Don’t overlook the different types of podcast listener

Looking beyond demographics can yield valuable insights

Within the podcast industry, there’s been a lot of talk recently about how to capture various demographics, and what kinds of content are best suited to various groups. Many networks, for example, are seeking to tap into the growing Gen Z audience for podcasts, while others are identifying that older listeners are an as-yet largely untapped market.

The conversation generally tends to look at these groups based on genre preferences, ad engagement and total listening volume, which is perfectly valid - but there’s a risk that this approach overlooks a crucial factor, and that’s the fact that the podcast community includes many different types of listener. 

One of the best things about podcasting is the flexibility it allows in terms of consumption, and that has led to a broad diversity of different listening styles. 

For example, some people prefer to binge-listen to their favourite shows - either devouring multiple episodes of a particular series in one sitting, or spending hours at a time going through all of that week’s new releases in a certain genre. 

Other people, by contrast, may prefer to listen in short bursts, whether that’s because they’re having to fit their listening in around other commitments, or because their attention spans mean they have difficulty focusing on audio content for more than an hour at a time.

An audience’s listening habits can also impact their content preferences too; if someone likes having podcasts on in the background to provide some ambient distraction while they’re getting on with other things, this may well lead to a preference for lighter subject matter, where they’re less likely to miss important details if they tune out for a moment. Anecdotally, I’ve also spoken to people who feel the same way about listening to podcasts while driving, where they’re less likely to be distracted from the road than with weightier content. 

On the other hand, others who use podcasts for learning and development may be more likely to binge-listen for long periods of time, and may similarly be more inclined to listen at higher speeds for the sake of absorbing the information more quickly, whereas those tuning in for entertainment probably aren’t.

Podcasters need to be aware of these different types of audience behaviour patterns and take them into account when building content strategies. It may mean making your content shorter or longer to suit your audience’s preferences, or changing up what time of day you publish them. It can also influence the types of subscription benefits and bonus content offered; an audience that likes using your podcast as comforting background chatter may be interested in hanging out on a monthly live stream, for instance.

The likes of SXM Media and Acast have occasionally published research around the topic of different listener behaviours, but the patchiness of podcast analytics actually makes it relatively hard to ascertain the listening habits of one’s own audience. 

Short of directly asking them, the easiest method is probably by looking at your consumption data and completion rates in Apple Podcasts and Spotify’s back-end dashboards to see when users dropped off. As a general rule of thumb, if almost all of your listeners are making it all the way through to the end of every episode, you could probably stand to make them longer (and vice versa).

Of course, you may decide that listener behaviour isn’t as meaningful a metric to base your strategy on as other demographics like age and gender, which is certainly a valid approach. But overlooking it entirely seems somewhat shortsighted, and applying broad-brush assumptions to whole demographic groups doesn’t always paint a clear picture.

One of the strengths of your audience is that it comes in many wonderful flavours - and getting to know each and every one of them will only make your relationship stronger.