How do you interview people for your blog?

One question that I encounter occasionally from neophyte bloggers is about one of the most powerful methods of building content and also (shhhh) one of the best ways to build up some very high quality inbound links for your weblog: interviews.
Now I’m not talking about bringing your camera crew and lining up some local production team to help the “location shoot” look great (though if you’re at that level you doubtless already know what I’m talking about) but more the humble interviews built around either email or phone-based question and answer sessions.
Standard approach is to identify a half-dozen or so celebrities or highly visible people in your market and ask them directly if you can interview them. Generally, this is a good place to slip in an ego stroke or two, like “I’ve been talking about your new book for a year now, it’s so great” or “really appreciate your insight on the current bond market” or “I’m really interested on how you gained your sharp perspective on politics”. Think of it as grease on the wheels, perhaps.
Why approach more than one? Because some folk will just ignore your request or reject it, sometimes because they want to be paid and other times because they’re either buffeted by these sort of queries or just uninterested in you and your project. No worries, lots of other people say ‘yes’ so you should have success!
As part of your invitation to be interviewed, I encourage you to highlight that you’ll do the production work (formatting the final document, editing the audio, whatever) and that you’re then happy to make that available for their own promotional purposes. This gives them a further incentive and since there’s no cost other than time, if you flub it up horribly, they can always skip referencing it on their own site / newsletter.
Making participation easy and efficient is a definite win and will increase the chance of you succeeding in your fledgling interview efforts.
I prefer email interviews, personally, because I’m a text guy so I’ll tell you that my secret here is to ask if I can interview them, then send them a list of 10-12 questions and highlight “if you don’t like these questions, edit them, skip ones that aren’t interesting and add new ones if you’d like”. This lets them help move the interview towards areas they want to highlight and I can always mail back “one more question” if they are skipping an area that I think is of particular importance. More importantly, since I’m not seeking a Pulitzer for investigative reporting, it lets them retain some control of the interview too.
For a phone-based audio interview you can use the same general approach by emailing questions in advance of the call. This also lets you ensure that your interview goes well because your subject has had a chance to prep and perhaps pull together some notes. You can do the same: have your homework in front of you so instead of saying “you have a big company” you can say “Your company sold $35.3 million worth of widgets last year…” or similar and sound smart. And that’s undoubtedly a good thing.
Finally, when you are done, spend the time and effort to clean things up, edit for coherence, spelling and grammar (as appropriate), clean up audio passages to chop out the ums and ahs, the interruption from the cellphone call at minute 13, etc. Then send a copy of it to the interview subject simultaneous to publishing it, with your gracious thanks for their participation.
For bonus points, you can also ask them if they have any colleagues who would enjoy being interviewed, and if so, whether they could perhaps send out a quick introduction for you. That can open doors that you might otherwise never even know are there.
Finally finally, a quick example: my interview with Spain Dad, which came out of us connecting and me being surprised at the level of personal information he published on his blog. I think it’s an interesting interview. Do you?

5 comments on “How do you interview people for your blog?

  1. Great article, Dave!
    As a follow up question, what about releases? Are they needed?
    What are the basic guidelines and required steps to make sure we do things right from day one and not only respect the interviewee, but cover ourselves from future problems due to oversights as we go forward enjoying our journalistic pursuits?
    I’m working on an upcoming blog project that will become a book and possibly a DVD, so what’s standard procedure for interviewing people and covering all the bases for using their content in our blogs and other ways beyond the blog?
    Thanks, and have a great summer!
    Dave Cynkin
    CMO, Sleep Deprivationist & Thrill Seeker
    BlogWorld & New Media Expo

  2. Hey Dave, thanks for your question! I would say that there’s really no way to really “cover yourself from future problems”. That’s the recipe for never going out on a limb at all, I think, and blogging is timely if it’s anything. At least, good blogging is. 🙂
    Your project sounds great, and I would say that if what you’re going to do is interview people for both online and print media, just make sure you let them know up front and even offer some rudimentary release that details ownership of intellectual property, etc. For example: can they publish your interview on their blog? Are you going to share any profits generated by your book and DVD project?
    Might be useful to get a lawyer to help you on a basic paragraph or two but DO NOT send out a fifteen page legal release because your interview subjects will freak and say no. Not good.

  3. Thanks Dave! That’s good advice.
    I’ve been reviewing some releases used by various authors just to get a feel for what’s commonly used, and yes, there are definitely some way overboard, none-too-friendly looking ones that I’d like to avoid.
    I want to keep the interviewing fun. Nothing kills joy like a lengthy CYA document. 🙂
    Dave Cynkin

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