Convincing 100 people to press “play” on your podcast may not seem like a tall order. But as many creators can attest, getting listeners can be challenging, and you need a crafty strategy to build early momentum for your show.
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You might be wondering: What’s the significance of 100 listens? First, it’s a strong indicator that your content is resonating with people and gaining momentum. Second, it’s a feasible milestone for new creators.
So, where do you start?
We spoke with Arlan Hamilton, entrepreneur, author, and host of “Your First Million,” about how she got her show off the ground and how aspiring creators can get their first 100 listens—even without an existing audience.
You don’t need a massive social media following or a big brand to attract listeners to your podcast. You do, however, need an awareness of your audience, attention to detail, consistency, and, most importantly, patience.
Read on for tips to reach the 100-listener milestone and how to keep climbing from there.
Focus on “who” before “how”
When you first start a podcast, it’s important to focus on who you’ll speak to before you think about how you’ll get them to tune into your show. Take a step back and put yourself in your audience’s shoes.
“I’ve been working on building my online network for half of my life,” says Arlan. “Each time I start something new, I think about who the audience is and what value my project can bring to them.”
In Arlan’s case, “Your First Million” is tailored to people who crave raw, honest discussions about what it takes to earn a million dollars, specifically people of color, women, and those in the LGBTQ+ community.
Instead of casting a wide net—like targeting “sports fans”—look for niche audiences and create something with them in mind. Continuing with our sports example, maybe you narrow your focus to “basketball fans in Atlanta.” You don’t need to be a world-renowned expert, but ideally, you’ll have a deep understanding of your audience since you’re immersed in their world.
Once you identify your target audience, ask yourself: What topics generate the most discussion amongst those people What questions do they need answered? The more familiar you are with your audience, the better the chance you’ll have at capturing their attention.
Solve your listeners’ problems
The quickest path to 100 listens doesn’t involve shortcuts. The way to get there is by helping people—ideally, in a way they can’t get anywhere else.
“The most important tactic for attracting listeners is producing a podcast that is worth a group of people’s time,” says Arlan.
That might seem overly simple, but it’s true. When you add value to people’s lives, they come to listen. And even more importantly, they stay to listen.
Arlan says a podcast should be one of three things: useful, interesting, or entertaining—and if you can check more than one of those boxes, even better! Here are a few examples to consider:
- Can you show them how to advance their career or improve their lives? That’s useful.
- Can you tell them a story or give them access to information they’ve never heard? That’s interesting.
- Can you make them laugh out loud or keep them on the edge of their seat? That’s entertaining.
As Arlan points out, your value proposition is crucial for enticing new podcast listeners.
Plant the seeds for your podcast on social media
Social media is the best place to connect with people who share your interests and turn them into your audience. Content can spread quickly on these platforms, even if you don’t have a huge following.
“Everyone had to start somewhere,” says Arlan. “Choose a couple of platforms that seem interesting to you and start posting a little at a time about the topic your podcast is going to be about.”
Your strategy can be as simple as commenting on news that pertains to your topic. You’re not asking people for any big favors, Arlan reminds us. “You're priming the pump, getting them used to you having a voice.”
Once your podcast is live, share a 30–60 second clip from your favorite part of the episode. Lots of successful podcasters do this to “tease” their episodes rather than posting the entire episode (just make sure you direct your followers to a link where they can access the full episode).
Book guests who bring listeners with them
Inviting a guest with a loyal following onto your podcast can lend credibility to your show, and you might even snag some of their followers.
Don’t worry about booking A-list celebrities on your show (unless you happen to know one personally, in which case, go for it). Instead, comb through your personal and professional networks to find a few potential guests that could be of interest to your listeners. Then, craft a short, thoughtful pitch about your podcast, the audience you want to reach, why they’d make a great guest, and what’s in it for them.
Here’s a general example:
Hey, Jen! It’s been a while since we worked together at the marketing agency, but I’ve kept up with you on social media and loved the last blog you wrote. I’m launching a podcast in a few weeks about career advice for young professionals in marketing, and I think my early listeners would really appreciate your no-nonsense point of view. To make it worth your while, I’d be happy to share a link to your newsletter in my show notes. What do you think?
Arlan also recommends connecting with podcasters in your space to trade guest appearances: “Ask if they want to swap interviews with you; you appear on their podcast, they appear on yours, and maybe each of you pick up a handful of new loyal listeners.”
Booking guests can be an effective way to get early traction, but it won’t make or break your show in the long run.
“It's definitely helpful if you can book popular guests, but it's by no means the only way you can be successful at podcasting,” says Arlan. “My first 20 or so interviews were with people who didn't have huge names. My first major guest didn't come on until six months into the podcast, and while the episode has had lots of plays, it isn't the most-played episode.”
Write an episode description they can’t resist
When potential listeners land on your podcast’s home page, they’ll likely read your episode descriptions to decide whether they’ll press play or keep browsing.
A podcast episode description is a short (two to three sentences) blurb that tells people what your episode is all about. You only have a few seconds to convince them to give your show a shot, so here are some tips to make your copy as engaging as possible:
- Include buzzwords to grab attention. That could include guest names, a brand or organization, pop culture references, etc.
- Keep it short. Spotify’s writers recommend limiting episode descriptions to three sentences.
- No spoilers! Your goal is to entice people to press play, so don’t give away the resolution to your story or the key information you’re promising.
Check out this example below from “Your First Million.” Notice how Arlan builds up her credibility in the startup world, then leaves you with a cliffhanger: “I know if you’ll be successful through this one main tell.”
Invite 10 people to share your first episode
When you’re starting a podcast without an audience, don’t overlook the simple things like inviting people you’re close with to listen to and share your episodes.
“Podcasts are great to share with your friends and family,” says Arlan. “So even if you ask 10 friends and family members to listen to the first episode, that's some traction.”
In addition to helping you spread the word, there are other opportunities for people to support your show, like helping you make connections with other podcasters and offering feedback so you can refine your content with each episode.
Published is better than perfect
Podcasts take time to polish. They rarely reach their potential within the first few episodes, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t top the charts right off the bat. You took the most important step, and that’s getting started!
“Your podcast doesn’t have to be expensive or perfect by any means, but it does need to be done with care,” says Arlan. “In the early days, you get what you give, and you can’t expect something to happen out of nowhere. But if you’re consistent and enjoy yourself, you’ll start to see traction.”
Remember, every podcast starts with zero listens—but with a detailed plan and a little patience, you’ll be well on your way to 100 listens and beyond.