Why I stopped caring about the numbers

I’m not a writer. So please forgive the multitude of grammatical errors that may follow. I am a podcaster, so I speak on the internet. Frame this article in the mind of someone who is writing from a stream of consciousness, rather than a meticulous outline.

When Stephen asked me to help him out this week – whilst he is taking a much-needed break – I started to think about what I could share with his handsome readers. So, I decided that I would talk about the most important thing I have learned over the last three years of being a podcaster:

Audience Quality > Audience Quantity.

This simple statement is quite often overlooked by people trying to be a success on the internet and is quite often thought about in the reverse. But I have had much greater success in my endeavours since I considered things this way.

A lot of this thinking stemmed from my annual listen of Merlin Mann and John Gruber’s 2009 SXSW talk (something you need to hear if you haven’t before). In this talk they discuss a lot about their ‘ideal readers’, who are the people they dream about reading their work and therefore ensure is good enough that they would enjoy it. Along with this, there is a lot of discussion around why they do the things they do and how important it is that they really care about what they do.

As with most online endeavours, podcasting is seen to be all about the numbers and statistics. To be a success I need to get sponsors. Sponsorship allows me to justify the amount of hours I put in to my shows, as it covers my costs and ensures I can continue to do this long into the future. I perceived that large download numbers were the only way I could secure these sponsors and I was transfixed on this for a long time.

At one point, 70Decibels had 12 active shows. At the time, I was checking performance for each one – logging into separate hosting accounts – multiple times per day. I was consumed by the numbers. I obsessed daily, weekly and monthly—desperately trying to find some sort of formula or correlation to achieving success.

Even after we were able to get long-term sponsors on board, I was still meticulously checking these numbers—it became a habit. I wanted to ensure that I was doing the right thing and I felt like I could only find vindication and answers in the graphs.

But then something changed. After listening to that SXSW talk earlier this year I started to consider things differently.

I re-launched one of our shows – CMD+Space – in August and it has been a great success. The numbers for this show are not astronomical but they are consistent and good. But this isn’t what’s important to me anymore. As this show (and our network) continued to grow it became easier for me to book guests with many people being aware of the shows and the network itself.

This is what changed things for me. People that I have been a fan of for years – people I look up to and admire – were now listening to the shows I create. This allowed me to think differently about what I was trying to do. Instead of blindly following trends and download statistics, I started to think deeply about what my goals were and how I could influence matters to those ends. I spent a lot more time researching and considering discussions, a lot less on ‘hot topics’ and more on things that I found exciting or interesting. I tried to engage people in more thoughtful conversation, all the time honing my craft.

And the funny thing about all this, is that download numbers are higher now than they’ve ever been. But now I only check them all once a month.

What I have tried to build and continue to develop is a core audience of people that really care. I want our listeners to really enjoy what we do, to miss a show if it’s late and to be fully engaged. I love to receive feedback and I get more now that I ever have. I honestly believe that this is because of my renewed focus.

I have spoken with a handful of people that operate in the podcasting world about this and they all seem to agree with me — even though they all came to this conclusion long before me — it is important to create work you are proud of and if you are consistent and you keep working hard at it, you’ll get the outcome it deserves.

And guess what? For sponsorship, an engaged and targeted audience is much more effective than a large one. Who knew?!

Audience Quality > Audience Quantity

I feel like this notion can be applied to so many mediums; I don’t believe that this will just work with podcasting. I’m sure that if you write on lovely sites like this one and you follow this simple idea, you’d achieve similar results. Of course there is a limited amount of space on the internet for success, but those that get there will be the ones that produce good quality work, on a regular basis.

Quality over quantity. I hope this piece has lived up to that.

This is a guest post by Myke Hurley, as Stephen and his family are on a much-needed break.