Listener feedback is one of the best rewards you will receive as a podcaster (many times it is the only reward, but we talk more about that later). However, getting that feedback may not happen as much as you would like, especially when you are first starting out. Clinton from the Comedy4Cast had this to say about a lack of feedback:
If you want listener feedback, you need to offer many different and easy ways for your listeners to get you that feedback. The following sections list but a few different services/methods for getting feedback.
Phone Voicemail Number
Many podcasters offer a voicemail line for listeners to call. Mur's is 206-202-1MUR, Rob's is 206-666-HELP, Dawn and Drew's is 206-666-DUCK. (Okay, they give out a letter other than D found on the 3 key.)
So you might be wondering why each of these phone numbers is out of Seattle (206 is the Seattle area code). Because that's the location of a free phone voicemail service called k7.net (www.k7.net), which is very popular with podcasters (see Figure 12.2). It allows you to pick a vanity phone number and set up the voicemail to be sent directly to you via email, all for free.
Figure 12.2. K7.net gives free voice mail to podcasters (but not free to listeners).
When using K7.net, it's important to remember that although it's free for you, it may not be for your listeners. Depending on their location, type of phone service, and long-distance calling plan, listeners may incur long-distance costs for calling a Seattle area code.
With many people today having unlimited long-distance on their cell phone or home phone, having a long-distance phone number may not be that big of an issue. However, if you want to offer a toll-free number (at least in the U.S.), you can use the new service from Gcast (www.gcast.com). With this service, the listener calls 1-888-65-GCAST, enters a 10-digit code, and then enters a four-digit PIN. The listener records a message and then at the end hits the pound key. This submits the message as an addition to an RSS feed you create for feedback. You can then have the messages downloaded into your aggregator. You can also give out this second RSS feed to your listeners if you want to share the feedback unfiltered.
All this said, having listeners try and remember a toll-free number, a 10-digit code, and a four-digit PIN may be asking a wee bit too much (the debate between free versus easy is one you will need to decide), not to mention all the time it takes in the show to give out the numbers. So if you are still looking for a way for listeners to call into your podcast for free (again, from the U.S.), you might want to look at one of the pay-for 1-800 number voicemail services. Here's a very short list:
Prices listed here are likely to change. These are prices as of March 17, 2006.
When you purchase a Skype In phone number, you also get Skype voicemail (see Figure 12.3). And some podcasters such as Nate and Di (361-288-3NAD) use this service for listener feedback. With Skype voicemail, your listeners can deliver a message via Skype directly to your Skype ID. That way, there is no charge for a phone call and the audio quality is better than a standard POTS call. You can also just sign up for Skype voicemail directly for an additional fee per month.
Figure 12.3. Skype offers more than just VoIP services; you can also receive voicemail.
Gizmo Project Voicemail
With Gizmo Project, you can also sign up for a "Call In" number. But unlike with Skype, you can choose from 50 different U.S. cities' area codes or a national number in the U.K. This is nice if you are doing a local/regional-oriented podcast. Additionally, with Gizmo Project you get free voicemail with the free service, which allows anyone else with Gizmo Project to leave you a message, and the messages can be set up to be sent to you directly via email.
For more information on Skype and Gizmo Project, see "Using Skype and other VoIP Services," p. 137 (Chapter 7, "The Art of the Interview").
The easiest way for someone to send you feedback is via email. Most podcasters set up a special email account for their show, with most using Google's service, gmail (www.gmail.com). The one feature with gmail that makes it so popular with podcasters is the very large inbox (2 GB at the beginning of 2006). This means people can send you audio feedback they record on their end and not fill up your inbox. Some audio feedback you get from listeners can be as large as 10 MB, depending on the length and how they encoded the file. Many email systems will not allow emails that are larger than 2 MB in size.
Another key reason for setting up a special gmail account for your show is so you don't have to be worried about who gets the email address. It is almost like a P.O. box for snail mail. Lastly, if your show generates a lot of email, it's good to keep that mail away from your everyday mail.
Speaking of email, don't let it pile up. If your fans can find time to listen to you and then send you their adoration, the least you can do is send them a brief "thanks" in return. If you honestly don't have time to answer the email, make sure you mention on your show that you read them all but don't have time to answer them.
Once you do set up a way for people to send you feedback, you need to make sure you let them know about it each and every show. We recommend mentioning it at the beginning and end of each show. Additionally, if you have a call-in number for your listeners to leave voicemail, you should include that number in your name tag for ID3 tags and your title tag from the item section in your RSS feed. (More information can be found at www.podcast411.com/id3tags.html.) This allows a listener on an iPod to easily find your number to leave feedback.
If you want to get in touch with us, Mur's gmail address is email@example.com and Rob's is firstname.lastname@example.org
The other free web-based emails, such as Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail, are also good ways to go, but their storage and message limitations are not up to gmail's capabilities. If you want your listeners to send you audio comments, then gmail is our recommendation.
Always remember, ignoring email can alienate your listeners!
Remember, chances are if your listeners are using an MP3 device to hear your show, they do not have immediate access to email. However, most will have access to a cell phone. So while they are thinking of giving you feedback, putting your call-in number where they can easily find it should help increase the amount of listener feedback you receive.