The world of podcasting is locked in a constant struggle to bring in new audiences and increase the reach of its content, but there’s one big demographic that many businesses in the industry seem to be wilfully blind to: the Queer podcasting community, which is full of young, diverse, and highly engaged audiences.
According to SXM Media and Edison Research’s Gen Z Podcast Listener report, 17% of monthly podcast listeners in the US identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community and over 90% of Gen Z listeners overall engage with content that depicts real-life stories. This shows that, despite the competitive state of the podcasting industry, there is still a market for Queer stories.
However, while there is a strong appetite for LGBTQ+ content, podcasters within the Queer community say they're still not being taken as seriously as they should be, and argue that the industry needs to be doing more to support both audiences and creators in these spaces.
In July, Apple held a free event at its store in London’s Covent Garden where the creators and hosts behind some of the most iconic Queer podcasts in the UK shared their stories with an audience of young podcasters seeking information and advice, but although platforms like this are welcomed by many in the community, there are bigger hurdles that LGBTQ+ podcasters need help in overcoming.
Using your platform to support fellow creators
For many independent creators, for example, it can be difficult to get started in podcasting without knowing the basics like where to get funding from, what equipment and recording setups to use, how to distribute and promote your podcasts, and all the other logistics that go on behind the scenes.
There are a number of resources that exist to help podcasters in the community by supporting them with free information and advice, including organisations such as the Queer Podcasters Network, which connects audio professionals and creators from LGTBQ+ backgrounds across the world.
This kind of networking is vital to ensuring that a podcast is successful, as speaking with contacts in the industry can help podcasters gain valuable insight into what strategies other independents and businesses are using, what trends are growing in the industry, and so on. Additionally, established podcasters are often willing to speak to fans who reach out through social media channels and other community platforms to ask for help with aspects of podcasting.
“Because we're a marginalised community, that makes us underprivileged as well, so I know that there are barriers when it comes to money and investing in your craft or investing in your dreams,” Nana Duncan, co-host of Two Twos podcast, tells PodPod ahead of Apple’s event. “I would say that it's good to ask for advice, even on social media. We get DMs and emails all the time asking us for advice - and we answer those DMs, because there was a time where we didn't know what we were doing, so it's important to give back.”
Host of Busy Being Black Josh Rivers, who also attended the event, says that other podcasters who have built a successful audience should also make it their responsibility to help other podcasters and that the big players should play a part in supporting independents.
“I think there also needs to be more fostering of community across the podcast industry,” said Rivers. “To say, ‘who else can I bring into this space? I have access, I have funding, who else can I help show up here?’”
However, Shivani Dave - co-founder of production company Aunt Nell and producer of LGBTQ+ history podcast The Logbooks - stresses that when going into these networking opportunities, it’s important to remember that it’s about building relationships first, instead of treating it as purely business.
“The people that I ‘network with’ in podcasting are not necessarily people that I think of as just colleagues,” said Dave; “they're people that I meet on nights out, or go for a drink with. It's much more free-flowing in that way.”
Promoting and funding Queer podcast projects
In order to make the podcasting industry more inclusive of creators from the Queer community and other marginalised backgrounds, it’s important to recognise that diversity isn’t just a one-off project and should be implemented across a company’s overall strategy.
Although many large-scale podcast platforms launch high-profile campaigns around calendar events like Pride, Black History Month and International Women's Day, many have accused these events of being little more than PR stunts, with organisations like Content Is Queen urging companies to “say less [and] do more”.
Spotify in particular has come under fire from its own employee unions over a claimed lack of investment in internal diversity programmes, despite promising $100 million in funding to develop content from marginalised groups.
Duncan says that big players in the industry should be investing more into podcasters from the Queer community, especially as it becomes harder to compete against them due to a lack of funding and resources. Similarly, Dave believes the podcast industry was more inclusive “15 or 20 years ago”, when podcasters were all on a relatively level playing field.
One of the reasons funding is such a big concern for many of these podcasters is that they often don’t meet the brand safety requirements for advertisers.
“We've pitched many podcasts that we've made to sponsors but they would reject them because they don't want to take the risk on the content that we're making,” said co-host of The Logbooks Podcast and co-founder of Aunt Nell, Tash Walker, “especially with The Logbooks Podcast which has lots of historic content, talking about sex a lot, and also things like the HIV and AIDS crisis, so I think that's another avenue that maybe needs rethinking as well.”
Brand safety solutions based on keyword targeting are becoming increasingly popular for podcast platforms seeking to lure in ad spend, but they can often lead to under-monetisation for creators from marginalised communities as they can inaccurately flag content as being unsafe for advertisers. This is frequently due to not taking into account the context of the episodes, according to a report by podcast hosting platform Sounder and Black-owned media organisation Urban One.
Although the report highlighted that brand safety and suitability models that make greater use of artificial intelligence and machine learning have been touted as potential solutions to this problem, with greater ability to pick up on contextual nuances, AI’s questionable track record with implicit bias means this may not be a perfect solution.
Meanwhile, proactive and thoughtful partnerships with podcasts in the LGBTQ+ space could yield strong benefits for brands. The Black Listeners Report 2.0 from Edison Research and SXM Media showed that 80% of Black listeners are more likely to trust brands who are endorsed by Black podcast hosts - and if the same trend holds true for the LGBTQ+ community, it presents a key opportunity for brands to reach this valuable market.
Working collaboratively with the community
With that being said, it’s also important to work respectfully and collaboratively with Queer podcasters when promoting their shows. Rivers said that he doesn’t necessarily “long for inclusion” from big brands, as he feels that creators from marginalised backgrounds often get brought into these spaces as “avatars of progress, diversity, and inclusion” but without any meaningful change happening as a result.
Similarly, Duncan and her co-host Rose Frimpong say their podcast was promoted via a billboard which made them feel more like “charity cases” that look good on social media and allow the companies to tick their diversity box for the year, but didn’t actually help them in the long run.
“I just feel like they need to kind of re-evaluate the reasoning for funding, because we've never received funding for anything that we've done before - everything we've ever done is self-funded,” said Frimpong. “We have meetings with big production companies, who have all these people, but the purse is shut.”
“Then we see that the purse is open for others and it makes us wonder: what do they have that we don't have? Or what is it about their content that they find more valuable than ours?”
“I'm always really passionate about talking about how you can find stories and tell them,” said Dave. “I think as Queer people, our stories are being told more and more, but I don't think there can ever be a limit to it being told too much. So finding stories, telling them, putting your own lens and lived experience onto those stories, and making sure that they get heard, that's sort of what I want to be able to talk about.”
One example of how big companies can help play a part in being more inclusive is by creating free events to educate people who don’t have access to funds for travelling to or paying for an event, Walker says, which can provide podcasters with the opportunity to hear from people from multiple different backgrounds.
“Maybe this is a call to the podcast creating community, or platforms that could put on more of these events for free,” said Walker, “because we want to hear podcasts from everyone, not just those who have the privilege.”