How Forever 35 Built a Community

Photo by CoWomen/Unsplash
Photo by CoWomen/Unsplash

The listeners of the fast-growing podcast about self-care have found plenty to talk about—with each other.

In fall 2017, when Kate Spencer texted her friend Doree Shafrir and suggested they turn their conversations about skincare routines into a podcast, she was mostly joking. But Shafrir “had amazing follow-through,” according to Spencer, and decided to run with the idea.

A few months later, the pair recorded the first episode of the Forever 35 podcast. Its success has everything to do with its focus on women and community. Originally conceived with an eye to physical self-care, over the course of the last year and a half the show has broadened to include all manner of topics, including mental health. In interviews with guests and weekly mini-episodes, where the hosts answer listener questions, it’s not uncommon for discussions of sexual assault and anxiety to share space with conversations about Sephora sales and face masks.

Attracting an audience

When they started, Spencer was a podcasting newbie, but Shafrir had experience co-hosting a podcast about infertility with her husband, called Matt & Doree’s Eggcellent Adventure. Shafrir leveraged that audience to drum up initial support for the launch of Forever 35. “The main way people find out about podcasts is by listening to other podcasts,” she says. “A lot of the people who listened to Eggcellent Adventure followed me to Forever 35.”

The pair also alerted their own social media followings and created Forever 35 social accounts before the podcast even launched. “We started the Instagram before the first episode went live,” says Spencer. “It was low-key and low-stress, but we built a small following by being active pre-launch.” A mention on the Cup of Jo blog in the show’s early days also garnered a significant number of new subscribers; the site’s founder, Joanna Goddard, later was featured as a guest on the podcast.

Shafrir says that a key part of success in podcasting is building a community and collaborating with others. “I read the peak podcasting article in The New York Times, and there was a guy who said he didn’t want to promote other podcasts he appeared on when he recorded his own show,” she says. “I was shocked by that. It costs nothing, and it’s good karma to help others.”

Forever 35 has strong social followings on several platforms; it has sparked a vibrant Facebook community and a number of other spin-off communities, where a mostly female and female-identifying audience talks about diverse topics. “We put a lot of work into making the Facebook group a safe space and setting a good tone,” says Shafrir. “It seemed like it was a natural offshoot of the podcast.”

Keeping it intimate yet inclusive

Spencer adds that they set ground rules when the Facebook group launched and then worked with a group of trusted moderators to make sure posts were thoughtful, appropriate, and unique. They also set a password—which they share on episodes—that users have to enter to request to join the group. “The password isn’t hard to guess and it’s certainly not a secret,” says Shafrir. “But even that one step has kept a lot of random people from joining. As a result, almost all the posts and comments are fine and the moderators don’t really have to step in.”

As the podcast grows, Spencer and Shafrir are thinking about next steps. “We honestly didn’t come into this thinking about monetization, or that it was going to be so huge,” says Spencer. “It was a fun hobby, and getting sponsors and income was an added bonus.”

Shafrir adds that even though it started as a hobby, they always took it seriously and stuck to a schedule. “The barrier to entry for podcasts is low, but making a good podcast is actually a lot of work,” she says. “We do a lot of prep, and listen to and edit everything. When I went on maternity leave earlier this year, we banked a lot of content so we could keep putting out episodes consistently.”

The hosts recently signed with Acast, a podcast marketplace that sells advertising for affiliated shows, which has allowed them to offload some of the work they did finding sponsors and turn more focus to revamping the website and starting production on branded merch. They are considering doing more live events, although Shafrir points out that having an infant might prevent “a grand European tour” anytime in the immediate future. When asked about their dream guests, Spencer and Shafrir both named Michelle Obama, adding that Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would also be amazing.

While none of those women have accepted the hosts’ invitation yet, the podcast’s growth appears unstoppable—so don’t be surprised if you hear RBG on the show sometime soon.

—Cortney Harding