What the Hack with Adam Levin is a weekly true cybercrime podcast featuring interviews with people you may know–Al Franken, Roy Wood, Jr, Ivana Milicevic–and regular people you would like to know. The show usually features a story about being scammed and hacked and then some consumer advocacy, ending with a discussion about the best practices that will make WTH listeners harder targets to hit.
Whether we’re talking to a comedian, a retiree, a journalist, a student, or a warehouse worker there is always a teachable moment, and the goal is to reach consumers with a brisk and accessible show and a weekly takeaway that listeners can use to stay safe in the the ever-changing threat landscape that is online crime.
WTH has been getting good downloads, but the show’s focus is in keeping with its main host’s life goal: protecting consumers. Former New Jersey Consumer Affairs Director Adam Levin wanted us to triple downloads. But how?
We needed to take the lessons we’d learned over the first year producing and publishing the podcast and figure out the best way to get more people engaged. We decided to play with our format and marketing: Instead of a guest interview, we decided to try a guest contributor. Instead of a few audio clips we decided to enlist creatives to make a bigger push online.
We made downloads the benchmark for success. Our strategy: test our reach by changing the offering and making adjustments to the ways we made people aware of the podcast.
Like many podcasts, we were in the habit of posting audiogram clips from new shows and reaping the limited engagement that resulted. It was not growing in a meaningful way. So, we decided another benchmark should be views and engagement with re-imagined social media assets.
We knew from previous episode downloads that guests with a strong following fare better only when the subject matter is aligned with the interests of those followers. This was the basis of our pick for guest contributor: Former Senator Al Franken on the topic of privacy as related to digital home assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa.
Usually episodes revolve around a guest segment, typically in an interview. This blocks out the problem in general terms (e.g., phishing emails), what happened (e.g., money was stolen, someone was spied on), and then we provide a clear set of takeaways for listeners.
We changed the format to a much briefer introduction focused on Al Franken’s time as a Senator when he tried to talk a colleague, Jeff Flake, into holding a Senate hearing with Siri and Alexa providing testimony. We knew the story, so we approached Al Franken to ask if he wanted to do the Senate Hearing now as a sketch.
We liked Al Franken for several reasons, but main among them were the fact that he has a popular podcast and a large following on Twitter and Instagram. Our goal was to create such a good episode that Al would want to do a feed drop in his own, much more robustly downloaded feed.
The sketch was written by Sen. Al Franken with “What the Hack with Adam Levin” co-host and executive producer Beau Friedlander. Al Franken played himself as well as Bernie Sanders, Chuck Grassley, Mitch McConnell, Sherrod Brown and Susan Collins. We were not aware of it when we started the process, but this had never been done before: a U.S. Senator impersonating his fellows in a comedy sketch! We also did not anticipate how strong the appetite was among Franken’s following to see him back in the Senate.
Al’s fellow SNL alum Laraine Newman and Susan Bennett (the voice of Siri) also were in the bit, which lampooned the U.S. Senate and privacy implications of internet-connected devices listening in on our personal lives.
Enlisting Emmy Award-winning director Toddy Stewart, we created short animated videos to promote new episodes featuring the art of renowned artist Travis Millard who drew caricatures of the Senators impersonated by Franken. This trailer was a new thing for us and wildly successful. The idea was to release the animated trailer on YouTube and also as a native file on Facebook and Twitter, and then promote the links to bring the episode to the attention of potential new listeners.
It worked. The animation was widely viewed and Episode 71 “Al Franken Holds a Mock Senate Hearing on Privacy” reached our goal. Al Franken Podcast did a feed drop that reached 120K new listeners. We more than tripled our own downloads, with 2 million additional downloads from an Android-based auto-play carousel, which did not equal a clear number of listens, but greatly increased the podcast’s visibility.
Here is a sampling of the more engaging social media impressions we were hoping for:
Al Franken, 1.1mm followers on Twitter:
“Here's an odd thing you'll never see anywhere else! I wrote & recorded a fictional Senate hearing - voicing Bernie, Grassley, Collins, Sherrod & Mitch - with @larainenewman as Alexa & @SiriouslySusan as Siri on @Adam_K_Levin's podcast "What the Hack." podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/al-… pic.twitter.com/zkAfp0VBhX”
Susan Bennett, 1.8mm followers:
This was so much fun! Working alongside Al Franken, and Laraine Newman! Comedy gold!!!!
Laraine Newman, 81K followers:
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/al-franken-holds-a-mock-senate-hearing-on-privacy/id1571482669?i=1000586074085 I had the pleasure of playing Alexa and we had Susan Bennet (the actual voice of Siri) in on the fun. Computer voices are some of my favorite voices to do. Enjoy!
Travis Millard, 61.4K followers:
Some drawings I made for a short by Al Franken for @adamklevin’s What the Hack podcast this week. Big thanks to Beau Friedlander @simnyc & @alfranken for pulling me into this - and to worksondigitalpaper, @stephenbonesproductions, @larainenewman, & @siriouslysusan for all their talents