This is a guest contribution from Kerry Jones of CopyPress Community.
Interviews have become popular features on many blogs, and for good reason. In addition to being fresh content, interviews can help you build relationships with other experts in your niche, provide your audience with different perspectives, and encourage influencers to promote your blog. Recently, Darren even shared a few tips on how to get high-profile bloggers to agree to be interviewed for your site.
If you’d like to start incorporating interviews into your editorial calendar, take a look at these tips for creating an interview series that benefits both your subject and audience.
Six Tips for Hosting an Interview Series
Choose the Right Format
When you think of conducting an interview, an on-screen video format probably comes to mind. Video interviews can be an intimidating place to start since there’s a need for technical skills like lighting, audio, and post-editing. You can invest in the right equipment if on-air interviews will become a regular feature on your blog or hire a video pro to help with one-off interviews.
But still, not everyone wants to appear on camera (this might include you) and geography may prevent you from conducting in-person video interviews. Fortunately, technology allows for many alternate interview formats.
This is a smart choice for busy interviewees since it’s quick, can be done while they’re on the go, and it doesn’t require a huge commitment. To record the interview, use a recording app or make your call with Skype where you’ll have plenty of recording options. And always get someone’s consent before recording a call (it’s illegal not to in many places).
Conducting a virtual video interview may be the best option if you like the thought of an on-screen interview but don’t have fancy equipment or your interview subject lives far from you. Again, Skype makes this easy since you have plenty of ways to record it. Google Hangouts are another simple way to record a video interview. Plus, you can interview several people at once this way (great for a roundtable discussion).
Traditionalists may scoff at this, but using email to conduct interviews has become commonplace. You have a few options with this format. Either send a list of questions for the interviewee to fill out all at once, or ask one question at a time and respond with a new questions after receiving an answer. Keeping the questions short and few in number mean you have a better chance of getting them answered.
Yes, you can still interview people the old-fashioned way. If it’s convenient to meet up with your subject, it’s worth doing since an in person chat may yield the most natural answers. Don’t forget a recording device to capture the conversation and a notepad for taking notes.
Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ can all be used as public interview forums. Use social media to crowdsource questions or host a live Q & A session with the interviewee. From there, you can turn the questions and answers into a blog post.
Do Your Homework
People who are interviewed frequently get tired of answering the same questions. Avoid regurgitating information that’s already out there — don’t ask a question if a quick Google search about the person can yield the answer (especially when interviewing someone well-known). You can always include the easy-to-find information as a blurb about the subject as an intro to the interview.
Your questions should align with the person’s background, area of expertise, and interests. You don’t need to learn their life story in advance, but gathering biographical and professional information will help you craft questions. Here are a few places to look them up:
LinkedIn — to see their professional background. Look for the unexpected, like an interesting career change or an unusual skill set for someone in their field. Additionally, their recommendations from others can give insight into their work ethic and personality traits.
Twitter — to see what interests them. What topics do they frequently talk about? What types of people do they engage with? Even a Twitter bio can provide clues about someone’s passions in 140 characters.
Google — to see where they’ve been mentioned or published. Also look for any previous interviews.
Consider Using an Interview Template
Believe it or not, you don’t need to ask unique questions. Rather, you should focus on asking questions that will yield unique answers. Using a list of template questions can save you time and also provide structure to your interviews. This consistency in the interview format works especially well if you’re planning on an ongoing series.
Asking everyone the same questions works best if your subjects have something in common. For example, if you will only be interviewing writers, there are enough universal questions for this group that will also result in a variety of responses.
Some of the best blog interview series use a template:
Copyblogger’s “Writer Files” series also uses a template but since they ask questions that will get different answers for each interviewee, it works. They also write a brief introduction about each featured writer, which helps give some context to the interview.
Lifehacker’s “This is How I Work” series uses a mostly templated approach but the questions are so good and differ so much from person to person that every interview is unique (for example, they ask everyone to share a picture of their workspace).
Ask Open Questions That Solicit Detailed Answers
A skilled interviewer always digs for specific examples, asks questions that will produce detailed answers, and lets the subject do most of the talking. No one wants to read an interview full of “yes” and “no” responses.
Only ask questions that solicit a specific response. Questions beginning with “how” or the 4 Ws (what, when, why, where) accomplish this. Your subject shouldn’t be able to answer with “yes,” “no,” “maybe,” or “I don’t know.”
You still may receive vague responses despite asking probing questions. When you do get a broad answer from your subject, use a follow up question, like “Can you give me examples?” to steer them into giving a more specific answer.
Lead the Subject into Sharing Anecdotes
The true gems of interviews often hide within anecdotes, which can set apart a great interview from a bland one. But getting someone to open up about their personal experiences can be one of the toughest parts of conducting an interview.
Even if your subject is open to telling personal stories, they may need you to help jog their memory. Focus on asking questions that will trigger the interviewee to remember certain events and then recall those stories.
One word that’s sure to inspire anecdotes: when.
“When did you know this was the right career path for you?”
“When did you feel you were truly a professional writer?”
But you don’t need to limit yourself to wording everything as a question. Phrases like “Tell me how…” or “Describe a time…” are also effective for leading the subject to share anecdotes.
Include Text for Video and Audio Interview Content
When doing video or audio interviews, write up some highlights or transcribe the conversation. This can “tease” your audience into tuning in and also gives the search engines some text to crawl.
In the Travel Blogger Academy, they take the audio recording from an interview and turn it into a video using simple text and graphics. In the blog post, they use bulleted lists to tease readers with interview content. Any resources/tools mentioned in the interview are linked to in the post as well as links to the subject’s blog and social profiles.
Lastly, make sure to keep in touch after the interview. Give a timeframe or exact date for when the interview will be published. If you need an answer clarified, reach out to get a more in depth explanation.
Always send them a link to the interview once it’s published. And don’t be afraid to ask them to share it on their social networks — one of the biggest benefits of hosting an interview series is the potential to attract the subjects’ audiences to your blog.
Have you had success with hosting interviews on your blog? What do you think makes a compelling interview? Let me know in the comments below.
Kerry Jones is Tampa-based blogger and the Assistant Community Manager for CopyPress Community — a networking site, training portal and job board for freelance creatives. You can connect with her on Twitter and Google+.