Even if you don’t listen to podcasts at all, you’ll probably be aware that ‘Subscribe and follow!’ ‘Rate and review!’ and ‘Share this podcast!’ are common requests from podcasters. They are meant to encourage listeners to take these actions, with the hope that it will help the podcast grow. But the problem is, these types of call to action (CTA) are so common they have become something of a cliché. At this year’s International Women’s Podcast Awards, host Deborah Francis-White even asked us to rate and review her hosting skills.
The result is that most listeners are likely to ignore generic CTAs at best, and at worst get annoyed at hearing them too often. But that doesn’t mean you need to stop asking your listeners to help you. Instead, you just need to think about how to craft an effective call to action, and pinpoint a unique way to use it in your show.
What is the purpose of your CTA?
Before you can nail down your call to action as a phrase, you need to understand the purpose of CTAs. Of course, literally speaking the point of asking listeners to “rate and review” is to get good ratings and reviews for your podcast. But did you stop to think why ratings and reviews are actually helpful to podcasters? (Or indeed, if they even are – according to Apple Podcasts, reviews and ratings are not even a factor in their charts and featured shows.)
To make sure you create a good call to action, you need to start by thinking about the reason for them in a broader sense. Generally speaking, most CTAs will fall under the umbrella of one of three reasons, and it’s worth thinking about what you want your audience to help with the most:
Some calls to action are more directly about asking for financial support. Asking listeners for donations, subscriptions or directing them towards merchandise and paid-for content is one of the more obvious CTAs from podcasters.
One of the best ways to grow your audience organically, without a marketing budget, is to use your audience. According to the latest MIDAS Survey from RAJAR, “Listeners claim that ‘Word of Mouth’ and ‘Social Media’ are their go to sources to find new Podcasts.” A good marketing-based call to action will encourage your listeners to recommend your podcast, and spread the word about your show for you.
Asking your listeners for their stories or questions is a great way to build community, but it also provides you with content that can be used in future episodes. Closet Confessions is a great example of a podcast that does this – their ‘cousin confessions’ are stories from listeners that are shared in separate episodes. Their CTA is on-brand for the podcast format and style, speaking directly to the community of ‘cousins’.
Who are you asking?
When you’ve decided what you want your listeners’ help with, it’s good to think about who your listeners are. This will help you narrow down the types of things you can ask from them. For example, you could check your podcast-hosting platform to see where people are based or what app they use to listen to your show. If most of your listens are on Spotify, you can build this into your CTA.
And where are they when you ask?
Perhaps more important than who is listening is thinking about what they are doing when they listen. The MIDAS report also tells us that 94% of people listen to podcasts alone, and only 19% of people are ‘relaxing/doing nothing in particular’. That means that over 80% are doing something, such as driving, exercising, cooking, etc. Some standard CTAs might be difficult to do in these situations.
So what does a good CTA sound like?
Once you’ve started thinking about these specifics, you can start creating your own call to action that stands out from the crowd. You want to make it as easy as possible for listeners to do the action you suggest, and here are some things that can help encourage them:
1. Be realistic
When you’re deciding how people can help, think about what is reasonable to ask from the majority of your listeners. Asking your listeners to share the podcast with everyone they know isn’t realistic, so they may ignore the request entirely. But it is realistic to ask them to share it with one friend.
2. Make it specific
A call to action that gives specific instructions is easier to follow and harder to ignore. For example, rather than the generic “leave a rating and review” you could tell listeners “if you’re listening in Apple Podcasts, tap to rate us 5 stars now”. Rather than “share this podcast” you could encourage listeners to “take a screenshot of this episode and share in your Instagram stories.” A specific call to action means people aren’t overwhelmed with options and they don’t have to think about it as much.
3. Make it real
Your call to action has to really come from you as a host or podcast team. Think back to the purpose of your CTA – what is the real reason you want people to do the action you’re asking them to? For example, in the Wanna Be podcast, Imriel does use a broad CTA, but there is a sincere reason why: “If Lirian’s story resonated with you, please do consider sharing this podcast with others. Let’s spread the word about the empowering journeys of trailblazers like Lirian”.
4. Give your listeners a reason
If you’re asking for their help, think about what you can offer listeners in return. It doesn’t have to be extra content or merchandise – listeners love to feel appreciated by the host, and hear their name on the show. A podcast that made listener shoutouts a big part of the production was Potterless, who thanked all the ‘Producer Level Patrons’ in the credits.
Pinpoint YOUR call to action
The last thing to think about when creating your CTA is whether there is something specific to your topic that you can bring in. Think about taking a standard call to action, and adding an addition or pun that is unique to your show. A good example of this is the Sticky Bun Boys podcast. The show is a watchalong of the Great British Bake Off, but with some conversations about dating and queer culture. With these themes in the show, the hosts have given their Patreon subscription the name ‘Only Flans’ to reference both the baking and the social platform with a similar name.
How many CTAs should you use and where should you do it?
It can be useful to think about your call to action like a good advert – you’re just advertising yourself! Adverts usually fall in three places (pre-roll before the episode begins, mid-roll like a commercial break and post-roll after the credits) and your call to action is likely to fit in similar places. Just like adverts, you can create stand-alone CTAs that can be inserted separately to the episode, or you can do it as part of your intro and outro. You want to limit the amount you ask of your audience so don’t have too many calls to action.
But there is no specific rule for where you place your call to action, and it comes back to making sure you are staying real to you. Try experimenting with where you feel most comfortable saying the phrase you have chosen.
Here are a few examples of CTAs:
“If you follow any of the advice in this episode, send us a voicenote on Whatsapp to tell us how it worked for you – 070-000-000 – we’ll share some of your messages in the next episode”
“If you like something a guest says, take a screenshot of your podcast app and share it on Instagram stories”
“Share this episode in your work group chat and tell them why you like it”
“Take a picture of where you are when you listen to this and share it on socials. Don’t forget to tag us and we’ll reshare as many as we can!”
“If you’re listening on Apple Podcasts, tap to rate us 5 stars now – it helps people decide whether to listen to us…”
“Before we start, I just wanted to let you know that you can become a paid subscriber on Substack, Patreon or Apple Podcasts, and you’ll get access to exclusive content. Subscriptions really help us, so if you are in a position to do so, head to ourpodcastwebsite.com/support to find out more.”