This is a guest post by Alban Brooke, head of marketing at Buzzsprout, a fantastic platform for launching and growing your podcast.
Creativity is hard work. Whether you release a new podcast episode every week or once a month, coming up with consistently high-quality episode ideas can feel like a lot of pressure. This demand for consistent content is one of the major players in the podfade phenomenon and a challenging aspect of being an independent podcaster. In this article, we'll lay the foundation for great content, share practical methods for coming up with new episode ideas, and outline ways to cultivate creativity throughout your podcasting journey.
Here are four ways to keep the podcast episode ideas flowing!
#1. Lay the groundwork: Know your audience
Ultimately, your content ideas won't get far without a solid understanding of your target audience and what they want to hear. And how well your ideas land once you choose them is heavily dependent on getting this step right.
So if you aren't already clear on the audience you want to reach, this is an essential place to start.
Knowing your audience doesn't only help you develop more ideas for episodes but also keeps you from experiencing creative burnout. If you're trying to create content for an audience whose needs you aren't familiar with, you'll run dry pretty quickly.
So if you don't already have a good read on your audience, start by asking yourself who you want to reach with your content, being as specific as you can. What's your target audience's age and geographic location? What are their struggles, goals, and interests?
Some podcasters find it helpful to create an avatar to visualize who you want to reach.
A well-defined listener demographic narrows your focus, gives you invaluable insight, and goes a long way toward connecting you with a wealth of podcast topic ideas.
#2. Find out what's already been done
Before you try to develop ideas for episodes, it's best to survey the land to see what's already been done with your podcast topic. From there, you have a strong foundation for coming up with your own unique angle on the issue.
If you don't yet have any ideas, researching the competition can help get your gears turning. And if you have a vague idea for a possible episode, you can use this research to see what other creators have done with the topic. Here are a couple of ways you can start.
Research competitors & fill in the gaps
Researching episodes in your podcast's genre is a powerful tool for seeing what ground is already covered and what gaps still exist. The only way you can fill in said gaps is to consistently keep an eye on other podcasters' content and do something different from the rest.
Search out other shows and find ways to answer questions better than they've been before. You can also spin a topic that's been done a thousand times before with your own unique take.
You can go to Apple Podcasts > Browse > Categories to find your podcast's genre and search the top shows within its category, or just search a topic in the search bar. Browsing other podcast episodes is a great way to quickly survey your genre and see what kind of content is out there.
You can also run more specific searches using tools like Listen Notes for a deeper, more advanced search. This tool lets you tailor searches to quickly get an idea of the shows within your podcast's niche.
Search the topic on YouTube
Similar to researching the competition on Apple Podcasts (formerly iTunes) or Spotify, YouTube is a great way to see what people are already doing with your topic so that you can veer from it with your own take on the subject.
This method works best as a way to see what's already been done with your topic idea, vs. finding new ones—although you might end up finding some along the way.
Once you get an idea of what content exists around a topic, you'll have a sense of what you can do to stand out. From here, you can get more creative using tools to help generate specific ideas.
#3. Use idea-generating tools and techniques
Creativity isn't just about waiting for inspiration to strike; there are many tools and tactics you can employ to help get your gears turning. Here are ten methods you can use when you need some assistance brainstorming episode ideas.
Answer the Public
Answer the Public takes the data from over 3 billion daily Google searches and puts them into one big well of data—and it's a treasure trove of episode ideas for podcasters.
The tool works by taking data from search engines like Google and collecting every phrase and question the public asks about virtually any topic you can imagine. Let's say you have a podcast on entrepreneurship and are considering doing a podcast episode on getting started. Just enter “entrepreneurship” in the search bar (it's usually best to keep your search to one or two words vs. a phrase or question).
The site breaks down your topic into questions related to the topic, comparisons to help you bring in other related issues, and even a list of common searches for each letter of the alphabet (i.e., “entrepreneurship books,” “entrepreneurship courses,” etc.).
“Google searches are the most important dataset ever collected on the human psyche.” — US data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
Answer the Public gives non-paying customers one free search per day, and the good news is that's more than enough for podcasters. One search gives you hundreds of ideas per topic the first time around and enough to chew on for quite a while.
If you want unlimited searches and a deeper dive into other pro features, you can upgrade to the Pro plan for $99/month (and cancel anytime). Again, this isn't necessary for the vast majority of podcasters, and the free version should do just fine.
Google the alphabet
In our opinion, Answer the Public is the best way to get an alphabetized list of searches on your topic. But what if you don't like the platform, feel stifled by the once-a-day search limit, or just want to do the research yourself? You can use the “Google the alphabet” technique to access some of the same information—with a little more footwork on your end.
Here’s how to do it. Open Google and enter your podcast’s topic. For example, you could enter “entrepreneurship for” or simply “entrepreneurship.”
Then, enter the first letter of the alphabet after your search phrase to let Autocomplete work its magic. Other ideas automatically generate when you type in “a,” letting you see what people search for related to your entry.
Next, enter “b” and continue going through the alphabet until you get enough ideas jotted down. You can go back and alter your phrase or question to get more ideas or a slightly different slant on the topic, and this can usually get you pretty far.
Again, Answer the Public does this for you automatically, but it can be helpful to know how to do it yourself, too.
Ask your social media followers
Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook have made it simple to run polls, take Q&As, and stay connected with your audience's struggles and questions.
If you aren't already familiar with this feature, just take a picture or video in your stories, select the “poll” icon and place it in your post. You can ask questions like “What content do you want more of?” or “What's something you wonder about but are afraid to ask?”
You can also turn the tables and run a Q&A to let your audience ask you the questions. Running social media Q&As is a great way to get content ideas with little effort.
Ask your podcast audience
If you don't have a big social media presence yet, you can directly poll your podcast audience instead.
Asking questions via the podcast is an excellent way to reach your core audience and most loyal listeners—the people who care most about the content you create.
One of the most direct ways to get feedback from your audience is by posting a survey in your show notes using a tool like Survey Monkey. You can announce the survey in your episode and even provide an incentive for completing it, like a free ebook, guide, or cheat sheet.
Researching your topic is great, but nothing beats getting feedback directly from your audience to use as inspiration for future content.
Search Reddit & Quora
These platforms are an excellent way for podcasters to get inside the heads of the public to get you brainstorming and help connect you with specific, niche questions you wouldn't find elsewhere.
Continuing with the entrepreneurship example, you can search these communities for related subreddits and see what kinds of questions the public has about it.
Forums attract people passionate about the topic, making them great resources for finding those nitty-gritty questions and untapped topics.
As a bonus, if you have an episode that answers a question, you can freely promote your own podcast (in the form of an answer). So you might attract some new listeners in the process!
Make a list of all your ideas (good and bad)
Some of the best podcast ideas come from writing down all your ideas—without judgment or holding back. Just list out your thoughts until you hit a designated number, let's say 50. If you write 50 ideas, you'll not only get your creativity flowing, but you'll likely come up with several unique ideas you wouldn't have thought of otherwise.
If you prefer, you can set aside a designated time, say 20 minutes, to write as many ideas as you can on a sheet of paper or in your Notes app.
The main takeaway here is to not second guess your thoughts, overthink, or hesitate to write them down. And when you find a good idea, you can flesh it out using a similar technique called freewriting.
Take the idea you want to explore, and write out your stream-of-consciousness thoughts. Set a timer and write everything that pops in your head. You'll surprise yourself with the ideas you can generate when you relax, lower the stakes, and get your thinking brain out of the way.
Advanced searches on Google & Twitter
Twitter can be an excellent tool for seeing what people are saying about a given topic, and a simple search on your subject matter can yield a lot of helpful results. For even more tailored results, you can use the advanced search filters to narrow your search by date, hashtags, accounts, and mentions.
You can use Twitter's search option as a time capsule to view past conversations or stay current with what's trending.
Google also has an advanced search tool that lets you tailor your search results with more exact parameters. Most people using Google results stop after the first one or two pages, and in podcasting, using the same sources can lead to a lot of repeated content.
Narrowing your focus using advanced search tools is key to finding highly relevant, relatively untapped podcast ideas.
Join Facebook groups
Like Quora and Reddit, Facebook groups serve as a helpful forum where people gather and discuss a given topic in more depth.
You can join a handful of Facebook groups related to your topic and occasionally browse the page to see what people are saying. You'll likely find a lot of questions, recognize some common themes, and get great podcast ideas from threads.
Consider the opposite viewpoint
Also called asymmetrical thinking, studying the opposite viewpoint of a given topic is a mind-expanding practice that opens you up to a bigger picture and can prompt more ideas for your episodes.
You can also study different ways people approach the same topic, question, or problem. Taking in conflicting or paradoxical ideas can clarify your own thoughts on the issue and keep your content well-rounded and dynamic.
#4. Cultivate the habit of creativity
The ideas listed above work best as part of a consistent habit versus a last-minute effort to develop podcast content. Here are a couple of tips to help you cultivate the habit of creativity and integrate it into your workflow.
Schedule time to brainstorm
Coming up with quality content ideas is probably the most critical aspect of creating a successful podcast, so it's a good idea to schedule time specifically dedicated to content idea generation and brainstorming.
Scheduling blocks of time, or even an entire day, solely for coming up with content helps you stay one step ahead of the game and gets you in the habit of being creative instead of waiting for inspiration to strike.
Remember, as a podcast host, it's entirely up to you how often you publish new podcast episodes. You can build in scheduled gaps between episodes if you feel overwhelmed at the idea of posting new content every week.
Use a spreadsheet to stay organized
Once you start coming up with podcast topic ideas, you'll need an organized way to keep track of them all. Using a spreadsheet really pays off here, and a little organization can free up valuable mental space you can use to focus on your content.
You can use this free Buzzsprout podcast ideas spreadsheet to serve as a content calendar for months, or even a year, ahead of time. (Just go to File -> Make a copy.)
Keep the Podcast Episode Ideas Coming
To recap, coming up with podcast episode ideas takes a four-pronged approach:
- Know your audience
- Survey the competition
- Use the right research tools and methods
- Be persistent about cultivating the mental habit of creativity
Content generation is a big part of podcasting, whether you produce content about tech or the arts, and it requires persistence and commitment. We hope these tips can help you integrate the practice into your workflow in a way that feels feasible for the long term!
Haven't nailed down your podcast's overall concept yet? Check out SPI Media’s complete podcasting tutorial and our blog post on untapped podcast ideas for more content inspiration and podcasting tips.
Alban Brooke is a former lawyer and the Head of Marketing at Buzzsprout, one of the largest podcast hosts in the world. Since 2014, he has helped over 200,000 people launch their own podcasts through Buzzsprout. He co-hosts two podcasts, How to Start a Podcast and Buzzcast. He lives in Jacksonville Beach, Florida with his wife and daughter. You can find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.