15 Minute Freelancer

65. Building a community around your content (with Charles Commins)

July 01, 2022 Louise Shanahan
15 Minute Freelancer
65. Building a community around your content (with Charles Commins)
Show Notes Transcript

Podcasting is a great way to connect with people, but it's also a bit of a one-sided conversation. How do we cultivate a community vibe?

This week, 15 Minute Freelancer's very own editor Charles Commins gets on the other side of the mic to join me for a chat about community-building. We focus on podcasts but the lessons apply to any kind of content you create, e.g. newsletters, blogs and YouTube channels.

We cover:

  • how to build a thriving podcast community (or any content-based community)
  • ways to foster connections with and between listeners
  • how to set the tone for friendly banter and support (and handle bad behaviour)
  • pros and cons of Patreon, Slack, Meetup and Discord 
  • the monetization question

Mentioned in this episode:

MIC’s Podcast Club - https://www.meetup.com/micpod/
It’s all Cobblers to Me - https://cobblerstome.com/

Say hi to Charles:

Charles' website: vibrantsoundmedia.com
Twitter: @charlescommins
LinkedIn: Charles Commins
Instagram: @charlescommins

Say hi to Louise:

Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.

LinkedIn: Louise Shanahan
Twitter: @LouiseShanahan_
Website: thecopyprescription.com

Leave me a voice note on memo.fm/15/

Support the podcast! If you find this episode helpful and you'd like to show your appreciation, consider leaving a tip over at ko-fi.com/15minutefreelancer. Donations help cover the cost of running the podcast and are very much appreciated.


Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.

Louise: Hello, Louise here. I know every time I have a guest on this podcast, I say they're a very special guest and I'm sure you'll agree that they all are. But today we really have a special guest, it's Charles Commins, podcast producer extraordinaire. Hi, Charles.

Charles: Hi, Louise. You okay?

L: I'm good thanks, how are you?

C: I'm very well, thank you for inviting me on, it's a pleasure to be on this side of it.

L: I'm excited to have you here. Just for everyone's benefit, Charles is the one who does all the hard work behind the scenes on this podcast. So let me say a big public thank you for all your support. 

C: You're very welcome. 

L: Just as a side note before we get into today’s topic, I think I've mentioned this to you before, but when I was first looking for a podcast editor, I didn't know any. So I asked my friends on Twitter and about 99% of them instantly replied with your name, which shows the power of being known for a particular thing and having a really strong network.

C: It was it was very humbling as well, it was lovely having all those people reply to me. That's the first time that's happened to me to such a big extent. I've had a couple of people here and there do it before but to see all of those people tag me in that one thing was amazing. 

L:  So it was a no-brainer to speak to you. 

C: Thank you. 

L: That's kind of my attempt at a seamless segue into our topic for today, which is about cultivating a community specifically around podcasts. I'm not sure we need to go into too much detail about how to start your own podcast. If anyone's interested in that there are a gazillion articles and YouTube videos and all the rest of it on how to get set up. But I do think it's important to think about why you would want to start a podcast and the community element is a huge part of that. But it's not easy. I can say that from experience. Podcasting is a great way to connect with people, but it is quite one-sided. Here we are talking and people are listening, but we don't know who they are or what they think about what we're saying. It's kind of one-sided. Charles, I know you've had a lot of success in bringing people together through MIC’s Podcast Club and your fan club for your podcast, ‘It’s All Cobblers To Me’, let's get a plug in. Can you tell us a bit more about your experience of building a community around a podcast and why you think it's important?

C: I started ‘It’s All Cobblers To Me’ first. That was September 2018, so we're coming up to four years now of doing that. And it's probably been in this last year, so the fourth year, that the community side of it is really taken off and spiralled. You're right, we have a fan club, which is basically my way of calling Patreon, rather than it being so obvious that basically I want your money. And it's a chance for people to support the making of the podcast, but also to then come in and actually be part of our smaller community of superfans. We have a Slack channel, and we basically have a place where lots of people can come and they can all chat and they can talk about anything that they want to. Most of the time it's around the subject that we talk about with the podcast, so that's Northampton Town Football Club, so the majority of them are all Northampton Town fans. And it's just a place for them to come and have a chat about that side of things, but then with the added advantage of also having myself and my co-hosts, Neil, Danny and Chessie in there as well. So they can all chat to us as well as then hear us on the podcast on a weekly basis. It's really lovely, first of all, to be able to have that feedback and have that constant engagement with the people that are listening, and these are the ones that are your real superfans. They're so engaged, they will never miss an episode and they will obviously put some money into my pocket as well to say thank you for making it. In return, they get to have a chat with me, they get to have lots of different content as well which is lovely for them. But it's essentially like having my number without actually having my phone number, if that makes sense. And from my point of view, I get to hear their feedback, immediately.

L: Do you think the community element has been a big part in helping to grow the podcast then?

C: Oh, absolutely. Podcast growth is really hard. There's loads of people out there that will tell you of all these different ways of doing it. But actually, there is nothing better than that social proof of having people listen. The fact that there are other people out there who will say, oh, I've listened to ‘It’s All Cobblers To Me’ and it was great. Basically what they're saying, without using the words is, and you should listen too. It's exactly the same when people put on your LinkedIn posts for this podcast, where they say really enjoyed that episode with Dave Harland or Katie Sandow, or whoever it is that you've had on, Frankie. And Steve that was a great episode. People then reply to it with why they thought it was great and what they took away from it. So they're giving you feedback but from their point of view they're probably just going, this is great, I get to now talk to you, the person that I'm listening to. Because I think as podcasters a lot of the time we don't realise, and I don't think any of us really ever set out to be like that, and to be celebrities. But essentially, that's what we are doing with ourselves. We're putting ourselves on this little pedestal and we're saying, we are the voice of this particular niche that we're talking about. It wasn't as I said, something that I actually wanted to do, as in that wasn't the reason why I did the podcast in the first place. It's probably not the reason why you started 15 Minute Freelancer either. But what the podcast has done is given you an audience within your niche, so for you it's freelancers and for me it's Northampton fans. Now, when people think about freelancing, some of them will think about you, and when people think about Northampton Town Football Club, some of them will think about me. And that's amazing and scary at the same time, because obviously that isn't what we really did it for. We weren't looking to become “famous” we just wanted to do something that would help people or that people would enjoy.

L: I think it’s interesting because a lot of what you're talking about there, you know, people sharing posts on social media that happens kind of naturally, people listen to it and they decide they want to share. How do you kind of encourage that? Or how do you build a community in a more deliberate way? You mentioned Patreon and Slack, are there ways to foster connections not just between you and listeners, but between listeners too, in a more deliberate way?

C: I mean it all comes down for me to the call to action that you give whenever you're doing your podcast episodes, and also any other material that you put out there that's there to promote it, or is just part of it, so a newsletter for example. Realistically, you should probably only have one call to action that you give it a time. Quite often for me, what that will be is come and join our community by signing up to the Patreon and becoming a fan club member. I've been really thinking about how to word that and how to encourage more people to do it. And the thing that I think I've settled on now is to say, come and join other like-minded Cobblers fans who listen to the podcast, in our community. Yes, you get added bonus episodes, and yes, you get other little bits and pieces that I put out there as extra content. But the main thing that you get is to be part of this community. Then what happens is they all start talking to each other, we've had with the podcast people actually go and meet up. So at football matches where I've not been going to them, they've gone on the Slack channel and they've agreed to meet at a certain place, either before or during the match, to have a conversation and meet in real life. And that's amazing. They've done that all on their own, really, by just being part of the community. 

L: Do you find it challenging to get the balance rate between giving people that space to grow, but also making sure that it's a safe and welcoming place for everybody. You know, how do you go about setting the tone and being a good community host or leader?

C: It was something that I thought about an awful lot. With football, there are some quite toxic places online, whether it's message boards or Twitter or wherever. I was really conscious that I did not want my community to have any of that. It was kind of the USP in my mind was that that's what we're going to make sure that happens. I'm quite lucky in that, I've only had one incident that I've had to sort of step in and basically put a stop to straight away and just say look, we don't do that. I try to be nice and just lead by example, is essentially what I do. By doing that, that just shows that this is how we behave in here. It is hard and it is the thing that when I first started it I was constantly worried about. But I think if you're present in it yourself, as much as you can be, and showing the values that you want the whole community to have, then they just follow suit and it just happens naturally.

L: I guess that means you have to be available all the time if you're going to be able to step-in in time to deal with something like that. Nurturing community, it does take consistent presence and effort, if something blows up you need to be around to deal with it. It's not really something that you can dip in and out of. So how do you make time and plan for that side of community building and community engagement?

C: I wish I had the answer.

L: The same with everything isn’t it, how do you make time.

C: I say I'm very lucky, I don't mean it that I'm lucky at all, I spend far too much time on my phone, it's something that I really need to get a grip of. I've got the Slack app, so therefore it's always there, I have my notifications turned on so I can see when people have posted. I am always present in it and I'm always available for it. It's not really making time for it, it's just a question of, just like if I got a WhatsApp message from a friend, that's how I treat it. I don't reply to every conversation. I don't get involved in every conversation that's had in the group. I just reply to the ones that I think I've got something to add, like I think we should all do really in everything.

L: I guess people might be wondering about that practical side of things. Are there any do's or don'ts when it comes to choosing what platform you're going to use to build your community and perhaps that helps manage your time in an effective way too, if you choose one that you actually like using.

C: I've talked a lot about Slack and Patreon for ‘It’s All Cobblers To Me’. Whereas with MIC’s Podcast Club, which is a community for podcasters, we use the Meetup app and website. As a community place, I have to say it doesn't really work. It's a bit like Patreon for me, like there isn't a community on the Patreon site itself. The community happens in the Slack for the football podcast and for MIC’s Podcast Club the community is all over the place. We do have a Facebook group but you can only come into the Facebook group if you've been to at least two of our events. So there's only a small number of people in there, because only a small number of people are still using Facebook, and only a small number of people are then actually coming along to two events and then wanting to come into the group. So we've got a small band of brothers and sisters in there. You need to do your research on all of the many different places that you can house or home a community and see what works with what you've already got. For instance, Patreon have a tie-in with Discord. If I'd have been a bit more savvy, I'd have created my community on Discord rather than on Slack because it would have given a much easier user experience flow. When they sign up to the Patreon they would automatically go into the Discord through there. Whereas I had to create a post to say this is where the Slack channel is, and I still have to go and send an email invite to new Patreon members, which is a bit more clunky than it really could have been. But I'm past the point now where I could move from being on Slack to being on Discord. So really look at all of the options that are out there and then look at what you're already doing and use the things that already complement what you've got.

L: Then I guess you also need to think about what platforms your listeners or your community are already using so it's easy for them. And whether you're wanting to have a kind of monetisation element of it where people can support it, or if you're focusing on discussion, or what kind of bonus exclusive content you might be providing, all of that. It's a lot to think about, isn't it?

C: Yeah, it is. The one thing that I would do is, you've probably already got a community somewhere. Whether it will be on a social media platform, or it might be an email list that you've curated. So ask your audience, what they would like.

L: And we're talking specifically about podcasts here, but the same principles probably apply to other content-based communities. You know, if someone listening has a newsletter or a YouTube channel, then a lot of these same tips would apply, wouldn't they?

C: Absolutely. It doesn't matter what you're doing you will have a community around it, potentially. Again, it goes back to using things that complement what you've already got. So YouTube has already got a great way of having a community because you've got the community tab, a newsletter you can just invite people to reply to you. Lots of different ways of doing it, but it's essentially all the same principle.

L: Thank you so much, Charles, that has been really helpful. As you know, these are a lot of questions that I'm considering myself with this podcast. So I'm gonna go and make a list and start doing some research and maybe ask the audience. So do let me know if you're listening if you would like to have some sort of community element, what would that look like for you? What would you like more of? Do let me know, come find me on Twitter or LinkedIn and send me a message. Charles, if people want to find out more about what you do, where should they go?

C: I'm on every social media channel going, I'm @charlescommins on all of them, I think. If you want to come and listen to the podcast, then go to www.cobblerstome.com. And if you want to join a community of podcasters, MIC’s Podcast Club, we run events on the second Wednesday of every month, they're online on Zoom and we also do a couple of in-person ones as well, just go to www.meetup.com/micpod.

L: Brilliant. Thank you so much. I think we're slightly over the 15-minute mark, but hopefully not too much editing for you to do on this episode.

C: Challenge accepted.

L: All right, thanks for listening everyone. And if you've enjoyed this, please do leave a review, share and subscribe. It's all free and it means a lot. Until next time, happy freelancing.


You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance health copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.