A lot of podcasters start a podcast, put it out in the world and hope it catches on, goes viral and spreads by itself. It pretty much never works like that, but I'd like to tell you how it can go viral.

The most important part about going viral

There is one monstrously important step about having anything go viral. And that is, your listeners have to be getting others to listen to the show. A dream come true would be that for every listener you have, they get 1 more new listener to come listen. If you can do that, your podcast will have fantastic growth. But let's break down how that looks.

Think about the last time you told someone about a podcast

First, how did it feel to tell others about it? What was that feeling? Chances are you either loved the show so much, you just had to tell people about it, or something in it blew you away, or you wanted to feel smart for knowing about this show before your friends, or you just wanted to tell a friend about something they might like to listen to. It's important to understand this because this is the feeling your listeners probably experience when they tell someone about your show.

Do your listeners have a reason to tell someone else?

No really. Do they have a good reason? If your show is mediocre, that's not a reason to tell someone to check it out. Nobody on earth will come out of the blue and say "Hey check out this podcast, it's really mediocre!" No, people don't rave about mediocre stuff. They rave about stuff they love. They share stuff they think is the best.

Really get into it and think "why would someone share my show with someone else?" Is it because it's informative, funny, gripping, or helpful? If it's one of these things, really turn up the dial delivering that kind of value to the listener to give them a reason to share it.

I've only surveyed my listeners once, but the very first question I asked, is "On a scale from 1-10, how likely are you to tell someone else to listen to the show?" Because knowing this is important for viral growth.

Focus on providing more value to your listeners

See a lot of podcasters try to look for new listeners, but I think it's more important for growth, to get your current listeners who like the show, to love it, or get the ones who love it, to be super fans. Because again, going viral means your listeners are getting new listeners for your show. And that will only happen if they love your show. But not only that, if you make a great show, the new listeners who stick their ears in to check it out, will instantly hear a great show too and get hooked. The only winning move here is to make your podcast amazing.

It's obvious that if your listeners turn off your show because they are bored they certainly aren't going to recommend the show to others right? And if you have listeners doing this, you are detracting from the viral-ness of your show. So make sure to not waste your listeners time with junk in your show you should have edited out. Jam pack it full of amazing stuff and leave no chance for anyone to turn it off.

I list some ways you can improve your podcast in this article.

The Science Behind Viral Marketing

I recently read the book Traction which talks about the science to viral marketing.

Consider this viral loop.

  • A listener is exposed to your podcast.
  • That listener tells a set of potential listener about your podcast.
  • These potential listeners are exposed to your podcast and become listeners themselves

Then the process repeats, hence why it's called a loop.

There are two variables to look at. The number of people each listener is telling others about, and the conversion percentage. The more people that person tells the better, and the more people who actually listen once told the better. I've seen Tweets where people urge their followers to listen to a podcast, but it has 0 likes even though that user has thousands of followers. And I've seen Tweets where the person has a few dozen followers and their heartfelt endorsement for a podcast got lots of comments. So the formula is to tell a lot of people but do it in a way that matters to them so they pay attention and actually try the show.

I personally think it's really hard to get people to listen to a podcast, and if I told 100 people, I bet only 1-3 would actually listen to the podcast I recommended. Because a third don't even listen to podcasts, another third would hear me but not be interested in the show I describe, and the last 3rd might be interested but not in the position to go subscribe right now and they just forget to do it later.

Now something else you have to consider is the viral cycle time. That is how long until the next listener recommends your show to someone else. Well, from what I have seen, people won't typically recommend a podcast until after they've gone through a few episodes of it already. Sometimes people Tweet about a show after only hearing one episode of a podcast. But I think typically it's longer. So this is another factor to consider when trying to do viral marketing, is that you have to think about how long it takes for each new listener to become hooked. 3 episodes maybe? 7 probably ya? After they listen to 20 episodes then absolutely they are hooked, and if they aren't telling others about the show then they probably just need a nudge to help you out by telling others.

More to consider

Here's some more stuff to consider when trying to do viral marketing.

Your branding matters

Your website should sparkle and pop. It should set the tone of the show and draw the listener in more. If someone gets a new potential listener to come check out the website for your podcast, but it looks boring or confusing just from the graphics and words, you just lost that fish. Really put a ton of emphasis on your podcast artwork, the title, the description, and what your website looks like. It should seal the deal for any potential listener so they hit play or subscribe. You have to make that last deal though, don't blow it.

Make your podcast easy to share

Your podcast website should look good on social media. Run it through tools like https://cards-dev.twitter.com/validator or post it to Facebook to see how it looks there. Try links to the main page and individual episodes. Do the cards and thumbnails look amazing and draw you in?

Are you present on the major social media platforms so people can also tag you in the posts? Your Twitter name makes sense too right? If your show is called "The Last Cat on Earth" but your Twitter name is @ilovecats, it's a problem. First people have troubles finding your name, second a Tweet saying "Check out the podcast @ilovecats" doesn't quite make sense does it?

Is your website easy to find so people can link to it? Some shows have horrible SEO and their podcast URL is hard to find, on the 2nd page of Google search results. Make sure to nail your SEO to get it right on top.

Make it as easy as possible for people to find you online when they do decide to tell others about you. Then make those posts look good with great looking social media cards or logical Twitter names etc.

Is your show on all the players?

Some people only listen to podcasts on Spotify, or Google Podcasts, or whatever app is their favorite. If they say "ok fine I'll try this show" and go to type in your show and can't find you, you probably lost a listener. Make sure your show is easily findable on all the major players. So it reduces the friction of getting new listeners.

I write about where to submit your podcast here.

I hope this has been helpful for you at understanding more about how viral marketing works for podcasts.