I do not think it's necessary to use money to promote your podcast. Word of mouth is absolutely king. And if you buy ads, the return of money spent doesn't ever feel satisfying enough. Especially if your show is just a hobby. That said, if you're absolutely adamant about spending money promoting your show, here is some advice.
Pay to improve your show
If you insist on paying to market your show, the very first thing you should spend money on is making your show better. And I don't mean buy better equipment. Your equipment is probably fine. I mean take classes, get mentorship, take a workshop, travel to conferences, buy books. Because the more interesting your show is, the more people will listen.
For instance, Alex Blumberg, the CEO of Gimlet gives a class on podcast storytelling. I firmly believe every single podcast can benefit from better storytelling, and this class will help you be more engaging and interesting to listen to.
There are also lots of courses offered by Masterclass which teach you how to be a better writer, comedian, storyteller, etc etc. I'm sure that there is something here that you can take that will make your show better.
The Transom Story Workshop is a 5 full-day workshop where you learn to make narrative audio stories with some great teachers.
Make Noise by Eric Nuzum is a fantastic book which will absolutely improve your podcast.
Finding a podcast mentor can be hard. You can do it by just meeting a TON of podcasters. Go to every meetup, conference etc, and talk to as many podcasters as you can. Even the celebs and you might click and find a new mentor. But it's also possible to pay for a mentor. AIR Media offers mentorships for a fee. I applied and got assigned a fantastic person who I already heard of and respected his work. I ultimately didn't go with him because I found another mentor, but still, there are some high quality mentors in this program.
You might also invest in your show by paying a writer, producer, or editor to improve your show. I don't mean to make the audio sound crisper or clearer. A good writer/producer/editor can listen to your show, and suggest improvements such as cutting out boring parts, adding in extra interesting bits, or sound clips, or music, and of course a writer can help you research and write the show which might improve it too.
You could also pay for great content. For instance original research or investigations are sometimes very interesting to listen to. So you could commission a paid study, and reveal something newsy that other people would talk about. Or do some kind of stunt like see if you track down an old forgotten celebrity or something who's been quiet for 20 years. Basically if you do something elaborate and exciting for the show it will get people talking.
You could also pay to improve your show artwork or website. Your show artwork is typically what new listeners first see. So you really want it to sell your show, which means it should be as amazing as possible. Your website is another place that you can really spruce up to get new listeners. Because when they visit it and are curious about your show, the copy, and theme, and artwork of the website should draw them in to the point they can't wait to listen.
Finding ways to improve the content of your show will always be worth investing into. Because marketing should always start with better content.
General marketing advice
The more you know about marketing the more impact you can make with your marketing dollars. There absolutely is a convenience fee for people who don't know how to market. As in there are ways to get listeners by paying for ads, but I find these methods expensive. If you read just one, two, or three books on marketing, you'll come away with a million ideas you can do for free. So I highly recommend understanding what marketing is and some basic tactics first. It's sort of an investment to get a book and consume it and practice it, but it's worth it if you're trying to build an audience. Here are a few books I recommend (with affiliate links):
Conferences are a great place to do some marketing. If your show has a niche in such a way that there are conferences held about the same topic as your podcast, this is a great place to be, as everyone attending is interested in the same topic as your podcast. Here are some ideas.
- Pass out stickers everywhere. I went to a conference once that had 20,000 attendees. I brought 7,000 stickers and gave all of them out in 2 days. I walked around the entire time placing 5-10 stickers on any empty table I found. I would come back 5 minutes later they where always gone. People love stickers.
- I once offered to buy the official stickers for the conference. I knew this conference printed and gave each attendee a sticker in their goodie bag upon arriving. I told them, in exchange for ordering, buying, and shipping them the stickers, could they please also place one of my stickers in the goodie bag. I got lucky the conference organizer liked my podcast and agreed. My sticker got in the hands of 300 attendees, all for about $100.
- You can also sponsor a conference. Sometimes this gets your podcast logo shown on shirts, bags, or other conference material.
- You can also do some guerilla marketing tactics and plaster up posters all over the event. If you can't get them inside the building then put them outside the building.
Social Media (buying ads on Facebook/Google/Twitter/etc)
Ok this is a spot a lot of newbie marketers think is the only thing to try. I'm going to first try to talk you out of it.
First of all if you are planning on spending anything less than $500 you are probably not going to see any uptick. You really need to spend a lot on social media ads to get anywhere and that's just not advisable for a podcast.
Next let's do some math. Suppose you spend $500 and get say 1000 clicks of your link from that. Out of the 1000 clicks, probably only 100 will actually listen. For whatever reason when they clicked to see more about your show, your show didn't sell itself enough and they didn't go listen. So out of these 100 new listeners, possibly only 10 actually listen to the whole episode and like it enough to listen to more. So for $500 you've only got 10 new listeners. And 10 new listeners don't provide anywhere near enough value to justify paying $500. So this just doesn't seem like a smart investment.
I had a whole bunch of free Facebook ad credit, and tried this. I think for it to be effective you need to put in a lot of work. For instance you could craft 5 different promotional posts. Then boost them all for $20 or something. Then go back and see which had the most engagement, which were the most effective. Then take the best ones, spend more money on them, and make more similar to that to try to sort of find the best ads that work. The ones with the most likes, reshares, and comments are more effective than ones that don't. Then promote the best performing ones with more money. It's kind of a waste to just make one post and promote it for a few hundred dollars when there's more effective ways of running your Facebook ads.
Influencer marketing is where you pay people with large audiences on social media to post whatever you ask them to post. So think about it like this, let's say you have $10 to spend. You could pay Instagram to get that post to reach an extra 1000 new eyes, OR you could pay another Instagrammer $10 to have them post it to their account getting you 10,000 eyes on it. The end result is the same, a post is on social media promoting you, but one is cheaper and goes farther than the other.
The easy but expensive way of finding influencers is to use a few websites that help you find people. Such as:
But my method is just to search hashtags and find large accounts posting on social media and message them and ask if they do paid promos. Working directly with people like this is typically cheaper, just requires a little more work to find them and negotiate deals. But it's not that hard.
So your primary goal when doing influencer marketing should be to grow your social media following. Your secondary goal should be to get new listeners to your show. So make sure your social media account is popping. Full of great stuff that people just want to consume more of. Whether that's jokes, great artwork, news, inspirational quotes. Just have a great account worth following. It's important to grow your social media followers because they can be leveraged to help market your show. It's sort of like why buy the milk when you own the cow. Once you reach 10,000 followers each post you do will be reposted and spreads to new eyes pretty easily, making each of your posts mini ads themselves, that convert new people.
Paid ads in other podcasts
You ever wonder how a new show on iHeart, Wondery, or Gimlet can get tons of new listeners on day one? It's because of cross promotions. Each of the other podcasts on the network will promote the new podcasts in the middle of their show. And this works great, because look, you're already listening to a podcast, so we know you like podcasts, and here's another one you should check out. It's an easy sell to the listener.
There are a few ways to do this. You can find shows you think would make a great place to promote your show, and then message them and ask how big their reach is and what their rates are for ads. You can also visit places like https://advertisecast.com or https://audioboom.com who are podcast ad agencies which have a lot of shows you can advertise on.
You can also pay for programmatic ads. These would be where you create the audio for the ad and they will be inserted in podcasts automatically. https://www.adswizz.com/ is an example of such a place.
Paid ads inside a podcast player
I spent $4,500 on ads in podcast players to see if it was worth it. I created a video on the entire process. Check it out.
Some podcast players are offering paid ad slots for podcasts. So when the person opens their podcast app, they see an ad for your podcast, and if they click it, they can easily subscribe. Here are a list of podcast players offering paid ads in the app.
Now this is the most convenient way to pay to get more listeners. You don't have to write any ad copy, or produce anything. Just pay for the ad cost, tell them which show to promote, and you're done. You are pretty much guaranteed to get new subscribers too. It's perfect right? Well because it's so easy means it will be more expensive.
I tried the Overcast ads, here were my results.
The last 3 columns are "views", "clicks", "subscribers". So for $550, I got 278 new subscribers. That means I paid almost $2 per subscriber. So two things. First, $2 per subscriber is a lot of money. Second, 278 new subscribers is not that many. With the size of my show being what it is, this didn't produce any noticeable uptick.
Here's another example from the Podcast Addict ads:
If I paid $240 to get 60 new subscribers that comes out to $4 per subscriber. Is that worth it to you? If you don't make any money on your show at all, maybe not. If you're a branded show, then this is cheap marketing. But if you're a big branded company, you can probably use your existing status to get an audience. Like through your social media, or somehow telling your customers.
So these are a few ideas of where you can spend your marketing dollars if you are really set on spending money. I hope this has been helpful. Good luck at making something great.