Although people may go to your website to get your podcast, they're also going to want to know something about youthe producer, the host, the star of the show. Some podcasters want to be totally anonymous; others want every aspect of their life on their site. We recommend a happy medium of information.
Using Your Full Name
Many podcasters use their full name in their podcast, which is fine. However, several use pseudonyms, for a variety of reasons. The first is simple privacy. There was a saying when the Internet first became popular: "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog," meaning you could say you were anyone and people wouldn't know whether you were lying. People began using Internet handles instead of their own names because they wanted anonymity to say whatever they pleased.
There could be a simple reason for this, too, such as wanting to keep an Internet persona you've had for a while or feeling that if your name is too common it will be difficult to search for your podcast.
That desire for freedom has stayed with many people, and with it comes the desire for privacy. Some podcasters do not want people in their real lives to know about their podcast for professional or personal reasons. Now that a lot of schools and businesses are prohibiting their students and employees from blogging or podcasting, anonymity is important to many.
Personal safety is another reason to keep yourself anonymous, and it's sometimes a concern for some women, a topic we cover in the "Concerns for Women" section, later in this chapter.
On the other hand, there are several reasons to keep your name. Some people prefer to connect their podcast to their professional life, which would require them to use the same name they use in their profession. Mur is a freelance writer and wants her name connected to her podcast, I Should Be Writing.
It is a personal choice for everyone, but remember that it's difficult to change your mind once you go one way.
Setting Limits on Personal Information
Many podcasts are like that old Dr. Seuss book My Book About Me. Your podcast is about you, your life, your likes and dislikes. You. Because it's about you, you put more information on your site about youemail address, personal site (if you have one), Flickr.com account, Livejournal account, voicemail number, all your instant messaging nicknames, and even phone number or address (more on this later).
However, you should keep your personal information limits in mind when creating your website. This goes along with the point about giving out your information in your podcast. Once you put something on the Web, it could be there forever, even if you take it down.
There are some important things to consider: Do you want thousands of people to know that you're going away from your house on vacation? Do you want your fans to see pictures of your child? There's a sense of safety on the Internet, that no one can find you from your computer, but it's a false sense of security. Many people on the Internet can easily find out a lot of information about you (including your home address) from just a little clue. Therefore, you should think twice before you provide information such as your child's name and/or picture or mention his or her school. Don't think of your listeners as your friends. Many of them could become your friends, but remember they're all strangers to begin with. You wouldn't give your personal information and family vacation plans to a stranger on the street, would you?
It is honestly tragic to see how many podcasters forget to put contact information on their site. They remember to update the blog, have excellent show notes, flawless RSS, and yet there is no obvious way to email, call, or IM the host on the home page.
As we've mentioned, it is vitally important to be available to your listeners to give feedback. Podcasting has evolved into nearly an interactive medium with listeners' feedback adding to the content of most shows, or even driving the show's topics. People get frustrated when they try to find a host's email address and it's not readily available on the site. (And no, it doesn't count if it's in the RSS feed because not enough listeners will know to look there.)
Providing contact information is not hard. At the minimum, post your email address, or you could go as far as putting all your IM handles (AIM, Skype, Gizmo Project, ICQ, MSN Messenger, and so on), your voicemail number, and, if you're comfortable, a physical address. Whatever you do, give your listeners some way to get in touch with you. Otherwise, you might as well be podcasting in a vacuum.
Michael R. Mennenga of the various Dragon Page podcasts has his address on the website, and he and his co-host get frequent visitors to the studio when they record their free-form variety show Wingin' It. On one Tuesday, a fan showed up at Mike's door to give him some beer and chocolate for the podcast, which surprised him, but he welcomed the fan.
In contrast, Michael's co-host, Evo Terra, has nearly no personal web presence. His personal home address isn't on the site, and he even podcasts under a pseudonym. Michael points out that Evo is nearly as easy to reach as he is because of email, Skype, and the fact that they podcast at Mike's house, which is not in a secret location.
We discussed the options open to you for connecting with your listeners in Chapter 12, "You're Nothing Without Your Audience."
If you're worried about bots harvesting your email address and throwing a lot of "Via.gra" and "Low Mor.tgage Rate$" spam at you, throw a garbled email address into your "mailto" link. Either put NOSPAM in your address or spell out "at" or "dot." Your listener will have to fix it manually in their email program, but it's a small price to pay.
Privacy? Why should you need privacy? There's a certain ego behind all podcasters that does not jibe with the thought of hiding one's light under a bushel.
That said, podcasting generates fans. The word fan is based on the word fanaticwhich sounds far less attractive. And when you attract fans, there might be some people who want more from you than a podcast.
Something about podcasting makes it intimate, even more so than blogs. When people hear someone else's voice and their earnest thoughts, passionate opinions, or hysterical observations, they begin to get the feeling the speaker is their friend. Some will take that feeling to an extreme.
We both would like to point out that the concerns we bring up here are not discussed because of personal experience. We have had nothing but good experience with the people who listen to our podcasts, and we greatly appreciate their feedback and kindness.
And as for the fans feeling like you're their friend, well, Mur is convinced that the essayist and NPR commentator Sarah Vowell would be her best friend if she would just take the time to sit down with her. So it's a common occurrence.
Fans are awesome 99% of the time. But that doesn't mean it doesn't pay to be careful.
Concerns for Women
In a perfect world, we wouldn't need this section, as women would have no more privacy worries than men, but we're not in a perfect world. We live in a world where a woman can attract a stalker by merely walking down the street. Mur once got her very own stalker by serving coffee. The intimate feeling behind podcasting can attract the wrong kind of fan. This is sad, but true.
The precautions female podcasters should take are common sense. Make sure your email address is a free one that's difficult to track (gmail is a good choice), only use voicemail services, and never use your home or cell phone. And, of course, never put your home address on your site. If you are single, doing a podcast of an adult nature, or live alone, you might think about podcasting under just your first name or a pseudonym, or you could keep your personal status (that is, that you're single and living alone) under wraps.
Some may say these are common-sense guidelines and good advice for anyone, but they still need to be said. These are not precautions that will lessen your enjoyment of life; they're not designed to cover you in bubble wrap. They are just some guidelines every woman podcaster should follow.
Getting a P.O. Box
Something that surprised us when we started getting listeners was that people wrote in saying they wanted to send us thingsfor free! That is both awesome and at the same time somewhat troubling. Did we want to send out personal information to strangers?
Mur did, taking a risk (and as of today there have been no crazy stalkers at her door), but that brings up a question: Is there a point in your podcasting career that you should consider getting a P.O. box?
The problem with the P.O. box, of course, is that it costs money. And if you're getting on average three or four things per year, you're essentially wasting money. But if you're doing a music podcast and artists want to send you CDs or promotional material (the same for a book review podcast or anything similar), it might be worth it to price an anonymous box at a packaging store or your local post office. This is especially true if you have a podcast about sex. Soccergirl has a P.O. box, as do Dawn and Drew (see Figure 13.2).
Figure 13.2. Dawn and Drew list their P.O. box right alongside their email and comment line information.
If you don't want to pay for the P.O. box and you're cautious about sending out your address to strangers, you have other options.
Link to your Amazon.com wish list, which hides your address from the buyer. (This only works for people whose listeners want to send them presents and not promotional materials.)
Send your listeners your work address instead of your home address. (This only works if you get mail at work and don't work in, say, food service or a retail outlet.) This is not 100% safe, though, because someone could show up there and follow you home.
If you live in an apartment, ask your main office if they can accept mail for you, and give that address to your listener.
So when you podcast, you're putting yourself in the spotlight, which usually means you want attention. But the bad thing about attention is that you may not always want all the kinds of attention you get. So keep alert, and if you ever feel uncomfortable with a listener's attention, read your email program's instructions on how to use a killfile, which deposits emails directly into the trashcan without landing in your inbox.