Escape the content rat race: How to master subject matter expert interviews

Do you know the most common approach to creating blog content, and why it fails? Most companies focus on their target SEO keywords above everything else, and expect their writers to shoehorn creativity and originality into a dry content brief. 

All too often the rush to conquer Google’s search algorithm means writers end up rehashing content that’s already been published by their competitors. There’s little time or effort available for finding alternative opinions or coming up with unique insights.

I like to call this the content rat race’’. 

Even if these articles succeed in ranking for their target keywords, most readers will be underwhelmed by the quality. If you’re a tech company with a shrewd audience of IT executives, what happens when they come across generic content such as 5 Tips for Successful Digital Transformation’’? They’ll run away and never come back.

The solution to creating high-quality content is closer than you think. I believe your subject matter experts are the key to creating practical, relevant content that will impress even the most discerning audience. In this article, we’ll discuss how to unlock a wealth of knowledge and ideas from these experts that will literally transform your content. 

What makes good content?


First let’s examine what “good content” actually means. Some typical characteristics of a good article or blog post are:

  • Unique insights and genuine information that gives the reader real value.

  • Presents refreshing or alternative viewpoints on a well-worn topic.

  • Introduces the company or its products and services to the reader in a persuasive yet non-salesy way.

Many companies fail because they ask their writers to hit these goals without having expert knowledge of the subject matter. This is especially true when it comes to cutting-edge tech topics where there isn’t much existing literature. On top of this, most in-house writers may not know all of the intricate details of how your product or service is positioned. And freelance writers are unlikely to be able to uncover unique insights into a topic that they’ve never encountered before.

Stand out from your competitors: interview your subject matter experts


The most effective way to master great content is to start by interviewing actual subject matter experts (SME) inside the company. This is the approach we use here at LeadWave to help our clients stand out from their competitors. Working closely with subject matter experts allows us to:

  • Get real, authentic insights on topics the expert knows inside out.

  • Understand how to approach the topic like an industry insider.

  • Generate new and original angles on well-worn material.

  • Come up with tried-and-tested practical tips that give real value to readers.

Based on our experience with client interviews, here are three strategies to help you get the most out of your expert interviews.

1. Let your audience “show up” to the interview


Writers typically prepare for an interview by trying to understand as much about the subject as possible. The thinking is that this will help them ask smart questions and get the most out of their short time with a busy executive. 

Yet this approach doesn’t always get the best results for your audience. During the interview with your subject matter expert you need to think like your audience. What kinds of questions are they asking? What are the top challenges they need help with right now? And how can your SME’s knowledge and experience make their lives easier?

Keeping your audience in mind as you prepare for your interview will help you to:

  • Frame the interview in a way which makes sense to their job role or their understanding. Often it’s helpful to ask basic questions about a topic, especially if your target audience is entry-level employees or covers a wide range of job roles. Giving helpful and straightforward answers to complex questions will help your content stand out from competitors who haven’t taken the time to fully understand the topic.

  • Provide practical advice and information that genuinely helps your audience. By keeping their exact needs and requirements in mind, you can construct content that is actually helpful.

  • Create new angles and original insights. By channeling your reader you can also help to draw out unique ideas from your SME interview. Not being an expert in this particular field gives you the freedom to question assumptions and draw comparisons with other areas you may have expertise in. Here it’s important to work together with your chosen expert and see where you can come up with something that’s different from the usual opinions already dominating Google.

2. Go for a relaxed conversation, not an interrogation


Time pressure and wanting to make a good impression can lead writers to treat the interview as an intensive Q&A. The problem with this is that it can stifle originality and genuine insights.

A better approach is to imagine the interview as a relaxed conversation with a friend. This allows you to be flexible and pursue new angles as they come up naturally. Here’s a few tips for designing the structure of your interview so you get the most out of it:

  • Interview questions are important, but they should be there to keep you on the main subject matter. Feel free to explore angles that seem interesting, but if you feel like the interview is going down a dead-end you can always return to the questions to get back on track.

  • Rely on your expert’s extensive knowledge and experience to guide the interview. Ask your expert how they would approach the subject, and how their views align with the perceived wisdom already out there. Look for areas where their ideas differ from the established norm, and ask questions about the broader context and examples from their broad experience in this area.

  • It’s also important to set up this interview as a first step in a longer conversation. Adopting a more flexible approach allows you to build a relationship with your expert which can help pave the way for future communication. This is good practice for any working relationship, and it’s especially important when you are reliant on SMEs to produce accurate and reliable content. Ideally you will want to run the finished piece by them to get their feedback before it gets published anywhere.

  • Think about how you will record your notes from the interview. It’s usually a good idea to record your interviews so you can access the full content later when you come to write up the piece. Taking detailed notes during or straight after the interview can also help you come up with additional ideas or angles for future content.

3. Sculpt those expert insights into compelling content


Once you have your material from your SME, the final stage is to shape their insights into a powerful and cohesive thesis. To achieve this you’ll need to take a step back from what was said during the interview and pick out the key themes you want to focus on. This is where you can use your skills as a writer to convince your audience that this article has been skilfully written by a true expert. 

There are four key steps that you need to follow when writing up your article:

  1. Review your notes and pick out the best ideas that you want to showcase in the piece. These will form the basis of your article. Think about how you want to present them in order to give the maximum value to your audience. For example, you might focus on a set number of practical tips or weigh up the pros and cons of a particular topic.

  2. Be ruthless when it comes to eliminating irrelevant information. Stick just to information and ideas that bolster your main argument. Anything that doesn’t keep your reader on topic should be discarded. Having said that, you may want to note down any interesting angles that could be used in future articles.

  3. Incorporate facts and quotes to give your article gravitas. Don’t forget to include some evidence-based data or quotes from your expert. These help make your article more credible and show that you’ve done your research.

  4. Follow-up with further questions and research where necessary. When you’re writing you may notice that you need more information. Don’t hesitate to follow up with your expert or ask for additional resources to help you.

Expert interviews are your secret sauce for highly profitable content


In the vast ocean of bland content, the only way to stand out and escape the content rat race is to give your audience what they want: practical, actionable insights from real experts.

Rather than being a nice-to-have, expert interviews are becoming a critical gateway to content success. Focus on your audience, collaborate closely with your SMEs, and shape your material around your core topic and you’ll be well on your way to creating top-quality content that fuels business growth.

Niels van Melick

Niels van Melick

Niels is the founder of LeadWave, a specialist content agency for B2B tech brands.

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