Word of mouth is still the best podcast promotion tool, study shows

Sounds Profitable report highlights need to enhance podcast discoverability

Podcast listeners are more likely to discover new shows through word of mouth than through other mediums, according to a new report by Sounds Profitable and Signal Hill Insights. 

The report on The Podcast Landscape used data from an online study of 2,400 US respondents aged 18 and above from May to June 2023. The respondents were asked about their podcast listening and consumption habits, as well as their general perception of podcast creators and the medium as a whole. 

Word of mouth continues to be the strongest podcast growth driver, according to the study, as more than half of respondents (55%) said that they discover new podcasts through a recommendation from a family member, friend, or coworker in their social circle. Over half of those who would listen to a recommendation do it because they are trying to learn new things, which means that audiences are open about hearing new recommendations from people both in their social circle and outside of it. 

As personal recommendations prove to be an effective way to promote a show, advertisers can take advantage of this by investing in podcast influencers with host-read campaigns, as 25% of respondents said they find new podcasts through a recommendation from another podcast host. 

The survey also indicated it’s more efficient to promote podcasts on the social media channels of other well-known influencers through paid advertising, as 67% of respondents are more likely to discover new shows that way, as opposed to sponsored posts and ads through companies’ own social media accounts. 

“Podcasters need to get serious about ‘word of mouth’ - what exactly is the message that would-be ambassadors should be spreading about your show - what it's about, what they get from it, how it makes them feel, etc,” the report stated. “We need to give influencers of all types a specific, positive vocabulary about our shows.”

“Podcasting can't grow by word of mouth alone - YouTube promotion and paid ads must be part of your plans to reach the full potential of podcasting.” 

YouTube is the second most popular way that listeners find new shows to listen to, aside from personal recommendations, according to the report, with 48% of respondents choosing it. YouTube Music started rolling out podcast features which includes episode recommendations within the app after first announcing the integration in February this year, and is expected to complete its global rollout by the end of 2023. 

Spotify is also popular with 24% of respondents, as the audio giant continues to enhance its podcast discoverability offerings with the new interface it launched in March. It features personalised sub-feeds which include audio and video previews of podcast episodes, and an autoplay feature for podcasts in which new targeted episodes that fit the user’s taste will start playing as soon as the previous one ends. 

In addition to podcast discoverability trends, the Podcast Landscape Report also highlights the importance of consistency for podcast listeners, as the majority of respondents prefer podcasts that follow a fixed posting schedule, and keep up with over three different titles on a weekly basis. Over 80% are also likely to move on quickly to another podcast as soon as a limited series is over. 

For brands that want to invest in podcasts, familiarity is another important thing to consider for listeners, and at least 40% of the respondents are more likely to listen to a podcast if it is hosted by a favourite celebrity or influencer from another medium, produced by their favourite TV show or movie, talking about their favourite show or movie, or talking about their favourite brand or product. The majority of respondents (59%) aren’t affected by the fact that a podcast they’re listening to may be produced by a company that is offering products or services to consumers and businesses. 

Despite the growing trend of video podcasts, it’s important to continue seeing podcasting as an audio-first medium to continue providing consumers with a passive listening experience, as the report shows that the reason most respondents stop listening is because of time constraints due to work or being on vacation.

Similarly, Voices’ Power of Podcasts report also showed that audio-only podcasts are still considered more popular amongst 58% of podcast listeners in the US, and recommended that podcasters focus on nailing the audio quality first before investing in video. Passive listening can also help non-podcast listeners that are interested in the medium but lack the information - a group that the report refers to as ‘The Persuadables’ - to try it out, as 41% see the benefit of it for having something to listen to in the car. 

“The most significant source for completely new audience growth is a group called ‘The Persuadables,’ who over-index as older women who are open to our content and looking for more passive, lean-back content they can multitask with,” the report said. “To make that content, you need those voices in the room and a consistent audience research plan to understand them better.” 

The report is sponsored by a number of podcast networks and platforms, including SXM Media, Barometer, Audiohook, Libsyn, Magellan AI, CoHost, PRX, ESPN Podcasts, and brands including BetterHelp and Paramount.