As a podcaster, I find myself in a situation that was foreign to me during my radio days: as an air talent without a program director to provide critical feedback. Feedback is, of course, how broadcasters get better. As much as we sometimes fear aircheck sessions, they make us better broadcasters. Without it, it's hard to know if what you're doing is working.
Several years ago, I discovered the trick of using Amazon's Mechanical Turk service to pay people to listen to my podcast and provide me with critical feedback. You can see a detailed demonstration of how I hire these reviewers here:
Over the years, I have probably run close to 50 podcast episodes through Mechanical Turk for feedback and it has helped me immensely. So when my co-host and I recently made some significant changes to the format of our podcast, I decided to turn to the Turk once again to gauge the reaction. But what do I actually do with that feedback? How do I incorporate it into my show in a useful way?
For starters, I don't heed all of it. Some of the feedback is thoughtful and thorough; some of the feedback is junk. As a general rule, I only pay attention if it reinforces something that I have felt in my gut, or if I consistently hear the same piece of feedback over and over again from multiple reviewers. With that in mind, let's take a look at some feedback I received in the latest round.
Here's are the instructions I posted to Mechanical Turk:
Listen to a short portion of a podcast at [LINK] and provide constructive feedback. Please do NOT just summarize the podcast. Please note, this is a podcast about Detroit; for the purposes of this review, please pretend you live in Detroit.
- How do you feel about this podcast overall?
- What are 3 strengths of this podcast?
- What are 3 things that could be improved?
- Would you recommend this podcast to a friend who lived in Detroit? Why or why not?
Thank you for your feedback!
Here's the first response we received:
Strengths: 1) Jobs 2) Events 3) Signs
Improvements 1) It's a conversation but the gentleman keeps saying yep, etc.; 2) Better intro when the podcast opens; 3) Topics are not discussed very well. I would not recommend the podcast.
There isn't much substance and I had a difficult time determining what it was even about. The song selection was awful.
Frankly, this review is pretty brutal, but it's hard to figure out how to apply it in a constructive way. Yep, it turns out that “yep” is one of my vocal crutches, but I'm not sure what they are referring to when they list the strengths of the podcast.
However, there is one nugget that I am honing in on: this person had a hard time figuring out what the podcast is about. In an effort to get to the meat of the podcast faster, we cut the tagline and episode roadmap at the top of the show, figuring that the tagline in the produced intro would be enough. Apparently we were wrong. As a result, I am inclined to put an explanation of the show back in (for example, “this is the podcast for and about Detroit artists and entertainers”) as well as a roadmap for the episode (“on today's show, we'll talk about how artists can use social media to grow their fanbase”). Oddly enough, I frequently advise other podcasters to do this, and in the revamped structured, I ignored my own advice.
Here's the second piece of feedback we received through Mechanical Turk:
It's something I could see myself listening to. Maybe not every podcast, but I could see myself listening [to] several in a row while cleaning or doing yard work.
1) Doesn't interrupt the guest. Let's them talk. 2) The recording is super clear. 3) Asks relevant questions that helps the guest reveal a lot of information that might be only found in more personable setting.
1) Get rid of the music interludes. 2) The second host needs to be more involved in questioning the guest. 3) I don't know if the podcast has a video component. If it doesn't, add it. Listeners want to see the hosts. I'd recommend it to recent transplants, natives who are into the art scene and those who simply didn't know about a lot of these functions.
I like this review a lot better! It's complimentary, yet there's still some actionable advice in here. In our show, we use short (5 to 8-second) music interludes to separate one segment from another. Before we revamped the format, we were using production elements that sounded like traditional radio sweepers, but we decided this wasn't working. I'm disappointed to see a negative reaction to the music interludes, as I think this elevates the overall production level of the show and makes it sound more produced than just “three people sitting around talking.” This is the type of advice that I am likely to ignore for now, but I may heed if it comes up over and over again in future feedback.
Here's the last review from Mechanical Turk:
Overall this podcast is very good. It has an informative history of Detroit. It explains where to go for a good clean enjoyable time in Detroit. They explain that the city is not too large so it feels safe to walk around. It should not get too personal. It needs to stay on the subject of Detroit. A list of places to visit would be helpful. Which ones in Detroit visitors recommenced to go to the most. I would recommend this podcast to a friend who lived in Detroit because it explains lots of history of Detroit and places that would be fun to visit. It would also inform visitors which places to visit while in Detroit.
While this is positive feedback, I am concerned that the listener did not fully understand the concept behind the show: this is not a podcast designed for people who are visiting Detroit, it is designed for artists and entertainers who already live in Detroit. This misunderstanding could come from the fact that the reviewer is not a Detroiter, so they assume other listeners won't be either; but it could also reveal a shortcoming of the episode. For me, this feedback underscores the need for a better explanation of what the show is about and who it is for at the top of the episode.
This feedback cost me less than $20, and gave me some useful insight into how my podcast episode is perceived. I've decided to incorporate a show tagline and episode roadmap into my podcast, and then I'll run a new episode through Mechanical Turk for more feedback. This will help me improve my show, and hopefully you can use this technique to improve your podcast or radio show, too.
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