a group of casually dressed co workers using sticky notes on a row of windows to brainstorm ideas for their podcast

If you run a podcast, but have exhausted your pool of episode topic ideas, or are considering the launch of a new podcast and need help identifying episode topics, stick around to discover some unique tips brought forward by Brian Peters, Digital Marketing Manager at Buffer and co-host of Buffer’s podcast The Science of Social Media.

In an interview with Brian, he shared what strategies and tactics the Buffer team uses to brainstorm podcast topics for the brand’s podcast The Science of Social Media. The online tools and step-by-step process that he uses (and was kind enough to share) is sure to assist you in your podcast topic brainstorming.

View Podcasting as an Extension of Your Content Marketing Strategy

Brian explains that the brainstorming process for podcasts is very similar to that of their blog content.

It’s a lot like the process we take to coming up with blog content topics. It’s a lot of looking at what’s currently happening in the industry, using tools to identify that, and then turning those into topics that are relevant.

If you’d like to discover what topics are of importance to your audience and industry, consider researching online publications that appeal to your audience, and following or subscribing to their social channels, blogs, newsletters, etc. For example, if you’re looking to attract an audience of advertisers and marketers, publications like AdAge, Adweek, Business Insider, Bloomberg, and others all contain the trending topics that advertisers and marketers care about right now. Subscribing to those gives you a portal into what they’re reading about today.

Consider doing a daily or weekly roundup of what’s happening in their spaces and keep track of what you’re finding in a document or spreadsheet. Conducting a daily roundup of happenings has the benefit of helping you identify trending topics from week to week.

One main point that Brian stressed is that each topic has to be backed by data. Using data to inform your topic selection will ensure that you’re balancing what your gut says is a good idea with what is performing well online. Only when you make these informed topic selections are you taking the appropriate precautions to make sure each podcast episode is awesome, relevant, and what people want to hear about.  

“It’s a lot of reverse engineering. We never guess. You really only have one shot with your listeners. And because it’s only a once a week thing, every single episode has to be good! That’s how you grow your show. That’s how you keep listeners around. And if you only have a shot at it once a week, if you turn someone off one week, they might never come back.

“That’s what’s a little scary about the podcast world. Every episode has to be great, and you’re competing with some of the greatest companies and influencers in the world.”

Bonus: Because this process mirrors the research and ideation process for other forms of content, you can apply Brian’s advice to finding blog topics as well.

Use Online Industry Tools to Uncover Potential Podcast Topics

Brian takes a few different approaches to podcast episode topic brainstorming, depending on the kind of angle he’s looking to drum up. Sometimes, he sets his sights on uncovering about social media current news and trends. Other times, he hunts for more evergreen topics. (Evergreen content is a term that refers to topics that stand the test of time. They’re not based on news of the moment, but instead are formulated around what audiences are consistently curious about.)

Coming Up With News and Trending Topics

When Brian is searching for topics about social media news and trends, this is how he uncovers what topics within that space can be discussed on the podcast:

“We frequently use BuzzSumo. It allows us to plug in a url, and see the top social posts and articles, etc. from brands and publications that we select. So every week, when we’re doing research for a news episode, I will:

  • Use 5 or 6 websites of companies that I know I can get reliable social media news from (like Social Media Today, Social Media Examiner, and We Are Social Media.)
  • Throw their urls into BuzzSumo and then sort by past month to just see what the most popular content on their blogs were over that time.
  • Turn those high performing topics into podcast episodes.

“We’ll do a bit of a round up, so that an episode covers three or four different topics. That way it’s not too single-topic focused.

“That’s how we do our news and trending stuff, and what we’ve found is that those news-type episodes have done really, really well for us. They’re some of our most downloaded episodes, so we do make that a regular part of our show now.”

Finding Evergreen Topics

To come up with evergreen topics, like how to build an Instagram marketing strategy, Brian takes a bit of a different approach that incorporates evaluating a variety of sources and channels side-by-side to deduce the most advantageous evergreen topics.

“For those topics, we actually listen to other podcasts. I’ll look at the top 6 or 7 podcasts in the social media marketing industry. We’re not stealing their content, we’re just brainstorming off of it.

“A cool trick is, if you use the iTunes desktop app and navigate to the podcast section, you can search any podcast you want and then sort by episode popularity. When I’m searching a show, I’ll use that sort function, so that I see what’s working for them.

“Okay, example: Social Media Examiner had a really popular episode on Instagram growth strategy. Also, [we checked our blog analytics and] that topic was just recently really popular on our own blog too. That seems like a topic we should definitely talk about on the podcast.”

Brian also spoke passionately about measuring the performance of podcasts and how to decipher the data so that you can assess if an episode was truly successful. Check out the interview excerpt if you’re interested in learning more about measuring podcast performance.

The 80/20 Rule of Podcast Topic Selection

When brainstorming topics for your podcast episodes, there should be a balance between covering topics that directly relate to your products or services (primary topics) and the topics that relate to the industry but not so much with what you sell (secondary and tertiary topics.)

Known as the ‘80/20 rule of podcast topic selection,’ this equation for success specifies that as much as (or more than), 80% of your episodes should be secondary and tertiary topics, and no more than 20% should be primary topics.

Buffer does a great job of achieving this balance and avoiding being too self-promotional with The Science of Social Media podcast.

Another company that does a phenomenal job of achieving the 80/20 balance is Blue Apron, the ingredients-and-recipe meal kit service. Take a look at how primary, secondary, and tertiary topics are used on their podcast, Why We Eat What We Eat.

Primary Topics

These are the on-the-nose topics that are clearly, directly, and closely related to your brand. In a podcast, these types of topics should be far and few between the other categories of topics.

If Blue Apron had built their podcast off of a primary topic, they may have chosen something along the lines of “why use subscription food delivery services,” “the rise in popularity of the subscription food delivery business,” or base the show on exploring the recipes that customers can order.

However, Blue Apron doesn’t rely on primary topics, actually. Interestingly they moved forward with the secondary and tertiary topics mentioned below.

Secondary Topics

These topics branch out from the core competency of your brand and begin to discuss related topics.

Blue Apron has episodes in this category such as “What is duck sauce and how is it used?” and “The pros and cons of cooking with a flat bottom wok.”

Blue Apron knows that its customer base is already interested in the process of sourcing ingredients and making recipes easier. These episode titles are examples of secondary topics for the brand because they go one step further in their customer’s journey, venturing into cooking techniques and profiling ingredients.

Tertiary Topics

These are topics that are unrelated to the brand’s service offering, and are even further stretching than the secondary topics.

For this category, Blue Apron has created episodes on “The history of the potluck dinner,” “How different families share meal times,” and “Inside the mind of a picky eater.”

As you can tell from their titles, Blue Apron’s tertiary topics don’t relate back to their brand’s product and service offering per se. They’re more informational and cover quirkier topics than those that fall under the secondary and primary categories.

Brainstorm Away!

Use the tips that Brian has shared to help you discover topics that hold serious potential for your podcast.

Do you have other brainstorming techniques that you’re using to find podcast topics? Share them with your fellow podcasters by commenting below.

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Bringing a wealth of digital marketing knowledge to Voices.com, Niki prides herself on her ability to research and communicate exactly what visitors want. As a graduate of Fanshawe College's Business Marketing program, she aims to educate and inform audiences on how they can level-up their businesses, especially when it comes to tracking and measuring performance online. In her words: "There's nothing more rewarding than seeing content metrics that prove your audience loves reading what you've researched and written about!"

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