Using Email to Build a Viable (Fiction) Podcast Business, Part One.

As podcasters, we are blessed with one of the most intimate forms of media — we join our fans in their private time where few others are invited.

And so one would think that as podcasters we would be masters of communicating with our listeners. But for many in the fiction podcasting space, outside of our feeds, communication is an afterthought at best.

This was me until that fateful day I met Chris Vasquez at Podcast Movement, now head of product development at AWeber.

Disclaimer: AWeber is a partner and sponsor of the Fable and Folly Network, but they did not have any input into this article series.

At Fable and Folly, the company I co-founded, more than 75% of the shows that join our network do not have a viable email list or communication program in place. I don’t have an industry survey, but it feels like having a healthy email list is the exception and not the rule.

I get it. Setting up and maintaining an email list is more work on our already overflowing to-do lists.

But when it comes time to raise money for that next season, announce a live event or ask people to participate in something important, podcasters suddenly find themselves struggling to get the word out. This is where our feed can quickly fail us.

How do we reach our most avid supporters who may be taking a break from our show? And what about those people who love our show but won’t see or click on that announcement episode? Or the people who have fallen behind and are storing up episodes to listen all in one go at some future date?

Hello email.

Email has a bad name with some, and I understand why. We live in a world of endless inbox madness and so it’s easy to think of email marketing as just contributing to more spam in the world. But email can be so much more. It can (and should be) about creating another channel of value and joy for your listeners and biggest fans.

I have long promised to share a breakdown of how we use email at Fable and Folly and I will be using this series to do just that while also sharing how some of the other shows we represent are using email to build their fan bases, grow their reach and even generate revenue.

I am a massive fan of AWeber. It’s the email provider I use and prefer. So while I am going to be showing AWeber-specific screenshots and terminology, much of what I am going to share can be done in other tools.

Here are just some of the ways I use email at Fable and Folly HQ that are critical for our podcast business:

  • Send out our Alba Salix and Civilized Patreon perks to new supporters (automated)
  • Deliver an immersive choose-your-own-adventure-backstory adventure for our dark comedy podcast, Civilized. (automated)
  • Promote and track our Civilized referral program (automated)
  • Stay in touch with our most beloved fans and fellow creators
  • Drive traffic to new show launches and fundraising campaigns
  • Onboarding of new producers into the Fable and Folly network

I will be exploring may of the above examples in this series, but I wanted to start by talking about why I no longer rely on our fundraising platform to send perks to our patrons.

There was a time when I would spend quite a bit of time crafting updates on Patreon. These were special messages for our most important supporters. Until I realized the majority of these people were not receiving these updates.

Do you craft a weekly or monthly update on Patreon? Ever wonder why you get so few replies or responses? The answer is not pretty. In our case, many of our supporters appear to have opted out of all Patreon emails as it can be quite overwhelming to manage your Patreon communications on a case by case basis.

Look at the screenshot below. This is what I see when I go to manage my email notifications from the creators I support on Patreon. And I support only a dozen creators.

Now imagine that one of these other creators is sending out multiple messages a day. It’s no wonder people just turn off email notifications.

I now do almost all of our patron communication via email. Not only do we get significantly more responses to what we send out, we are able to automate much of this. This means we are getting people access to their perks faster and also engaging in real conversations with our listeners.

Introducing tag-based automation.

Instead of having to copy and paste the instructions on how a new patron can access their rewards, I just set a couple of tags. This then initiates a welcome email specific to them and their tier. And all they have to do is hit reply and their email comes straight back to me. I can onboard a bunch of new patrons in one go, everyone gets their perks, AND they are engaging in conversation with me on a far more frequent basis.

I’ll be going into more detail on tags and automation later in this series. But let me just say that it is a life saver.

Getting Started with a Newsletter

Let’s back things up a bit. How does one get started?

Most of the resources I could find about building an email list seem focused on building massive lists with affiliate link strategies or even multi-level marketing programs. And don’t get me started on the courses about creating courses.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to build a lists of tens of thousands of email subscribers. I want a fan-first approach that creates value for our listeners. I want the ability to communicate with my most engaged listeners. And I want to delight them at every interaction.

Our newsletters achieve a 45% open (insanely high) and clickthroughs vary based on the email, but they’ve gone as high as almost 10% recently.

And every click provides more information on what is resonating for that individual. I’ll show later in this series how you can set interest tags based on clicks to better segment your emails to be of even more interest for your subscribers.

Few of us have time to write a custom email newsletter from scratch multiple times a month. But all of us have content already created that is likely of interest and value to our listeners and fans, such as access to their perks or even bonus items that previously were only available to patrons or Indiegogo supporters.

My newsletters follow a pretty standard format:

  1. What’s new and launching this month [links to episodes]
  2. Some inspirational links to stories on the web I really enjoyed [links to other people’s content]
  3. A short essay on how I’m doing as a creator [I write this]
  4. A one-line inside joke from Snegal [it’s always corny]

Part three is the only tough thing I have to write and so I keep it pretty short. I find it an almost gestalt-like experience. And I’ve been surprised how much this content resonates with our listeners, fans and supporters. I share what I’m doing to try and be more productive, how I’m feeling as a creator, or even my realization that I may have an attention deficit disorder at the ripe age of 50.

The key to a good newsletter is structuring it to be valuable for your audience and manageable by you.

Why email matters.

When it comes time for us to announce an important event, such as a fundraising campaign, I now have a versatile communication strategy that leverages multiple channels: our podcast feed, social media channels, and a direct email connection to our most avid fans and supporters.

This brings us to our first rule of thumb:

The likelihood of a special event or “fundraising ask” succeeding increases with each healthy channel of communication available to you.

We’ve all been there. An Indiegogo campaign that failed to hit the goal. A live event that didn’t get many (or any) attendees. While some are quick to point to poor planning, I disagree. Most creators work their butts off to plan and launch a big event only to quickly meet the limits imposed by their communication channels, or lack thereof.

The time to build effective communication channels is not when you are a week away from making an ask of your listeners.

Speaking of which, as I sat down to work on this series, I had to confront just how much of our house was not in order. So many of our shows do not have an active newsletter. Why is this the case?

“I just haven’t had the time.”

“I kept meaning to start one, but wasn’t sure how to best go about it.”

“I have one, but it’s dead. I haven’t sent anything in… a long time.”

Throughout this series, I’m going to be do my best to capture my journey to embracing newsletters and email automation. I’m going to share the tips, tricks and strategies I use to grow our shows and our business.

I hope this will help others to understand what is possible, but also in a way that they realize they are anything but alone. And that anyone can get started today.

I will be showcasing examples from my my email provider, AWeber, but many of these lessons can be implemented in other platforms. If you want to follow along or even try out AWeber for yourself, I recommend starting with their free plan.

Disclaimer: AWeber is a partner and sponsor of the Fable and Folly Network, but they did not have any input into this article series.

Continue reading part two in the series where I will show how we are using email automation to create moments of delight for our fans.

Sean is the co-founder of Fable and Folly and a co-creator of Alba Salix, Royal Physician and Civilized. He can be reached via Twitter or email.

Sean is a brand marketer, podcaster and co-founder of Fable and Folly. https://fableandfolly.com/