to make new true fans, rather than simply looking to expand your reach and audience.
In a sense, this message is disarmingly simple. Of course you want to connect with people that actually care about what you're doing. What I found interesting about Kelly's idea though is the fact that, for whatever reason, he never seems to really allude to podcasters. This is interesting to me because out of all people who are in need of true fans, podcasters - especially history or other niche podcasters - are most dependent upon people that actually care. This is something that deserves emphasis, so let me put it another way.
Perspective - the Importance of Finding a Balance
Consider this. As podcasters, we pay a great amount of attention to individual downloads, and we marvel when they increase, and get a bit crabby when they decrease. At the same time, we accept that 95% of the people that download our show will never get in touch, will not connect with us on social media, will not sustain us creatively in any way. That is fine - it is ludicrous to expect everyone that downloads the show to fully engage with you. Think about it this way though - why do we care so much about downloads, when the downloads don't make creating this show any easier? Why do we put so much value on downloads, when our situation stays the exact same no matter how far up or down they might go?
Let me ask you another question. What stuck in your mind the most - the time when you got 139 more downloads on your most recent episode than the previous episode, or the email you got from a listener which thanked you profusely for your hard work, said it meant so much to them, and asked where they could donate because they wanted to give back? I would wager you would say the latter, wouldn't you? Well, that latter individual is your true fan, and rather than caring so much about the 95% and why they are so silent, you should be patting yourself on the back with that 5%, and attempting to build an even stronger relationship with those true fans that are already with you.
The point, by the way, isn't to aim for 1,000 true fans, though that is a good goal to have. The point is that a true fan means many different things to everyone, and everyone will need a different amount of true fans in order to get by. Your number of true fans may be as low as 5, 10 or maybe you only have 1 right now. Maybe like me, you know your true fans as the people who always comment, always like your stuff on Facebook, because they're so enthusiastic about your work that not even the crappy Facebook timeline algorithm can hide it from them. Again, it means different things to different people, so don't take this too far and start comparing true fans with others.
What about you Zack?
In my case, I try and measure my amount of true fans by looking at the amount of people who support financially on Patreon, the amount of people who are regularly in touch over Facebook, Twitter, Email etc. and those that share or tell people about what I'm up to. You can't be everywhere at once of course - there could be a massive fan of WDF out there somewhere who has told anyone who will listen about my show, but they have yet to actually get in touch with me. In addition, one another end of the scale, I quite incredibly have five people paying $50 a month to WDF's Patreon, and asking for nothing in return.
You cannot always create relationships like that yourself - sometimes people will simply go above and beyond for you because they like you. The important thing to remember though is that you are, as a history podcaster, so very important to your brand. When people listen in they aren't just listening for the history, they're listening because they like you and are a fan of your personality. They listen because maybe they've listened for years, and grabbing your new episode every Monday is as part of their routine as seeing the in-laws, or going to Church, or doing a weekly shop.
We are privileged to be in this position, and it's worth remembering at the same time that very few people in this world possess the platform to connect with other people in the way that we do. The question is, what do we do with this platform? If we are good at history podcasting, and if we want to make our product the best that it can be, then the first step is already out of the way.
But wait, I hear you say, 'I've been doing that already for ages, and I have yet to get any true fans, or as many true fans as I'd like.' Well then history friend, to you I'll say this - look at the way you're presenting your show, think about how you present yourself, and think whether, if you happened upon your show out of nowhere, would YOU feel comfortable, welcome, ready to connect with what you're doing on a personal level? It has to be personal, because your true fans aren't just buying your take on history, they're also buying you - your style, your presentation, your voice. It might sound a bit forced if I tell you to be more personable, because maybe you're just not a very personable person.
But then again, you don't need to be 'down with the kids' and have loads of friends to gain true fans. Personality and quality in history podcasting are the two most important factors that make the true fans come, in my view. For a history podcast, your stuff needs to be watertight, but it also cannot be dry or inaccessible. I know several academics who, bless them, would repel rather than encourage listeners if they started a podcast. This is part of the reason why I believe podcasting is a great proving ground for would be academics (which I hope I am some day!).
History Podcasting teaches interpersonal skills, but it also teaches humility and communication skills too; it teaches you how to make your points without being dogmatic, it teaches you how to approach dense topics and break them down for a casual audience...I could go on. You are, of course, bound by the laws of historical research, and you must uphold a level of quality if you expect to be taken seriously, but if you think this should prevent you from building up a rapport with your listeners, then you're dead wrong! Maintaining a relationship with your listeners, as well as drawing new listeners into the net whereupon they could be made into true fans - this is my goal as a history podcaster. This is how I will grow, and it's also how I'll make money and put food on my table, since most of those true fans will become Patrons, as they not only believe in the work I'm doing, but know that I'm not a dick, and so, they feel doubly happy parting with their hard earned money.
This of course is not an invitation to be someone you're not, in order to make a quick buck. It's remarkably easy to tell when someone is faking it, and if you start with false pretenses, it can be hard to get your listeners to trust you again. I've received the kindest emails, telling me that they honestly cannot get enough of what I'm doing these days, and that they really appreciate all my hard work. On the other hand, I have heard some people say that they can't listen to WDF, because sorry, they just don't like me, or that I'm not as cool as I think I am (I am so completely totally not cool bro), but at the end of the day, you cannot please everyone.
The important thing to remember is that it is a sliding scale of satisfaction - some listeners will leave, never to return, for whatever reason; some will check in from time to time depending on what you're up to, and others, a smaller percentage, will consume everything you release, purchase what you place on offer out of love for you, and will tell anyone that listens about the quality of your work, and why they love you so much. It's this latter tier of listener you want to strive for, and the process of getting there is as satisfying and rewarding as the end result. I'll see you on the journey.
I hope this post was useful to you guys. If it was, why not tell someone about WDF? In fact, why not get in touch with me, and let me know if you're enjoying WDF at the moment? Thanks for reading history friend, and to those of you responsible for podcasts, I hope this helped put things in perspective. What I want most myself are history friends, not just history podcast listeners (though of course I want those too!).