What kinds of support can niche communities build?

With the upcoming Podcast Movement convention, where we’ll see not only a fiction in podcasting panel but an article in the booklet written by yours truly, it’s a good time to reflect on the podcasting community and its various niches, like audio drama. Podcasts, as I’ll keep repeating until I’m blue in the face, are gaining immense popularity because of their accessibility as a medium to the general populace, including (but not limited to) financially. And in their ever-growing variety, it’s important to remember that podcasting is not a monolith. There are — and must be — different marketing and community-building tactics for different styles and genres of podcasting. But because podcasting is known for its financial accessibility, at least to a point, podcast conventions or courses where like-minded people might be able to form deeper connections, share and learn skills, and network are often financially impossible for these same independent podcasters.

These types of constraints mean that a niche such as audio drama needs external support. Many communities have a fairly strong following in certain parts of social media (look at both the audio drama and true crime communities on Twitter, for instance), though it may be difficult to find or break into as a first-time producer if they have not a great depth of social media community-building experience. But having all your support online has certain limits, and necessitates building a local community in your area. I’m going to talk about some general strategies for building a localized group that would work for any niche community, and that I’ve seen work in my own local audio drama group here in Portland.

Local meetups or groups can later go to conventions together or meetup there, but having that power base nearby has several points in favor for it. It enables local networking between podcasters, so that intelligence and knowledge about possible actors, producers, and other artists can be shared. Gaining visibility locally — possibly through grassroots style moves like posting in local neighborhood social media groups like Nextdoor or Facebook groups or flyers put up in relevant locations — would also drive interested parties to come join or reach out. I can’t emphasize enough how building a local base of voice actors, producers, engineers, artists, and other talent is so important, not just for a production, but to make sure that an independent creator feels less isolated.

If you have looked for a local group and have not found one successfully, and you want to start one, I’d suggest heading first to social media, such as large forums for podcasting in general, a populous Facebook group, a relevant Twitter hashtag, and working your way outwards once you find people in the area. You could pin down locations where like-minded people might frequent to put up flyers for a meeting if you already have a starting base, and research businesses that might benefit from your efforts or be interested in participating somehow. Even connecting with other podcasters from different types and genres of podcasting would help, because everyone knows someone, people want to know about their local creators, and people have varied interests that they may not have had the opportunity to explore before.

And speaking of people who haven’t had the opportunity to explore before, I’ve been thinking a lot about the line between fan and creator, and how you want to make sure you’re being clear about who is welcome at your events. Including fans who are not also potential creators will certainly increase your potential pool for participants, as well as the possibilities for fresh ideas and perspectives; having an “podcast fiction 101” once you have a couple of experts might be a good draw, for example. Opening up your local event to everyone at least occasionally, including fans, could work to spread the word further out and make ripples. And not only that, it would help foster more creators and more work in your niche podcast genre! That would mean more opportunities for visibility, paid work, and experience.

What are your thoughts on accessibility to networking and conventions? Several conventions have options for their less financially-able potential participants, like volunteer work or early bird deals, though combining that with a potential hotel stay and travel costs is what often tips the balance. Not only that, but many conventions may not be in a disability-friendly location, which I think is an important aspect of these types of large gatherings that needs to be addressed more frequently and noticeably. What about going local, instead of remaining solely online, and the inclusion of fans versus creators? At some point, we are all fans, but knowing when the line needs to be drawn is a good way to give creators that space they need. How do you look for a local group about any topic, and how can that be applied to podcasts? There are stil many strategies I haven’t touched on, both in marketing and communication, and of course, a bevy of other barriers that need to be considered, such as language accessibility.

This essay was originally published in Audio Dramatic Issue #10, July 16 2018.