Podcast cross-pollination: 6 lessons from a hacker podcast episode swap

Episode swaps can be an incredibly effective podcast marketing tactic: I release an episode of your show in my feed, and you release an episode of my show in your feed.

Done right, an episode swap is a gift to your audience: a genuine recommendation of a quality show that’s aligned with your listeners’ tastes.

Done poorly, episode swaps can backfire, and come across as spammy, irritating, and a waste of time. A poorly-executed episode swap betrays trust and spoils the goodwill podcasters work so hard to foster with their listeners.

Let’s look at a well-executed example, shall we?

Darknet Diaries is a podcast series that tells “true stories from the dark side of the Internet.” It’s hosted and produced by produced by Jack Rhysider, a podcaster who is refreshingly transparent about his download numbers and marketing techniques.

In January 2019, Jack ran two episode swaps: one with Malicious Life, and another with Hackable?

(Full disclosure: Hackable? is an original podcast from McAfee, produced in partnership with Pacific Content and the amazing team at Response who arranged the Darknet Diaries/Hackable? swap)

I recently talked to Jack about his experience with this type of podcast cross-pollination, and the importance of making smart, audience-first decisions.

Find shows with the right fit

Jack told me Malicious Life and Hackable? have been on his radar for a while. When he asked listeners on Twitter to name other shows they enjoyed, “People were always mentioning these two,” he says. As the show titles suggest, all three series are about computer security and hacking.

Jack told me he’d tried short-form promo swaps in the past, but the shows weren’t always tightly aligned with Darket Diaries’ subject matter.

For full episode swaps, Jack wanted to be sure there was a strong fit.

“For [Darknet DiariesMalicious Life, and Hackable?], we talk about the same subjects. We even cover some of the same stories,” Jack told me. “With the episode swaps, I really felt like my audience would love these episodes. Same theme. Same topic. Same style and format. These shows are so close to the way I do my show, you just have to give them a try.”

I asked Jack if he worried that existing listeners might be turned off by the promo swaps.

“Nobody complained about it at all. Not a single one.”

Put a cap on it

A good episode swap is a win-win-win-win: it’s good for both shows, and it’s good for both shows’ audiences.

Of course, not all shows have the same size audience. That’s where setting download (or impression) caps can keep things fair. “That could be for a certain length of time, or a certain amount of downloads,” Jack explains.

For the Darknet Diaries/Hackable? swap, Jack arranged 1:1 downloads swaps. “That was the agreement,” he says. “I was going to let my episode play for the same amount of downloads as they would let my episode play. So if their audience is much bigger than mine, it doesn’t matter because we’re both going to play for the same amount of downloads, and then we’ll take it out of the feed.”

Time your episode swaps to measure effectiveness

Attribution is hard, especially for podcast downloads. When you have lots of marketing happening all at once it’s hard to measure which tactics work.

That’s why timing matters.

Darknet Diaries usually releases new episodes twice a month. Hackable? releases new episodes every other week. Both shows released their swap episodes on “off weeks” when they wouldn’t otherwise have released an episode.

This allowed Jack to gauge Malicious Life and Hackable?’s impact on his non-swap episodes:

Darknet Diaries’ back catalog downloads, episode-by-episode, showing correlated lift

Jack estimates that combined, the swaps resulted in several thousand new subscribers, and a significant boost in downloads.

“In December, I got 200,000 downloads on my entire podcast for all episodes. Here in January, I have 300,000 downloads (excluding the swapped episodes). I’m up an extra 100,000 downloads this month.”

“I definitely see this as a big spike.”

Put your best foot forward

Choose the episodes you swap very carefully. For the episode you drop in someone else’s feed, choose one that serves as a helpful introduction for new listeners, and clearly illustrates your podcast’s tone and value.

“This might be your only shot at getting those listeners converted,” Jack told me, “So make sure to wow them as best you can.”

“I specifically picked out the Malicious Life episode I wanted to play on my show because it best matched what I thought my audience would like, and for Hackable? I asked them to give me their fans’ favorite. When deciding which ones to share I chose two that my fans have told me are their favorites over and over.”

Make the most of a familiar voice

An episode swap should sound like a recommendation from a trusted voice, because it should be a recommendation from a trusted voice.

Don’t drop an entire episode in your feed cold. Make sure your host is there to offer context and explanation “so your listeners aren’t jarred,” Jack says.

Listen to how Jack sets up Hackable? here:

This is just a clip of Darknet Diaries. Subscribe at darknetdiaries.com

Then check out how Geoff Siskind (the host and producer of Hackable?) introduces Darknet Diaries:

This is just a clip of Hackable? Subscribe at hackablepodcast.com

These intros sound like recommendations, because they are recommendations.

Don’t bait and switch

Podcasting is a medium built on loyalty, habit, and ongoing opt-in relationships. Listeners don’t want to feel hoodwinked by an episode swap, no matter how good the episode is.

If you release an episode of someone else’s show in your feed, make sure you give it a clear title and description, and set the <itunes:episodeType> to bonus as appropriate.

For his side of the swap, Jack released an episode of Darknet Diaries called “Hackable? Presents: Keyless Entry” with this description:

This week I’m playing for you an episode from another podcast I think you’d really like. It’s called Hackable? and this episode is called Keyless Entry. They take the scene from Mr. Robot where they hacked into a car and test whether or not it’s doable. It’s very interesting and you should give it a try.

And for their side of the swap, Hackable? released an episode called “Introducing Darknet Diaries” with the following description:

This week, we’re featuring an episode of Darknet Diaries: “The Beirut Bank Job.” It tells the true story of Jayson E. Street, a renowned white-hat for hire. He’s scary good at using social engineering to identify security vulnerabilities. Until 1.5 liters of Diet Pepsi got him into trouble in a Beirut bank…

As always, make sure your episode’s packaging matches what’s inside.


  • Episode swaps can be an effective way to cross-pollinate similar or adjacent shows
  • Alignment of subject matter and potential audience overlap are key
  • Episode swaps are all about preaching to the converted, not growing the denominator
  • Two shows with different-sized audiences can still swap, so long as reasonable caps are in place
  • Schedule episode swaps on “off weeks” to gauge effectiveness

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