Information based on interviews with subject matter experts (SMEs) adds credibility and depth to marketing content. An SME interview can be critical to creating content that helps readers solve problems or gain an understanding of a product or service.
An SME can impart a wealth of detailed, technical knowledge during an interview. It’s the writer’s job to distill this fountain of information into easy-to-understand messaging that benefits the audience. Writers bridge the knowledge gap between SMEs and end users.
A productive SME interview requires some planning and preparation to ensure the expert is comfortable answering questions and providing a unique perspective without veering off topic. The interviewer’s responsibility is to guide the SME and keep the interview on point.
Following are five best practices that can help marketing professionals, brand journalists and freelance writers conduct a quality SME interview every time.
1. Tighten the Topic and Set a Time Limit
Stick to a focused, predetermined topic and a clear time limit for the subject matter expert interview. The allotted time will vary depending on the subject and the content, but most SME interviews for blog posts, online articles and white papers can be accomplished within 30-60 minutes.
The goal is to extract the precise information necessary to create helpful, meaningful content for the reader or end user. Narrowing the interview’s scope will make it easier to write because there will be less fluff to wade through later.
2. Prepare and Provide Interview Questions Ahead of Time
It’s to be expected that the SME will know a lot more about your topic than you do, especially if you’re writing about a new product or service. However, whether you’re a journalist or the company’s marketing content creator, there is also some expectation that you will have (or will quickly gain) a general understanding of the subject matter.
Research your topic well enough to craft insightful questions for your SME. Keep in mind the audience your content will target. What level of expertise do they already have on the topic? Direct the SME questions accordingly so that your final piece of content will demonstrate the appropriate level of detail.
Aim for focused, open-ended questions. For example:
- What was the impetus for XYZ Company to launch (product or service)?
- What environmental decisions went into the design of (product)?
- What specific customer pain points are you solving with (service)?
Send your questions to the SME at least a day or two ahead of the interview so there’s plenty of time for them to read, consider and prepare thoughtful answers.
3. Let the SME Know What to Expect
When you send the interview questions, remind the SME of the overarching purpose of the interview (i.e., to inform the public of a new product or service) and of the reason why the SME’s expertise is so valuable to the content.
Reiterate the time limit you’ve set for the interview. It’s always nice to express thanks for the SME’s time and willingness to participate. This helps establish rapport and build a trusted relationship for future collaborations.
4. Record, Recap & Request Final Thoughts
It’s helpful to record the interview if possible, so you can focus on listening and asking relevant follow-up questions as needed. Video conference platforms like Zoom make recording easy, and you won’t have to rely on your memory or hastily scribbled notes when you sit down to write your article.
Make sure you get the gist of the SME’s answers by providing a quick recap of the main points during the interview. You’ll feel more confident in your final content if the SME has confirmed your understanding of the topic. Ask for clarification on anything you’re unsure of and check for gaps in the information provided.
Before you end the interview, ask the SME if there are any additional thoughts or points you didn’t cover that would be helpful for your content. Sometimes you’ll gain an additional nugget of wisdom!
5. Confirm Next Steps
The last step of the interview is to confirm what will happen next. Give the SME the option to review the draft of your article before it’s published. Some will, some won’t, but it’s always a good practice to offer.
Let the SME know when to expect a draft to review (if they’ve agreed to it) and the planned date of publication.
After Content Publication
Once the content is published, send the SME a link to your article with a thank-you note.
Let them know it was a pleasure to work with them and ask if you can tap them again for future assignments. If they say yes, you’ve just added an expert source to your network. Win!
Encourage the SME to share the published content on LinkedIn and other platforms. It’s good exposure for everyone involved.
Jen Breitegan has spent her entire career in marketing communications and public relations, working in industries including healthcare, technology, professional sports, retail and education. She is experienced in writing web and blog content, press releases, advertising copy, social media content, internal and external newsletters, and email marketing. Her passion is in connecting a brand or business to its audience through the sharing of helpful, insightful information in an authentic and relatable way.
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