Digital Parish: Building community around your podcast

Happy International Podcast Day!

In this bonus episode of Pastoring in the Digital Parish, we're going to explore getting people to listen to and talk about our podcasts. If you're looking for tips about growing an audience and getting people to engage with your podcast, then this bonus episode is for you!

The Episode

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Happy International Podcast Day!

OK, you may or not be listening to this BONUS episode on International Podcast day… but you’ll likely still get a lot out of it. In this shortened bonus episode, I’m going to share a few things I’ve learned about growing an audience and community around an audio podcast.

his is Pastoring in the Digital Parish, providing resources and community for those of us engaged in digital ministry–whether as full-time online campus minister or as a part-time solo pastor. My name is Ryan Dunn. I am a compulsive podcaster. I love the medium. I’m currently engaged in producing podcasts: this podcast and the Compass Podcast. I’ve done a couple others in the past. And I’ve spent a lot of time and energy in learning as much as I can about the podcasting–from production quality to marketing. 

Podcasts are beautiful. They require little in the way of technical investment and offer us always-on access to our constituents. Meaning that once we release a podcast, it’s always there. Our people, or audience, can access that content–and feel like they are connecting with us by extension–all week long. That’s really valuable.

But making a podcast isn’t the hard part. Actually, getting people to listen to our podcasts is the challenge. 

“If you build it, they will come,” only works in movies and novels. Nobody can count on that happening in real life. You can’t just make a podcast and expect people to listen.

There are a bijillion podcasts (it actually depends on who you ask, but most sources report there being over 2 million podcasts). Even if you have a spot-on title and keyword-packed episode descriptions, there is still a lot of clutter to distract potential listeners as they search for podcasts in your field. The clutter is so dense that producers can really no longer count on listeners finding their podcasts without a fair amount of marketing. Listeners need to be guided to our podcasts. We can’t just build a great podcast and hope people will come and listen to it.

There are several ways to bring people to our podcasts without shelling out a lot of money–although, to be honest, paid advertising is probably the most expedient way to build an audience. However, most podcasters start with a budget of 75 cents (which all goes towards production), so we’ll focus on some cheap alternatives for audience growth. Let’s start by debunking a couple myths about podcast marketing:

Myth: Ratings and reviews help our shows get noticed.

Like most myths, there is some partial truth to this. Ratings and reviews may help sell our podcasts to potential listeners. BUT, ratings and reviews don’t actually push our podcasts up the all-important Apple Podcasts charts. (Incidentally, Apple Podcasts is like the Facebook of the podcasting realm–it’s by far the most widely used platform.) I I did a little research: I took a look at the “Bestsellers” in the Christianity section. It features the “best ranked” podcasts labeled Christianity. Conventional thinking suggests these are the podcasts with the highest review ratings or the most positive comments. But that’s actually not the case. Your podcast may have more reviews and ratings (and episodes!) than several of these podcasts: 

Apple Podcasts “Bestsellers” in Christianity on August 12, 2021

At time of writing:

  • You’re Not Crazy: 2 episodes and 13 reviews (and look at it’s listing!)

  • Sellout: 3 episodes and 65 reviews

  • The Boom Clap: 23 episode and 139 reviews

So, what do you think? Do the ratings and reviews matter? The number of ratings and reviews on this list vary in range from a dozen-ish to a dozen thousand-ish. Obviously, there’s something else driving Apple’s rankings, and they’re not disclosing what it is. We can only conjecture a few ideas of what drives this ranking system: It could be total number of subscribers over the past week, or total number of episode listens across a timespan, or total number of “next episode” listens across a defined timespan, or all these factors combined, and then some extra factors that we’re unaware of.

It truly seems that Apple Podcasts does not prioritize what people are talking about as it forms it’s rankings, instead it prioritizes what people are actually listening to. So in order to get more people listening to our podcasts through Apple Podcasts, we need to get more people listening to our podcasts. Easy, right?

The takeaway with this revelation about Apple’s ratings system is that we don’t really need to prioritize ratings and reviews. If we’re going to ask our audience to do something that helps our show grow, there are more effective actions than dropping a rating or review. We need to get our audience talking about podcasts in other ways.

Next myth: Social media drives listenership.

Again, partially true. Audience engagement drives listenership, and social media can be a great way for engaging with your audience. So can a good email list. But no one discovers an email list without a good content platform, and no one discovers your podcast on social media without good audience engagement. Therefore, if you’re posting your episodes to a ministry Facebook page as a way of marketing your podcast, then there’s a good chance no one is finding your posts. If you’re somehow using your episodes to start conversations with people on Facebook, then it might gain some traction.

OK, so that’s a couple de-bunked myths. Let’s hit what does work: Which is to Get people talking about your podcast.

Despite Apple’s devaluing of ratings and reviews, word of mouth is still the key factor in growing an audience. The best way to grow an audience is to get people talking about your podcast. The first step to get people talking about your podcast is to make sure you’re offering valuable content. In the religious world, that means that we should be seeking to answer questions people are actually asking about their faith, our world, and the Divine. If we approach every episode as an opportunity to lead someone towards transformation, then we’ll be guided towards offering valuable content. And valuable content gets people talking.

Most of us have a practice of adding a call to action into our episodes. For many, that call to action is to subscribe or offer a review. We probably want to change what our call to action is, emphasizing something that readily leads towards audience growth. So a valuable call to action might be: “If this episode was valuable to you, post ‘Hey, I just learned ________ while listening to the ________ podcast.” (Feel free to fill in the blanks for your audience member.) 

Other effective calls to action would be: join a Facebook Group, join an email list (both ways of building audience interaction), or to listen to the next episode (again, Apple prioritizes actual listens). A good practice is to be concise and clear on your call to action, however. So it’s best to just choose one call to action and stick with it.

Then there’s the big audience-growth hack: Be a guest.

Probably the most expedient way to grow an audience is to get featured as a guest on another podcast. This exposes you to an audience who is already engaged in podcasts, is interested in your topic, and will likely want to hear more from you.

Here’s a simple formula for offering yourself to other podcasts: 

  • Start by trolling Apple for podcasts related to yours (or hit up your friends, who are likely doing similar podcasts).

  • Reach out to the producer or host explaining why you love their podcast and what value you can offer their listener.

  • Show your own review of their podcast.

  • Offer to share an episode featuring you across your platforms (including your podcast’s RSS feed).

  • And be clear what you would like to speak with them about.

Really, appearing on another podcast is getting someone else to talk about your podcast–which, as we’ve learned, is really the way of growing an audience. Just be aware that when you’re on someone else’s podcast, you are there to offer their audience value regarding the theme of that podcast. This will not simply be an opportunity to talk about why people should listen to your podcast.

Podcasting offers a great way to inspire community. And it seems that the real way to build a podcast audience is to nurture a community around your podcast or podcast topic. If you want to see this in action, join the Pastoring in the Digital Parish Facebook Group, where we attempt to build community around the Pastoring in the Digital Parish podcast.

Hope this bonus episode was super helpful in it’s own way. Back to regular episodes in a few days. In the meantime, Happy International Podcast Day!





On this episode

Ryan Dunn, co-host and producer of the Compass Podcast

Our proctor/host is the Rev. Ryan Dunn, a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. Ryan manages the digital brand presence of Rethink Church, co-hosts and produces the Compass Podcast, manages his personal brand, and obsesses with finding ways to offer new expression of grace.

Podcasting is a ministry. United Methodist Communications uses podcasts to inform, encourage, motivate, inspire and engage followers of Christ — and we are resourcing churches to do the same. These efforts require financial support. If you believe in our mission, consider a tax-deductible donation to the work of United Methodist Communications through its Foundation at

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