Better Content Comes From a Better Interviewing Process

Alison Schroeder

Content just doesn't generate itself. There are days I wish it did. But that's the absolute beauty of content marketing. Starting to build the story and the outline of the campaign from the ground up, digging for insight, ideas, concepts, and the guts to give the content its most important heft. One of the most obvious and important ways to create better content is to have a foolproof interview process that is both repeatable and authentic. Here are 10 ways to be a better interviewer in 2017.


The goal here isn’t to be creepy but informed enough on the topic and subject before you sit down to interview them. Know the parameters. Know the background. Know the context. Many subjects have a hard time talking about themselves (if the topic is specifically about them) so have a list of what I call “prodders,” or topics I want to know about based on their experience or background or what I know relates to the context.


Because having conversations with people is one of the best ways to garner even more content ideas, you need to remember who you’re writing for so you don’t go down rabbit holes that A) are irrelevant or B) are extremely interesting to you but won’t positively affect your persona. But – encourage tangents. This often helps the subject loosen up, and get to a place in the conversation he or she feels comfortable.


If you’re going to be studying and interviewing a subject in order to ghostwrite for them, you really have to shine here. Pay attention to what makes the subject pause. Stumble. Blush. Beam. Watch for what makes their eyes light up, and what makes them furrow their brow. And, pick up on the verbals too – you’ll start to recognize some favorite phrases, references or alluding to, metaphors, and styles of speech. While most of what ghostwriting offers are non-personal, clean, and direct forms of speech, knowing how your subject communicates is essential to the experience and helpful when personalization is required.


But if you do, coax them to answer like it’s an open-ended question! “When you say no, what exactly does that mean?” Or, “Yes. Yes to what? All of it? Some of it? Let me rephrase.”


A lot of interviews focus on certain industries, products, services, or specialties. It’s crucial to get the details here for jargon, acronyms, and other references that you have no idea what they mean. If your subject is on a tear with a particular response and you feel interrupting would affect the flow of conversation or topic, simply circle or highlight your particular question and save it for the recap portion of the conversation.


Recording phone conversations is easier because due to separation, you don’t have to even address it. But, when you sit down with someone, tell him or her what you’re doing. “I’m going to record this conversation simply for my sake to use for accuracy. I won’t use this anywhere else or share it with anyone.” Also, tap into your phone a time or two to ensure you’re still recording. Oh, and still take notes longhand. It would be weird to interview someone and not write anything down. Don’t be a weirdo.


They agreed to be interviewed by you, so they know enough about what you’re up to, and what you need them for. Still, preface every interview with even more detail. Sometimes, when that level of detail is shared, the subject might reconsider … which might be crappy at the time, but in the long run, you always want to be asking questions of the right person.


I hate to say it, but sometimes that charm just has to ooze. Be complimentary. Be appreciative. Share your awe and wonder of what your subject does, no matter how dull or inconsequential it may seem. Show an honest interest in what he or she is saying. Also, be real. If you are nervous by nature, work hard to overcome that prior to interviews. Tell your subject you’re nervous, but be professional about it. “I have never sat down with the CFO of a multi-million dollar company before, and I am pretty excited.” This will break a little tension and prove to your subject that you’re here to do a great job and might just be as uncomfortable as they are.


If you’re writing on a general topic, you have to know this one person is not the only expert. Ask for other interviews. If the subject you’re speaking to mentions others by name, trade, vocation, whatever, ask if there is a possibility of those individuals being open to an interview on the topic. Also, if you’re talking to a customer or employee who has nothing but beaming reviews and is an obvious evangelist, look to the detractors and defectors for the other side of the story. You’ll understand the subject/product/process much better if you can get that complete overview.


When you feel the interview has granted you every last detail you had hoped it would stop and recap. Take the time to review your notes, looking for the highlights or sections you need clarity on. Offer a high-level overview of what you asked your subject, and paraphrase their response. Ask if they had anything else to add – often, recapping previous portions of the interview will trigger another response or two the subject can offer.

Topics: Strategy & Campaigns