A podcast that’s so trusted that its audience requests to hear the ads

Leo Laporte and guests in the TWiT studio

I spoke to Lisa and Leo Laporte, the husband-and-wife team behind podcasting empire TWiT, about how to build a community so engaged in your brand that they actually want to hear your commercials.

“When we started, it was for a certain niche of people that were real tech enthusiasts; now it's like, ‘Where isn't tech?!” smiles Lisa Laporte, CEO of TWiT. “It's completely evolved.” The community element of podcasting meant that the industry felt like a “logical extension” of Chief TWiT Leo’s life mission and was the reason Lisa fell in love with new media.

The couple had been building their podcasting empire for 16 years when the pandemic hit in 2020. “Those couple of years were lonely,” Lisa explains. “We were all in little Zoom boxes, but we have a technical audience that loves and wants community.” TWiT needed to find a new way to connect with its fans during this isolating time.

Lisa spoke to one of TWiT’s sponsors, tech training platform ITPro.TV, about how to give something back to the fans. "Simply enough, ITPro.TV allowed its members to come in and hang out online for an hour at night. Sometimes they would play games, sometimes they would just chat,” Lisa continues. “I kept thinking, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ I wanted to allow our fans to have a place to come and hang out.

Lisa confirms that the ability to add a Discord server to their membership offering formally made it “a richer experience” than just creating a new online club. “It was time to offer our community that little extra something; people were tired of being locked up at home.” Club TWiT was ready to launch.

From content to cruising: The arrival of Club TWiT

Lisa explains that the TWiT team encourages its members to get involved in the club as much as possible. They ask for show feedback; they host regular Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions; they host a space where their fans can simply come and hang out. This was especially important in the online space during the pandemic but is translating well to real-world experiences.

CEO Lisa Laporte and Chief TWiT Leo Laporte

“We have a photography show, so I think it'd be fun to say, ‘Hey, we're going to be at this event. Join us for a photography walk!’” continues Lisa. The team envisions doing many more in-person experiences; indeed, TWiT has recently hosted a cruise for 100 of its members. Leo and Lisa agree that, almost counterintuitively, it's in-person events like this that are really the “fundamental heart of what podcasting is all about” and what distinguishes it from traditional media.

Lisa and Leo also use Club TWiT to premiere and test new content; if a show starts to gain traction, it may be added to the premium Club TWiT offering or become an ad-supported show. When this happens, Lisa will approach the show’s host and encourage them to start practicing ad reads, and add the show to their kit to start approaching sponsors. All ads need to be read by the show’s host so that it feels like an organic and integrated part of the show.

Selling your sponsors better than they sell themselves

Creating an advertising approach that is beneficial to sponsors and listeners is paramount to TWiT’s success: “Our advertising works because our community trusts us. We can recommend products and services to them, and they want to support us, so they buy them. When we sign advertisers, we heavily vet them as a company, and we check their reviews,” says Lisa.

The TWiT studio

She explains: “We do such a good job on our ad-supported side that our Club members say, ‘Hey, you need to drop in the ads.’ We actually have a Discord channel just for the ads on our shows!” She adds that their audience asks them to share an ad once a month from every single show, because the listeners want to know where to buy the advertised products: “They trust us so they say, ‘You need to give us a feed so we can go and listen to ads once in a while.’”

At this point, I have to double-check what I’m hearing. Lisa confirms: members actually write into the shows to request links to TWiT’s adverts. “Isn't that hysterical?!” she smiles. She continues: “Our Club TWiT members are getting the shows ad-free, but they write in to say, ‘Hey, we miss the ads – we want to listen to them!’ So we regularly drop in courtesy commercials for active sponsors or when we have a new sponsor. That's how compelling they are.”

“Our sponsors say, ‘Can you send us a courtesy commercial for every ad read? We make our sales trainees watch them because you sell our business better than half of our junior staff!’ I thought that was pretty cute.”

The importance of starting small

So how do you create a membership business that people like and trust so much they request to hear your ads? “Really take a look at what's out there and consider what everyone else is doing,” Lisa suggests. “Look at people similar to you and see what they're doing before you leap into it. Have conversations: call me or reach out to anyone that has done this.”

She advises “just taking your time” to consider different approaches and structures. “Don't bite off more than you can chew. If you decide to do 50 things, you'll find you can't do those effectively. Start small, as we did: we started with AMAs.”

The TWiT mission statement

Leo and Lisa explain that the TWiT team has slowly but surely figured it out while they move down the road. Now that they’re getting grips with it all, they're starting to add to their offering with bonus content. “I never want to over-promise and then under-deliver,” Lisa continues.

Lisa urges creators to look closely at all the services they offer with their membership package. “See what makes sense specifically for what you're trying to do and shop around for the right product: because we are audio and video, we have a few quirks that are unusual for a podcast network.”

Supporting the community

“If you're interested in tech, check out our network. We have a show for everyone!” she smiles. “We have entry-level shows like the Tech Guy; we have iOS Today, which is fun if you have an iPad or iPhone and want to know more about how to use them; we have ‘geeky’ shows like Security Now if you're into security. If you like something, join Club TWiT and download the podcast! We must remember to support each other in this community.”

Leo Laporte in the TWiT studio

Supporting the podcasting community and its wonderfully egalitarian nature is something that has always been important to the TWiT team: “We continue to offer free content, but it's a nice opportunity to have this extra thing for the superfans. I like having both because anyone with an internet connection can download our shows, and they don't have to pay for them. It's very democratic,” says Lisa.

She concludes: “We have fans in third-world countries who’ve written in to say, ‘I heard your podcast. I used to hang out at a local electronics store to listen to your podcast and get some skills. And now I have a job in tech!’”

Perhaps Lisa, Leo, and the team at TWiT have not only witnessed tech’s evolution from a subject just for enthusiasts to the ubiquitous phenomenon it is today. Perhaps they’ve been helping to drive the change.

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