Podcasting is a powerful, yet misunderstood, form of social media. While listening to podcasts has become popular in the last few years, the creation process still contains obstacles, especially for listeners who are considering starting their own podcast.

Think of a podcast as your own radio show, to talk about (almost) anything you want. It can be serious, it can be funny—you decide. And it gives you the ability to reach a different audience in a different format than blogging.

Unfortunately, the process of starting a podcast from a technical point of view is much more difficult than it is for creating a blog. Whereas anyone can literally start a blog within five minutes, the amount of time necessary to get a podcast started can sometimes take weeks, if not months.

This article will outline 10 steps to starting your own podcast that will help make this sometimes-difficult process as painless as possible.

1. Do research to determine what podcast listeners like and dislike about the shows they listen to. Read what podcasting message boards, forums, and blogs have to say about the content and format of their favorite shows. This is a great way for novice podcasters to get feedback on the general layout of a podcast before starting their own.

Also, listen to podcasts that are recommended as being superior, and as you are listening make notes on what you enjoyed about the show; consider ways that you can bring similar elements to your own podcast.

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Consult the wisdom of the masses. A couple of hours invested with Google can give you a wealth of valuable information on what podcast listeners look for in their favorite shows. As you are searching, look for the show qualities that most listeners enjoy, and make note of the show traits that most people seem to enjoy—and disapprove of. Consider visiting online podcasting communities such as Podcast Alley, and Podcast Pickle.

2. Determine the format of your show. This might be the most important step in determining the long-term success of your podcast. You'll want to pull from the research you have done in Step 1, but you'll also want to tailor the content so that it appeals to your listeners, and also interests you. Be certain to make yourself aware of the qualities of other popular podcasts on your subject, but not to simply copy their formats.

Find a way to make your show stand out from the crowd. Also, consider your own schedule and how often you wish to publish a show. Most podcasts are published weekly, but some are published monthly and some are daily. Consider your time restraints when selecting the show's frequency, as delivering the show on a predictable schedule is one of the best ways to grow your show's audience.

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Consider your audience when selecting the format of your show. What will your podcast give them that they can't find elsewhere? This should be a question that you can immediately answer; if not, go back to the drawing board until you can. When I was selecting the format for my marketing podcast, Mind The Gap, I wanted to focus on making the show shorter than most other marketing podcasts, and the content as unique as possible. So I set the show's length at no longer than 15 minutes. Keep in mind that creating an entertaining five-minute podcast is much easier than producing an entertaining hour-long show. Also, I draw on my love of music by promoting the work of some of my favorite artists during Mind The Gap.

Consider ways that you can make the show interesting for yourself, as well as your listeners, when picking the show's format.

3.. Determine what equipment you will need. This is where, yet again, Google is your friend. You can buy an elaborate setup costing hundreds of dollars, or use your laptop's microphone. Consider how often you will be using your equipment and what your budget will be. If more than one person will be talking during your podcast, that will require additional equipment such as a mixer and two or more microphones.

Consider purchasing a condenser microphone. These are popular among podcasters because they produce professional sound quality but aren't terribly expensive (anywhere from $50 to $100). The microphone is the most vital piece of audio equipment you can purchase for creating your podcast, so make sure to get the best you can afford.

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Break down your research, by first deciding what equipment you will need then which company's products you want. As with Step 1, make a point of visiting podcasting forums, message boards, and blogs. Many of these online communities will have FAQs (frequently asked questions), which will explain to new podcasters exactly what type of equipment they will need. After that, go to these forums and ask for specific product recommendations. You may find that one particular community is dependent on a particular company's products, so make sure that you consult other sources to see whether they can also recommend the same company as one that offers superior products.

4. Select the program you will use to create your podcast. This is the program that you will actually use to record and edit your podcast. Again, talk to podcasters—but, thankfully, there are far fewer options, and this decision should be an easier one to make than previous ones.

For PC owners, the most popular program is probably Audacity. It is a free program and offers all the tools and functionality the average podcaster will need to produce a quality podcast. For Mac owners, Garage Band is a very popular choice and comes with new Macs as part of the iLife suite of applications. Audacity is free for Mac owners as well.

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It is much easier to select the program to produce your podcast than it is to select the equipment. Again consult podcasting communities such as Podcast Alley and Podcast Pickle, but many will suggest either Audacity or, for Mac owners, Garage Band; both are fine choices.

5. Write out the layout for your show, and begin rehearsing. This is where you get into the actual creation process. Start to flesh out what you want to talk about and how the content will be organized. Make sure to have a structure for your show, but not a script. You want to rehearse, but you don't want to script the entire show's content, because that comes across as forced.

For example, if you know that in your next show you want to talk about Apple's iPhone, you would want to talk about general product qualities, such as price and features, instead of literally writing down exactly what you will say. Listeners want and appreciate spontaneity. Make sure that you rehearse the show at least once so that you (and any other podcasters who might be involved) are comfortable talking about your chosen subjects, and have an idea of the points you want to cover.

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Make sure you know which topics you want to cover during your show, and rehearse, but do not script. You want to be comfortable enough with your topics to know what you want to say about the topic; but, at the same time, you don't want to sound as if you are reading a script. Your goal should be to make your show sound as if you are having a conversation with your listener. This will relax them, and make your show more enjoyable for both you and your listeners.

6. Record the main body of the show. This, along with editing the show, is probably the most difficult part of creating a podcast, especially for those who are unfamiliar with recording. The process will be a bit frustrating for the novice podcaster, but a great time-saving approach is to record the show in segments rather than in one complete block. Here is an example of how you could break your podcast down into segments:

  • Intro: Explain what your podcast is about and what topics you'll be discussing in this particular show
  • Topic No. 1
  • Topic No. 2
  • Topic No. 3
  • Close: Recap the topics covered, and perhaps mention what topics you'll be discussing in the next episode

Recording your show in segments is a great way to make the process much quicker and easier. For example, the total time it took me to record and edit the first episode of Mind The Gap was close to three weeks. The second episode took three hours to record, and the third took about 90 minutes. Simply breaking down the recording into segments resulted in the second episode's taking much less time.

Also, record in as quiet an environment as possible. Background noise can be picked up by your microphone. If you are recording next to a desktop PC or Mac, consider putting a blanket over your computer's fan while recording.

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Don't concern yourself with trying to produce the perfect podcast—just do your best. Listerners don't want perfection, they want authenticity. That means the occasional mistake is forgivable, but if your mistakes are frequent, consider recording that segment. The amount of time it takes to record your second episode will almost certainly be much shorter than the time it takes to record your first one. So don't be discouraged if the first episode takes more time to record than you had expected. As you become more familiar with the process, your recording time will go down.

7. Select beginning and closing music (if applicable). Many podcasts include music during the show's intro, and sometimes the closing as well. You might not want to add music to your own podcast, but if you do, make sure you choose only podcast-safe music. This is music that the owner has either given the public, or you, permission to use. Be warned that most commercial music is not podcast-safe, and you should never use music that you haven't verified as such. When in doubt, assume you cannot use the music.

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Adding music to your podcast is a great way to make the show more entertaining and to make its content more unique. You can find many sources of podcast-safe music by Googling the term, and by consulting the communities at Podcast Alley and Podcast Pickle. Again, if you cannot verify that the music you wish to use is podcast-safe, then don't use it. Better safe than sorry.

8. Edit music into show. After you have selected the music you wish to use for your podcast (if you do wish to use music), the final step in the podcast-creation process is to combine your music track with the track you recorded for the main show. The editing process will again be done with the same program you used to record the main show. What most podcasters will do is start the show with their opening (or theme) music then have that music fade out as the main show begins.

With Audacity, you can position the music and main show tracks so that they overlap, with the ending of the music track overlapping with the first few seconds of the main show track. Then, you can edit the end of the music track so that the volume decreases as the track ends, so that the music fades out as the main track for the show begins. This affect is similar to what you hear when a radio DJ begins talking as the song he is playing ends.

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In this step, you will want to spend a bit of time becoming familiar with the capabilities of your editing software. Once you are, you will be able to insert your music into the main show of your podcast and make the music flow seamlessly into the main track of the show. Experimentation and trial and error will lead to professional-sounding results!

9. Select hosting options. After you have your show recorded, and it's ready to be published, you'll need to select a hosting service. You may be able to host your podcast on your existing web server. If not, there are several free and inexpensive programs available.

When selecting a program, consider how large the file for your episodes will be and how many episodes you will produce in a month. Also consider whether you wish to pay to have your podcast hosted or you would prefer a free service.

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In this final step, you'll need to again turn to the Internet to do some research. You'll quickly discover that you have several options for both pay hosting services (such as Libsyn and GoDaddy's Quick Podcast, and free services such as Odeo and BlogTalkRadio. Make sure to see what current users have to say about all of these and other services before you commit to any of them. Also pay attention to the amount of server space and bandwidth each option affords you.

Make sure the service you select will provide feeds of your podcasts to podcast directories such as Yahoo and iTunes. Finally, determine whether the services will allow you to track your podcast's statistics, such as how many times each episode has been played/downloaded.

10. Promote your podcast. Now that you have created your baby, tell the world! If you have a blog, you can either promote your new podcast from your blog or, better yet, create a separate blog for your podcast. If you don't have a blog, you can market your new podcast on your Web site.

Also send an email to your newsletter subscribers, as well as friends and anyone who you think might be interested in your content. You can promote your podcast on message boards and forums that discuss your show's topic, as well.

Key Action Point:

This is where you get to brag about your baby! You'll want to promote your podcast, but also make sure that the people who would be most interested in it know about it. For example, if your podcast is about dog-grooming, you might want to leave a post on message boards and forums that discuss pet care, and provide a link to your show. Make sure that anyone who might be interested in your show knows about it, but don't spam people you don't know or who might not be interested in your show's content. That will only irritate them and could cause them to complain about your tactics to others. Promote, but don't spam.

Lessons Learned

As media players become more popular, and as broadband connections become widespread, podcasting will continue to grow in popularity. It gives people the ability to showcase areas of their personality and expertise that sometimes aren't as obvious in other forms of social media, such as blogging.

One of the biggest barriers to the growth of podcasting is the initial difficulty of the creation process. There is a very steep, but narrow, learning curve to podcasting. While the creation process does have some pitfalls, especially at first, the good news is that with a little research, and with advice from articles such as this one, the steps necessary to creating your own podcast can be broken down to a manageable level.

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image of Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier