How do podcasts generate engagement on social for their audio content? We examined how top and emerging podcasts are using social to grow their audiences.

Social platforms increasingly lend themselves to visual content, and it’s having a stark effect on the content that publishers are creating.

As publishers look to adapt to the platforms, we’ve seen that video content is on the rise and the popularity of platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest with photo-first content is skyrocketing. In today’s social media world, an image – especially an animated one, or one with a fun meme caption – can genuinely be worth 1,000 words when it comes to generating engagement.

So where do podcasts fit into this trend? Podcasts are explicitly lacking in visuals and more often than not exist exclusively in audio form. As a result, the podcast’s rise to popularity has been coupled with a re-imagination of how to market audio content on social.

Using Newswhip Analytics, we explored the strategies used by some of the most-listened-to and highest-ranked podcasts today to examine how podcasters can harness social to drive podcast engagement and develop their audiences. 

The current state of podcasting 

Podcasts were once a niche media format, but not anymore. Today, podcasts have found solid – and profitable – footing in digital news and entertainment. The New York Times’ most-listened-to podcast, “The Daily”is reported to have racked up ad revenue in the low eight figures for the year.

Furthermore, Statista predicts that by 2020, there will be almost 100 million podcast listeners in the United States alone. Across popular podcasting apps, such as iTunes and Stitcher, the number of podcasts continues to climb steadily.

Importantly, the podcast pipeline varies across publishers. While “The Daily” is just one of the New York Times’ dozens of new content pieces each day, other podcast publishers are specifically dedicated to producing podcast shows.

Crooked Media, for example, produces the popular podcast “Pod Save America” along with a few other well-listened-to shows. Additionally, some podcasts act as a platform for celebrities or individuals looking to share a few words.

Today, with multiple shows attracting more than 2 million monthly listeners and millions of dollars in ad revenue, it’s hard to deny that podcasts are here to stay. As podcasts multiply and become mainstream, the competition for engagement has become more competitive.

To stand out from the competition and build a loyal listener base, podcasts have tuned into social marketing. The audio-based format of podcasts has required many publishers to develop innovative marketing strategies to connect listeners to the podcast through image and text-based social posts.

From Facebook Groups filled with devoted fans to Instagram pages that promote content releases, many successful podcasts have developed their own unique marketing strategy for social.

Best practices for creating podcast engagement on social 

Part of the challenge of marketing podcasts on social is determining a strategy in a field where there has yet to be a tried-and-true norm for social. While The Daily is promoted through posts and tweets on the New York Times’ main social pages, “Pod Save America” uses a Facebook Watch page and “This American Life” has its own Facebook page and Instagram account. Other popular celebrity-led podcasts like “The Joe Rogan Experience” are promoted on the host’s personal social accounts.

Though the methods that podcasts use on social vary, they consistently look to find a visual spin for audio content. “Pod Save America”for example, uses its Facebook Watch page to broadcast recording sessions of the show. While the majority of its listeners will tune into the show’s audio-only format, the video recording generates engagement for the show on Facebook.

Creating a visual version of podcast audio content is a trend seen across the board in podcasts’ social channels. “The Moth”, a popular storytelling podcast, uses pull quotes in its Facebook and Instagram content to provide followers with a sneak peak into what the latest show features.

Other popular podcasts such as “This American Life” have created short video sneak peaks that include text and audio snippets from the show. Across platforms, including text subtitles for any video or audio content is key to ensuring content is engaging whether or not users have audio capabilities.

How podcasts drive engagement on social platforms 

Each podcast uses its Facebook page differently, and publication strategies vary greatly across the board.
Among the Facebook pages of some of the most-listened-to podcasts, Joe Rogan’s page drove the highest number of average interactions and has the most followers.

The page also had the highest post count in a single week, with 17 posts over seven days. However, most posts on the page were generally promoting Rogan, and his podcast was only featured in a few posts. Because of Rogan’s celebrity status, high engagement trends for Rogan’s podcast stand out as an anomaly among other podcast pages.

Of traditional, non-celebrity podcasts, “This American Life”, which can be found on Facebook under the handle ThisLife, had the highest engagement on Facebook. The ThisLife page also posted less than half as many times in a week than Rogan’s page, with approximately one post each day.

Notably, some of the most-listened-to podcasts rarely drive engagement through their Facebook pages. Both “My Favorite Murder” and “Hardcore History”, which often appear in iTunes’ list of top podcasts, had no posts on their Facebook pages over a single week. Though they have significant numbers of Facebook followers, the activity on these Facebook pages is remarkably low, with only a few posts each month. 

The future of podcasting 

As podcasts drive more engagement and revenue, the media industry has been shifting around it.
HBO has started a show with the hosts of popular podcast “2 Dope Queens” and has signed a deal with the hosts of “Pod Save America”. Emerging platforms such as Facebook Watch also provide a new space for podcasters to publish their shows. The popularization of new technology such as smart speakers from Amazon and Google also has the potential to revolutionize how listeners engage with their podcasts.

The new developments in podcasting call for an investment in building successful strategies for podcasts on social.

By engaging with audiences across social platforms, podcasts are redefining what it means to advertise audio content on image-based platforms and building best practices for the industry’s future.

To track current podcast engagement on social platforms, take a tour of NewsWhip Spike.

NewsWhip author