Reference or habit? These two approaches to your podcast could make a huge difference in engaging with your community and growing your audience.
This topic was inspired by a conversation with Clay Lamb from Home Contractors HQ (current name).
Why “reference” versus “habit” matters
What I'm about to share with you could be the key in understanding why your podcast promotion may not be working, why your podcast audience may not be growing, and why you could be struggling to keep your podcast going.
What is a “reference” podcast?
A “reference” is something you use when you have a specific need. For example:
- YouTube video on how to weld plumbing
- Dictionary definition of a word
- Encyclopedic resource to understand a subject
- An answer to a question
Generally, these are things you might not consume on a regular basis; people rarely read the dictionary page by page!
You might have a “reference” podcast if each episode is serving only one or more isolated needs.
There are cases where all of those combined needs may form a habit. For example, understanding how to maintain a car requires knowing how to check oil, tire pressure, change a flat tire, read indicator lights, add windshield-washer fluid, and more.
Even then, when the need is met, the consumer might not stay.
What is a “habit” podcast?
A “habit” is something that becomes part of your life. Some habits are by choice, some are by necessity, and some are unintentional. Habits often connect to passions and lifestyles. For example:
- Movies, novels, and comedy feed an ongoing desire for entertainment.
- Self-help and spiritual materials feed an ongoing desire for improvement.
- Topic/industry-specific content feeds an ongoing interest or passion.
- Education feeds an ongoing need for knowledge and understanding.
Note the theme of “ongoing” in each of these. A habit is ongoing.
You might have a “habit” podcast if all your episodes are serving a bigger need, and people want to consume your episodes regularly because the podcast feeds an ongoing need or desire.
A “habit” contains many needs. You may not be able to distinguish or even see all of your needs. Consider this very content for example! You may have never considered whether your podcast is a reference or a habit, but it's something that is feeding your ongoing interest in improving your podcast.
How “reference” and “habit” affect your podcast
Think of it this way. “Reference” generally means “one time,” and “habit” generally means “ongoing.”
I believe for your podcast (a series you want people to subscribe to), you should seek to make it a “habit” podcast—fulfilling the ongoing needs or desires of your audience.
“Reference” and “habit” may not be immediately evident from any particular podcast. For example, Mignon Fogarty's Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing could seem like a reference podcast, but it actually makes a habit out of reference. Each episode shares valuable information you might be searching for, and the overall podcast feeds a bigger desire (and need) to get better at communicating in English. I have listened to every episode since the show's beginning, and I sometimes search the archive as a reference.
Timely versus timeless content
I think reference and habit are separate from timeliness and timelessness. Habit content can be timely or timeless, and reference content can also be timely or timeless. So I don't think you should see only timeless content as valuable and timely as a waste. Instead, you can choose the timeliness or timelessness of your content based on how well it feeds the habit for your audience.
If your podcast is purely reference content, then you could struggle to grow your audience because people don't think your podcast meets an ongoing need or desire.
When you can design your podcast to provide habit content, then it's easier to grow an audience because they'll want to keep returning for more.
Even if you provide reference content, how you approach and communicate the content could make it also habit content.
Movie-discussion podcasts are good examples of this. Each episode could be a self-contained discussion and reference about a one particular movie. But if the hosts integrate their unique perspectives (or an overall perspective of the podcast, such as music, philosophy, a specific actor, etc.), subscribers will become more interested in what the hosts think about any movie than simply wanting a reference about a particular movie.
Interview-based podcasts can be both reference and habit, too. People will listen to your interviews not always because of the guest, but because of the conversations you create. Even for John Lee Dumas's template approach to EOFire (an approach overly imitated), people listen because of the expected value John designed his template to provide.
Consider this example. You may have hundreds of recipes you want to share. If you have no authority or influence yet, people probably won't care about receiving recipe after recipe. But if all those recipes support the same diet, then each recipe becomes a reference to feed a habit.
These approaches are more about how you present the content than the content itself.
Focus on making “habit” content
I think your best results will come from making your podcast feed a “lifestyle.” That is, an ongoing need or desire, either in the content itself or in your approach to the content—even if you offer “reference” content!
This approach is what makes your audience put your podcast in their regular routine, instead of putting it on the shelf to reference only when necessary.
(Personal aside to my fellow Christians: apply all of this to your perspective of the Bible and accountability and encouragement from fellow believers. These should not be merely “references,” but habits and part of our lives!)
What kind of podcast are you creating? What kind of relationships, if any, are you inspiring by how your present your message?
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