Content Interviews: A Feather in the Content Marketer’s Cap

journalistAs features editor of my high school newspaper, I thought I was a pretty big deal.

I was the one who interviewed the captain of the lacrosse team about the new concessions stand beside the field. I was the one who snapped photos of the marching band from the football bleachers as they spelled out the letters of my hometown.

Living the dream, I tell you!

Fast forward in time and here I am today still putting my journalism skills to good use as a content marketer. Who knew?

But, hold on for a second: I’m not really a journalist. Or am I?

In recent years, there has been much talk of the intersection of traditional content marketing and traditional PR/journalism. In other words, the roles aren’t so “traditional” any longer.

Case in point: content interviews.

As a content marketer, I rely on interviews with subject matter and industry experts to develop authoritative, recognizable writing that stands up to the competition in an increasingly crowded digital space.

Let’s take a look the content interview process and consider the ways such discussions can be leveraged to create informative, useful, and relevant content on behalf of clients:

What do I mean by content interviews?

To clarify, when I say “content interviews,” I am talking about one of two things:

  • Formal interview: Q&A with an SME that can serve as its own post or be used in excerpted form to explore a broader theme (Ann Smarty has some great tips for maximizing the value of these types of interviews)
  • Informal interview: Discussion with an SME or other thought leader that can be used to inform content discovery/tone of voice for a ghostwritten piece of content

Both forms of content interviews can be useful in developing authoritative content but, for the purposes of this post, I’m going to discuss the latter approach (we all have likely had some experience with the former):

So, where to begin?

Let’s say you’re a content marketer working on a new client (or you’re new to an existing client) and that particular client’s industry is definitely not in your wheelhouse.

Don’t be alarmed – we’ve all been there!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: One of the best ways to understand your clients’ industries is to use your clients as a resource.

Start by researching key topics being discussed in the client’s industry. Some ideas:

  • Keep tabs on social influencers
  • Do some preliminary keyword research
  • Read up on renowned industry blogs, etc.

From there, put together a list of well-researched questions and/or proposed blog topics that you’d want to bring up with the client in an interview, so that you can make the most of everyone’s time.

Note: Always over-prepare for an interview, whether formal or informal. The more research you do in advance, the more focused your questions will be (and, in turn, the responses you get from the client you’re interviewing).

What next?

Reach out to the client to see about scheduling in some time to get answers to the questions or topics you’ve prepared. Ideally, you’ll have done enough research to know who it is in particular you’d like to interview (i.e., the product manager who handles marketing for the technology you’re writing about or the sales manager who can speak to some of the trends in consumer purchasing behavior for that sector, etc.).

While not necessary, it’s a good idea to send preliminary interview questions/potential blog post angles to the client in advance. This gives the client a head’s up about what you’re looking to cover and allows them to (at least mentally) prepare responses prior to the interview.

In recent years, for example, our team has attended a handful of tradeshows on behalf of one of our clients in the manufacturing sector – for the purpose of connecting with key thought leaders and industry experts and using those informal interviews to build out content for our client’s website.

We learned after our first year attending these events that everyone involved in the content interview process benefitted from seeing the interview material in advance. We streamlined the actual interviews with targeted questions (and, in some cases, could start drafting blog content that same day) and our clients could anticipate those questions and have their answers already prepared.

And then what?

As strange as it sounds, the actual interview is only the beginning of a successful content interviewcontent-marketer-journalism process. The real work comes when you parse through the material and start to connect the dots.

Let’s say you’re knee-deep in a content interview that’s going better than you could have ever imagined. You’re getting thoughtful, thorough responses to each of the questions you’ve prepared. You’re developing a solid understanding of the material being discussed. Hey, you feel like you know it so well that *you* could be the expert interviewed next time around (ha!).

And then you get back to your desk later on and…crickets.

Don’t let this be you! Make the content interview legwork easier on yourself by:

  • Recording the conversation (especially important when you’re conducting interviews in person (during a conference, tradeshow, etc.) and need to be able to jog your memory after the fact)
  • Asking a colleague to sit in on the interview and take/compare notes with you later on

The point is that a content interview is all but useless if you aren’t able to make heads or tails of the information discussed when you sit down to actually create the content.

Voila!

If you’ve gone about it right, you’ll end up with a piece of content that accurately captures the tone of voice and perspective of the client you’ve interviewed. Not only will the post lend expertise to the topic at hand, but it will have helped you learn more about your client’s industry, which will help you create better content down the road.

Just to be on the safe side (and as a professional courtesy), it’s always a good idea to send the finalized piece of content to the individual interviewed so that he/she can give it a once over before the post goes live.

This provides an opportunity for the client to add in any additional thoughts or tweak the language/messaging as necessary; it also validates that you’ve conveyed the material as intended by the person interviewed (or highlights problem areas where you may not have).

Final Thoughts

Let’s face it: With the convergence of paid and owned media, we’re all (everyone, anyone) in the business of publishing content. The challenge – and opportunity – for content marketers is to use the evolving digital landscape as a means to work that much harder, producing content that pushes the limits of “traditional” content marketing and enters into the realm of journalism.

What’s been your experience with content interviews? Have you used them for content discovery and/or to get the perspective of thought leaders in your clients’ industries?

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Scott Stone — Scott Stone, Advertising & E-Business Manager, Cisco Eagle

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