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Find Out if Anyone is Listening to Your Podcast

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“Lies, damn lies, and statistics.” To the old cliché it might be worth adding “number of internet downloads” because working out just how many people are consuming your content is the source of countless applications, rules of thumb, and the occasional touch of snake oil (yes, I still get pitched with measured “hits” in 2011).  It gets even more interesting with podcasting.

Nobody likes to produce to an empty room, so how do you know if people are engaging with you? While most podcasters are going to have a blog (even if it’s just to power the RSS feeds for your show), there are some great strategies and ideas to discover your listeners and interact with them. Here are three, and feel free to add your own.

One of the important areas you have to remember is that people listening to your podcast are not likely to be next to their computer when they do listen, and if they are out and about they might not be in the best place to use a smartphone or tablet to carry out the action. So you need to make any call to action memorable and simple.

If you want something, ask for it. That’s a rule you want to remember here, because you want to get that listener interaction. The time honoured way is to offer some sort of inducement, and that’s why competitions should be considered. It doesn’t need to be a fantastic prize (unless you’ve got a sponsor who’d like to help out with that). An Amazon digital voucher is always a good place to start.

You could always combine the competition with a survey. Asking your audience a “question of the month” is a great format, and as well as engaging with them and starting a two-way conversation, any survey should always ask the basic demographic details of those taking part. Why? Because when you start to approach advertisers, they’ll really appreciate that kind of information (so make sure you tell people why you’re asking for the demographic data, be honest).

Finally, your podcast is just a file on the internet, so tracking downloads is a valid method. There are various plug-ins for blogging platforms that will help you do this, and some of them are tailored for use with podcasts. Personally I’m a fan of Blubrry’s service that’s wrapped up in their Powerpress plug-in for WordPress, but there are others out there you can use.

The flaw in relying on a counter is that downloads don’t necessarily mean listeners – go and check your podcast queue to see how many podcasts you have unplayed and you’ll see what I mean. That’s why the call to actions in your podcast are important. They may be reinforced with links on the show notes, but fundamentally they are discovered when people listen. Keep them simple, make them easy to remember (consider using a custom bit.ly link such as bit.ly/blogworld), and make sure to keep your own records on what works and what doesn’t – it’ll be different for every podcast audience!

Image: TwiT at MacWorld 2008″ cc Macinate / Flickr

Your Secret Blog Decision-Making Weapon

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When you own your own blog, lots of decisions have to be made. What color should you make the background? Is the font too small? How often is too often when you’re posting content? Which logo looks best? And on and on and on…even after you launch the blog, there are decisions to be made. It doesn’t ever end.

Hopefully, you have enough vision for your blog that you can make most choices rather easily. Well, perhaps easily isn’t the word, but hopefully you can make a choice and feel confident that it’s the right one.

But what about the times when you can’t? What if you feel like there are two or more choices that could be equally “right”? What if the decision you are making isn’t something that can easily be changed if you choose incorrectly? Decisions like that can keep you up at night. They certainly have caused a number of sleepless nights for me, and when it comes to business decisions, I’m usually pretty confident.

I’ve found the perfect way to make decisions, though. Over the years of blogging that I’ve done, there’s one weapon, one secret weapon, that I return to again and again and again…and it’s a weapon that every blogger had in their arsenal. In fact, even if you don’t yet have a blog, even if you only have a Twitter account or Facebook page, this secret weapon is something you possess.

What exactly is the weapon I’m talking about? Your audience.

I’m not suggesting that you should crowd-source every decision you make, but when you truly don’t know the right way to turn, your audience – the people who are your readers or who will become your readers – can help point you in the perfect direction. What they reveal could be extremely helpful – often their answers are skewed one way or another, not split 50-50 like the choices might be in your own mind.

The easiest way to ask your audience what they think, in my opinion, is to set up a poll. You can do so for free at Survey Monkey*, which is my personal favorite poll tool, though there are other options as well, some of which you can even embed in a blog post or on your sidebar (Survey Monkey allows this, but it can also be hosted on their site). Once you have your poll set up, blast it to everyone – your email list, your social profiles, even your friends and family if you think their input will help. If you don’t have a huge fanbase yet, you might not get much of a response – but even ten people weighing in can give you some insight, especially if all ten people feel strongly one way or the other.

Seeing responses might also give you a reflection of your own opinions. If you see everyone voting one way and find yourself feeling upset that they’re not picking the other choice, it’s a good indication that you didn’t feel 50-50 about the choices anyway. Remember, you don’t always have to listen to your readers. One of the things I like about Survey Monkey rather than on-site poll options is that they’re blind – people make their choices, but they can’t view the results. This discourages bandwagoning, as well as gives you more freedom to choose what you want, not the popular vote, when the poll closes.

As a mini case-study, let me show you what I’m doing right now. My next blogging project, which is zombie-themed, doesn’t yet have a URL, and after thinking about it, I just couldn’t decide on my own. So I came up with my top picks, based on what was available, an created a poll, which you can see here. A few things to note:

  • It’s super simple, with only one question.
  • There’s an optional comment box where users who are so inclined can explain their answer. This really helps me out, but it doesn’t pressure people to leave a comment if their choice was just a gut reaction.
  • I gave people a way to sign up for my mailing list at the end. Most of the people responding are already on my mailing list, but I’ve put out a net to catch people who aren’t, but who want to be.

I hope that some of you will head over there and vote – and for the reason I’m not going to tell you my results so far, but I will say this: there are two strong front runners. I didn’t really expect that, but now that I’m thinking about it, it makes sense – they really are the two best URLs on the list. Chances are that you’ll vote for one of them if you do vote.

Asking my audience has time and time again helped me make decisions about my blog. As an added bonus, making my readers part of a decision helps build buzz about my projects and makes the community strong – people like to be a part of your choices when they feel connected to your site. Even if you ultimately don’t go with the popular vote, polling your readers can really help you make blog decisions. Have you tried it before? What have your experiences been?

*FYI, the link to Survey Monkey is not an affiliate link or anything. My post sounds a little gushy about them, so I wanted to make that clear. I don’t know if there’s even an affiliate program associated with Survey Monkey. I legitimately just love their service!

What’s the State of Your Blogosphere?

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Last night, I attended the keynote address for Blogging Success Summit 2011, an online event being organized jointly by BlogWorld and Social Media Examiner founder Michael Stelzner. The speaker was Richard Jalichandra, CEO of Technorati, and his presentation was on the state of the blogosphere. He talked about how blogging has changed since 2008, the trends he sees continuing in 2011, and more – and for me, it was really interesting to see a statistical breakdown of what people read and how people share information.

Technorati publishes a report on the state of the blogosphere every year, and it is definitely recommended reading for anyone hoping to make money online. But I want to suggest that you take it a step farther and do your own annual study. What’s the state of your blogosphere?

See, what makes the Technorati study great is that they poll tons of people from around the world and across every industry to get their results. That’s also its downfall, though. If you’re someone who blogs about social media, your audience might think slightly different from the audience of a blog about fashion, and both of you might have readers who differ from the general public represented in the Technorati study. While few bloggers have the ability to poll thousands of people from across the world in an official, controlled study, that doesn’t mean you can examine your piece of the blogosphere and use the results to increase the effectiveness of your blog.

The Power of Many

You aren’t in this alone. Although every blog has a slightly different audience, there are probably blogs in your niche that have a very similar audience to your own. Team up to do your study! If you send out a survey to your mailing list or post it on your blog you might get, say, 10% to respond. But if 10 bloggers do it and you all get 10% to respond, you’ll have a large group represented. Doing a study of your audience’s habits and needs only benefits you has a blogger, so there’s really no reason for your peers not to jump on board if you approach them with this proposal.

Questions

So, ok, it’s a good idea to poll your audience – but what do you ask?

While some of the questions you ask might be specific to your niche, it makes sense to ask a ton of more general questions, like the ones found in the Technorati report (or similar to the ones found in the Technorati report).

  • Do your users use social media? What are their favorite sites?
  • How many of your readers are bloggers themselves?
  • Do your readers feel that blogs are as trustworthy as traditional media like newspapers?
  • How many of your readers use feed readers?
  • How many of your readers subscribe to their favorite blogs via email?
  • Do you readers get email newsletters?
  • How likely are your readers to comment on a blog post they like?

Asking these questions might produce some eye-opening results. For example, maybe over half of your readers prefer Facebook over Twitter, and you don’t even have a Facebook page. Or maybe most of your readers prefer receiving email newsletters, but you don’t offer one. Or maybe very few of your readers use YouTube, yet you’ve been concentrating on making videos. This list is, of course, just a small sampling of the questions you can ask, but by keeping them general, you can adjust what you’re doing as a blogger rather than focusing only on what you’re doing in relation to your niche.

The Dreaded Essay Question

If you want to get people to respond, you have to either 1) offer some kind of prize, discount, or giveaway for those who answer the questions or 2) keep it short and simple. Usually, it pays to do both.

But, at the end, I’m a big fan of having an option essay question. People who are in a hurry can skip it, but your most voal audience members will respond. What should you ask them?

Be pointed (if you just say “Any comments?” people won’t know what to write), but give them the chance to talk without having to be too specific with an answer. Ask what frustrates them about blogs, what they love about blogs, and what they wish to see in the blogs they read. Their answers won’t be something you can chart on graph paper, in most cases, but reading these comments can give you a better understand of what your readers are thinking. Sometimes that’s better than percentages and charts.

Sharing is Caring

After you compile the results, share them! Don’t just share them with the other bloggers who participated. Post them on your blog or create a downloadable report so that others can see the state of your blogosphere. Part of what I loved about the Blogging Success Summit 2011 keynote is that Richard was so open and willing to share the results. Undoubtedly, Technorati does these reports because they benefit their company, but the blogging community is all in this together. Sharing results makes the entire blogosphere stronger.

Will I see you at future Blogging Success Summit 2011 presentations? There’s still time to sign up to participate, and you’ll get recordings of any presentations you may have already missed!

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