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May 8, 2019

Stats are important. They tell you how well your business is functioning. Podcasts also have stats. They exist to ensure your podcast is functioning properly.

At least that’s the theory. In practice, business owners with podcasts probably aren’t getting the right picture by looking at the stats of their podcast. Allow me to explain.

This week, I'm doing a whole series of episodes that cover things I used to think were best practices but have since changed my mind and my approach. The ability to quickly changing one's mind is important in an industry that is as fast-moving as podcasting.

Today, we recheck our assumptions about podcast statistics and the story the tell for your business-focused podcast.

Podcasters like us rely on the podcast the statistics we get from our podcast hosting company. I used to spend a lot of time -- probably way too much time -- looking at stats for my shows as well as the stats for the show's my firm produces on behalf of our clients.

And if I'm being honest, I still spend too much time doing that. But I'm getting better. In fact, I haven't reported stats to my clients for about three months now. It used to provide rather extensive reports for each client, pulling down information from the hosting company and re-formatting said data in a way I felt was valuable to my clients. I’d even provide “benchmark” numbers so they could compare their podcast success against all other podcasts.

I’m not doing that anymore for one simple reason: it’s data puke.

There’s a real disconnect between what podcast stats tell us and what business-focused podcasters really want/need to know. And as I’ve said previously, IAB 2.0 compliant stats won’t help the owners of most business-focused podcasts. Note also that I'm not complaining about the accuracy of current stats (though I do have some questions about the accuracy). Remember that IAB stands for Internet Advertising Bureau. They exist so advertisers can get an accurate counting of downloads to measure the reach of their ads. Well… none of my clients run advertisements. All of my clients are business-focused.  They're using their podcast to influence people in an effort to (hopefully) cause, at some point, a business outcome. And while you could make an argument that more people listening to a podcast will create the opportunity for more business outcomes… I feel that’s a bit of a stretch. And a bit too obfuscated.

I admit that I’m struggling to find the answer to this. I'm trying to get to is a set of universally acceptable metrics that tell the businesses behind these podcasts how they're doing, and how those metrics directly impact their business.

But that metric doesn’t exist. Yet.

I would love to be able to tell my clients how many listeners they have. But I can’t. I can tell them how many downloads their show received. But that's a download, not a listen. And just because an episode was downloaded, it doesn't mean it was listened to. We can get actual listen-numbers from Apple Podcasts and Spotify. But those platforms only represent a sample of listeners, not all listeners.

Worse, this listener/consumption reporting is “black boxed”. We don't understand how what the methodologies are behind the reporting beyond some very vague explanations.

What I learned from the dozen years or longer I spent running advertising agencies is this: you only measure the things you are trying to influence.

So what metrics are business-focused podcasts trying to change? Maybe it’s getting their current customer base listening to the show. Great. But you have to understand how are they trying to implement that great idea. Are they sending out emails to their existing customer base? If so, you can track click-thrus. But what about the people who don’t click but instead just search for the show in their favorite podcast app? Do we have to do a brand-lift study? Decisions… decisions.

Here’s my advice: If you're examining metrics that you really can't change, you're going to be really, really frustrated. You won’t have an understanding of why the numbers go up and then go down. You won’t know what you did with your show that influenced those fluctuations. So maybe… stop?

And now I need your advice because clearly, I’m not solving this on my own. Maybe you've an idea on how to tackle this problem? It’s quite possible that I'm too close to this problem.

What’s your solution? Reach out to me reaches me. You can find me on Twitter at @evoterra. I would love to continue on with this conversation. I'll keep working on it. I'll keep pounding away.  

And in the meantime... I shall be back tomorrow with another Podcast Pontifications.