Conducting an effective interview may not be what most people think of as a necessary marketing skill, but as organizations increasingly bring many elements of content marketing in house, it is a skill that can deliver outsized results.
Robert Rose, chief strategy advisor for the Content Marketing Institute, noted the growing trend to in-source content creation in the organization's insights for 2021. The surveyed B2B marketers also predicted the top area for content marketing investment in the year ahead will be content creation.
So as organizations strive to make their burgeoning internal content operations more efficient and measurable, marketers would do well to brush up on their content gathering, structuring, governance and reuse skill sets in their efforts to strike content gold.
Interviews Strike a Chord with Customers
Your primary purpose when conducting an interview is to gather interesting, engaging, surprising or humorous content which will attract the attention of your online customer audience.
You may decide to record the complete interview or you might edit the highlights, and then package up the recording as a podcast or a video on your organization’s website. Alternatively, you may be assembling written content, such as a blog or profile piece, so your emphasis is on capturing succinct and striking quotes and anecdotes from your interviewees. You may also consider several different content vehicles for the same interview, perhaps a blog that links to the audio or video of the full interview.
Here are six tips to consider when embarking on any interview. The recommendations fall into two categories: 1) advice on interview preparation and 2) best practices to follow during the interview itself.
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Preparation Lays the Groundwork for Content-Rich Interviews
The best starting point for creating any piece of compelling content is for marketers to agree on the type of content they want to use, the purpose of that content, its potential audience, and a customer action which the content could help initiate. Once this combination is agreed upon, in the case of an interview, the next step is to prepare for the upcoming discussion.
1. Confirm Your Interviewee Is a Good Fit for the Topic
So, you’ve come up with a great idea for a piece or several pieces of content. You also have a good sense of the type of individual, in terms of their role and responsibilities and the organization they work for, who could potentially supply interesting takes on the topics you wanted to address.
As you identify a specific person, before contacting them to request an interview, ask yourself again why this particular potential interviewee represents the best match for your planned content. You don’t want to waste anyone's valuable time if the interviewee is not a good fit.
“Be sure the person you’re talking to has the knowledge (and authority) to really speak about a topic,” said Barney Beal, content director at Oracle NetSuite, a cloud business software suite vendor. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been put in contact with a marketer or spokesperson who can’t answer questions in depth.”
2. Research Your Interviewee and Their Employers
Once you’re confident with your choice of interviewee, set aside some time to learn more about the individual, their prior work background, and the current organization where they are employed.
You can use this information to help you confidently develop potential topics of discussion and likely questions for your interviewee. This research will also demonstrate to the interviewee your genuine interest in both themselves and their organization as well as helping to establish yourself as someone who is both informed and curious to learn more from them.
“Do as much research as possible before you talk to the stakeholder about their area of expertise and themselves — what they’ve published, how many years of experience they have, etc.,” said Ahava Leibtag, president and owner of Aha Media Group, a content strategy and content marketing consultancy.
Digging into an interviewee’s online presence and postings can provide helpful background, said Ian Truscott, founding editor of online magazine Rockstar CMO and managing director of B2B agency appropingo.
Prior to interviewing guests for the Rockstar CMO FM podcast which he hosts, Truscott uses social media to research his interviewees. “And, I don’t mean a quick look at their job title on LinkedIn, but take a look at what they share, talk about, and what they are interested in,” he said. “It makes for a better, more natural interview if, in return for what you want from the conversation the interviewee can talk about something that they care about and will be comfortable with.”
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3. Clarify All Interview Logistics in Advance
As well as preparing yourself for the upcoming interview, make sure your interviewee feels fully briefed. Clearly communicate what they can expect from the interview and how you then plan to use their responses in your content. Explain and clarify all aspects of your own content policy to the interviewee and find out their organization’s requirements.
Do allow your interviewees the opportunity to do some advance prep work. “Of course, it’s good to have spontaneity in a podcast conversation but, if there is something specific you need to get, like some data or a question that needs a little thought, then what you get will be better if you let them know ahead of time,” Truscott said. “It avoids them feeling like they have been put on the spot, even if it might seem like a simple question or a casual ice breaker to you, it might kill the conversation or create a pause if it takes some thought.”
Best Practices to Help Guarantee Successful Content-Focused Interviews
Interviewing can be nerve-wracking and stressful for both the interviewer and the interviewee. You only have a limited amount of time to elicit as much useful information as possible from someone you probably don’t already know and who doesn’t know you either.
Start the interview by establishing the rules of engagement — introduce yourself, state the purpose of the interview, the reasons why you chose to engage with this particular interviewee, and recheck their availability for the planned duration of the interview.
4. Provide Context and Structure Around Your Interview
As you start the interview, have some structure in mind. You may have a list of questions or topics to run through, which you might have shared with the interviewee, but don’t assume they’ve had the time to review that document or to think about likely responses.
“Give some context to what you are doing so that the interviewee can gain a sense of what’s required, the tone you need, and to get a picture of how their content will be used,” Truscott said. “This builds trust, so you get a fuller quote or greater input from them. By sharing a little bit more about what you need, the interviewee may have some ideas that improve the piece that you might not have considered.”
Also be prepared to be somewhat flexible in your interview questions, because you won’t know in advance how the interviewee might choose to answer. “Come with predetermined questions, but follow the scent of information,” Leibtag said. “A tangent can result in detail-rich content.”
You’ll also want to be alert to any verbal or non-verbal signals from the interviewee that they’re eager to speak more about one area and less about another, or that they feel like they’ve talked enough and are ready to conclude the discussion.
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5. Use Open-Ended Questions and Practice Active Listening
In any interview, you want the interviewee to do the majority of the talking, ideally with them speaking for 80% to 90% of the time. By using open-ended questions, which can’t simply be answered by a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ you can encourage interviewees to share their thoughts. You can also judiciously use pauses or mirror their phrases to draw interviewees out still further.
At the same time, as the interviewer, you are in control of the interview. It is your responsibility both to keep the interviewee on track and to finish the interview on time. By concentrating fully on what the interviewee is saying, you are best placed to ask them relevant follow-up questions or to clarify their responses in the moment.
“Be sure to be an active listener,” Beal said. “Don’t just focus on the quote or sound bite you need, but ask about what motivated or excited the subject. Let them tell their story. Sometimes, the best content can come from places you didn’t expect.”
6. Develop Your Own Conversational Style
As with any skill, interviewing takes time to master, but one way of improving and developing your own style is by observing the techniques used by other interviewers, whether within your own organization or industry or in the mainstream media. Adopt what feels natural to you.
Look at how different interviewers put interviewees at their ease by greeting them warmly and responding appropriately to and following up on the information that they share. Alternatively, watch what happens when an interviewer spends far too much time talking or interrupting the interviewee or bombards the interviewee with a series of complicated questions.
Treat each interview as a conversation rather than a question-and-answer session. Your goal should be to make the experience pleasant for the interviewee, and hopefully they’ll be open to engaging with you again in future.
As you conclude the interview, acknowledge the value of the opportunity and thank the interviewee for their time. Let them know what happens next and always send them a link to the content based on the interview as soon as it appears online.