💁♀️ Growing a Weird Show to 100K Downloads Without Buying an Ad 📈
🤸♀️Podcast marketing: let's have some fun.🌈
I learn a lot from Arielle Nissenblatt, and you can, too. (Follow her on Twitter if you don’t already.) Today I want to take a look at how Arielle turned a homespun, extremely niche podcast she hosted with Shira Moskowitz called Counter Programming into a hit. It was a pandemic distraction-cast, each episode was counter to all of the Covid talk we were hearing on podcasts in early 2020, covering anything with the word ‘counter’ in it—marble countertops, Count Chocula. You get it.
People often think their show is too niche to get listeners, but Arielle and Shira were able to reach 100,000 downloads even though they aren't network backed, didn't spend money on ads, only published seasonally, and…let’s admit it, had a really strange topic.
Here’s how she did it:
Killer branding and messaging. The show art is adorable (it was made by a friend of a friend, Caio Slikta) and when you visited it in your player, you knew immediately what it was about. (Read the description here.)
Consistent social media. Arielle and Shira didn’t bomb people with their episodes, but made clear tweets that matched the style of the show when an episode was released. They didn’t start a social handle for the show, but used their own accounts to tweet content out in a conversational way, when people on Twitter were talking about being sick of the pandemic.
So their timing was right. They didn’t overthink. They jumped on a time when people would be looking for things to listen to, and they committed.
They were transparent. Your listeners want to know everything, from what’s going on in your life to why you were late dropping the last episode. If you skip a week, tell your audience on social and mention it in the intro of your next episode. Or drop an episode about it. The more vulnerable you are, the closer you will be to your fans.
Promo swaps! My favorite! They made a list of pods of similar demographics and pitched them all individually, with a personal note. They made a list of micro-influencers (sometimes friends of friends) and pitched them, asking if they'd post a screenshot of the show. They also did a crossover with another podcast that made a lot of sense.
They had a pitch deck that included download forecast and audio clips. They communicated to people that they not just wanted people to promote their show, but that they were willing to promote others, with guesting, social swaps, and even just taking suggestions for improvement.
The guests. It was almost always just Arielle & Shira, which made it easy to book and record without too much planning. But they sprinkled in guests like Jess Goodman of the newsletter Word Count.
But Arielle and Shira were the stars of the show. We knew they were the face of it. (Literally. Their faces are on that cute artwork.) The show is ultimately about their friendship, and while people may have been drawn in by the curious theme, they stayed for the chemistry between the friends.
In-app placement. Most apps (like Castbox, Bullhorn, Goodpods and more) have in-app promo opportunities. They a) claimed their podcasts on all of them and then b) reached out to these platforms and pitched to be featured. It always helps if you can promise a platform that you’ll give them a shout-out on your show, in your show notes or website, or on social media. (They were featured on Castbox's homepage, Apple Podcasts’ New & Noteworthy, and were featured in some blogs and newsletters. (Like my newsletter, Podcast the Newsletter.)
There wasn’t one thing that worked. (In fact, the Apple Podcast placement resulted in some negative reviews. When they people come in, they come in.) Arielle and Shira worked hard. I always tell podcasters to spend 50% of their time on marketing, a piece of advice that seems impossible. But this is what that looks like.
The beauty of this case study is that it shows off the many things you have the power to do, and that they work. So next time you think you can’t get to 100K, think about which of these steps you’re not doing, and start there. (I even think larger shows could learn from these tips.)
And here are some takeaways from Arielle:
We decided early on that we were going to invest in our post-production. That was important for me as someone in the podcast space and for Shira, who, at the time, was thinking of pursuing stand-up comedy. So we worked with Daniel Tureck, who is a dream. Worth it.
People still email us that they listened to the show after googling us. Shira works for a virtual events platform and she recently had a meeting in which they told her that they were looking forward to chatting because they pre-listened to Counter Programming and thought she was hilarious.
I ALWAYS point to Counter Programming as an example of a niche podcast that CAN make it. It's really a study of: pull out all of the podcast marketing stops.
I recently put all of the shows hoping to swap here. Now you can take the power into your own hands and see if there’s an audience matched podcast in the market of swapping. Email me at email@example.com if you see a fit for you. Fill out the form here. And if anyone has a the know-how to turn this into an easier-to-browse database, let me know! It’s really growing and I want to make it as simple as possible.
Here are a few shows in the swap library now:
Create Out Loud: Trust your brilliance and get your creative work done and out into the world.
The Podcast For Healing Neurologyology: A board-certified neurologist & a functional medicine/Ayurvedic nurse practitioner interview guests about how our world impacts our neurology including medicine, lab tests, food, lifestyle, mental health, research, culture, politics, and environment.
The NFFTY Podcast: The NFFTY Podcast is a showcase of the best emerging filmmakers age 24 and under from all around the world! Film starts here, from The National Film Festival for Talented Youth in Seattle, WA.
Save the D8: Join the adventures of our posse of mischievous players as they venture into a world where pacifist barbarians are the voice of reason, fast talking gnomes outwit deities, and twins keep their con-artist game always on the edge!
So Sorry For Your Loss: Not your average grief group! Humor and laughter encouraged, awkwardness accepted, and a hint of celebrity gossip to spice things up. Death is a strange topic, but it shouldn't be. This storytelling podcast about grief and loss, and the intriguing ways you grow from it, takes a look at how the conversation can go much deeper than just the societal band-aid of "so sorry for your loss." The host, Gianna DeMedio, shares stories of her own grief after losing her father suddenly at 27 and talks with guests about their encounters with death, grief, and loss.
Armchair Adventures: An interactive, fictional podcast series for young kids. Each episode is a new adventure with Connie the Chief explorer. You use your imagination to go on a unique journey to magical places and meet extraordinary people.