Kristen LaFrance is Head of Resilient Retail at Shopify, a show dedicated to sharing real stories of struggle and breakthrough that retail business need right now. Here, Kristen doesn't hold back on her podcast production process, as well as the importance of having a premise for your show, and setting your guests up for success.
When I heard that Tom had sat down for a chat about podcasting with Shopify’s Kristen LaFrance, I thought to myself, “a podcast about podcasting. That’s pretty meta.”
Then I realised that I didn’t actually know whether meta was considered a good or bad thing.
You’ll have your own opinions on that. But I’m sure you’ll agree that, in this instance, it’s a good thing.
Because, for all we’re told about how beneficial podcasting is as a marketing tool, it’s not often we hear anyone talking about what goes into making one.
And in this episode of Maker Mixtapes, Kristen laid it all out on the table. From how podcasts are great for content repurposing to finding ideas to how she creates, produces and promotes her brilliant Resilient Retail podcast.
If you’re thinking of starting a podcast or want to level up your current podcast, this post—and episode—will help you do it.
Quick side note before we dig into the takeaways: You may be wondering why the word ‘nutshells’ appears in the title. There’s a good reason, but telling you here would spoil it. It’ll all make sense when you listen to the episode.
Okay, on with the post.
One of the great things about podcasts is the ability to get into the weeds; to get inside people’s minds in a way that only conversations can. It’s this that fuels Kristen’s love for the medium.
“I think that content has previously been a little bit dry and shallow and bland and missing some authenticity; missing some deep nuance in it.
“In conversations, you actually get into the nuances and the weirdness of what they're doing. And it's so much more than ‘here are four strategies for you’.
“I just feel like so much of marketing is relationship-based right now and community-based. And there is no better way to build a community than to get on the phone with somebody for an hour. All of a sudden you have this deep connection with them.”
Having come from a strategic content marketing background, Kristen understood early on that a podcast was only the start point. Nuances and weirdness can power an entire marketing campaign.
“Podcasting is just such an entryway to create a ridiculous waterfall of content.
“If I start with a podcast, then I've got [a] one-hour-long interview that turns into a blog post and a tweetstorm and an Instagram feed and a transcript that's SEO, and it just builds on itself. You know, it's almost overwhelming.
“The repurposing abilities of podcasting is amazing.”
For an example of this repurposing, you only need to look as far as the Resilient Retail Twitter feed, where they post short video clips and posts with key takeaways, or its YouTube channel, where you’ll find episodes available to watch in full.
Or maybe take inspiration from Kristen’s long-term plans for the show.
“We started with a podcast because it leads to, in three years, we're gonna have this giant publication that's Resilient Retail, that's a community and we have local events and we're gonna do like in real-life workshops, and maybe we'll open a resilient retail store.”
If you want another example, how about this humble post you’re reading right now.
Not everyone will go to Spotify or Apple Podcasts to listen to your episodes, but they might sit down to watch a video, read a blog post or listen to a clip on social media.
Create your ridiculous waterfall of content.
In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek hammers home the point that in business “people don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it.”
The same goes for podcasting.
“Before you start any kind of show, you have to figure out, what's your premise? What's your stance? And what is your show? What's the purpose of it for the audience? Why do you exist?”
These are the questions you need to ask yourself.
Once you’ve found the answers, you can start coming up with ideas.
For Resilient Retail, ideation revolves around what people want.
“What are the topics people are searching for? What are they telling us that they want? We did a lot of listening to internal sales calls and support calls and just picking out these little things… what are they asking about? Is it really that they need e-commerce 101? Or are they looking for in-store strategies?
“I went through customers and merchants, and I scrolled through Instagram. And I was talking with our support team and I created all these internal pipelines within Shopify of, ‘Hey, if you're talking to a merchant who's doing something cool, send it to me. I want to get them on the show.’
“And it just becomes this win-win for everybody. Like for a support person to say, ‘Oh, you're doing something really cool. Can we feature you on a show?’ That makes them look good. It makes the merchant happy, it makes me happy because I don't have to go find them. And then it makes the audience happy because it's the stories they're looking for.”
Resilient Retail runs its podcast in seasons, with each season given an overarching theme. For season one, the focus was on resilience and what that looks like. For season two, the plan is to focus on the rebuilding of retail.
And Kirsten has some sage advice for anyone planning to follow suit.
“[A] thing that I recommend a lot is, if you're going to do seasons, or segments or something like that, figuring out at the end of the day, what's the main goal of that series?
“[Make] sure you have those kinds of hypotheses or philosophy or mission behind whatever you're ideating. I think that’s the best first step for a podcast so that you can stay very focused. Because the hardest thing is, like, sometimes you have to say no to people you really want to talk to because it just might not fit in with that season.”
Find your why, decide on your mission, then run with it.
There’s a time and a place for small talk. Supermarket checkouts, taxis and queues are all prime locations for it. You can fill time with idle chat knowing that if it gets awkward, you’ll be parting ways soon enough.
But as the host of a podcast, small talk is the last thing you want. I imagine, short of technical issues, it’s the thing every host dreads the most.
Fortunately, Kristen has a rock-solid process for making sure guests are comfortable and confident so that conversations go swimmingly.
“I need to make sure that when I hop on an interview with somebody, I know what we're talking about [and] I know what topics they want to talk about. Because you want to set up your guests for success.
“One of the things I always ask is, ‘How do you see this being the most successful conversation for you?’ What do you want to talk to me about? What do you want to tell me about?
“We have an application form. It's kind of a call to action of ‘Do you want to be a guest?’
“In season two, we had a very specific question that said, ‘Give me one to three strategies you've done in your store in the last six months that you want to talk about.’ We also have some influencers on [the show]. So there's a caveat [on the application form], ‘If this question doesn't apply to you, list one to three specific topics you want to talk about.’
“And that's my first kind of energy check. If somebody wants to be on a show but they can't take the time to write down specific things, I'm not going to have you on my show. It's just a really quick way for me to weed out [people] that want to come on and waffle about something or tell me about [their] story. Which is great, but it's not what we're trying to do on [season two].”
To get a deeper understanding of guests that she doesn’t already know, Kristen also has an extra process: a 15-minute pre-interview call.
“This is another energy check. Because the worst thing is getting on with someone and you're five minutes in and you're like, ‘I've asked you all my questions, and you're giving me one-word answers. And I'm dragging you along this interview. And now I don't want to publish this one.’”
For interview prep, Kristen’s initial process is straightforward.
“I'm just going to Google the person's name. I'm going to Google the business. I'm going to go to my news tab and I'm going to just read everything I can possibly read about them. And I'm going to copy and paste anything I find into a Google Doc. Also, any of my notes from pre-interview calls and anything that they said they want to talk [about].”
But she’s careful not to let conversations become too formulaic.
“Some people send outlines to their guests that are very, like, ‘Here's every single question.’ I think this is just up to you as a host what you like.
“I tend to not send very specific questions except for, you know, I usually send them ahead of time, ‘Okay, I'm gonna ask you what does resilience mean to you?’ Because it's kind of a weird question to off the cuff know how to answer that. It's like asking someone to define the word ‘which’. It's just a weird thing that you need to think about.
“But I'll send them a topic overflow. So like, here's kind of where I start, what the meat of it is and what we're going to end with so they know, ‘Okay, I'm going to prep around these topics.’ But that leaves them a little openness to come in and say we can dig into things that they're not ready to.”
There’s a lot of talk online about which microphones, headphones and cameras deliver the best bang for your podcasting buck.
But there’s less about the tools that bring everything together. So it was great to hear from Kristen about what Resilient Retail uses to produce to bring each episode to life:
“If I've gone through the painful parts of finding systems, I want to give that to as many people as possible.
“I think there is a perspective from every single person in the world that's worth sharing and worth hearing. So if I can make it easier for someone to go tell their story, even if they get 500 downloads, it's 500 people who have heard their story. I think that's worth it. And I think that's worth getting these things out. So we can have more, more of us out here.”
Despite having the weight of the Shopify domain behind it, when it comes to distribution Resilient Retail is as much a bootstrapped operation as any other niche podcast.
Episodes are promoted on Twitter and YouTube to provide different access points and repurposed into blog posts, à la the waterfall effect.
During the first season, the team also ran an email marketing workshop for brick and mortar retailers, which helped bring a new audience to the show.
Additionally, they’ve made it easy for guests to share content by making them part of the story.
“However I can make it as easy as possible for them [guests] to share the content that they've shared with me, I'm going to do it. So that was things like, we sent everybody some Resilient swag. Because who doesn't want a hat that says ‘Resilient’ on it? And then you get a lot of people posting like, ‘Look at my sweet new hat.’
“Another thing we did was, Michelle Grant from Lively is a good example of this. We wanted her to share it on her Instagram because she has a really great following. What we could have done was say, ‘Here's our artwork in our graphics, go put it on your Instagram.’ But if you went and looked at her Instagram, our graphics are very like black and red and bold and strong. And her Instagram feed is very light and airy, and white.
“So we said, ‘Okay, we need to make a different graphic for her.’ So we made one that matched her Instagram page. And then we gave her the copy for it. And we made it really easy for her to share.
“We're actually going this extra mile for our guests so that sharing is beneficial for them. It's not just like, ‘Look what Shopify did and I was involved with it.’ It's more, ‘Look what I did and Shopify just happened to be kind of behind it.’
Kristen was also keen to point that what works for one channel, might not work for another.
“When you listen to podcasts, it's usually something you're intentionally going to do, right? You're intentionally going to Spotify or Apple Podcasts and you're opening it up and you're saying, ‘I'm going to listen to a podcast.’ There's not really any other journey into that behaviour other than intentionally doing it.
“I used to share links to full episodes on Twitter and then I'm looking at it like, ‘Who’s clicking on this?’ And then you start to think about, ‘Well, of course, if I'm scrolling Twitter I don't have any intention to go listen to an hour-long podcast. It just doesn't make sense to go from that platform to that platform.
“Same thing with email. You're going through your newsletters in the morning, you're really just reading within the email. Maybe you go to get some further reading or you save something for later. But I don't really think it's natural to open an email and then just happenstance, go listen to a podcast. That's not really how it works.
“Think about how you repurpose that content for each channel natively. So then it ultimately drives them around to that action that is so coveted of pressing play on your podcast.”
It’s common on social media for people and brands to create an image that reflects what they want people to think about them rather than an accurate depiction of who they are.
But this can’t be said of Kristen, whose social content very much comes from the heart. This openness and vulnerability is both refreshing and inspiring.
“I think it's come from experience of just seeing that every single time I am vulnerable, if I'm being truly vulnerable and there's a difference there. You can see vulnerability that feels like it's not 100% true versus authentic vulnerability of ‘I will tell you everything, and I will be an open book about it.’ Anytime I've done that I've got nothing but positive feedback.
“Secondly, I think, just from a marketing perspective, I was just so tired of the bland articles and the newsletters that just weren't exciting. And everything I kept coming around to, anything that I engage with, is usually coming from a person and you're getting to know them so that you can trust the content that they're putting out. And I just saw this as like ‘We need creators who will do this; who will go out and be silly and be real.’”
If there’s anything social media needs right now, it’s realness and silliness and real silliness.
Maker Mixtapes is a podcast about the entrepreneurs, creators and marketers building impressive things in their field. From content marketing to YouTube and growth, agency life to e-commerce and SaaS, this podcast aims to dissect and share lessons from their success.
To hear more of Kristen’s insights, her background in DTC and a slice of innuendo from Tom, as well as other episodes from the brightest minds in tech and business, check out Maker Mixtapes on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
Founder & CEO, Grizzle
Head of Resilient Retail, Shopify