In a nutshell
- Defining personal success criteria, such as listener numbers or sponsorship deals, provides measurable targets to gauge the success of a podcast.
- Tracking various metrics like listener engagement, download and subscriber numbers, consistent audience growth and revenue generation offers an understanding of the podcast’s performance and influence.
- The concept of success in podcasting is subjective and multifaceted, varying among individuals, and could range from personal fulfillment to making a cultural impact or achieving industry recognition.
Podcasting is a great way to share your thoughts, stories, opinions and passions with your audience in a casual, accessible format. But if you’re new to the podcast world, how do you know if you’re doing it right? And, at what point is a podcast successful? To answer this question, let’s look at some of the ways we can define and measure the success of a podcast.
What’s your definition of success?
The first step in determining whether or not a podcast is successful is to establish your definition of success. Success can mean different things to different people, so start by figuring out what metrics are most important to you. Look for markers of progress that you can measure and track over time. Then, you can set goals and craft strategies to achieve them.
Here are some examples:
- Get 100 listeners within 30 days of launch
- Get 10 five-star reviews in the first three months
- Land your first sponsor deal within six months
- Become self-sustaining in the first year
These goals all have certain attributes in common: They are all specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely — SMART. Dating all the way back to 1981 and the article “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management goals and objectives” by George Doran, Arthur Miller and James Cunningham, SMART goals help us target specific, achievable goals within a specific time frame, thus setting us up for success — on our own terms.
How to determine success as a podcaster
We just gave some examples for defining success, but there are many more metrics that could be considered. Here’s a quick rundown of the most useful numbers to watch.
Number of listeners
This is the most basic measure of podcasting success. This metric answers the question, “Is there anybody out there?”
One level up from the number of listeners, podcast listener engagement covers things like comments and reviews as well as audience participation on other platforms. For instance, responses on your Instagram polls count as listener engagement. More engaged listeners are more loyal listeners. That means listener engagement can be an excellent indicator of a podcast’s potential for long-term success.
Download and subscriber numbers
Subscribing to a podcast and downloading an episode both show the listener’s intent to continue to engage with your show in the future. More subs and more downloads mean you’re doing something right.
Consistent audience growth
Likewise, audience growth is an important metric to track when determining whether or not a podcast is successful. It’s always nice to have a viral moment that brings in a lot of new listeners. However, it’s even better if you can consistently grow your audience, week after week.
Sponsorship and monetization
Of course, if you plan to make podcasting more than a hobby, one essential number to watch is your podcast’s monthly revenue. Revenue sources will vary depending on how and where you publish your podcast, but brand sponsorships and advertising revenue are the most common monetization methods. The point at which the podcast is considered successful will depend on how much it costs to keep the show running.
This one is harder to measure, but industry recognition can also indicate a podcast’s level of success. Here, success is defined by who is talking about your podcast and what they are saying.
Influence and impact
The influence of your podcast is another broad-but-telling measure of success. Are other podcasters emulating your production style? Do your listeners take action when you highlight a cause you care about? Is your podcast part of the larger cultural conversation? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, your podcast is having an impact.
Finally, the last measure of success we’ll touch on here is your own personal fulfillment. For this metric, the only criterion is pride in your achievements as a podcaster. It’s vague, it’s completely internally defined and it may be the most important metric of all.
Success is subjective and multifaceted
As you can see, there are many ways we can measure success, and no one metric will tell you whether or not your podcast is successful overall. But that’s okay. It just means that you get to choose your own goals according to what is most important to you. You might even have more than one goal for your podcast. Failing to reach one goal should not diminish the success of achieving another.
It’s also normal for your goals to shift and change over time. That’s a good thing. It means your podcast is already succeeding. If you reach a goal you set early on, that’s your opportunity to set new goals and stretch your definition of success.
On the other hand, if you are struggling to meet a goal, it might be time to reevaluate your metrics: Is your goal clear and specific? Is it realistic? Is it relevant to your personal definition of success? If not, the goal itself may be the thing that’s holding you back.
At what point is a podcast successful?
Unfortunately, we still haven’t answered the question at the heart of this article. And that’s because we can’t. Success has many definitions. For some podcasters, it means having the ability to live off their podcast’s ad revenue. For others, it’s simply having a dedicated community that tunes in each week. Ultimately, it’s up to each individual podcaster to define what success looks like for them. So, what does it look like for you?