Podcasts have many strengths and benefits companies can leverage. And some strengths are more like straight-up Marvel superpowers.
Establishing and growing parasocial relationships with your audience is one of those powers.
This is the second of our co-author series where I (Jeff Large, Founder & CEO of Come Alive Creative) team up with another amazing marketer to explore the perks of podcasting done well. In this article, Brooke Sellas (Founder & CEO of B Squared Media) and I explore parasocial relationships in podcasting and why they matter.
I’m not one of those well-known marketers who people clamor over. I’ve been beefing up my speaking game, and recently, spoke at the INBOUND conference in Boston (my first time speaking there, woo hoo!).
So, imagine my surprise when the emcee and I were introduced, and he said he knew who I was and had been following me for years. (ME?!)
That was my first real “big” moment with parasocial relationships.
If you’re unfamiliar, parasocial relationships refer to a one-sided psychological bond formed by an individual with a media figure, such as a TV personality, film star, or podcast host.
I hadn’t met Troy, but he sure knew me!
Even if you’re not chasing stage time, there’s another place where these types of relationships are strong: podcasts. Podcasting is one medium uniquely positioned to foster parasocial relationship connections.
Podcasts inherently foster strong parasocial bonds because of their intimate audio format. When you’re listening, you feel you’re a part of a personal conversation whispered directly into your ear.
I’ve been a part of a few podcasts now, some of which ended years ago, and I still get comments like the one below.
More recently, I became the host of a new show, the Marketing Agency Show, with Social Media Examiner (SME). Since we publish weekly, I might expect to cultivate many parasocial relationships through this podcast as well.
Tips for being yourself.
Weekly episodes help you to establish a consistent presence. Posting weekly means your audience gets more exposure to you and your show than they do when listening to other pods that post less frequently (that’s not to say quantity is greater than quality—it is not). This cultivates your presence as a host, deepening parasocial bonds with your audience.
A weekly upload schedule also allows you to truly be yourself. The pressure to be concise that a biweekly or monthly podcast might provide is not present, allowing you to be unfiltered and authentic. This friend-like, relational podcasting demeanor enhances connection.
Over time, you can expect loyal listeners to perceive you as a genuine companion—like they “know” you.
Take Andy Crestodina, who is widely known for his SEO and content marketing advice. When I interviewed him, we talked about burnout, what gets you there, and how he overcame his own bout with it.
It was much more personal than his normal content. And even though the Marketing Agency Show is just that, a form of marketing and thought leadership for SME,using emotion in your marketing is key.
In other words, you won’t create these parasocial relationships if you aren’t vulnerable and willing to pull back the curtain and reveal who you really are.
The same has been true for my 10 plus year journey in podcasting.
The first show I ever hosted was a podcast on the business of board games with my cousin and wife. Our relationship naturally came through during our interviews and was a main reason our audience continued to keep listening every week.
Long story short, our board game publishing company became more of a board game media company and we finished out roughly two seasons with over 80,000 listeners.
We met many of our listeners at board game conventions and had many “instafriends” because they already felt like they knew us through the show.
No small feat for our first business and first podcast!
Parasocial relationships in podcasting offer many benefits, including listener loyalty and retention.
Over time, this deeper connection translates to heightened engagement, increased emails or social connections, reviews, and social media conversations.
Additionally, these relationships pave the way for more seamless promotion of products or causes, while also cultivating a sense of community among listeners.
The trust and rapport you build through parasocial relationships with podcasting can also create smoother promotion of your own (or sponsored) products, services, or causes.
Listeners are more likely to consider recommendations or endorsements from a podcast host they feel connected to, as this bond mimics the trust typically reserved for friends or acquaintances.
Furthermore, the consistent engagement and shared experience of tuning into a podcast contribute to building a supportive community atmosphere among your listeners.
Relationships, rapport, resonance—these matter now more than ever in the age of commodity content.
It’s not good enough to create content or create content consistency anymore. With the help of AI tools like ChatGTP, new and repurposed content can be published faster than ever.
But what AI can’t do well (yet?) is to create intimate bonds over time.
Even a tailor-made chatbot designed to respond like you isn’t going to provide anything close to the connection a listener will feel after listening to your questions, insights, jokes, and passions for weeks.
True, meaningful relationships and intimacy take time. A podcast gives your listeners an opportunity to get to know you personally and at scale.
And once you have a lovely little following of faithful fans, learn how to listen. Your audience will naturally share insights that can help you improve your products, services, branding, and copy.
One of my favorite stories is from a show I used to produce with Conversio (now CM Commerce). I cohosted the podcast with Aleana Bargaoui, their customer success specialist.
We often interviewed their users and audience. The results were eye-opening.
“This podcast taught me more about our customers than any hard data could have. It’s a completely different experience when you get to hear your customers’ stories as they tell them. You learn about their beginnings, their fears, their hopes. You share their little joys and victories, and you connect with them on a level that you simply couldn’t achieve with a survey. Highly recommended.”Aleana Bargaoui, Customer Success Specialist
To deepen parasocial relationships, it’s critical for you (the host) to open up.
This means sharing personal anecdotes and experiences that humanize you and make you more relatable to your listeners.
For some live shows I’ve seen, there’s direct engagement. Meaning the host(s) chat with their audience throughout the run of the show.
You can create these engagements by:
- Hosting Q&A sessions or addressing the audiences’ comments during live broadcast.
- Dedicate a segment to highlighting a listener’s story, question, or viewpoint.
- Invite listeners to submit topic ideas, questions, or even guest content like audio clips that can be featured in episodes.
- Use platforms like Twitter (X) or Instagram to run polls that can guide the content of your next episode.
- If you don’t have a live show, occasionally host live-streamed episodes where listeners can tune in real-time, ask questions, and interact directly.
Above all, you must be real. Providing listeners with a glimpse behind the curtain, through behind-the-scenes content or personal life insights, nurtures an even deeper, more authentic connection.
As Brooke mentioned, fully leveraged podcasts go well beyond “just listening.” Make your podcast part of an omnichannel marketing strategy.
Think about your best friends. Do you only talk to each other every Thursday morning over lattes at that friendly local coffee shop?
You go see Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, help each other move furniture, and watch each other’s pets when you’re out of town.
In the same way, meet and connect with your listeners wherever they are:
- Social media
- Conferences and speaking events
- Newsletters and email
- Forms and questionnaires on your website
- or by guesting on other people’s shows
The podcast episodes will establish your relationships with your listeners and sustain them as long as you’re producing episodes.
Go beyond the audio and strengthen those relationships by meeting your listeners on their turf.
Remember the gentleman who messaged me to tell he missed me on the podcast? And Troy who “knew” about the things I’ve done and has been following me for years?
These are two examples of how parasocial relationships will start to make themselves known to you.
Given this is what my team does full-time, I see examples of parasocial relationships all the time.
Let’s go back to my board game podcast example. Conventions are a big part of the industry and it’s expected that most major players in the space will be in attendance.
I remember two different occasions where we weren’t able to attend the given convention and mentioned it on the podcast.
Both times I received emails from listeners saying we could stay at their house for free in order to attend the convention! My wife and I even had listeners over to our home for game nights.
Beyond board games, I’ve seen the benefits play out over and over again.
- At the Brink – We recently had a listener and nuclear researcher reach out and offer their expertise on the show.
- Leading Voices in Real Estate – The host Matt regularly gets emails thanking him for his work and telling their own real estate stories.
- Even one of my friendships of 10 plus years started with them being a podcast listener. I can directly relate to that connection to when I built connections in South Africa, several client relationships, and when I became an EO Accelerator member!
One thing I’m really excited about when it comes to podcasting are emerging technologies we’re seeing.
Take, for instance, the rise of interactive podcasts. These shows, which allow for real-time feedback and interaction, can further deepen the intimacy between host and listener, evolving from a monologue to a more genuine dialogue.
Similarly, the advent of virtual reality in podcasting offers an immersive experience where listeners might virtually “sit” alongside you (the host) in a shared space, further blurring the lines between reality and the parasocial.
Today’s listeners crave personalized, authentic interactions, shifting from passive consumption to active participation.
It’s no longer just about disseminating information; it’s about fostering community, facilitating conversation, and navigating the nuances of a relationship that, while one-sided, can lead to many opportunities.
I’m excited to see what the future holds for podcasting too.
As mentioned, community, authenticity, and real relationships will become necessary factors for the shows and companies that want to stand out.
Podcasting is a channel with profound potential of forging genuine, heartfelt connections with your listeners.
These bonds showcase the unique intimacy that podcasting brings to the world of digital content.
However, as with all relationships, there’s a responsibility that accompanies it. Tread mindfully and authentically, ensuring that the trust and connection you establish with your audience are nurtured with credibility, respect, and integrity.
Huge thanks to Brooke for collaborating with me on this article!
I first met Brooke several years ago at a Content Jam in Chicago and we’ve been in touch ever since. She is a talented host, author, and founder.
Feel free to reach out to her and her team, via B Squared Media.
And if you want to start a podcast or have one and are struggling to achieve any measurable business results, check out our service page. We start with your goals and build custom solutions for your company with our full-service production process.