Creative Podcast Ideas to Re-Engage Your Audience
A good podcast holds a listener’s attention for an entire episode. A great podcast keeps them coming back for more.
No. Podcasting is no longer a passing fad. There are very real and profitable reasons why companies are making podcasts a part of their marketing strategy. And a lot of that power lies in how effective they are in engaging their audiences.
But, as we all know, brands can get stuck in their ways. The content stays the same. The episode format remains the same. And as the podcast landscape evolves, some branded podcasts get left behind.
What happens when the numbers fall?
When the "higher ups" start to see the download numbers fall, the marketing team often panics. They'll resort to an internal pitch to boost their quarterly ad spend. So many podcasters push sporadic pools of money towards paid ads, cross their fingers and then hope that it increases their numbers.
Can this work? Yes, but only to a point. That strategy needs to be consistent, well planned, and well executed—which can get costly. A much smarter approach is to focus on content. With that said, it's time to look at the product you're putting out.
We have a saying here at Lower Street:
"No amount of money will get listeners to buy into a crummy product."
If the content you're putting out is crummy, the listeners won't stick. The fact of the matter is that listeners expect your content to evolve. They don't want the same old, same old. So, what can you do?
Simply put, you need to refresh to re-engage.
How to Come Up With Podcast Episode Ideas
Many podcasters use a simple podcast format and stick to it, but this approach has its disadvantages. There are plenty of excellent podcasts out there that have fallen out of favor with listeners simply because they don't ever seem to evolve.
But, all great businesses run on good ideas and you should treat and mold your podcast as exactly that: a business. You have to come up with something different, creative, or in vogue to draw people towards your show.
So, how do you come up with a good podcast idea?
Collaborative Brainstorming Sessions
Brainstorming is invaluable for podcasters. Here at Lower Street we are great believers in setting up brainstorming sessions—especially if we are working on a new or complex podcast. These sessions are ideal for problem solving, as they provide an open forum that encourages team members to voice their thoughts and ideas. Over time (and with a little structure) these ideas become something solid and workable.
Once a month or even once a week, hold a voluntary brainstorming session with your team. The team members that attend don't even have to be part of the podcast's production. We find having an outsider's perspective can often be just what these sessions need.
Think of it as an opportunity to throw out some ideas and see what sticks. But, before you begin, think about some ground rules:
Focus on quantity
Welcome "out there" ideas
Combine and improve Ideas
Knowing how to brainstorm podcast topics is something you learn by doing. The more you do it, the easier (and more fun) it gets. Try to establish a goal for each of the sessions and encourage team members to bring forward at least five ideas as a starting point.
Think About Your Audience
Let's face it, not every idea you come up with will land with your target audience or keep them engaged.
In marketing, it's a widely established sin to focus on what you want to say rather than address what your audience needs.
If your podcast content is constantly missing the mark, you may have to delve into who your audience is to find out what they want and then adjust your content accordingly.
Re-establish who your ideal podcast listener persona is. Ask yourself what your listeners want and need. What would be valuable to them? Are there any questions you could be tackling that no one else is? Or, are there uncharted industry topics you should be covering but aren't?
Utilize the data provided to you by directories such as Spotify. For example, you can see specific metrics, such as age, gender, and location to inform your decisions and give direction when thinking of new podcast content ideas.
By re-establishing precisely who your ideal audience is, you can focus on their needs and start to generate ideas that will tap into what's valuable to them.
8 Creative Podcast Ideas
The best podcasts are built on brilliant content. However, with the gap for originality growing ever smaller, it can be challenging to keep coming up with unique ideas for every podcast episode. Whether you're a solo podcaster or part of a team, these ideas will inject new energy into your show and keep your audience listening.
1. Interview Another Podcaster Within Your Industry
Leverage someone else's expertise by interviewing experts and leaders from within your industry. By doing so, you can inject new ideas and fresh perspectives into your show.
Podcasting at a high level is something of a core skill. That's why we recommend interviewing other podcasters (or at the very least, those who speak publicly) from within your industry. It removes any possibility of having a difficult interview with a very nervous or novice speaker.
Also, microphone and speaking etiquette can be unfamiliar to most people. So, to ensure you're having the most valuable conversations possible, you want someone who not only understands the podcasting medium, but can hold a conversation, make insightful observations, and give practical advice.
2. Give Practical Tips
The now famous quote, "knowledge is power" (Scientia potestas est), supposedly coined by Francis Bacon in 1597, is perfect for the podcasting industry. One of the main reasons listeners gravitate towards podcasts is to be educated on a specific topic.
When you have valuable knowledge at your disposal, you ultimately have the power.
Adding practical tips into your podcast could be the very thing listeners are looking for. Provide listeners with the tools, tactics, proven strategies, and industry stories to give them some added value.
Remember, you have an understanding of your industry that can be incredibly beneficial for others.
3. Ask Your Audience
Not being afraid to ask for help is a life skill that not everyone has mastered. For podcasters, it can be essential, especially if you want to improve your content.
Your audience is the best indicator you have for whether something is working or not. So, if your listener engagement is falling, you need to know why that is and what you can do to make your content perform better.
Audience engagement and participation are the best ways to come up with ideas that stick. In some instances, it can transform the entire format of a show for the better.
Use social media to ask your community directly what they want to hear.
Be honest about your intentions. Tell your listeners that the purpose of this fact-finding mission is to create better content for them.
Utilize tools such as SpeakPipe. Listeners can send you voice messages, almost like an answering machine.
Podcasts like The Friendship Onion ask listeners to phone in or email their team with questions and suggestions. The result has been transformative. From the podcast's overall format to the dynamic between hosts and audience—the show has evolved beyond just two friends chatting and is now a fully engaged podcasting powerhouse.
4. Go Behind the Scenes
Humans are deeply curious—it's in our nature. We want to know the unknown, to fully understand this world we live in. For podcasters, human curiosity is a goldmine for content creation. And nothing seems to fulfill that need more than taking listeners behind the scenes.
Here are some methods for capturing behind-the-scenes content:
Interview the creative voices that either work on your podcast or are a part of your brand.
Take your microphone out of the studio and "into the field" to capture the sounds and voices around you.
Tell the unknown stories—both the good and the bad.
If you have the capacity, use video to help put faces to the voices and show your process.
Offering insight into how your brand or business works, including the culture, management, and everyday workings, will be totally unique to your podcast. It's a great way to pull listeners into your world and show them who you are and what you care about. Not only that, but it also breaks down that fourth wall and builds a deeper, more intimate relationship with your listeners—something that may have been lacking with your show before.
5. Use the Documentary Format
Reality can be far more thrilling than fiction. To level up your content, sometimes you have to make a shift from standard to outstanding. Creating a branded documentary may seem like a mammoth challenge, but the added effort can be hugely beneficial in keeping listeners engaged.
The beauty of branded documentaries is that it's less commercially focused and instead emphasizes your overarching story.
Documentaries tend to fall into two categories, short-form (5-20 minutes) and long-form feature (50-120 minutes), or a series that contains multiple structured episodes that follow a storyline.
Contrary to releasing one piece of stand-alone content, a series documentary gives you the scope and time to take more of a marketing focus. It also allows you to go deeper with your audience, to explore niche stories and subjects.
A great example of a branded documentary is Katherine Maslen's The Shift, where in-house expertise is bolstered by external industry voices, clever editing, cutaways, and music.
Think about the story or message you're trying to convey; whether you go down the highly produced NPR route or the rough and ready path like Growing Our Amway Business.
Need help with your documentary series? Lower Street has multiple services available to bring your stories to life.
6. Rework Old Content
Reworking old podcast content doesn't mean finding your best-performing episode, revamping the intro, and re-releasing it in its original entirety. Instead, it's about taking past content, grouping similar themes together, and adding more context.
Content reworking or "repurposing" is a simple solution for those struggling with content ideation. Beyond the joys of saving yourself the time and effort of creating brand new content, reworking old episodes can provide several competitive advantages:
Better audience targeting
Leveraging your brand's credibility
Begin by identifying any recurring topics or themes from past episodes and start grouping them. Why not add new and updated perspectives, news, or information into these episodes? Turn older episodes into condensed blogs, or grab audio sections to craft into audiograms and quotes for social media.
7. Share the Latest News in Your Field
As a podcaster within a specific niche or industry, there's a chance you have your finger on the pulse of what's newsworthy. Having deep roots in your industry can provide a wealth of value for listeners. So, why not share it?
People want to be educated on specific topics, and daily news podcasts are one of the fastest growing methods for media consumption. Throughout 2021, news features accounted for more than 10% of the overall downloads in the US.
Be the go-to source for industry news and updates. Tracking what's hot and what's not by browsing social media groups, forums, and articles is a great way to discover new topics of interest to discuss.
Create a weekly or even monthly rundown of the most important news and stories listeners need to know about.
8. Use Forums Like Quora and Reddit to Source Content Ideas
Reddit attracts almost 60 million unique monthly visitors from the United States alone—which means that user-generated content like Quora and Reddit can offer a treasure trove of new topics to cover.
Unlike other areas online, Reddit contains information and ideas you can genuinely use. Largely thanks to its active community, which fully supports quality and value.
Pick a niche or industry that matches your podcast topic, then browse the most relevant subreddits. To narrow down your search, type "how to" into the subreddit's search bar.
For Quora, you can pre-select the topics you're interested in and browse the questions that appear under that specific topic. Or, simply enter your keyword in the search bar.
Listeners need to be confident that if they decide to tune in to your show, they will be getting something of value. That means the burden lies solely on the creators, not the listener. —Claire Gould, Content Marketer at Lower Street
Use Sound Design to Level Up Your Show
Sound design is a tool that's used to aid in telling a story, whether that's a movie, theater production, radio show or podcast. If you have a simple back and forth interview, or even a heavily edited documentary, by incorporating music, sound effects, voice-over (VO), and additional audio snippets, you can break away from the "standard" podcast experience.
Add Some Music
Beyond your usual intro and outro, music can be the great unifier between podcast segments. It can emphasize points, add emotion, help brand your show, and create an atmosphere beyond the usual podcast audio.
The role of podcast music is to enhance the content of your podcast rather than manipulate or override the story or message. So, when selecting music, keep the theme of the podcast and the target audience in mind.
NPR's How I Built This are pioneers with music integration.
Adhering to copyright laws for your podcast music is critical. While we can't get into the complete list of legalities here, there are directories you can use that are "Podsafe," which is to say they provide legalized podcasting music or audio that is royalty-free. These sites allow you to use music without paying royalties to the composer. Artlist and Free Music Archive are both excellent resources.
Condense Long Segments
Some years ago a study showed that a human being's attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish. What that means is most of us are mindfully zoning in on information for all of eight seconds. For podcasters, that fact means we want to be extending that period as much as possible. Clever audio editing can be an absolute necessity when it comes to storytelling.
Condensing longer uninterrupted segments is an effective way of keeping listener attention and engaging them for longer.
Pick the sections of content that you know will resonate with your audience the most. Try to keep these points to under ten minutes each.
Cut out anything that goes off-topic and doesn't add value to the listener experience.
Create Narrative Signposts
Don't let the audience get lost. Signposts are audio markers that separate one act from another and are an incredible way of keeping the momentum going.
Adding in carefully scripted narration can signpost key turning points within the story. Use these moments to break down and answer questions, recap segments, and add valuable thoughts or information before moving onto other topics.
Remember, your audience will always benefit from guidance.
Utilize Scripted Segments
Voice-over is a seriously underrated and underutilized tool within podcasting. Use voice-over segments to highlight previous points, add extra context to a subject, put in a personal story, or even divert towards a contrasting point of view.
Decide where a voice-over interjection would be most effective within your audio, and take note of the timestamp. Next, write out the scripts for each of your voice-over segments. Finally, plan to record all these segments in one sitting.
Cut In Past Interviews
Aside from the usual interview format, you can engage audiences by injecting broader perspectives and voices into the mix by revisiting past guest interviews. Suppose a guest you're interviewing touches on a familiar topic, one that you've already covered. Including an audio snippet from a previous interview can help bolster that point.
Repurposing older interviews can also add an opposing viewpoint, create an audio signpost, or help break up long portions of audio.
Pro tip: Keep a spreadsheet of each interview you do, along with the topics you cover and the episode's title and date. This makes referring back to past interviews 10x easier during the editing process.
Make Your Show a Narrative
Humans are naturally drawn to stories. It's how we've communicated ideas and cautionary tales for millennia. Yet, despite most podcasters striving to teach, entertain, or educate, most shows end up overlooked and buried.
So, what sets a great podcast apart from the rest? The answer is simple: storytelling.
Narrative podcasts are story-driven shows that break away from the usual interview-style format. Instead, they incorporate clever editing to combine multiple stories by pulling from interviews and other recordings, sounds, and music.
Hosted by Rebecca Jarvis, The Drop Out is a gripping podcast that follows the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. Produced by ABC news, this docu-series looks at how the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire developed world-changing technology that was meant to revolutionize health care—but instead potentially put millions of patients at risk.
I'm also a big believer that scenes/vignettes are instrumental in driving a podcast forward. With each episode, we aimed to recreate two or three really strong scenes and built voices and narrative around that.
Rebecca Jarvis, journalist and host of 'The Drop Out' Podcast
Measure Each Episode’s Performance Using Data
Podcasts that experience irregularities in their listenership may require a deeper strategy. A strategy that goes beyond the basic weekly download numbers, and instead focuses on real-time data.
For podcasters looking to re-engage their listeners, having access to a podcast's audience data may enable more precise targeting, which could make for more successful content creation in the long run.
Directories such as Apple and Spotify now provide in-depth podcast analytics tools to help podcasters gain a better understanding of how their listeners are interacting with their show. We delve deeper into the topic in our post on podcast tracking, so be sure to check that out.
Apple Podcasts has created Podcasts Connect, a simple and structured way to look at your audience data. It allows you to analyze a show’s data using the graphs and charts in the Overview tab, compare your episode performance, and dive into your listeners’ interest levels and engagement.
Head to podcastsconnect.apple.com
Sign in with your Apple ID and password
Select Podcast Analytics from the dropdown menu in the top-left corner (or bottom left of your screen)
Explore your listener data
Engagement levels. Using this particular data is ideal for showing you how tuned in your listeners are. This tool takes the total number of people who listened to at least 20 minutes (or 40%) of an episode. Ideally, you want this number to be over 85%.
If there is a discrepancy between certain episodes, try to establish the differences between them in terms of subject matter and content and rectify that moving forward.
Apple Podcasts' Episode Data: Minute By Minute
On the “overview” screen you can click on an episode and see the minute by minute data of where listeners are either tuning in or dropping off.
This feature even includes a “play” option where you can play the episode from the start and see in real-time the exact moment that listeners are pausing the episode or stopping it completely.
This feature is invaluable for pinpointing what was happening at the precise moment where there was a drop or rise in listener engagement. Were your listeners skipping your intro or mid-rolls? Was there a particular topic that spiked some genuine attention?
When you have this kind of data on hand, you can start managing your content at a more advanced level.
Spotify for Podcasters
Spotify Catalog provides podcasters with a general overview of how your podcast is performing within Spotify, and contains some listener data that is incredibly useful.
The dashboard in Spotify enables podcasters access to in-depth data, such as age, gender, and location of listeners. Not only that, but also the type of music they like and how long they listen to a podcast episode for. And more importantly, where they stop.
Head to podcasters.spotify.com/home
Sign in with your Spotify ID and password
Select “Catalog” from the two tabs at the top middle of your screen
Explore your listener data
Spotify’s Podcast Minute-By-Minute Data
Spotify’s episode performance data offers a detailed overview into exactly how your listeners are engaging with your podcast—right down to the second.
By selecting a specific episode, you’ll see a green graph that represents your audience’s retention. This graph shows the average time listeners spent on an episode, plus the percentage of listeners that got to the first, second, and third portion. Then there’s the statistics of those who made it to the end. This allows you to track an episode’s drop off rate exactly when it occurs.
Unlike Apple’s Podcast Connect, there isn’t an episode play function, so to identify exactly what occurred in the audio at a specific drop-off point, you’ll have to revisit your audio.
Compare the performance of each of your episodes to establish any patterns in your users’ listening habits to see if your content or episode format needs to change to maintain retention.
Closing Thoughts on a Creative Topic
Your audience is the key to your podcast's success. If you're neglecting the listener's interests, you'll certainly be doing your show a disservice.
As with most industries and businesses, there will always be peaks and troughs in engagement; that's just the nature of the podcasting beast. But, there are times to hold back and times to take action.
Get serious about your audience and what they need. In other words, clearly define your listener base. That’s your number one step. Now, look for ways you can bring them more value. That special something that draws from your specific unique selling point. What can be bundled up and presented to your listeners in an entertaining or educational format?
Finally, inject some life into your show. Could interviewing industry experts keep listeners tuning in to your show? What about completely revamping the format and opting instead for a documentary series?
Coming up with interesting topics for your podcast needs to always come back to you listeners. Using tried and true processes helps to nudge you towards the best content you should be creating—which in turn takes listeners exactly where they need to go: right back to your show.