The world of social media marketing is a unique and constantly changing field, and every marketer within it is looking for that extra edge that can help them stay on top of the latest trends. For many industry professionals, that edge is provided by the Social Creatures podcast, produced for Sprout Social by Message Heard, and hosted by Sprout’s head of international marketing, Cat Anderson.
The show examines the ins and outs of keeping on top of social trends, including things like parasocial relationships, leveraging TikTok and maintaining a social consciousness. We sat down with creator and host Cat Anderson to discuss the role the podcast plays in Sprout’s marketing strategy, and the need for greater clarity around podcast analytics.
How would you describe the podcast?
I would describe it as an informal and honest look at paths to success on social media. Success looks really different to different people. So I just wanted to have a real honest to god conversation with people about basically their escapades on social media, how they got there. And sometimes it is very sort of formulaic, and sometimes it is absolutely bananas, the stuff that happens.
There’s lots of different stories. Hopefully, it's a good warts-and-all infotainment podcast, where you get entertained, but also learn a little bit as well.
Why did you start your podcast?
So Social Creatures was born from my role at Sprout. I was, last year, the head of EMEA marketing. And so a lot of the work I do is to try and find local stories and like, you know, regional flavours of how our tools help people or things that people are getting up to in social and we were having these conversations with people. And we were turning them into blog posts, and they were still good, but I felt like we were missing all of that texture and character and personality that you'd get from a recording. So we decided to go into podcasting.
And another reason why we decided to set up Social Creatures is I find that anyone who works in social media or marketing in general, if you are interested in something, you can look up something online, and it will tell you a formulaic 1-2-3-step process to success. I feel like social media has a lot of prescriptive content online that tells you, do this, and you will see these results. And it's just not like that. It's absolutely wild. It's a wild place online where people experience success in all sorts of different shapes and forms.
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started?
A long time ago I used to work a little bit in BBC Radio and I thought that those would be completely transferable skills. And they are not transferable skills; I feel like podcasting is a lot more in-depth and complex than you think it's going to be – things like booking your guests is a wildly complex part of the process, making sure that what they understand to be good lighting is in fact good lighting, and getting the audio setup - all of those things are so foundational and are sometimes quite difficult and time-consuming.
The other side of it is I find the analytics of podcasting to be quite frustrating at times, because I think it's still an emerging science. Even in the short time that I've been doing it, I've seen them improve, and we're getting more and more insight. But it's a cumulative exercise, which is something I'm always saying; when you build momentum, you're not going to be absolutely viral overnight. The analytics side of things and proving the ROI of podcasts is an ongoing conversation.
How many people does it take to create an episode of your show?
We operate pretty leanly, and we work with a company called Message Heard, who help us produce it. So we have a producer, a sound mixer. Last year, we were probably looking at a team of about six; this year, that's gone up a little bit more, because we're folding in an SEO strategist to make sure that our podcast SEO is really solid. And we've got a broader distribution and promotional plan. So in total eight to 10 people.
Do you monetise your podcast?
No, we do not monetise the show at this stage. At this point, we are quite simply just trying to build that initial momentum, that groundswell of listeners and weekly download rates. I don't really think that there are necessarily any plans to monetise it. We wanted it to be something where we can be providing thought leadership in the industry, and social media podcasts is a fairly busy part of the podcasting world. There's a lot of people who've got podcasts on this subject.
We were just focusing more on trying to have a unique and honest angle that deviated a little bit from the things that are very heavy in business jargon – I would never listen to them, to be honest with you. That's not my cup of tea, so we wanted ours to be a bit more of a unique offering. We've been over-indexing more on making sure that the content is really solid, and that we can establish our place within the industry. Having that as a stream of revenue in any capacity is not something that we're doing at this point.
How do you promote your podcast?
We promote the podcast in a lot of our own channels, on organic social and through our newsletter, and everything that we own internally; we also do a lot of employee advocacy. Sprout's got thousands of employees and we also asked them to promote it on their channels. We also promote it within the podcasting space through banner ads, radio ad inserts, or art inserts – little teaser trailers.
It reminds me of the more traditional above-the-line things because, again, working in radio, I was always really astonished when you actually look into the methodology of how people collect radio and TV metrics and analytics – they're loosey goosey. It's just funny because podcasts have obviously had this massive resurgence, and everyone and his dog is getting on board. And people like myself are used to having more analytical insight.
Who listens to your podcast?
We've got social media managers, the practitioner level of people who are using social media. Every day, you're obviously looking for insights as to how things can be improved, maybe tactics and strategies that they can replicate or put together and present to their bosses, from that practitioner level right up to the more senior level of people who are looking into expanding their social strategies. There are some episodes in particular where it is a much more high-level conversation. It's less about the nitty gritty and the tactics of a campaign. It's more the broader strategies.
Then we have people who are fans of the people that we're getting on board. We have tried to be strategic with our guests and get people who are household names, or people who have strong online communities. There's people who are genuinely interested in figuring out: how did that come about? Like when Weetabix did that campaign with Heinz Baked Beans that everybody went crazy about a few years ago.
What have you learned about yourself since starting your podcast?
I have learned that I have more verbal ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ than I thought I did, which I didn't enjoy hearing. I did standup comedy for a long time and thought I'd squished them all out of my day-to-day talk. I've also discovered that transcribers really struggle with the Northern Irish accent. I've learned as well, and I've always kind of suspected this with everyone, that just plain old raw enthusiasm is so much more appealing than heavily scripted, perfectly crafted questions. This is something that I think you can hear in some of the earlier episodes.
It's so important to remember where the end result exists. It might be somebody listening while they're cooking their dinner in their kitchen. It’s in these informal environments where people want to listen to real voices, they want to listen to real enthusiasm and real questions. I've never really been a fan of too much structure and process and scripting, because I think it offloads authentic likability. My bosses will hate to hear that – it's like "Cat has gone further off the rails".
What was the last podcast you listened to?
The Duncan Trussell Family Hour, which I believe is listed as a philosophy podcast. If you ever saw the Netflix show Midnight Gospel, that show was the audio interpretation of this podcast. He is a very spiritual, hippie kind of dude. His voice scratches some sort of dopamine receptor in my brain, I just love the sound of his voice. There was a really great episode with a guest called Steven Kotler, which was about how our society teaches you to start thinking that you're old from about the age of 25 onwards, but actually that's extremely bad for your neurological and physical health.
I would like to say I do not always listen to podcasts that are about neurological longevity. I also listen to things that are very obvious for a millennial woman, like My Therapist Ghosted Me. I absolutely love Vogue Williams and Joanne McNally. It's not always stuff that's actually educating me. In fact, it rarely is. Mostly I look for women talking nonsense.