Why Most People Fail at Interviewing Influencers, and You Won’t

on February 18, 2014


Welcome to part 2 in my multi-part series “Influence Relations Through Content.” For more, read:

One of the formulas we’ve used at Spark Media Solutions for engaging with influencers is to simply interview them. Not only is interviewing a great way to make an introduction (it’s about them, not you), it’s also a great way to increase your own knowledge and understand the issues the influencer cares about. Plus, by publishing their wisdom on your site it raises your industry stature through association, plus there’s an implied endorsement because the influencer agreed to be interviewed by you. Lastly, you’re providing some value to the industry, which brings about good will.

We’ve found interviewing is the simplest and most direct way to build an influencer relationship. Key for success here is professionalism, quality production, making the influencer look good in your publication, plus follow up. The better you do across all of these elements, the stronger your influencer relationship will grow plus the influencer will start seeing you as a like-minded influencer. Here are the steps:

Step 1: Always be professional

This comes through at every single communication touch point. Keep it in mind when asking, conducting, and producing an interview.

Step 2: Be confident in your request for an interview

InterviewingInfluencers_2If you can’t pull this off right, don’t bother reading any further. If you blow this, you’ll never make it to the next steps. I’ve seen so many people stumble in just the request and that’s a very clear sign you’re not a professional and you don’t know what you’re doing. If you can’t do “the ask” properly in person or via email, you won’t get the interview. I no longer work for big media outlets, but I can get good interviews because I’m professional and straight forward about “the ask.” When you request an interview make sure you do the following: introduce yourself, your outlet, your desire for the interview, what  it’s going to be about, and what the time commitment is going to be. If possible and appropriate for what you’re trying to create, try to do the interview right then and there on the spot.

Step 3: Know your equipment

InterviewInfluencers_3I shoot a lot of video interviews. It can take less than ten seconds from the moment I ask for the interview to the point I can be recording. Whatever your medium is, know your equipment. If you’re just recording audio for a podcast or quotes, have your finger on the record button the moment you make the request for the interview. Test your equipment beforehand and make sure you’ve got lots of extra batteries.

Step 4: Make the subject feel comfortable

InterviewInfluencers_4Your subject will open up to you and give you a fantastic interview if you can demonstrate you know what you’re doing and are truly interested in what he or she has to say. This doesn’t require you to be an expert in the subject, but know enough to understand what are the top industry concerns and ask the questions that are on everyone’s mind, plus ask challenging questions of the interview subject that they’ll actually enjoy answering. For more, read “5 Interview Questions That Always Return Great Answers.”

If you’re a content marketer, your goal with any interview is to get the information you need in a good interview, and create a positive experience with the interview subject. I’ve had cases where my speed “from ask to interview” catches the subject off guard, they’re poorly prepared, and as a result they give a poor interview which is very visible on camera. When I know it’s going bad, I just stop immediately, tell the subject to relax, and that it’s my job to make them look good. That move alone always puts them at ease. The second take always goes better and they’re more appreciative of it. When the interview is over, reassure them that it went well and thank them for their time. If they were dead weight, and you realize they’re never going to give you or anyone a good interview, just end it and thank them for their time.

Step 5: Deliver a quality product

Your production style and quality level should match your brand’s professionalism. For example, a skateboard manufacturer interviewing a skateboarder can accept a rougher production, in favor of hipness. Conversely, a law firm must maintain a very high-end level of professionalism that veers towards reassurance. Both are quality productions as viewed by their respective audiences.

Step 6: Make the subject look good

InterviewInfluencers_6Once you publish the content of the interviewee, you have to make them look good. That means they have to be happy with what they see and will be eager to share the content you produced with their audience. Many factors come into play here. How professional is the site that’s hosting the content? Is it written well? Is it formatted well? Is the video/audio produced professionally? Do you link to the subject’s respective online properties (e.g., business site, blog, Twitter handle, etc.)? Did you put the subject in good company with other industry professionals?

Step 7: Follow up

This is where most people blow it and it’s the most critical part. You need to do all of the above enough times that it becomes second nature. You’ll never have the opportunity to conduct a follow up unless you’ve successfully pulled off the aforementioned steps. This is the part where you really extend the effort to let the content help you form that true influencer relationship.

Send a personal email and let them know that you’ve published their content. Make it easy for them to republish the content by pre-writing a tweet with a shortened URL, your Twitter handle, and possibly also a hashtag if you’re trying to get a conversation going. Create a different version for posting to Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus. Let them know that the content is free for their reuse. Pose questions to the audience in social media and tag the influencer in the questions. Your subject will appreciate you taking the initiative to get the ball rolling.

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