This podcasting pair built community – and sustained business success – with Marco Polo Channels

In 2018, Shelly Johnson joined Mary Rutt, her partner in life and crime, to launch the Latter-Day Lesbian Podcast, a weekly show providing heartfelt, compassionate, yet irreverent support to others who, like themselves, had been raised in deeply religious communities and struggled with coming out. 

Their podcast was an immediate success, averaging 7,000-8,000 downloads per week and garnering a lively following on Instagram and Facebook. They also created a tiered membership program on Patreon. 

But something was missing, and it took a new app to show them what it was. Here’s how, with Marco Polo Channels, Mary and Shelly deepened their audience connection while monetizing their business. 

The call needed a response

Validating and supporting their fans is a huge part of Mary and Shelly’s mission, but social media wasn’t providing a platform for immersive, face-to-face interaction with followers. Reading listener letters and replying to written comment threads did not equate to a true relationship. And while Shelly, a self-described “super extrovert,” was always happy to create value-add video content for paid Patreon subscribers, that content was outward-facing. 

It also took time and money to produce. To create the Latter-Day Lesbian After Show, for example, Mary and Shelly first record an in-studio session, then upload a huge file to the cloud, and then download it to Mary’s laptop, where she can finally edit. Mary and Shelly both have day jobs, so juggling this work isn’t trivial, and they sometimes have to enlist freelance help. This, when they’re already facing the challenge of figuring out how to monetize the podcast.

They needed a new way to connect that was authentic but low-overhead. 

Channels creates new lines of communication

Mary and Shelly already loved using the Marco Polo app to stay in touch with people in their personal lives because it offered the immediacy of live video chat without the scheduling hassles. Those core qualities made Channels a natural choice as a private membership platform, providing a means for direct, personal video conversations with audience members, with next to no overhead in terms of time, money, or server space. Once they’d established The Latter Day Lesbian Channel, reaching their members was as easy as sending a Polo.

“It’s instant, I don’t have to think about it, and I don’t have to plan out a podcast or record a full video for Mary to edit,” Shelly says. “It’s just, wham! send it out there and connect with people on a more real level.”

On average, Mary posts to their Channel once a day and Shelly twice or more. It could be karaoke, videos of their dogs “acting like total idiots,” a shout-out to a new member, or a question of the day. Rather than present a scripted, carefully produced piece, Mary and Shelly simply invite their audience in to glimpse their real lives, without a filter.

Channels helps our audience get to know who we are as people, not just as personalities on the podcast. It also allows us to get to know them better. THAT is super fun.

Face-to-face interaction deepens audience connection  

The coronavirus pandemic changed some of Mary and Shelly’s established audience engagement patterns. From February to April 2020, podcast downloads dropped by roughly 30 percent, and new monthly Patreon subscriptions dropped by 85 percent. Mary and Shelly attribute the drops to listeners no longer commuting to work and re-prioritizing their paid content consumption in the face of lost income.

So the timing of Channels has been perfect as a way to meet audience needs while maintaining an income stream. Members have also told Mary and Shelly that they appreciate the new social opportunities they find on Channels.

“It’s a conversation that can hopefully lift people’s spirits during this weird time,” Mary says. “One member told us that after her first week on Channels, she felt like she’d already gotten her money’s worth for the entire month.”

Mary and Shelly’s top Channels features

#1. Quick, cost-effective content creation and push. “Marco Polo Channels is fast, it’s not fancy, and I don’t have to worry about production value,” Mary says.

#2. New connections within their audience. “Members are starting to form friendships with each other,” Shelly says. “I love seeing one person respond to someone else to say ‘Hey, that happened to me too! And by the way, I thought your hair looked great!’” It’s so supportive. That’s what people need right now.”

#3. A way to give back to their membership community. By providing a behind-the-scenes look at their “normal, wacky everyday,” Channels doesn’t just give Mary and Shelly another avenue to entertain; it invites their fans into a real conversation. For the first time, Mary and Shelly can see their audience members, cheer them on, and validate their experiences in person. “It’s fulfilling for us, and it’s special for them to get that extra recognition,” Shelly says. “I love the way that feels.”

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