Why your podcast doesn’t need social media

Forget viral posts - your energy is better spent on building direct relationships

When you launch a podcast, your first focus is often the audio. Episodes! Trailers! RSS feeds! You’re getting your mic set up just right, honing your editing skills, and polishing the show notes so people actually press play.

Then you publish your first few episodes and start wondering: who is pressing play? And how can I get more people to listen to this amazing show I’ve made? That’s where most podcasters turn to social media. They think audiograms, feed posts and getting on TikTok.

But here’s the thing – If you’re looking for new podcast listeners, social media probably isn’t your best bet. That seems a little counterintuitive; according to Pew Research Center, 72% of Americans use some kind of social media, so of course you can find new podcast listeners there…right?

While social media may seem like an obvious option for marketing your podcast, I don’t think it’s the best use of your time and energy. For starters, social media users tend to stay on the platforms they’re using.People don’t open up Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter to listen to a podcast. They open those apps to see cute photos, mindlessly scroll through videos, or get inspired by quippy remarks. 

If they happen on your podcast’s promotional content there, they might follow your account, but you’re still fighting an uphill battle to get them to actually leave the app and go listen to your podcast. Because while 72% of Americans may use social media, according to Edison Research’s latest Infinite Dial report, only 42% of Americans over the age of 12 have listened to a podcast in the last month, and only 31% in the last week. 

This means that when you use social media to promote your show, you’re likely promoting it to a lot of people who rarely or only sometimes listen to podcasts - so no matter how good your social media posts are, you may never get your followers on those platforms to become podcast listeners.

Social media is also more likely to connect you with people who already know about you and your show, rather than new listeners. When you start a new social media account for your podcast, you’ll probably share it with your existing followers on other accounts, and a subset of them will follow your new show. Maybe you’ll convince them to share it with their friends and you’ll pick up some new followers along the way - but unless you build a social media strategy around going viral, you’re unlikely to find massive audience growth on these already-saturated social media platforms. And you’ll need massive growth to make a difference to your download numbers considering (as discussed above) the low conversion rates for social media.

Which leads me to the fact that growing your social media following might actually require more time and energy than making your podcast.

One of the challenges of social media for podcasters is that social media platforms are primarily visual, while podcasting is still a (predominantly) audio format. So if you decide to grow your show through social media marketing, then you’ll need to learn a bunch of new skills including graphic design, video editing, captioning and more. 

Then, if your social media efforts are successful, you actually have to spend more time on social media platforms posting and engaging with your followers. You don’t just get to “do great on social media” one or two times, and then return to making your show with a brand new audience intact. Social media continues to pull your focus from your podcast, and before you know it, you might find yourself spending all your time making videos for your TikTok followers, while your podcast downloads stagnate. 

So social media may not be a great way to market your show, but don’t despair - there are other strategies to win new listeners that I think are actually more effective in growing your podcast.

My number one tip is to cross-promote with other shows. I’ve already talked about the challenges of getting social media followers to actually go and listen to your podcast, but we can avoid that challenge by marketing our shows to people who are already engaged podcast listeners!

That’s why I always recommend focusing your marketing efforts on cross-promotion. Reach out to shows you admire, and see if they might be willing to promote your show if you promote theirs in turn. Maybe they’ll do an ad swap with you, sharing an ad for your show at the middle or end of their episodes if you do the same. If an ad swap isn’t an option, they might be willing to share a heartfelt recommendation in the intro for a relevant episode. Or you could suggest a guest swap, where they come on your show and you go on theirs. Get creative and have fun with it! You’ll likely pick up more podcast listeners along the way.

I also highly recommend starting an email list alongside your show, so you can communicate directly with your listeners on an ongoing basis. This could be as simple as setting up a free Substack or Mailerlite account, sharing your sign-up link in your episode intros & outros, and then sending a monthly email to the folks who join the list.

While I don’t see much success getting social media followers to listen to your podcast, I’ve found that people seem way more likely to pop open an episode that lands in their email inbox. Plus with an email list, you’ve got your listeners’ direct contact info without it being connected to any specific platform. This is called an “owned channel,” and it’s the holy grail for marketers everywhere!

That’s because it’s essential for building relationships with your listeners. The promise of social media is that we can grow giant audiences without having to do that one-on-one work of relationship building - but I believe that people listen to podcasts because they love feeling like they know the hosts! And the more we can center relationship-building in our marketing efforts, the better.

So instead of taking your marketing efforts to social media platforms where you’ll become just another post on peoples’ feeds, try more direct relationship-building strategies like hosting a virtual gathering for listeners, creating inexpensive swag (postcards! stickers!) to send to listeners who leave reviews, or soliciting listener questions to inform your episode content. The better you know your listeners, the better your show will be, and the more likely they are to share it with all their friends!