How to boost your traffic, subscribers, credibility, and yes, SEO, with interviews – Part 2
By Susan Johnston Taylor, Freelance Writer
Hopefully after reading my previous post on the value of interviews for business writers, you’re convinced. But before you begin, you probably want to prepare. Here’s what to do before and during your interview to ensure things run smoothly.
Before the Interview
First you need to identify potential interview subjects. If you’re writing a case study or white paper, you probably need to interview your client’s customers or employees. In that case, the client will typically offer introductions to those contacts. But if you’re interviewing “real people” or experts, you might need to find those subjects on your own.
For my Find A Way Media interview series, Chris and I keep a running list of potential experts. These include writers I know through the American Society of Journalists and Authors, or the Freelance Success network, and writers Chris and I admire. If it’s someone in Chris’ network, he’ll email the person to gauge their interest and then pass them along to me once they’ve agreed to an interview.
You can also find experts on a range of topics through services like ProfNet, Help a Reporter, Expertise Finder, and the Women’s Media Center. Also look at Amazon to see what authors have new books coming out, because they’re likely making the rounds doing interviews as part of the launch.
If you want to interview someone who’s not in your network, you can often find an email address or contact details via their website. You could also InMail them on LinkedIn or use a service like Anymail Finder to track down an email address.
Sometimes you’ll need to request an interview via a gatekeeper like a publicist. For instance, when I interviewed Seth Godin, he was a few months away from launching a new book, so I’d already gotten an email about the book from a publicist at Penguin Random House. She had pitched me an interview with Seth for an old client of mine, so I wrote back asking if he’d talk to me for Find a Way Media instead. For big-time authors, you can typically contact the publisher and they’ll funnel you to a publicist if the author is granting interviews.
Whether you’re contacting the person directly or through a publicist, customize the ask. For instance:
I listened to your interview on X podcast and loved your insights about how B2B marketing is evolving. Any interest in setting up a short phone interview to share more about this with our readers? Read my past Q&As here. I anticipate this will take about 15-20 minutes, and I’m happy to plug your upcoming book.
See how I appealed to the person’s ego and their desire to self-promote? Sincere flattery works!
If I’m writing a profile about a local person, I’ll sometimes conduct interviews in person so that I can include details about the person’s gestures and other mannerisms. But in most cases, it isn’t practical for us to meet, so I propose a phone interview. Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts work, too, but some people are self-conscious about talking into a webcam, so they might feel comfortable on the phone. I interviewed Rebecca L. Weber and Mridu Khullar Relph via Skype since they’re based outside the U.S. Always confirm time zones for a phone call to avoid confusion.
If a subject prefers an email interview and the client agrees to it, I’ll conduct the interview that way. But I generally find that a phone chat leads to a deeper, more candid conversation and gives me the opportunity to immediately follow-up on any questions that arise. If the person agrees to a phone interview but asks me to send questions in advance, I make it clear that these questions are simply a jumping off point and I’ll likely ask follow-ups as the conversation unfolds. That way they can get a sense of what I’m planning to ask without giving purely canned responses. If they have lots of questions about the format, approach, and so on, I send links to past Q&As as an example.
During the interview
I generally schedule an appointment for an interview so I’m not catching someone off guard or playing phone tag. When I call at the scheduled time, I generally start by thanking them and asking if they’re still available to chat. Ideally I want the person’s full attention, so if they’re in the middle of operating on a cat (as happened once when I interviewed a veterinarian) or comforting a screaming toddler, I’m happy to call back later. Once I know that they’re not putting out any literal or figurative fires, I verify the spelling of their first and last name and their job title. If I’m unsure what pronouns they use, I’ll ask that, too. Then I’ll dive into meatier questions.
I’m a pretty fast typist, so if I just need to get a quick quote or verify some background information, I’ll type up notes as I listen to the interviewee. But for Q&As, which will include large sections of direct quotes, I record the interview (with the source’s permission) so I can get it transcribed. Then I keep an eye on my recording app throughout the call in case the app crashes, since it occasionally does. I also type notes even when I’m recording in case something goes wrong.
At the end of the interview, I ask if there’s anything else the person wants me and my readers to know about them or their work. Sometimes this can be the most interesting part of the interview. For instance, when I interviewed Anna Goldsmith Stern, she mentioned organizing TEDx Portsmouth and how she’s used her copywriter background to help people share their stories onstage.
In wrapping up the interview, I again thank them for their time, ask them to email me a headshot, and let them know that I may be in touch with follow-up questions. For instance, if they mentioned someone by name and I want to confirm the spelling of that person’s name or if the recording has some fuzzy sections, I’ll email to fill in any gaps.
Then, once the interview transcript is ready, it’s time to start writing!
This may sound like a long list, but the more you conduct interviews, the easier it gets. Pretty soon, remembering to verify someone’s job title and thank them for their time becomes second nature.
This is part two of our series on interviews for business writers. In part one, we explained how interviews can improve your content’s credibility and shareability. In part three, we’ll look at how to get the most mileage out of your material.