How to Make Podcasts and LinkedIn Work for Your Business (with Chris Conner)
If you run a biotech, research lab, or even a non-scientific business, branding and marketing growth is a necessity. We asked Chris Conner, science branding guru and host of the Life Science Marketing Radio Podcast about his strategies for growing your digital foot print.
Matt: Hello and welcome to episode one of the Reagent podcast brought to you by OnePointe Solutions. I’m your host Matt Benson. This is a special intro for today to explain the background behind the project. OnePointe Solutions is a lab design and construction firm helping scientists build their ideal workspaces. I started this podcast as a way to tell stories and share knowledge among all of the folks who work in and around the sciences.
We do a lot of work with government agencies like NASA, large universities, and major biopharma companies. I figure, what better way to bring value to our industry than to showcase the types of people who we work with, help spread their message, and shine a light on all of the amazing work that is being done, both academically and within the industry. I hear from a lot of scientists that there is demand for developing soft skills like communication and leadership as well. I’ll try to touch on those things throughout the podcast.
I’m a marketer by trade. This will be my first time producing a podcast. We’ll all be learning a lot together and I’m grateful to go on this journey with you. In episode one, I sit down with Chris Conner. Chris is the host of the Life Science Marketing Radio podcast and he also owns and runs his own consulting business. You should check out his show wherever podcasts can be heard.
We talk all about the best practices for starting your own podcast, if you’re a business looking to get into this medium, we talk about him getting a master’s degree in genetics and his journey from that point to starting his own commercial services company, and even his time as a sailing instructor. He’s a great guy. There’s a great conversation and I hope you like the show. Without further ado, here we go. Chris, thanks for coming on the podcast today.
Chris: Yes, thanks so much for having me.
Matt: For sure. I think a great place to start is just to set the context of this whole podcasting world. I just want to get your opinion like why podcasts? Why are they so valuable and why is it so important to start doing one now?
Chris: Yes. Podcasts are interesting and valuable because– First of all, at least if you work in places like where I work, around the Bay Area or other places, people are busy commuting, and even if they don’t have a long commute, maybe they’re exercising. Podcast can provide content for them in those times when they’re not doing and not paying attention to anything else.
There’s a magic to them when you’re listening to somebody talk or listening in on a conversation like this one that is very personal. You feel like you know the people you’re listening to overtime. I’ve had this experience with a couple of podcasts and I’ve experienced it from both sides. I’ve met people who host podcasts I listen to and I felt like I know them.
Then I’ve actually had someone come up to me at a trade show who listened to my podcast and just recognized me from Twitter and said, “Hey, you’re Chris right?” Then, “Yes.”
Matt: That’s awesome.
Chris: I think the other thing that’s cool about them if you’re trying to educate people is that when people are listening to a podcast, they actually have time to think. Whereas, if they’re sitting at their desks, it’s likely that someone’s going to knock on their door or some email’s going to pop up and they get interrupted. Whereas most of the time, if you’re in a car, or exercising, or working in the yard, you can actually think about what you’re listening to and maybe make a plan to do something about it.
Matt: It’s very well said. You covered so many great points there on just how accessible podcasts can be. It’s almost like we have this void in our life where we may have been driving or something and there wasn’t really room for a normal, classic kinds of content. That’s just free real estate and it’s easy to get into there. Cool. What is your overall mission and goal behind your podcast and your career in this medium?
Chris: The overall mission of my Life Science Marketing Radio podcast, for example, and any other podcast I’m doing is to build an audience to help grow a brand. I’m trying to tell stories that people care about that either educate or inspire them, and hopefully, you collect that audience and people get to know me or the organization I’m podcasting for and a little bit about that mission and get more interested and then have a way to reach them with other things that I might want to try to get them to do.
Matt: Do you have any recollection of what was your first episode like, what that process was like recording it leading up to it? Because I think a lot of people may want to start a podcast or some kind of audio medium, but might not have quite the motivation to just leap into it.
Chris: The very first one was– I think I was barely aware. I mean, I knew about podcasts, but the very first one I was doing was with Tyler Kay, who runs Digital Creative Associates in San Francisco. Fantastic video production company.
He and I were doing a marketing workshop together. We thought, “All right, let’s go into a studio and we’ll record the two of us on video to make a little video promo that we could put out online to promote the workshop.” But I said, “While we’re doing that, why don’t we sit down after,” and I’ll have a little conversation with him about video production that we would record and I would just put that up on my blog, because at the time I was just blogging. I thought, “This would be some interesting content that doesn’t just come from me.” That was the start of it. We just sat down with the microphone in between us and we recorded that episode and it went up on my blog. It didn’t go anywhere else beyond the blog at first.
Matt: That’s cool. It’s almost like it happened organically. You didn’t really set out to say, “I’m going to start a podcast,” you have this event that was coming up and you needed some promotional material.
Chris: Right. Yes, I didn’t set out that way to have a podcast and there were a couple of more. I think I did one more episode for my blog with the former mentor. She was my boss’s boss when I worked at Varian. She was nice enough to join me for same thing, a recorded audio file on my blog. I happened to be at the time listening to lots of other marketing podcasts and thought, “If I don’t do this, someone else in our space is going to.” I was rebuilding my website and I said, “Okay, I’m going to start this podcast and do it on a regular basis.”
Matt: Interesting. I feel that way personally for this program. I’m definitely thinking, “You know what? We have a lot of competitors in the space, not only for our own brand but for the interests I have in the field.” I want to try to get ahead where I can. Obviously, people like you have been doing this for years. It is pretty interesting to hear about your mentor and your boss back in the day, the second episode you mentioned. I think that actually might be a good opportunity just to give people some more context on your background. Would you be interested in talking about your science background and what kind of role that had in your life? Because now, it seems like you’re much more in communications rather than actual research.
Chris: Yes. It’s an interesting one. I knew I wanted to be a biology major from when I was, probably, a freshman in high school. I got a degree and then when I finished college, I thought, “I don’t know.” This was a long time ago. I graduated college in 1983 and there weren’t a huge number of jobs for biology people, at least that I thought of. The biotech industry was just getting started. I liked school. I liked learning. I said, “All right, go get another degree.” I actually spent quite a long time in graduate school. Then after graduate school, I worked outside of research for a while, and then I got back into it. I worked in the lab for I don’t know how many years after that. At least, let’s say, six more years after that.
Matt: What kind of lab work was that?
Chris: Different kinds of molecular biology. A couple of interesting things. I worked at the Livermore Lab nearby and we were looking for mutations in the children of Chernobyl first responders.
Matt: Wow, that is fascinating.
Chris: It was really my boss who said it’s a needle in a haystack, “You’re never going to find them.” If you looked at the blood of the people who were called the liquidators, you would see chromosome rearrangements and things like that. Other people with a little more lab work were doing that, but to find an inherited mutation is really, really hard. He said, “We’re really just trying to put a limit, put a number on like–” We looked at this much span of DNA and did not see anything. It was an interesting idea, I’m thinking, “I’m handling the blood of these people who are kind of local heroes.”
Matt: I’m just really curious, that’s a huge trait of mine that’s hard to kick.
Chris: Yes, me too. [crosstalk]
Matt: I’m curious, how did you get those samples? Were you in Ukraine or were you traveling [crosstalk]?
Chris: No, I didn’t go to Ukraine, but my boss did. The lab had some relationship with people over there, and so they were sent to us.
Matt: Wow. Cool.
Chris: Somebody over there was collecting tubes of blood. Actually, probably the most I used was my own. Just learning how to extract [unintelligible 00:11:07]
Matt: That’s an interesting side of things.
Chris: Every couple of weeks I had to go over to the doctor at the Livermore Lab and have him say, “Give me a couple more tubes so I can keep practicing.” [laughs] The rest of my science career is mostly– This is my graduate degree and then where I worked after Livermore was in salmonella genetics. I worked for Mike Mahan down in UC Santa Barbara who was a classmate of mine in graduate school and he had started his lab, looking at genes inside salmonella that are only expressed when they’re inside an animal. Presumably, the genes that are necessary for sustaining an infection.
Chris: That’s pretty much my science background.
Matt: Wow. That’s quite a journey. You’ve done some very fascinating work in the sciences. From there, I guess it was 10 to 15 years of that, and you said, “Hey, I’m done being in a lab”?
Chris: Yes. Now, we’re going to get a little off-track because after I left the lab, I actually taught sailing for six years. [laughs]
Matt: I did not that about you.
Chris: Yes, I left science entirely for a while. Fortunately, my wife had a good job at that time. [laughs] Actually, teaching sailing wasn’t bad either, but we had kids, so she was busy with that. Then I got a job at Varian, first as a writer in the marketing department. Then my boss left a couple of months after I started and then they gave me his job, basically. That’s how I got into marketing communications.
Matt: Then, the workshop, I’m guessing, arose somewhere adjacent to that line of work?
Chris: Kind of subsequent. I worked for Varian, who were acquired by Agilent, then I went to Thermo for a while, and then I went out on my own. Then the workshop started when I was trying to get traffic for my own business.
Matt: Wild. Well, thanks for sharing all that. On this, where you are at now and how you keep yourself developed and learning the latest topics and trends, in not only podcasting, but science and communications, are there any resources that you’d recommend that you’ve found helpful, that you think other people in the industry might want to take a look at, either it’s videos, or LinkedIn people, or blogs, what have you?
Chris: Yes. For podcasting, there’s a lot. If you Google, “Learn about podcasting,” there’s a lot of resources. I’m guessing that Pat Flynn, if you haven’t heard of him, The Smart Passive Income podcast, he, I think, has a pretty good course on podcasting and then there’s, me. [laughs] Of course, I helped a lot of people get started. I haven’t looked at a lot of resources on YouTube about podcasting, but I’ll just say that I currently watch a ridiculous amount of YouTube, to the point where they’re running out of suggestions for me because I’m trying to expand my business into video a little bit, and honestly, just become a better filmmaker because I’ve got a side project going related to that.
Matt: We’ll talk about that for sure.
Chris: Yes. I watch YouTube, not only for the direct ‘how to’ instruction, but also watching, just observing how people do what they do and say, “Oh, I see what they’re doing there that’s a good idea, I want to try that.” When you mentioned LinkedIn, if you want to get good at LinkedIn, there’s a couple of people, and one who I don’t have written down, I can’t remember his name, but Chris Walker is one of- [crosstalk]
Matt: Yes, you turned me on to him just a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been following him and he is fantastic. Just really high quality content. It’s been great to watch. [crosstalk] I saw he was just on your podcast too.
Chris: Yes, exactly, he was on a couple episodes ago. Really smart guy about marketing. He’s definitely swimming against the current, but I think in the right way. He’s continually pointing out. His whole thing is, there’s been this huge focus on demand generation, and really marketing is more about building a brand and getting people to know and trust you, that sort of thing, and not so much the measurement side, which I understand. I’ve been in the companies and I’ve had that measurement pressure, like, “You must create this many leads,” but I think he’s pretty smart about– but it’s a longer game. When you get focused on creating leads, a lot of them are bad quality.
Matt: Yes, and I think that is reflective of the zeitgeist of marketing and communications over the last decade or so, where we became so data-driven and those were the main buzzwords that now there’s the pendulum swinging the other way a bit and people want more of a human touch. It’s more about making an emotional judgment, a qualitative judgment on case-by-case basis, rather than stacking and scaling as much batch cookie-cutter communications as you can get. I think finding [unintelligible 00:16:56] is so key for people nowadays.
Matt: I like what you said before too, how there’s kind of like a Jekyll and Hyde nature of consuming content, especially if you’re in marketing or you’re wanting to start marketing, where you’re following advice and then there’s the meta aspect of you’re watching what they’re doing. It can get pretty complex and make your head spin sometimes.
Chris: The other thing, I just looked up the other person I’ve been following who has some great YouTube videos on LinkedIn strategy. If you’re trying to grow your business through LinkedIn, if people haven’t been on there lately, in the last few months, it has changed completely. I would say at the time I was talking to Chris Walker, I was starting to see more individuals post, not quite like what they would do on Facebook, but really sharing their experiences and trying to build relationships, which is what all these people are trying to get us to do. Nathanial Bibby is one of those.
Yes, I’ve just seeing this explosion, sadly, my opinion, it’s now getting a little bit too much like Facebook and I’m trying to figure out how you curate your feed. You can be connected to people, but not see the content of every person they like showing up on your feed to where you’re going, “Oh, that’s not really what I need.”
Matt: I know.
Chris: How do you focus it down to develop the real relationships and get the value and not- [crosstalk].
Matt: I feel you. There’s a certain bloat feeling to it and it’s not that any one person’s responsible or anyone’s doing anything wrong, but over the last couple of weeks even, I’ve been unfollowing poachers on LinkedIn, on Instagram. I think we’re becoming so cognizant of the algorithm nowadays, that at least me, I’m speaking at a personal experience, I’m taking a bit more proactive stance on what’s the content I’m putting in my brain as opposed to just letting the feed dictate what it is.
Chris: Exactly, and this explosion has really occurred, I want to say, since November.
Matt: Yes, for sure.
Chris: Four months, it’s gone from [unintelligible 00:19:22] good conversations to now bloat. I’ve changed my own behavior to where I won’t like something now just because I find it valuable, I only like it if I think everybody following me will find it valuable.
Matt: That’s very smart.
Chris: My thing is now, if I really like something and I want to let the person who posted it know, I should send them a message. Let’s get more personal. I would say, “Hey, I really like what you’ve sent. Thanks for sending that out,” but I’m not going to share it with everybody because it’s not relevant to the people that I’m trying to reach, but it’s helpful to me.
Matt: I love that strategy, and after this, I’m going to start implementing that because I think that’s a brilliant idea.
Chris: Yes, I think if we all can get that mindset going to like– It used to be you’d like other people’s content because you wanted to help them out, but really, at a certain point, you’re not helping anybody. If things get so bloated, people are going to stop paying attention all together, or we’re going to have to pay to reach people, which is going to happen, but, of course.
Matt: Probably, a good time to invest in Microsoft stock.
Chris: Yes, exactly. [laughs]
Matt: Having bought LinkedIn. Interesting are you on Instagram at all?
Chris: I am. Not so much for my business. I haven’t used it for my business. I am on there. I have a personal account and then I have an account for my documentary project. I’m using it that way and I’m just starting. I even spent all morning on, I’m trying to figure out Facebook ads, both for my business, because Chris Walker says his thing about Facebook is the ads are much cheaper than they are on LinkedIn. He says, if you’re producing great content, you can target it pretty well. In fact, better on Facebook than LinkedIn, and get people to your site that way, even though most people would think, “Well, that’s not the purpose of Facebook,” but they have all the data to reach the people you want to reach and if you pay to put an ad in front of them, they might like your page or go to your website, and then you track them and remarket to them from there.
Matt: It’s true. That’s true. They’ve really strong targeting capabilities and I think it’s still a very underutilized space, so that helps, especially more B2B and technical fields. Even then, I watched a case study, someone, they actually built one of these custom sock stores. He didn’t experiment. He’s a YouTuber who does really high quality business content. I don’t actually remember his name, but he made a exact imitation of these custom dog socks you can order. You’d think the Facebook market is completely saturated, but just in this five-day experiment, he made a storefront, pushed ads, push e-commerce, made some socks in Photoshop, and he was able to get pretty much a profitable operation going.
Even the things that feel saturated right now, I think, and podcast is a similar one where you think, “Well, there’s already three podcasts in this general area.” Well, maybe if you niche it down, and obviously, time will tell if this is a successful venture, but I think things aren’t always as saturated as they seem.
Chris: Right. Usually, you want to see that there’s another podcast on that topic. You can have a different angle, but it means people are interested. Well, if they’re doing well, it means people are interested, so you want a little bit of competition.
Matt: For sure. That’s a really good point. I want to get into the productivity aspect of running a podcast. You have a lot of experience with this of your own and people you’ve helped with podcasts. Do you have some kind of a master checklist that you use to stay organized? Because there are so many nuances that you might not– at least, I didn’t think of it when I very first started organizing this thing, and now that I’m in the thick of it, a lot of things just come out of the woodwork of tracking what guests you’re on, communicating with guests production, publishing, all the different platforms. How do you stay organized in that whole whirlwind?
Chris: Really, there are checklists that people will give you about things you should do for each episode and maybe templated emails to invite guests and so on. I found most of my guests more organically, but I do send out occasional– especially for the San Diego biotech network, I send out more formal invitations. I don’t have a checklist for that. The two things I use to stay organized for these podcasts are Calendly for scheduling.
For my podcasts, I typically do a pre-interview with someone just so we know what we’re going to talk about and it doesn’t go all over the place. That’s really helpful. I send them a link to Calendly for a short meeting, and then once we agree on it, I send them a link for a little bit longer meeting to record the podcast. That syncs with my calendar. They pick anytime they want, it’s totally up to them. It will only schedule something if I’m available. Then it just shows up on my calendar and I know a couple days ahead or whenever that I’ve got a podcast scheduled.
Then, I use Evernote to take notes in our first meeting about what we’re going to talk about. Then I write up the questions I think that will guide the conversation, and those go into Evernote. Pops up on my calendar, I go into Evernote, there are the questions that I’ve thought of and that’s pretty much it. Then the recording software that you and I use essentially stores the files. When it’s time to publish it, I go get them and I edit them and I put them out. I don’t have long checklist, but Calendly and Evernote are pretty essential. I don’t have to remember anything, I just do what shows up.
Matt: Got it. Interesting. Yes, it’s pretty good, more or less minimal but optimal strategy.
Chris: The rest is all stuff I do routinely, the invitations or wherever I’m in communications with people, and I just write it out every time.
Matt: Got it. In terms of promotion, I think that’s a big aspect too, because you’ve put all this work into making the podcast and now it’s about spreading the word, getting it out there, and reaching the people you want to reach. Do you have a formula or some best practices around how and where you promote it?
Chris: Yes. Most of my, I mean, I’m going to say all of my promotion pretty much occurs on LinkedIn. As I mentioned, I’m starting to promote this stuff on Facebook. On LinkedIn, I used to share just the episode link with a little bit of text, so people haven’t been paying attention to LinkedIn lately, like we’ve been talking about. Apparently, LinkedIn doesn’t want you to put a link in your post.
Chris: Yes. It will show it to fewer people because they want to keep people on the platform. Apparently, there’s no penalty for putting that link in the first comment, so you just say, “Link below in the comments.” You’ll get better traction that way. The first hour is critical. If you notify people on this–
I did this on my episode withKellen Barfield. She has a huge following. She said, “Make sure you email me right before you put it on LinkedIn because the first hour is critical, apparently.” The way the algorithm works, it gets shown a little bit, and if it gets some engagement, it gets shown a little bit more and a little bit more. It was definitely by far the best performing post I’ve ever put up on LinkedIn.
Typically, what I’ve been doing is, I take a little snippet of audio from the episode and I put it on a graphic that I made in Canva that shows the person’s face and has little waveform on it so people know their sound. They might listen to that and then they can go to the comment and listen to the whole episode. Hopefully, they eventually subscribe and it just shows up on their phone. To find new people, that’s what you got to do when and you put some hashtags on it.
Promoting your podcast is the hardest thing, honestly. If you have a good email list, that’s a great place to start. Starting from scratch with no audience is hard, but you got to start somewhere. The other thing I do to promote it, hopefully, it works and I think this has worked well For Life Science Marketing Radio is that the call to action in every episode is simply to tell two people because whoever is listening to your podcast, they work with other people who should be listening to your podcast. People who like podcasts love sharing them.
Matt: I love that. Cool. Beyond just podcasts, I’ve noticed you’re getting into the LinkedIn content game, the video content. I know we’ve talked a lot about it already, but I think that’s pretty interesting. If you have anything to add on that area, I think now’s a good time.
Chris: My business has been an evolution from marketing campaigns to content strategy, and still happy to help people with content and strategy, but really, find that what I’m best at is telling stories and creating content. Like you, I’m very curious. I’d love to learn about all these things and then I love to tell everybody about him. That’s my thing and that’s where I’m focusing this year, is just creating more content, testing out different things, trying a little different style of video on LinkedIn to see how that flies.
Matt: Yes, for sure. Well, I’m on that journey with you, for sure. Anyway, I think we’ve covered a lot. If there’s anything you want to add, feel free, but just for everyone listening, you can go ahead and listen to Chris’ podcasts, Life Science Marketing Radio, and follow him on LinkedIn. Any parting words?
Matt: No. Thank you so much for having me. I wish you a lot of success in this podcast. I think you’re on the right track. You’re going to have a lot of fun.
Matt: Awesome. I’m pumped. Thank you so much for all your help and advice and for being on the show.
Chris: Yes, absolutely my pleasure.