How to produce awesome content through interviews with subject matter experts
As a content producer who has worked with large global companies as well as associations and various not-for-profit institutions, I can personally vouch for the fact that interviews with subject matter experts (either in-house or outside of your organization) are an important, vital way to deliver engaging, relevant, and valuable content to your target audience. Expert interviews not only give your organization the chance to provide information on industry news or topics, but they position you to offer a unique perspective or angle that your followers won’t necessarily find elsewhere. Additionally, interviews can amplify your organization’s message and visibility by expanding or deepening your connections to influencers within your field.
So as an in-house content producer at your organization, how can you ensure that your interviews with subject matter experts will translate to great blog content?
Here are 10 tips to get you started:
1. Design questions around what your audience needs
Who is your target audience, and what value can your expert provide to them? What should they know or do at the end of this interview? Design your interview questions around these goals, and always keep your audience in mind — what can they gain from your expert’s experience or perspective?
Bonus tip: before designing your questions, research your expert’s recent projects or initiatives through an audience lens — what can they gain from knowing more about your expert’s work?
2. Aim for phone or in-person interviews
Everybody is busy, and it’s often difficult to align schedules. For this reason, it’s tempting to email a list of questions to your expert to fill out and send back to you by your deadline. This strategy can provide you with some useful content to draw from when crafting an article, but there are myriad benefits to conducting the interview in person or over the phone:
You avoid intimidating the expert. You would be surprised how often people are intimidated by writing. For some people, it may take hours to write out what he or she could easily express to you verbally in 20 minutes over the phone.
You can clarify faster. Information can be misinterpreted via email, and somtimes lacks nuance. When speaking in real time, you can ask your expert to clarify or elaborate on certain points on-the-spot, which takes less time than emailing back and forth.
You observe the expert’s personality. It’s easier to understand someone’s personality when you engage with them in person, and certain details could be worth noting, especially if you’re doing a write-up based on the interview. What issues does your expert seem particularly passionate about, for example?
If you do conduct an interview solely by email, don’t simply copy and paste the questions and answers into your blog post and leave it at that. Give it a great set-up and conclusion that inspires your audience to learn more.
3. Prepare ahead (but adapt as needed)
Send your questions over to the expert ahead of time, especially if he or she seems nervous about interviewing. This will give your expert an idea of what topics you plan cover, and allow time to prepare. He or she might even suggest additional questions that will be helpful to include in the interview. Bonus content!
Stick to your list of questions during your interview but make sure to remain adaptable. If your expert starts to bring up an unexpected point that you think is worth exploring, go ahead and see where it leads. Which brings us to our next tip...
4. Allow for happy accidents
Going off track during an interview isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s a great thing that leads to “happy accidents” — an unexpected tangent that leads to awesome bits of content. Follow your set of questions but remain adaptable to unexpected routes your expert may take when telling his or her story.
5. Diversify your interview content
Remember that interviews on your blog can be produced in numerous formats (video, podcast, Facebook Live), and you’re not limited to a written dialog. Additionally, even if you are planning a written blog post, you can provide video or audio snippets either in the body of the blog or in your social media post, to boost audience engagement.
Bonus tip: if you’re new to video or podcast interviewing, remember that you don’t have to be perfect to do either of these well. There are certain situations that require a polished or formal presentation but in many cases, it’s honesty and authenticity that draws audiences in and makes them listen to (and trust) your message.
6. Give the expert the spotlight
This is a big one. As an interviewer, your job is to let your expert shine — to share his or her knowledge and experience with your audience. Keep in mind that your interview is a dialog, but it’s not a balanced conversation; your expert needs to talk significantly more than you do. Ask open-ended questions, give your guest plenty of room to answer freely, and ask for clarification when needed.
Bonus tip: the “parroting technique” is one trick that can encourage your expert to clarify or expand on a point, particularly if your expert’s responses are too short. “Parroting” is essentially repeating back a couple of words that your expert just said, in a questioning tone. The technique shows you’re listening and encourages the interviewee to open up more.
For example, if your expert says he or she is “incredibly excited about certain projects that are in the pipeline,” repeat back to them “Certain projects in the pipeline?” to prompt your expert to elaborate.
7. Be thoughtful and transition between questions
For me, this is one of the trickiest aspects of interviewing. You prepared your list of questions, so it should be as easy as asking them and having your expert respond, right?
Throughout the interview, you might notice that, as your guest answers certain questions, he or she may provide extra information that pre-empts questions that you plan to ask later. At that point, you’ll need to take a mental note either not to ask that question, or when you get to it, make sure to reference that you touched on this topic earlier in the interview and ask to revisit it.
Similarly, ensure that the interview flows in a way that’s natural and organic, and not just a choppy series of questions you throw at your expert. You can accomplish this by creating transitions between your expert’s answer and your next question. Stay present in the moment, really listen to and take in what your expert is saying, and transition to your next question by quickly summarizing his or her response and relating it to the next question.
8. Open up for additional comments
You’ve reached the end of your questions — but that’s not necessarily the end of your interview! Your expert may have thought of some additional points throughout the course of your dialog that could make for awesome content. Before concluding your interview, make sure to offer your expert the chance to add any other comments, tips or information related to the topic you’re discussing.
9. Provide a CTA
Don’t leave your audience hanging at the end of your interview. Provide a clear call to action so that your audience can know where to go to learn more information (your expert’s website, for example), how to engage with you further on the topic (comments, tweets, Facebook page) or how to follow through with any other step you wish them to take (sign up for your newsletter, download your white paper, create an account, etc.).
10. Don’t forget to cross-promote
Once your interview is posted on your blog, maximize your content’s reach through organic (and paid, ideally) methods. Share your content on all of your organization’s social networks and have your expert do the same. Boost your posts or create digital ads for targeted audiences to ensure that your interview is seen and shared by those who can benefit from it the most.
Bonus tip: grow your audience even more by sending a shout-out to any third party individuals or organizations that are referenced in the interview. This will increase the chances that they will share, like, or retweet to their followers, and can take the form of a mention on Twitter, or tagging names on Facebook and LinkedIn.