If you’re looking for a way to liven up your blog’s editorial calendar, few story formats beat the expert question-and-answer session. You’ll be able to bring your readers fresh perspectives, and you’ll have a good excuse to reach out to other thought leaders in your field, broadening your network.
But don’t think that the fact that someone else is in the spotlight means you get to take a break entirely. The difference between a ho-hum Q-and-A and one that really resonates with your readers is preparation and planning on your part.
Here are a few experience-tested tips from a journalist-turned-content marketer.
Find a great subject. Book authors, professors, business leaders at small and large businesses who are speaking at conferences, and even other bloggers can all be good Q-and-A subjects. Put yourself in the shoes of your typical reader: Who would they like to hear from? Be their advocate. Never assume someone isn’t going to respond to your request — social media has made connecting with once-remote leaders more accessible than ever before. Hop on Twitter and LinkedIn and reach out. Make them tell you no — or at least ignore three requests before you give up.
Be flexible about the logistics. Some people love to talk on the phone, and that’s how you’ll get the best answers from them. For others, e-mail fits their schedule and communication needs better. Adapt your format to your subject’s comfort level. If you’re conducting the interview orally, ask for permission to record it so you have a backup for your notes. (And I do mean BACKUP; there is no substitute for written note-taking.)
Tailor the questions. While it’s fine to have a few stock questions you always ask, your Q-and-A will be much richer if you develop three to five questions specific to your subject and audience. At least skim your subject’s book, if she has written one. Visit his website or blog. What is she most passionate about?
Keep questions simple and open-ended. Yes-or-no questions are unlikely to yield the sort of rich responses you’re going for. Think “how” and “why.” Also important: Stick to a single issue at a time. You only get one question per question, so to speak. Some of my favorites sample questions: What is your most important piece of advice for anyone just starting out in your industry? What do you see as the biggest trend on the horizon in your industry? What has surprised you most about leading a successful organization?
Edit before you publish. Few people speak perfectly. Odds are, you’re going to need to edit the interview to make the subject’s responses more succinct, correct his grammar and fill in any gaps with outside material. Be sure to clearly identify the post as an edited version of the conversation and give the subject a chance to review the final version before publishing.
Mary Ellen Slayter is managing director and founder at Reputation Capital Media Services. Before creating her own content-marketing firm, she served as director of content development and a senior general business and finance editor at SmartBrief. Follow her on Twitter @RepCapital.