How to Use Promo Swaps to Reach New Listeners
Collaboration among series is the untapped secret for audience growth.
In March, Hi-Phi Nation host Barry Lam put out a call on Twitter aimed not at the show's fans but at other podcasters. The request? That shows with similar listeners contact him for promo-swap opportunities. Also referred to as “cross promotions,” promo swaps are agreements between two different podcasters to promote one another on their respective shows. What exactly this looks like can take a variety of forms depending on the type of agreement.
Lam quickly found a taker: The Partially Examined Life—which, like Hi-Phi Nation, focuses on philosophy—agreed to give Lam a shoutout in a future episode. On Episode 245, twenty-one minutes into a discussion on fashion, Derrida, and Foucault, the hosts broke away to hype Hi-Phi: “This season on Slate’s philosophy podcast Hi-Phi Nation, professor Barry Lam of Vassar College is doing a deep dive into the foundations of crime and punishment.” Lam later returned the favor on his own program. Promo swaps like these are common in podcasting because of the growth they can generate for new shows.
“I've done swaps with Twenty Thousand Hertz, Very Bad Wizards, and a few others,” Lam says. “I used to be part of a network of podcasters where all we did was promo swaps with each other. It makes a small difference. It really depends on how good a match the show is with the others, but it can definitely add a few thousand downloads per week.”
As beneficial as those arrangements are, the world of promo swaps encompasses more opportunities than tit-for-tat endorsements. Dallas Taylor, the host of Twenty Thousand Hertz, now part of the TED family of podcasts, which tells the stories of “the world's most recognizable and interesting sounds.” He says those arrangements are only one tier of what he considers the promo swap’s three-tier hierarchy.
“Tier three is being a guest on another podcast,” he says. “That can definitely garner some movement from one show to another.”
Tier two involves ad-roll trades like the one between Lam and The Partially Examined Life. These are essentially show previews, with the placement coming at any point during the episode instead of only the beginning. Taylor prefers to insert this type of promo at the end of his shows, which is often a hard-sell spot for paying advertisers. He figures that if listeners are still tuned in, there’s a good chance they’re itching for something new to discover.
And as tried-and-true as that method is, he says there’s another option that gets even better results.
“The top-tier thing that does the most by far is featuring another podcast in its entirety. That’s the king of all swaps.”
Collaboration is key
When Twenty Thousand Hertz launched in fall 2016, its audience was miniscule. The second episode, which explored the story behind the NBC chimes, earned just 304 listens, a slight improvement from the 217 that the debut garnered. Taylor’s audience, though, skyrocketed after a chance encounter with 99% Invisible host Roman Mars, who aired the NBC episode as a segment on his popular design podcast.
“That show probably has millions of listens at this point,” Taylor says. “That's how we've grown to where we are, because Roman did that twice to our shows.”
Mars gave Taylor not only the ideal boost to his podcast but a template to drive further growth. To this day, Taylor uses content from outside podcasts he likes on his own program every fifth or sixth episode. Those podcasts will, in turn, feature something from him: often an entire episode, sometimes a shorter promo.
“In the TV world, this is called repurposing, or localization if you’re going to another language. We don’t do that enough in podcasting,” he says. “We're seeing this in YouTubers already. YouTubers collaborate like crazy—this is why so many YouTubers will explode—but in the podcast world, we kind of silo ourselves. We've got to be looking for other people.”
Fitting another show into your feed
Taylor’s most recent trade-off is representative of the process. The business podcast Brought to you by... used their April Fool’s Day episode to dive deep into the history of the whoopee cushion, which Taylor loved. It was a topic he’d wanted to cover for a while—now he doubted he could do it any better. So, he negotiated a deal with Business Insider, the makers of Brought to you by..., to release the production in his feed, where it would be seamlessly packaged as a Twenty Thousand Hertz episode.
“When you start listening to the show, it's Twenty Thousand Hertz. It's me doing my thing—you got a pre-roll by me, then I hand it off to another podcast,” he says. “As soon as that’s over, that’s where I drop the hammer: ‘That story is from the incredible podcast [Brought to you by...]. Stop what you're doing. Go subscribe right now.’”
What does Brought to you by... get in return? According to Dallas Taylor, getting their show in front of an audience roughly 100,000 fans strong could lead to, in his estimation, two to five percent of those listeners subscribing to the Business Insider show.
Taylor, meanwhile, got to take the week off from his regular production duties while still delivering a highly polished segment to his audience. Interestingly, many fans will ultimately associate that content with his show rather than the program that made it.
“It happens frequently, where people's favorite *[Twenty Thousand Hertz]* shows are the ones we wrapped up in a nice little Twenty Hertz bow,” he says. And, a few weeks later, he captures the attention of Brought to you by...’s audience when one of his full episodes runs on their feed.
With swaps like this, timing is crucial to success. Taylor says it’s important to spread the traded episodes out so listeners who are intrigued enough to check out the other show’s feed won’t be met with something they’ve just heard.
“You need to stagger them [so] when people go from one feed to the other, there's something brand new and shiny over there,” Taylor says.
Finding the right partners
Another factor to consider with swaps is audience makeup: Shows should partner with similar types of programs so the content is more likely to resonate with both audiences.
“I'm always looking for other podcasts that have done a highly stylized, beautifully edited show about sound. I will bend over backwards to feature that,” Taylor says.
A lot of series he enjoys don’t exactly fit this standard, but he’s willing to work with those less-similar programs to arrange a traditional swap where he stumps for them in an ad spot. Still, he errs on the side of what he thinks his listeners would appreciate—and what kind of fans he wants to recruit.
“We think a lot about quality-of-audience.” he says. “The listeners we’re looking for are people who have a natural sense of wonder for the world, are interested in expanding the sensory abilities of being human, and preferably somebody who wants to have more mindfulness.”