3 Strategies We Used to Increase Podcast Downloads by 357% in One Year

Today, Buffer’s The Science of Social Media generates more than 27,000 podcast downloads per week, with that number steadily growing by the episode.

We hit our first milestone in 2018 - reaching 1 million downloads in one year - and are already on pace for 1.5 million downloads this year. A huge shoutout to our community of listeners.

But it wasn’t always this way.

In fact, the first several months after launching a podcast can be aptly summarized by the following chart:

Luanching a Podcast Overview.png

Eight short months after its release, the Science of Social Media hit an all-time weekly download low: 5,900.

We had a decision to make: double-down and figure out a way to grow the show, or shut it down.

Armed with the belief that podcasting was the medium of the future (turns out we were right) we decided to go all in. Starting June 2017, my co-host Hailley Griffis and I threw everything we thought we knew about podcasting out the window and started from scratch.

Here are 3 podcast strategies we used to turn the fate of the Buffer Podcast around and establish it as a pillar of our marketing program.

We 180’d Our Podcast Show Format

We’ve had the privilege of welcoming some amazing guests to the show over the past year.

Guests like the social media director at NASA, the teams at National Geographic and First Round, Marie Forleo, Rand Fishkin, Ryan Holiday, Mari Smith, Noah Kagan, Jay Baer, and lots more.

Buffer Podcast Guests.png

These guests played a critical role in the initial success of our show and they are one of the reasons why we’re here talking to you today more than two years later.

When we made the decision to move away from typical guest interviews it wasn’t an easy one.

We looked around the podcast industry and realized that tons of shows (and I mean TONS) follow the interview format. And most of these show’s descriptions include something along the lines of:

“Strategies from the biggest and brightest influencers in __[insert topic here]__”


“Insights from some of the most influential and iconoclastic thinkers of __[insert industry here]__”

Why we ditched the guest format

The difficulty with the guest format was that we were constantly chasing the next “big name.” We started to realize that, one, there are only so many big names that align with our brand in the social media space, and two, it’s a lot of work to find the guests, prep for the interview, interview, and edit.

Week in and week out we’d spend several hours pitching guests, writing sample questions, waiting for approval from PR, scheduling interview time, stressing over tiny details, and trying to make the interview perfect.

And when we looked 6 to 12 months out into the future, we knew that the big-name-list (and excitement) would soon run dry.

How We Made the Pivot

It was around this time when we began experimenting with what we called “Bonusodes” and “Minisodes.”

Bonusodes and Minisodes were quick (10–15 minute) episodes where Hailley and I discussed various social media and marketing strategies. We’d also throw in some news from time to time.

The ironic part is that these types of episodes only started because we ran out of big-name guests for the week. Little did we know they would eventually help to turn the show around.

As for the guest interviews, we decided that we’d only run them if we made each interview dramatically different than what you might hear on other podcasts. Or if we were able to snag someone well out of our league (think Ryan Holiday & Marie Forleo).

We began to turn the interviews into stories. We interjected, added commentary, took the best parts and mixed them together into a cohesive, easy-listening episode. NPR-style.

Think How I Built This meets Serial.

Of course, this meant more time recording, more time producing and editing, and more time finding just the right story to tell. But it also meant a new and unique experience for our listeners.

That’s our top priority.

If you’re interested in hearing a few of our new interviews, check out:

Branden Harvey — Using Social Media for Good

Paul Jarvis — On Entrepreneurship

Ryan Holiday — Creating Perennial Sellers

Now that we had a new format, we needed ideas. And good ones at that.

We Repurposed Top Buffer Content

As we began transitioning to full-time Minisode production in June-July of 2017, we chose episode topics that we thought would be interesting.

Sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn’t (downloads-wise). We never really knew why.

When they didn’t work it halted growth of the show. That’s no good when you only have one shot per week. With hundreds of podcasts being released on a weekly basis, every single episode you produce needs to be top-notch in order to keep your audience’s attention.

We needed a proven method of generating episode topics that would increase downloads week over week.

Why reinvent the wheel?

Google Analytics Data.png

The Buffer Blog is one of the most prolific blogs in the social media industry with more than 2 million monthly visitors — AND we have all of the back-end data!

Instead of guessing which topics and themes would work on the podcast, we went into Google Analytics and sorted our blog content by the most page views over the previous 30 days (see chart above).


Hundreds of podcast episode ideas at our fingertips sorted by what people are searching for online. Taking this approach has led to more podcast downloads per episode, more reviews, and a higher popularity rating on iTunes.

Author update: Since writing this post, we’ve implemented a new tactic to find relevant and interesting podcast episode ideas. We use the tool BuzzSumo to search popular blogs in the social media and marketing industry. Once we notice a specific trend emerge, we’ll write and record an episode in the same week!

We Started Utilizing Facebook Ads

Once we started to see a slight increase in week-over-week growth to the show due to the change in format and word-of-mouth momentum, we knew it was time to take the podcast to the next level.

How did we know?

Because we felt we finally had a show that we could be proud of. One that if, a new listener happened to stumble upon the show, chances are they would stick around.

Having a solid backlog of quality episodes allowed us to justify the initial advertising investment. If/when a user clicked through to the podcast from our ads, there’s a much higher chance of subscribing and listening to additional episodes. A.k.a. binging - the holy grail of listenership.

Cue the snowball effect❄️

Facebook Ads have been a huge source of growth for us over the last year.

Here’s our specific strategy:

Facebook Podcast Ads.png

We set up a Custom Audience targeting all traffic to the Buffer Blog and Buffer.com knowing that general brand awareness would increase our CTR and decrease our CPC.

  1. Next, and this one is important, we added an additional targeting filter to only deliver ads to iPhone, iPad, and other iOS devices and linked directly to the episode on iTunes (rather than the show notes or podcast landing page). This reduced the friction of going from podcast ad to podcast subscriber. Today, iTunes accounts for more than 90% of our overall downloads.

  2. Then, we chose the most popular episodes from the podcast (based on downloads) and started there — $10 per day using the “Post Traffic” campaign option in Facebook. We keep a close eye on CPC and whenever it creeps above $0.15–0.20 we shut it off and start a new add.

Since launching the Facebook ad campaigns in July 2017, we’ve spent $19,869. That money has helped our podcast reach 3,714,524 people, generated 106,678 link clicks, and increased our downloads by 357%.

These Concepts Apply to More Than Podcasting

As I wrote this article I realized that the above strategies apply to much more than just podcasting.

We’ve taken this re-thinking approach and applied it to social media, blog writing, partnerships, videos, design and more.

If something is not working, it’s alright. It doesn’t mean you’re failing. It doesn’t mean you’re bad at your job. And it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t change for the better in the near future.

180 your ideas!

Repurpose and curate engaging content. Advertise. Do something UNTHINKABLE like completely change the format your audience has come to know and love.

You will be rewarded for your efforts.