Whether you’re simply passionate about producing the best podcast you can, focused on growing your listener base or trying to convert them into customers, engaging your audience interactively is one of the best ways to take your results to the next level. We’re writing here about podcasting in particular, but this really applies to any online community.
telbee makes it quick and easy to hear from listeners (we’re a voice messaging platform), include their content in your podcasts and reply to them personally, but there are lots of different ways to go about it. This post is our guide to making your listener engagement really effective, whatever your aims.
We’ll start with a few of the key questions to consider in planning your listener engagement, and then talk about how to use and reply to listener voice messages to create outstanding episodes, grow and understand your audience, and establish valuable relationships.
How do you want to use voice messages from your audience?
If you want to include listener messages in your shows, it’s important that in your prompt you are clear on what form you want to the message to be– both in your telbee channel and when you initially ask (see “When and where is it best to engage your listeners?” below). The topic itself can be broad or specific (see “How many messages do you want?”), but being clear about the format and setting an appropriate time limit for the messages will make it easy to fit well into your episode plan. E.g:
- “Tell me about your experience with X” – 2 minutes
- “Send your questions for the next interviewer” – 30 seconds
- “Let’s hear you and your children say hello together” – 15 seconds
- “Want us to help you in a future episode? Record your answers to our intro questions and we can make it about you!” – 5 minutes
- “It’s a difficult situation and I don’t have all the answers. Tell us what you’d suggest” – 1 minute
It’s also important to make sure you have permission to include the messages you receive in your shows before using them. We’d suggest asking for this in the channel text, but you can always ask afterwards.
If sharing the messages further is not a requirement though – you might be focused instead on driving growth, understanding your listeners or building relationships beyond your podcast – then open-ended prompts can make it easier for your listeners to express what’s on their minds, particularly when it might not even be clear to them. Open-ended questions can lead to more insight and a more personal response from the listener, giving a strong starting point for a conversation and a broader relationship. E.g:
- “How has that problem affected you?”
- “What did you think of that episode?”
- “Did that open up any new questions for you?”
- “Let me know what you’d like us to cover in future”
- “Tell me about your favorite and least favorite episodes”
When and where is it best to engage your listeners?
The best time to ask your listeners (or anyone else for that matter) to send you a voice message is when they have something to talk about. And it’s also important not to get in the way of what they’re already doing, or other things you want them to do.
As for where – It’s wherever your audience is. Certainly verbally on your podcast (and telbee gives you a short URL to make that easy), but if you have communities elsewhere (social media, a blog, a newsletter, a forum, a membership area…) engage them too, particularly if you’re looking to bring them over to your podcast.
So here’s a few ideas on where and when to ask for voice messages:
- Asking for a future episode: If you’re asking for ideas or content for the future, do so when your audience is open to new topics. So not at the start of your show – they’ve just arrived to listen, not speak!
Ask at the end of your show, when people are thinking what to do next
Post a story on Instagram when people are browsing and open to new topics – your voice channel link can be in your bio, or directly in the story if you have that option
- Gathering responses to content: If you’re asking for feedback, thoughts or ideas on something you’re already covering in depth (e.g. a section of your podcast, an article you’ve written), ask for messages immediately afterwards. That’s when people are engaged with it and have something to say:
Ask listeners immediately after a podcast segment how it affected them – Read out a short telbee URL to your channel, or direct them to your website
Embed a telbee channel at the bottom of your blog template or include a “What do you think?” button below your newsletter articles to ask for feedback as soon as they’ve read them
- Bringing an ongoing discussion to your podcast: If you’re having an engaging discussion elsewhere which could be great content for your new show, ask people if they’d want to be included – many will love the idea:
Share your channel link or QR code at online and in-person events and let people know to share their thoughts and ideas there if they want to be on your podcast
Add your telbee link to a Twitter thread if the discussion is heating up. Let people know you’ll be covering it in a podcast episode, and you’d love to include their perspectives
How many messages do you want?
Whether you’re a small show wanting to engage your listeners as much as possible, a brand with an established community looking to collect only the best content, or a broader business and want to hear from potential client leads, you can tailor your approach to receive more or fewer voice messages, and to filter for the right ones.
The most important lever you have to pull is how broad or specific you make your prompts:
- Broad, easy prompts for a broad response: If you ask something than anyone can easily answer – “Tell us what you thought of this episode”, “What was the best thing that happened today?”, “What do you want us to talk about next time” – as a rule of thumb with larger audiences (~10k+) you might expect to receive 1-5 voice messages per thousand listeners/followers for that prompt.
Smaller audiences tend to be more focused on your interests and so can give a higher response rate, with very focused audiences (e.g. members, paid subscribers, event attendees) being a lot higher still.
- Specific or difficult prompts to limit responses: The narrower the relevance and the more difficult the request, the lower the response rate you will receive:
E.g. “We’re coming to record in Minneapolis next Saturday. Say hi if you want to meet up, and bring your friends!”, “Are you a new mother in your 50s? We’d love to hear about the ups and downs”, “Sing a duet for us!”, “Tell us about your most difficult experience in life and what you learned from it”, “What goal do you want to achieve, and what do you need to improve in yourself to get there?”
But this means that if do have a large community, you can put out specific requests and get outstanding messages full of relevant, personal experience in response, without having to listen to hundreds to find them.
And if you are going to put significant effort into responding to each one, whether to help those who need it or convert them to clients, your respondents can be self-filtered very effectively based on your prompt.
There are also more direct approaches you can take to receive more of fewer responses:
- Offers and competitions for more responses: E.g. “I’ll reply to everyone with a link to the extra content”, “The best response will win a ticket” – This will attract more people, but the messages can be lower quality too.
- Limited time or limited audience for fewer responses: Asking people for voice messages via a temporary prompt (e.g. an Instagram story) or setting a time limit on the response (e.g. auto-deactivating the channel in telbee) will limit the number you receive. Asking a subset of your audience will also do the same – e.g. if you have a public podcast but a members-only group, such as Patreon, you could ask only your members for voice messages, offering a personal response and the chance to be played on your show, but to a smaller set of people.
Including listener content in your shows – The practicalities:
Once you’ve prompted your listeners and broader community for voice messages, reviewing them and adding the audio to future shows is easy, certainly with telbee anyway:
- Choosing messages: We’d always recommend listening to all the voice messages you receive, as they are an amazing source of understanding and inspiration. If you’re working in a team though, you might not be listening to them all yourself. And you might have received more than you plan for. So you can also read them transcribed in telbee to help you skim and prioritise.
Then mark the ones you think have potential – You can always flag these, which marks them just for you. If you’re working in a team, you can alternatively star them, so the whole team can see.
You can then filter by starred / flagged messages to review and use your selection, or assign to other hosts or producers on the team for their review.
- Using messages: Actually including the audio in your episodes is easy – if you’re capturing sound for your episode from your computer, you can play back messages directly from the telbee inbox. Otherwise, you can download them as mp3s to add via your editing software.
Including listener content in your shows – The format:
Choosing how to use the listener messages you receive in your shows takes more thought, and potentially more introspection about yourself and your shows. But the process is one that can generate a lot of understanding and inspiration, and a huge amount of trust and sharing from your audience.
After prompting your listeners and community to send you voice messages, you likely have some idea how you plan to use them already. But you might be surprised by something amazing or unexpected, or inspired to revisit a topic with new perspectives, turn a planned section into a whole show, or investigate something new entirely.
Whatever formats you use, when you’re genuinely open to what you hear from listeners, they will recognise and appreciate it:
- Feedback on an episode or section: This is best to include at the start of the next episode, before getting into a new topic. And how you use listener messages will depend on the feedback – if they are ideas or perspectives that your audience will find interesting, you might just introduce and play them without much further comment.
But if listeners share valid disagreement or important follow-up questions, it’s worth taking the time to address them – if they relate to a guest interview, you can share the messages with the guest and they may be willing to answer too.
In any case, including listener feedback lets the listeners know that you care what they say, and will genuinely consider other perspectives. Sharing and responding to a mix of positive and negative feedback is one of the most personal ways of using listener content.
- Stimulus for a section or episode: You may have asked in advance for questions for particular episodes, or collected stories, ideas and challenges from listeners over time and some are relevant for the next guest or topic.
Whichever the case, if the listener messages are playing a supporting role, then the format of the section should depend on what works best for the topic, and for your or your guest’s conversation/interview style – You or your guest are the focus.
The main options are playing all questions/messages up front (whether one or more) for you or your guests to consider and then focusing on the conversation, or playing messages one at a time, with you or your guest responding after each.
If what you’re aiming for is a free-flow conversation between you and a guest or to develop an idea or train of thought yourself, then it’s best to include all stimulus content up front.
If you want to cover multiple topics or if you’re not expecting a free-flowing conversational style, then including multiple questions or listener messages throughout can help to structure the discussion. Having a number of voice messages in telbee ready to play to a guest is also a great way to move on if the discussion has faltered a little.
- Whole section or episode: When you have received a collection of messages on a theme (whether informative, entertaining, challenging…), an in depth story or interview with an interesting listener (you can use telbee’s split screen option for that), or just been inspired by some of the messages you received over time, your listener content can be strong enough to be the focus of a section or an episode of your podcast.
If your podcast is about helping people or solving problems, or benefits from real world case studies, then focusing on a particular listener per episode is a great way to deliver relevant, personal content, and say to listeners that you can help them too.
In this format, it’s about making the listeners the focus, rather than you or any guests (who could still be responding to the listener messages). So introduce your listeners ahead of playing their messages (if you’ve got a great message but need more background, reply to them to ask). And then make sure you address what they were saying. Of course the conversation can develop in other directions of interest to your audience, but it’s generally not good to play listener messages without constructively engaging with them…
That said, if your podcast is “Roast the Audience”, they know what they’re getting in for!
Replying to Listeners – For Growth, Understanding and Relationships:
Hearing from your listeners and community is one part of engaging them, and sharing the valuable things they say with your wider audience an important part of making your podcast compelling, personal and relevant.
But replying to your listeners makes your audience engagement a truly interactive experience. It builds personal relationships and trust, genuine excitement for many of your listeners, and the possibility to build greater insight than is possible from just hearing responses to your initial prompts.
Whether you’re just sending quick responses or engaging listeners in ongoing, in-depth conversations, replying allows you to achieve important aims for you and your podcast beyond just gathering content – and these aims all complement each other. Using your voice, it’s quick, natural and personal:
- Driving Audience Growth: When someone sends you a voice message it may be they are a fan already, or they might just be a casual (or even first time) listener and what they heard struck a chord. Either way, with your replies you can turn listeners into fans, and fans into promoters.
“Thanks Jodie, it's great to hear from you! Do you know anyone else who'd like to listen?”
With a voice message, it can literally take 5 seconds to respond and get people sharing your show. And just hearing directly from you, with your appreciation for their time, will be a WOW moment for many of your listeners if they’re used to only hearing you talk to them as a group. It’s personal, and puts your podcast into a new category for them – something they have a real connection to, with a touch of your friendship on the side.
If you’ve received a large number of messages, a short reply may be all you have time for – we’d still say it’s a very good use of time vs not responding at all. But if you can, saying a little more can go a long way, and will allow you to achieve the other aims discussed below.
Actually addressing their message in your response will make it more personal and build more trust, and create a sense of obligation on their part to respond to your inquiry about sharing.
If they seem to know what they’re talking about, engage them in a conversation. As well as building better understanding of your audience (and being able to deliver more of what they care about will certainly drive growth!), they may be part of a community who would love your podcast, or know about specific promotion channels you should be using, or themselves be an influencer in a relevant space, or have relevant connections. I.e. they may be someone you’d want to establish a closer relationship with to help grow your audience.
By considering the listeners who message you personally and responding as such, you can turn them into promoters and identify some amazing connections to supercharge your growth.
- Building Understanding: Your audience and your wider community is complex and changing. They have different interests and views, and they’re affected by what is happening in their lives, the people around them and the world at large. They are listening to you for a variety of reasons, and forming a variety of impressions.
Maybe (and hopefully) many of them are listening to you for the same reasons that you created your podcast in the first place. But maybe they found something else about your shows that they like which you might not be aware of, maybe the reasons in your mind are different to the reasons they understood, maybe your reasons are evolving. And even if the core reasons are aligned, maybe your podcast is creating all kinds of other feelings alongside those you intend.
And if the reasons you have for podcasting are well aligned with your audience’s reasons for listening, and you’re bringing them along effectively on your journey of discovery, then you’re building a community with concentrated interest in your interests and passions. You may be the expert, but there are many of them – they will have a lot of knowledge, understanding and experience of value and interest to you and your other listeners that complements your own.
So when you hear something of interest from a listener – especially when it goes against what you might expect – engage them. Have the conversation, ask more, understand more.
It will help you understand whether what you want and what your audience wants are aligned and, if they are, to have more to share of what you both want.
And by being open to real conversations with your listeners, you’ll find some who are also real experts – who’ll be able to offer much more for your shows and who’ll be interested to do so when you’re engaging with them personally.
You can expand upon and clarify their original message, going into the topic in depth and maybe getting a whole episode about it. You can discuss other topics – ones you’re working on or ones that come up in discussion. You can hear about real experiences vs the theory, understand opposing views, test out new ideas, identify other communities and potential partnerships, even have them on as guests.
It’s easy to continue these conversations by voice, and quick to finish them positively if you’re not growing your understanding (“Thank you, really appreciate it. Have a great day!”). And after speaking with a few listeners, you’ll be in a better position to tell up front which will be valuable and which not.
- Establishing Relationships: Growth, Understanding and Relationships are all closely linked, and we’ve already touched above on a number of types of relationship you might find via your listeners – promoters, experts, communities.
If a significant part of your reason for podcasting is to establish relationships beyond podcasting itself, or to grow your profile with that ultimate aim, then you can tailor your listener engagement strategy with that focus.
First identify the sorts of relationships you want to build. It could be the ones above or potentially many others who could be within your listener base – potential clients, people who can join your broader community (whether paid or free), customers for your products, focus group members, sources for research, beta testers for solutions and many more.
Who are you looking for at the moment? They may already be your listeners.
Once you’re clear about the types of relationships you want to cultivate, you can choose your prompts appropriately so that responders self-filter – that way you can prioritise your time effectively. If you’re looking for clients, for example, ask to hear from people with the sorts of challenges you are solving. If you want beta testers, ask to hear about brand new products people have come across. If you want experts, ask to hear from people who’ve worked in a particular area.
It’s important to establish sending you voice messages as normal for your audience, so it is good to mix the focused, self-filtering prompts above with broader prompts that anyone can respond to, and share what you receive to demonstrate that people do contact you. But you can then prioritise the time you spend responding – quick responses for the broad messages, and full conversations to cultivate relationships in response to your focused prompts.
In these conversations, it’s important to recognise and reflect that relationships should be mutual. If you want to establish a relationship with particular goals in mind, take the time to understand the interests, needs, plans and challenges of the other person, and if your goals can actually help meet theirs. Some people will just be happy to help you but for others, particularly if you want them to become clients or customers, establishing clearly that the relationship will be mutually beneficial will be important for it to develop smoothly.
Above all, to establish real relationships, be genuine and personal. We certainly believe voice is a great way to do that and, when you’re engaging many people in your audience, voice messages are a really convenient and effective way to do so at scale.
Engaging your audience easily and professionally with telbee:
If any of these benefits of audience engagement do resonate with you, we’d certainly suggest that telbee is the best way to put it into practice.
Our free plan is free for life and lets you do the core listener engagement activities – receiving voice messages and replying – as well as playing them back from your inbox for inclusion in episodes.
telbee has many further features though to help save you time and to fit with your production processes.
You can explore everything we offer in-app, but here’s a quick overview of some of the ones most relevant for audience engagement:
- Onward link: Include a call to action after someone sends you a voice message to continue engaging them immediately – e.g. send them to a registration page or relevant article
- Team inbox: Receive and reply to voice messages together to collaborate with hosts, producers and other team members involved in your shows
- Email notifications: Deliver voice message notifications by email, including the audio and transcription, so you can listen to or read the message in your email app
- Split screen: Add a pdf or web page to a telbee channel on a single URL so you can share interview questions, directions/guidance, stimulus materials, scripts and more
- Audio file upload: Allow your listeners and community to upload recordings they produced elsewhere as an alternative to recording live via telbee. As well as your guests, producers, editors, voiceover artists and more – it’s particularly relevant for others who work with audio
- Set recording quality: Choose the mp3 bitrate – higher if you want to capture at higher quality, or lower if you expect your listeners to have limited bandwidth
- Autodeactivate: Set a channel to no longer receive new messages after a particular time to match your production schedule, for events, for competitions, to limit responses and more
- Showcase: Share multiple voice messages you’ve received through a channel on a single public page, and receive feedback on them
So please do try telbee out – We really think you and your listeners will hear the benefits.
And we’d love to hear what you think about audience engagement - Just click the tab on the right to send us a voice message.