Adam Fisher
26th October 2018 - 7 mins read
I

’ve woken up with content ideas in the middle of the night, half-way through a gym session and while eating dinner. One of the best ways to create content, however, is to interview people. 

Not only can these be written up as a straight interview, like this example from our magazine, but you can also use them to breathe life and add fresh impetus into existing content ideas. And invariably, as you carry out more interviews, you will find you spot more content ideas through the people you talk to. 

Whether it is people in your own organisation or key influencers in the sector, getting the views, opinions and personalities of other people into your content can offer your readers something strong and different.

But how do you carry out an effective interview if you don’t have a journalism background?

I’ve worked as a journalist and now create content for Thirty Seven and its clients.

Here are my tips for successful content creation interviews:

 

Avoid the word ‘interview’

I’ve always tried to avoid using the word ‘interview’.

As a journalist, I found that it was a word that made people nervous.  It has a formal feel and conjures up thoughts of job interviews or politicians being torn apart by Jeremy Paxman on TV. 

On occasions, it would stop people from talking to me altogether.

However, if I said something like ‘have you got a few minutes for a quick chat’, I would get a much better response.

I’ve found this theory is the same when it comes to content creation. If I use the word ‘interview’, I might typically get a response like ‘I wouldn’t know what to say’.  If I say ‘I just want to get your thoughts on…’ they are generally up for the idea.

It all goes back to making sure the person you are interviewing, or wanting to interview, is relaxed.

 

Start off gently

There is a good chance that the person you will be talking to will not have done an interview before or had any form of media training (something our sister company Media First can help with).

That means that while I’m still going to take a journalistic approach to the interview, I’m going to start more gently than I would when faced with an experienced media spokesperson.

I’ll be looking to ask questions that hopefully put them at ease, help them to relax and open up and encourage them to share their thoughts.

I tend to think on my feet and if I feel they are growing in confidence I may go for some harder questions. If not, I’ll continue with open, gentle questions which encourage them to keep talking.

Whatever their confidence level, I won’t look for the curveball question that I may have used as a journalist.

 

Don’t share questions in advance

You will find conflicting advice about this in other blogs about content creation.

But, I really don’t believe in sending interviewees a list of questions I’m planning to ask in advance.

In my experience, doing this ensures scripted responses which won’t capture the conversational tone you need to aim for.

And, as I have already mentioned, I don’t prepare my own questions in advance.

I’m not completely heartless though. I will give them an overview of what I am looking for and hope to cover ahead of the interview. 

If conducting a #ContentMarketing interview, don't share the questions you're going to ask before-hand. It ensures you create a conversational tone and avoid scripted answers. Via: @37agency

 

Focus

It might sound needy, but when I carry out an interview I want the interviewee’s undivided attention.

There is nothing worse than when someone is in full flow, telling a great anecdote or story which will bring your content to life, and suddenly they are distracted by an email appearing on their screen or a phone call for example.

So, if I can, I always strive to carry out interviews away from their desk. Perhaps there is a meeting room you could use in your building, or you could possibly meet in a coffee shop.

I’ve even arranged to meet interviewees at their home to keep them away from the distracting work environment.

Similarly, I try to make sure they have got plenty of time for the interview. Finding that you have been given a 15-minute slot sandwiched between two meetings will result in a distracted interview.

 

Be curious

I have recently found myself writing content about office designs and workplace trends.

This is a subject I have not encountered in my career, despite some of the newspaper offices I have worked in being completely dingy and in desperate need of refurbishment.

So I was a little unsure of how this would go. But then my journalistic curiosity came into play and I wanted to find out what lay behind the statements I was being told.

I found myself asking lots of open questions, many of which began with ‘why’ or ‘how’ - part of the 5Ws and an H which form the basis of most lines of questioning (what, when, who, why, where and how).

Why should a modern officer contain lots of greenery? How does that improve the health of the office worker?

To adapt an old proverb, while curiosity killed the cat, lack of curiosity killed the reporter, or in this case the content producer.

 

Look out for sound bites

When we use the term sound bites in written content, we are talking about those all-important quotes that could potentially make your content stand out.

A good quote can make a punchy headline or perhaps some pull-out quotes that can be used to break up sections of content.

But, often people don’t talk in complete sentences or are not concise, which can mean finding these quotes can be tricky.

There are a couple of tricks I use.

The first is that I may suggest I have missed their last point, perhaps by saying something like ‘my shorthand isn’t what it used to be’ and ask them to repeat it in the hope they deliver something stronger second time around. 

The other approach is to re-phrase it for them. Once they have finished their point, I’ll say something along the lines of ‘so what you are saying is’ and look to produce a summary of what they have just said that better lends itself to being a quote.

If they agree with that summary then I can put the sentence I have reworded in their name.

 

Get it all down

As a former journalist, I have the advantage of being able to use shorthand when I carry out interviews.

I’ll admit my shorthand ability isn’t what it once was –neglected by years in newspaper managerial roles and a move to PR - but even if I was still capable of producing 100 words per minute, I would still look to record interviews I carry out for content production purposes to ensure I capture everything that is said.

Always make sure, however, that the interviewee is happy to be recorded.

 

Keep it conversational

I want my content to have a conversational tone.

That means that if I’m going to have lots quotes from my interviewee in the blog then I need them to be in the sort of everyday language they would use when talking to friends or family.

Industry jargon, management speak and acronyms could make great swathes of text unusable. Again, getting them out of the workplace and helping them to feel relaxed can help with this.

It also means that while I’ll have an idea of what I’m going to ask and may have some prepared questions to use as a guide, my interview is not going to be scripted.

A pretty sure fire way of making a conversation stilted is for the interviewer to make their way through a great shopping list of questions.

I want to be able to adapt as we go along and explore things that come up in conversation that I may not have considered and veer off in a direction I may not have imagined – you never know where this might lead.

 

Avoid group interviews

Group interviews are a nightmare for the content creator.

While the interviewee might prefer the ‘safety in numbers approach’, the result is typically a series of incomplete quotes as the subjects talk over each other and finish each other’s sentences.

And I think you also miss out on a lot of the personality that comes through when you talk to one person face to face.

It may be more time-consuming, but I would rather interview the people separately and then stitch together what they have said to form my content.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Marketing

10 tips for mastering a Twitter Q&A

Aimee Hudson 3rd October 2017 — 8 mins read
B

ritish Gas, Seaworld, JP Morgan and author EL James are among those who, to put it politely, have seen their social media chats trend for the wrong reasons.

So, what can we learn from these social media disasters? How can you do it right?

 

Timing

Timing is a key component for social media Q&A success. Holding an interactive session when you are already creating headlines in the traditional media for the wrong reasons is a recipe for disaster.

British Gas was the victim of one of the more memorable scheduling disasters, opting to give customers the opportunity to ask Customer Services Director Bert Piljls questions on the day it announced a 9.2 per cent price hike.


The #AskBG hashtag was used by thousands of customers airing their grievances and those who took the opportunity to poke fun at the energy giant.

The lesson here is clear - these social media sessions should be restricted to when you either have good news to tell or when you are not in the news at all.

 

Right person

In the same way you need the right person for media interviews, you must think carefully about who you are going to put forward for question and answer sessions.

You need someone who is senior enough to make decisions so that bland, generic responses can be avoided.

And some natural humour can be helpful.

But you also need someone who you can trust and who will need little moderation.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary is no stranger to controversy and a Twitter question and answer session a few years ago predictably created plenty of headlines.

Most controversial was his comment of ‘nice pic. Phwoaaarr’ to a question from a female customer, which led to allegations (and headlines) of sexism.

 

Memorable hashtag

Memorable hashtags can promote and create a buzz about your question and answer session. Ideally you want something short but still descriptive.

You should also check the hashtag is not being used for anything else.

And perhaps most importantly of all, make sure it can’t be misread – a lesson the promoters of singer Susan Boyle could have done with before they opted for #Susanalbumparty.

 

Show some self-awareness

Not every post you receive in these sessions is going to be on the subjects you want and some may mock what you are trying to achieve.

The key is to not take yourself too seriously and to respond with similar humour.

Although not strictly a question and answer session, Waitrose responded cleverly when its #WaitroseReasons hashtag was hijacked by posters making fun of its upper class reputation. It said it had found the tweets ‘funny’ and had ‘enjoyed reading most of them’. 

 

Prepare for the negatives

As with media interviews it is important to spend time considering the negative issues which could arise during the question and answer session.

Prepare lines to take which can be given in response and consider creating a page on your website which you can link through to for answers needing more than 140 characters.

 

Wider issues

As well as possible negative topics, it is also worth considering the wider issues which could arise during the question and answer session. These could be issues affecting the wider sector or perhaps some new Government policy which could have an impact on the industry. Currently, you could face questions about the impact Brexit or Donald Trump might have on the sector. Prepare some lines to take for these wider issues.

 

Not suitable for everyone

While a question and answer session may seem like a great way to boost engagement and get positive messages out, it is not a format that is suitable for everyone.

If your brand or area of work is divisive, the session will act like a magnet for critics and keyboard warriors.

When 50 Shades of Grey author E.L James held a Twitter Q&A it is fair to say it did not go to plan. As well as plenty of users taking advantage of the opportunity to question her writing ability, the author was also faced with more serious questions about her books promoting an abusive relationship.

Similarly, when SeaWorld held a #AskSeaWorld session it backfired massively, with people taking the opportunity to bring up animal welfare concerns and ask when the park would be closing down.

 

Promote

You need to promote your question and answer session ahead of the event. Begin posting about it a few days in advance using the hashtag you have opted for - this has the added benefit of enabling you to see any questions which come in early.

Also use your email lists and other social media networks to raise awareness of the sessions and encourage your employees to tell their friends.

 

Don’t be afraid to walk away

About the only thing JP Morgan got right about its infamous Twitter Q&A session was deciding to abandon the idea 24 hours before it was scheduled to take place.

The company found itself inundated with negative posts when it promoted a live chat with one of its executives, which was intended to be about leadership and careers advice.

 

With questions including ‘did you have a specific number of people’s lives you needed to ruin before you considered your business model a success?’ it was clear it had completely lost control of the hashtag.

Sensibly it took the decision to prevent further damage by returning to the drawing board.

 

Crisis plan

If your question and answer session does go ahead and goes horribly wrong, make sure you have a crisis plan in place to limit the damage, including how you will manage the media if it sparks their interest. 



We realise that these examples of social media Q&As could put you off holding one of your own. But that is not the aim. The idea is to make you aware of risks so that you can prepare for them and avoid making similar errors.

We firmly believe Q&As can generate highly productive conversations which can develop excitement around your brand and products. It just needs considered planning to avoid the pitfalls.

Mark Mars, Managing Director of Thirty Seven, said: “Just like an in-person press conference or an open discussion, Twitter Q&As provide a way for the audience to ask questions and hear responses directly from the host. But, all you need is Twitter. And anyone can do it.

"A Twitter Q&A is a great way to engage with your audience as it allows them the opportunity to talk to you in real-time conversation, in a more human way.

"Twitter Q&As are a great opportunity to get insightful feedback and for your audience to know you are taking their views seriously."

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Adam Fisher
2nd February 2018 - 5 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.