I have a very bad habit. I start blogs…and then I stop. There are no less than 6 Wordpress blogs out in cyberspace that have my name on them along with half-baked content and some images I took on my camera phone.
To my (undeserved) credit, they look pretty good. Matching color schemes, punny tag-lines and 5-15 posts and then…nothing. That’s because content is hard. It’s so hard.
I’m lucky enough to work with a bunch of growthhackers that have all kinds of tips, tricks and tactics for content creation and I want to share our very favorite tip for content inspiration… conduct interviews.
Interviews are incredible. A one hour interview can fuel multiple blog posts, social shares and case studies, and they provide an opportunity for natural co-promotion. Not to mention, they can be pretty fun.
1. Inspire multiple content pieces and affiliated social posts
2. Opportunity for cross-promotion
3. Fun & fast
Fun?? Maybe the idea of sitting down with someone you don’t know to talk for an hour sounds terrible. That’s perfectly normal too.
Which is why, in this post, I’m going to give you all of the steps you need to conduct your first or fiftieth interview complete with a list of downloadable resources to reliably record your conversations…most of them free.
I’ll also give you a list of ways you can repurpose your interview into multiple pieces of content and a few ideas for promotion. #win
1. Find the Right Influential Interviewee
When trying to decide who to interview, find someone who is insightful, influential and attainable.
INSIGHTFUL: When brainstorming possible people to contact, have an end goal in mind. Do you want to show how the average person uses your product? Do you want to speak with a someone who has expertise and is interesting to your Twitter followers. Choose the according people.
Try to select someone who is going to add to the existing conversation. Who is inspiring others? Who’s a mover and shaker that can share something you and your audience don’t already know?
INFLUENTIAL: Consider your interviewee’s audience size. Since you’re taking the time to interview someone and going to use their words on your own online properties, think about how this person can help promote your resulting content. Consider their social following and check out the numbers on their press kit. While these are most likely inflated, they’ll at least put you in the ballpark of what’s accurate.
ATTAINABLE: Also think about who is an attainable interview. When do you need content out by? Who is going to get back to you in time to meet that deadline? It’s awesome to have stretch goals and that one ideal person that might do an interview with you next November, but in the meantime, you need content NOW. Find someone who is willing to work with you in the short term.
For some inspiration, check out what the pros are doing. I personally love this interview from David at Rise to the Top who interviews Andrew Warner, someone who has built a successful business doing interviews on his show Mixergy. An interview about interviews? #meta.
2. Pitch an Influencer on Doing an Interview with you
So you’ve got your dream someone in mind and you’ve got to get them to agree to speak with you. As soon as you’ve narrowed down your interviewee, email them to set up conversation. You might be best friends with someone, but it’s always possible that they’re out of town for a week or slammed at work and won’t be able to accommodate your request. You need to know this ASAP, especially if you need to put out content by a certain date and/or time.
Your pitch for a potential interview will, obviously, vary by how well you know someone. For example, see below for how our Co-Founder, Conrad, asked Asad, Founder of 52Kards, to join him on a webinar.
Jon Haws of NRSNG.com includes data of how often his podcast is download (40K times per month) in his cold pitches. Keep things short, simple and to-the-point and if you have data that proves how an interview could benefit your interviewee’s audience, it can be helpful to include. Just don’t get too pitchy.
3. Essential Research to Prep for the Interview
Ever seen an old friend, asked them how their girlfriend/wife is only to find out they’ve split up? It’s awkward. Avoid this by doing research on your interviewee prior to your conversation. The research I do has three parts.
- Research the topic and the person’s role in the field so you can ask relevant questions
- Check out their LinkedIn
- Read through their personal website
- Conduct a Google search of their name and company
- Research the industry news around what they’re doing
- Google their topic
- Search the “news” tab in Google
- Check out links within their personal website and “go down the rabbit hole”
- Research a bit of personal information
- Read what you can on their Facebook (talk to mutual friends if it’s a high leverage interview)
- Check out what they’re Tweeting
- Find a picture of them so you don’t walk into a cafe and walk past them (done that, and it does NOT go well)
I also like this list of tips from Matador as a good starting place for conducting interviews.
Having something personal to shows that you care. Consider this, it makes a much better impression to jump on a call and ask someone about the heat streak running through Dallas than just: How’s the weather where you are?
It also shows you’re smart and did your research if you can ask specific and unique questions about their product and company.
4. Create Great Questions to Improve Your Interview Flow
Doing research will also help you prepare your questions. You want to ask both general and specific questions about what your person does in relation to the topic as well as logical and emotional questions so that your story incorporates feelings and facts. You’ll also want the questions to flow in a logical order.
Let’s break it down.
You don’t have to write it down, but you do want to start with a bit of small talk that relates to your interviewees life. That’s why you did the research on them in the first place. It will make both of you less nervous and give you a chance to turn up volume on microphones or fix bugs in the recording. Simple things, like I” see you’re a UK basketball fan” or “How’s the weather in Florida” are going to get both of you warmed up.
Continue to a broad question that relates to the start of their journey before getting into specifics. For example, when I interview course creators, the first thing I ask is “How did you get into teaching?” Also try, “How did you think of the idea that led you to starting the company?”
Then move into specifics and be prepared to generate questions on the spot to get to the unique aspects of the story. For instance, if you’re asking someone how they create homebrew, they might tell you how they produce higher and lower ABVS. But hopefully, you’ve done a bit of research and know how it’s calculated in the UK versus US and can ask which standard they use and why. These are the juicy details that your general audience won’t know but will want to!
I always end with something light and broad leaving an interviewee room to answer from the heart about an otherwise detailed topic. For example, if you had one piece of advice to give to someone like you, what would it be?
Below you can see an example of the questions I use when interviewing our Teachable instructors.
My goal for this particular interview was to dig into how a successful instructor created a course. I wanted to discover something unique they might have done that would work well for an informational blog post. I also wanted to ask why they used our product so that I could eventually create a case study, produce marketable testimonials and also figure out if there are any pain points that I should bring up in internal discussion.
While this seems like a lot of questions, the full interview lasted just over 45 minutes. Keep things moving and don’t take up too much of someone else’s time. Respect.
When writing your questions, make sure they’re not phrased to be answered with a “yes” or a “no”, or that’s all people will say.
Q: Do you use marketing techniques? A: Yes.
Q: What kind of marketing techniques do you use? A: Well, I use x, y, z because…
One elicits a much more detailed response than the other.
Here are some specific questions you should try:
Add this to any detailed question and/or response:
What’s your opinion on this?
Also, there are two killer questions you should use if you are conducting a case study focused on why someone chose your product:
- How did using [our product] help you achieve your mission?
- What was that “ah-ha” moment that made you chose [our product]?
Trust me, you’re going to get a stand-out pull quote and testimonial from both of these.
5. Don’t Mess Up the Interview…Find A Quiet Location
This sounds very simple, but many people forget how important a good location is. Don’t pick a cafe that’s loud and you’ll never get a seat at. Don’t pick an environment that’s too sterile. You want a location that is warm enough to invite conversation, but quiet enough to conduct an interview.
This might give you a good excuse to read a few blogs on nice cafes in your neighborhood!
If my interview is over the phone or Skype and I’m doing it in office, I book a phone booth or conference room immediately after the time is confirmed. We’re business people, we know how weird people get about conference rooms. It’s like a modern episode of Seinfeld every time a meeting goes over 5 minutes or when someone nabs your conference room and refuses to leave. George would be fuming.
6. Come Prepared to Conduct the Interview With These Tools
As important as asking the right questions, you’ve got to bring the right tools to record your interview, otherwise it was pretty much an embarrassing waste of time for you and the person you’re interviewing. Apologies for the bluntness, but I want to be honest with you.
Imagine an hour long interview with a huge influencer that gave great quotes that you just… lost. This kind of conversation cannot be replicated and it’s going to end up making a lot more work for you and everyone else involved while burning an important contact.
So, prepare yourself. PREPARE PREPARE PREPARE. Call me a Girlscout, because I’m coming to an interview ready.
My checklist includes:
- Technology set up to record the conversation
- A backup plan in case that fails
- My questions pulled up on screen
- Pen and paper for notes to self
- A laptop charger
- A phone in case everything falls apart and I need to call my interviewee or have a co-worker help with something
I’m also getting to the location AT LEAST ten minutes before the interview so I’m set up.
Now, maybe you’re wondering what the best way to record a conversation is…
I’ve done quite a bit of research on the best tools out there (and they’re mostly FREE!), and am happy to share to save you time. Download my sheet of resources for a face-to-face, audio and video interview below.
7. What to Focus on During the Interview
While I had a clearly organized and chronological set of questions, the actual interview varied quite drastically from the flow I imagined. This is expected. You have to find the line between pushing the interview in the right direction and letting conversation flow.
A good way to make this happen is to set expectations at the start of the interview. Communicate why you are conducting the interview so your interviewee is aware of your goal. They may completely disregarded it, but at least it’s out there.
I have one great trick for making sure I ask everything necessary. I start out by highlighting all the questions on my WordDoc in yellow and switching them to plain text as they are answered. This helps me easily see what I still have left to ask and what has already been answered.
I also live in the silence. Ok, that’s not as creepy as it sounds. Psychologically speaking, people feel uncomfortable with silence, so if you let a pause go, your subject will try to fill it. That’s where the good stuff is. I come from a journalism background where I sometimes I knew people were lying to me in my interviews and this was a small tactic I used to help uncover inconsistencies. While this tactic probably isn’t necessary in marketing interviews, it’s a good thing to know and do regardless.
People are much more genuine and honest when speaking off the cuff and rapidly instead of in prepared answers to your listed questions. Try it and you’ll be surprised by what you learn. NEVER EVER cut your subject off.
8. Grow Your Relationship by Following Up
A good interview isn’t complete without a follow up that’s going to build a relationship with your interviewee. Within 12 hours of the interview, send an email saying thanks. If possible, give a timeline of when related content might go live.
Also be sure to plant the seed for cross promotion by asking if they have any online properties they would like linked in an article. You don’t have to do this, but I think it’s good form if someone is going out of their way to speak with you. This also generates a feeling of reciprocity that encourages your subject to promote your work on their own properties. More on that in Step 10.
9. Create Multiple Pieces of Killer Content From a Single Interview
Now comes the fun part and the point of all of this….create some great content. You’ve got a juicy interview with direct quotes and hopefully a few new insights.
One tip I’ve learned is to pick a very small segment of the interview to build a post around. Think about it, if you’re trying to encompass and explain everything discussed in an hour long interview, your post is going to be huge, scattered and trying to cover so many topics that it’s not going to be good.
Instead, pick a small topic that makes the interviewee unique and build a blog post out of the special thing they did. For instance, when our Teachable CEO, Ankur Nagpal interviewed Nat Eliason about how he built his course earning 48K in one month, the interview was over an hour long. It discussed the course creation from start to finish…exhaustively.
However, the blog post I wrote from it was how Nat used Slack to build his online community. I only included a 7-minute clip of the interview. That post is our best performing post and over 200 people have listened to the audio clip.
You can compare the segment I chose with the full interview by checking out the post. Why Slack Is The Ultimate Tool To Build Your Online Community.
Remember, one interview DOES NOT mean one blog post. You can repurpose the interview into multiple pieces of content. For instance:
Think about it. With Jon Haws and NRSNG.com, our one 47-minute interview generated:
- First Blog Post: Podcasts (chosen from one small unique thing that Jon did in his course creation process)
- Second Blog Post: A general how-to post/transcription (quick to put together from a transcription I already had to do)
- Information for an infographic
- Case study
- Numerous Tweets
- 6 Facebook Posts
- Content upgrade from audio content
- Testimonial for homepage
- Research for this postInformation for an infographic
YAS! This is a great way to make your content work for you rather than you working for content.
While I’d love to take credit for this mentality, this mindset was brought to my attention by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman in their book Content Rules. As they say:
“View all of the pieces of content you plan to create as expression of a single bigger idea. Or, alternatively–if you are starting with something larger like a white paper or e-book–thing about how you can create smaller chunks of sharable content from that single content asset.”
I love this. It’s efficient while being in depth, good for an audience and yourself.
One thing I’d like to discuss is timing. Try to space out the dates on which you publish posts resulting from the same interview… if possible. It’s a bit weird to have a huge customer base and only talk about one for a few weeks straight.
Do what you can. Some content is better than no content.
10. Co-Promote Your New Content
One of the biggest reasons why you should conduct interviews is how naturally they lend themselves to cross-promotion.
Our online teachers are trying to avoid being seen as “salesy” at all costs. I love hearing this from our customers, because we feel the same way at Teachable internal. We run from internet marketing hacks and cheap ways to make money that aren’t sustainable or ethical.
As such, cross promotion should feel like a natural meeting of minds. That’s what an interview is. You and another influencer exchanging ideas about an industry, talking about the things that matter.
When the interview is done, hopefully you will mention your interviewees online properties and you might possibly email your list about a blog post based on the interview. Hopefully, this doesn’t come just as a favor, but rather because you believe in their content.
The benefit to you is that hopefully they feel the same and are willing to help promote your work. This can be a huge benefit to you. If you’re interviewing the right people, they might mention your product, link to you, or even help promote a deal you’re giving to their email list/Twitter followers/blog readers. This can spur hundred, maybe even thousands, of new views and clicks on your own website/product.
As a tip, if you have a good relationship with the person you’ve interviewed, ask for those mentions very clearly. Also, ask what they might say so you can prepare your site. You wouldn’t want to be mentioned on a huge mailing list on the same day you decide to revamp your website, right?
Be aware and prepare.
There are hundreds of various partnerships and cross promotion methods, but a few of the simplest are:
- Have the person you interviewed send the post to their email list with links (and maybe even a CTA) to your website/product
- Offer a discount to your interviewees audience on your own product
- Make social media work! Tweet at them when a post goes live and hopefully they will retweet and tweet on their own as well
For instance, we recently worked with SumoMe on a homepage experiment that increased conversion and they were happy to send our results to their list. We love the guys over at this company and both benefited from the results. We were the interviewee in this instance.
See how we incorporated their work into our email:
And how they published our results:
In case you missed it, here’s a link to download a list of online resources you can use to record your next interview… I’m going to assume I convinced you why they’re awesome :-)
This was a beefy post and I don’t want anyone to feel intimidated. Tell me your craziest interview stories in the discussion board below. I want biggest flops, mistakes and things that went…awry.