How Red Hat Hacked the Success of their Branded Podcast Using Audience Development

Marina Hanna, Marketing Lead, Pacific Content

When Brent Simoneaux, a Director of Content at Red Hat (and an ethnographer in a previous life) would sit down face-to-face with the people that use open source software created by Red Hat (now part of IBM), he discovered something critical: developers and sysadmins “do not like marketing or things that feel like marketing.”

Where does an audience insight like that leave Brent, or anyone with a content marketing career for that matter?

For Brent and his team, it led down a path that resulted in the sleeper hit Command Line Heroes, a podcast about the people who transform technology from the command line up, now in its eighth season. Looking back, Brent attributes their success to a decision they made early on. They decided to create something for a very specific audience. He reflects, “we didn’t try to go big and broad. We didn’t try to talk about ourselves as a company. At the end of the day, we made something for somebody.”

By the time this article is published, Command Line Heroes will have been downloaded 4 million times, in more than 200 countries and territories (including Antarctica!) From the data collected, we can see that half of the audience had no previous experience with the brand.

But how did they get there? There are no real quick tips and tricks to making a good show. To put it more accurately: No quick tip will fly without first establishing a solid audience development strategy.

I checked in with our head of audience development at Pacific Content, Dan Misener, to understand what role audience development plays in developing a successful podcast (particularly in the case of Command Line Heroes, since Dan was there from the very beginning).

In that spirit, I’d like to present three questions to contemplate for any brand storyteller who is thinking about creating a podcast. Take your time with these questions and answer them as authentically and accurately as you can.

Who will your podcast serve?

This is the single most important question that a brand can ask itself before creating a new podcast. Dan told me that what Red Had did incredibly well was to start from a place of deep understanding: “They understand software developers, IT architects, sysadmins. What makes them tick?”

What does the existing podcast landscape look like?

Something Dan likes to do early on in a strategy session (and sometimes just for fun) is taking a dive deep into a podcast category. In this particular case, Dan and the Red Hat team took a closer look at the technology category and listened to a bunch of shows that were made for developers.

Dan recalls that “a lot of those shows were ‘this week in software development’ style shows featuring two dudes talking about fairly nerdy technical things.” These shows were light on the story. Mostly interview or chat-style with not a lot of production value. Both Dan and the team from Red Hat agreed that they would avoid making another one of these shows.