How to turn your podcast listeners into paid supporters
Anyone can create a paid membership for their podcast, but how much money you could make depends on your listeners.
If you have a podcast and an audience, you have almost everything you need to start collecting revenue from a paid subscription. But before you start asking your audience for money, take 10-20 minutes to make sure you understand them (and what they’re eager to pay for).
As a podcaster, your audience is your most valuable asset. Understanding why your listeners engage with your podcast is necessary if you want to:
- Improve your show.
- Improve your relationship with your listeners.
- Grow your listening audience .
Once you know a few things about your audience, you can identify your podcast’s biggest fans and learn what kind of premium content they’re eager to pay for.
Understanding your audience and its value comes down to two questions:
- How many people listen to your podcast?
- How engaged is your audience?
Determining the size of your audience and gauging their relative engagement is easy. Once you know how big and engaged your audience is, you can determine how many of your listeners will become paid supporters. This is your conversion rate, and we’ll explain how to calculate it shortly.
Determining how big your audience is
How many individual people listen to your podcast?
It's tempting to look at your total downloads and assume that many people are listening, but your download metrics only measure the number of times your show (or a specific episode) has been downloaded. The most useful measure of your audience's size is how many unique listeners you have.
Here are two ways to learn your podcast’s unique listener count:
- If you’re using a podcast host like Simplecast, their analytics tell you the number of unique listeners you have. Note that not all hosts provide analytics or this specific figure—you may have to use what they give you to come up with an estimate.
- If a metric for unique listeners isn’t easy to find, you can get a conservative estimate using your download numbers. Just take the average downloads per episode over a set period of time (e.g., a week after release) and cut that figure in half to account for factors that increase your downloads number without correlating to more unique listeners (e.g., unplayed downloads, duplicate downloads from listeners using more than one device or re-listening to old episodes, etc.).
This method gives you a unique listener metric that is probably smaller than your true audience size, but it’s better to be conservative with your estimations. The only risk is exceeding your own expectations.
The number of unique listeners your podcast has is one of the most useful metrics for you to know and monitor. It’s okay if you don’t have an exact number—what matters is that you are consistent about how you measure your unique listeners so you can assess whether your listenership is growing or not.
What the size of your podcast audience tells you
The size of your audience can tell you more than the number of people that listen to your podcast. With just this figure, you can discover your most popular episodes and whether or not your audience is growing.
Let’s use the download calculation method (i.e., your average downloads over a consistent period of time, cut in half) to get a conservative estimate of our unique listeners.
- Episode 3 has 100,000 downloads 7 days after release (i.e., roughly 50,000 unique listeners).
- Episode 6 has 110,000 downloads 7 days after release (i.e., roughly 55,000 unique listeners).
- Episode 9 has 121,000 downloads 7 days after release (i.e., roughly 60,500 unique listeners).
In this example, the number of unique listeners isn’t precise. But because we were consistent about how we measured them, we know the audience is growing and how fast it’s growing (i.e., the audience gets about 10% bigger every three episodes).
Combined with other metrics, you can also use your unique listeners metric to determine:
- How engaged your audience is.
- How many of your listeners will become paid subscribers (typically 2-7%).
- How much you can make by productizing your podcast
Note that your "audience" likely extends beyond your podcast’s listeners—you may have subscribers, followers, or fans that aren’t listening to your show yet. The more people you can reach, the faster you can grow your podcast audience. (Learn more about growing your audience and growing your podcast as a business.)
The only thing as important as the size of your audience is how engaged they are.
Determining how engaged your podcast audience is
Your audience's engagement is determined by how much action your audience is willing to take for you or your show. Think of audience engagement this way: if you asked your audience a question, how many listeners would give you an answer?
Here’s a rough guide to levels of engagement a listener may showcase. The further down a listener is on this list, the more engaged they are:
- Listener (i.e., subscribes to your show via a podcast app).
- Fan (i.e., advocates for your show by leaving a review or recommending it to friends).
- Paid supporter (i.e., pays to support your podcast via merch, paid membership, etc.).
This spectrum of audience engagement doubles as the audience journey for a podcast. The more engaged a listener becomes, the more action they’re willing to take in support of your show—up to becoming a paid subscriber and giving you money each month.
How to use an email list
An email list is an excellent way to own your connection with your audience. It's a direct channel to your audience that they use every day, and shows you exactly how big and engaged your audience is.
Here's how audience engagement levels map to email metrics.
- Audience size corresponds to email list size (i.e., how many addresses receive your emails). These are your listeners.
- Audience engagement is tracked via email open rates (i.e., what % of your audience opens your email). These are your fans.
- Audience conversion is tracked via clickthrough rates resulting in customer spend (i.e., what % of your audience opens your email, clicks a link, and then buys a thing?). These are your paid supporters.
There are more email metrics you can grow and monitor, but these are the most important ones.
Determining how many podcast listeners will become paid supporters
Once you know how big your audience is (i.e., your unique listener count) and how engaged they are, you can determine how many listeners will become paid supporters.
The best measure of your audience’s value is their conversion rate. Think of it this way: if you were to ask your audience to send you a dollar for something, how many would do so?
To determine your conversion rate, you need to see how many of your listeners become paid supporters over a set period of time. Here’s a simple formula for determining your paid membership’s conversion rate:
Launching a product like your paid membership is the fastest way to find your conversion rate. For example, if your paid membership had 100 listeners on a waitlist and 10 of them became paid supporters within a week, that waitlist has a 10% conversion rate.
The average conversion rate for a podcast offering a paid membership is around 2-7% of your unique listeners. The more engaged your audience is, the more listeners that you can expect to convert to paid supporters (i.e., you’ll be on the higher side of 2-7%).
Audience engagement and how valuable your listeners find your premium content determines how much they’re willing to pay for a membership. Engaging audiences and learning what they find valuable is simple: just ask.
Can you say why your audience listens, or why your biggest fans love your show?
Asking your audience for feedback is an incredible way to gain:
- New topics or episode ideas (i.e., new or better content).
- Listener referrals and recommendations (i.e., a bigger audience).
- Engagement (i.e. better audience conversion).
It’s simple to solicit feedback.
- Establish a point of contact.
- Ask a question or make a request.
- Listen, and prove you’re listening.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 ad nauseam.
By asking your audience for feedback and proving your listening, you are creating a two-way engagement with your audience. This creates a repeatable and increasingly effective way to engage your audience. And the more engaged your audience is, the more likely they are to convert and become paid supporters.
1. Create a way for listeners to contact you
From email to social and beyond, it’s easy to create a way for listeners to contact your show.
- Create a dedicated email address for your show (e.g., YOURSHOW@gmail.com) and set up mail forwarding to your personal email address.
- Create social handles for your show (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.).
- Create a voicemail for listeners to use (you can set up a dedicated Google Voice number with a mailbox)
- Create a channel in your community discord or slack for feedback (you can also create a channel exclusive to paid supporters to engage your biggest and most valuable fans).
It’s important you create points of contact that you will actually use. It’s also important that you purposefully direct feedback at those points—don’t ask people to “let us know on social,” tell them exactly which account and spell out your handle.
Creating a point of contact is an opportunity to directly engage with your listeners.
2. Solicit feedback from your listeners
The best way to solicit feedback is with a call to action, where you ask your audience to fulfill a request or answer a specific question before directing them to your point of contact. Ideally, your call to action is at the beginning or end of your show.
Here are a few other ways to solicit feedback:
- Request reviews (e.g. “Leave us a review on Apple Podcasts!”).
- Start an email list (e.g. “Give your email at x to learn about y!”).
- Provide a conversation starter for social (e.g. “What would you do? Let us know on Twitter at @mypodcasthandle.”).
- Host a live event (e.g. “Join us at 7pm EST at URL; I’ll be answering listener questions…”.
If your show has an email list or you have an audience on social channels, you can go more in-depth with feedback, using questions like:
- What kinds of topics would you like us to cover?
- Would you recommend this show to a friend? Why or why not?
- What’s one thing you would add to this show?
- What’s your favourite thing about this show?
- What’s your LEAST favourite thing about this show?
- Would you pay for an extra episode each week?
Your audience request may be as simple as general feedback, but you should consider experimenting with specific, pointed questions—they’re more engaging, and their answers are usually more telling. How your listeners engage with you should inform the kind of content you’re producing.
Being consistent about soliciting feedback is more valuable than coming up with the perfect call to action. As long as listeners know the lines are open, they'll use them.
3. Listen, and prove you’re listening
Nobody is going to answer you if they don’t think they’ll be heard. Highlighting feedback, recognizing people who respond, and publically answering questions are all great ways to prove you’re listening.
Your podcast is the best platform for recognizing feedback, but responding to emails and social posts is also impactful. The more personalized and visible your response is, the better.
Finally, don’t forget to actually integrate feedback. Some suggestions may be unrealistic or counter to what you want to do with your show, but others may grow your audience exponentially. Some may even become the crown jewel of your paid membership. Experiment, see what works (both in terms of the effort you put in and the impact it has), and iterate as you go.
4. Ask, listen, recognize, and repeat
Once you’ve established how audiences can engage with your show, you can make audience engagement a recurring habit. Doing so leads to:
- Feedback and suggestions to improve your show.
- Content and ideas for your show.
- Community-building for your show.
- Marketing for your show.
Repeatedly asking for feedback is one of the most effective tactics to engage your audience. Start simple and make it a habit. There’s no good reason not to.
If you know your audience’s size and conversion rate, you can determine their value if you offered a paid membership.
How much your charge for your paid membership is up to you and your audience.
Collecting feedback from your listeners helps you improve your show, grow your audience, and create a product folks are willing to pay for. It also identifies your most valuable listeners.
When you launch a paid membership, you’ll know exactly who your most valuable listeners are—they’re the folks giving you money each month. Until then, your most valuable listeners are your most engaged listeners. They’re the ones most likely to give you money if given the option. And right now, the most engaged members of your audience are the ones providing feedback.
Always start with your biggest fans
The more feedback and advocacy you see from a listener, the more likely they are to become one of your first paid supporters. Recognize and foster a relationship with them as soon as possible.
We recommend keeping a list of your fifty most engaged listeners. Before you formally launch your paid membership, consider a soft launch with this inner circle. You can build anticipation, get feedback, and confirm your paid membership’s premium content is a hit with paid supporters.