Email Interviews: 5 Ways to Create Better Web Content

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Andy Crestodina

Finding time, finding topics, sitting alone with a blank screen. Creating content is lonely work. Once it’s live, driving traffic to it is even worse. Another post with no shares, no comments, no conversation.

It’s kinda like the worst parts of high school.

  • It’s boring and lonely to write content …like doing homework.

  • It’s discouraging when your content has no social interaction …like a party no one comes to.

Here’s the fix: the email interview. It solves both problems. Email interviews are easier to create than typical posts. They also spark a bit of social activity, helping with promotion.

That’s right. Collaborating with others makes you more productive and more effective. It’s also more fun. So here are five ways that email interviews can help you get your homework done and get the party started.

1. The Roundup: One Question, Many Answerers

This one is so effective, I’m surprised it’s not more popular. The format is simple. Send a single question to a group of people via email and then publish all the answers on one long page.

Instead of a lonely homework assignment, you just formed a study group.

Grab their profile pictures and put them next to their answers. Those faces make the post friendlier and the party more fun. No need to add a bio, but always link to their websites.

Once published, share it on the social networks and mention the contributors. Now they’ll see it and they’re likely to re-share. If you really want to make sure they know it’s live, send them a followup email.

“While roundup posts are an integral part of my editorial calendar, (in fact Andy has crowned me the “Queen of Roundup Posts”), the dirty little secret of roundup posts is that they require A LOT OF WORK, often more than it would take to create a quality piece of original content.

Here are 3 factors to consider with roundup posts: 1) The influence of your contributors. The better known the people involved in your post are and the larger their personal reach, the more attention and reach your article will receive. 2) The platform matters. Don’t under-estimate the impact of the site where you post your roundup. 3) The strength of your post title. Remember David Ogilvy’s 20% rule. Only 1 out of 5 people will read beyond your headline.”  – Heidi Cohen, Actionable Marketing Guide

2. The Mega Roundup: One Question, Many Answerers …referring to Many Others

Here’s the same tactic on steroids. If the question you asked the contributors lead to answers that mention others, you’ve doubled the number of party invitations.

Think of it this way, instead of writing a list post, invite a group of people to each contribute an item to the list. Copy. Paste. Publish.

Here are some examples of how you can “curate the curators”

  • Ask 20 dog experts to recommend a book about dog training

  • Ask 9 wine importers to talk about their favorite new vintage

  • Ask 12 marketers to tell you about their new favorite tool.

If each case, the post now has more people to invite to the party: the book authors, vineyards, and companies that make marketing tools.

“The great thing about asking the same question to many experts is that you’ll always get some amazing responses. And you can then take those quotes and use them in multiple ways: They could be a blog post, but they could also be made into a Slideshare, into pictures with the person’s quote on it, etc. And all these extra efforts make it easier for the experts you mention to want to promote your effort which gives you even more traffic and exposure.  – Mack Collier,

3. The Deep Dive: One Expert, Many Questions

It’s the most common type of email interview. Once you pick your study partner, just email them a list of questions. The answers may need some editing, but mostly the job is done.

Here are a few tips to get a better grade on your homework:

  • Send plenty of questions and let them choose which ones to answer. This is better than forcing them to answer questions they don’t feel strongly about.

  • Let the contributor add links to their answers. This adds value for them and for the readers. Also, don’t feel bad about adding links to your own content from within their answers.

    “Don’t be lazy. Research your subject first, and ask questions that demonstrate you’ve done your homework. Expecting the person you’re interviewing to do all the heavy lifting is lazy and inconsiderate: take the time to craft questions that will draw out your interviewee’s unique perspective and experience.”  – Kerry O’Shea Gorgone, MarketingProfs

    Note: For more tips from Kerry and other veteran interviewers, check out this post: The Secret to Great Podcast Interviews.

    4. The Conversation: One Question, One Answer, Repeat…

    This one takes longer, but the final interview will be more fun to read. It will read like a conversation. This approach also requires less planning. Just find your interviewee and send the first question. Let the second question be a response to the first answer and continue.

    This approach can lead to questions and answers that you would never see in a normal deep dive. Q: Really? A: Yes.

    “The one-question-at-a-time interview format lets the interviewee’s answers shape the direction of the interview. And it allows me, the interviewer, to pick up on the insights they share to ask followup questions based on their answers and expertise instead of my preconceived notions of what to ask them. It leads to a much more interesting and impactful interview for readers.”  – Adam Kreitman, Words That Click

    5. The Series: One Format, Many Interviews

    Bloggers do interviews. Smart bloggers do a series of interviews. It’s the same as a deep dive (or roundup) but it’s done on a regular basis.

    It’s easy to slot into a schedule and get into a routine. As the history of the series grows, it gets easier to ask higher-profile experts to participate. You can even give the series a name.

    Once a week, Spin Sucks does the “Inquisition” where they ask an expert a set of standard questions. The variety of answers is always interesting.

    “We created the Inquisition because we had a Friday feature that worked off the #FollowFriday meme on Twitter. It featured one person of our choosing and I wrote the blog post, based on what I knew about them, how we met, and the cool things they’re doing in the industry. We decided to transition to the Inquisition in March for two reasons: 1) I was totally bored with #FF; and 2) I wanted to build some data about specific things (most read books, why spin sucks) and also let the person we are featuring describe something about them that most people don’t know.”  – Gini Dietrich, Spin Sucks 

    Here are a couple of ways to create a better series of interviews:

    • Create a Statistic
      If you do a series using the same set of questions, use at least one question that leads to a short, simple answer. When you have enough of these answers, combine them into a statistic. It will make a great, sharable soundbite…

      “4 out of 5 high school principals work on weekends”

    • Multi-Roundup
      For a series of roundups, plan ahead and get the content for several posts in advance. Just email each contributor several questions. Each question will get its own roundup post, but you saved time by gathering them all at once.

    So many ways to collaborate! Great. But who can help us with our homework?

    Who to Collaborate With?

    Friends and close contacts are the obvious choices, but it’s more fun to use this as a chance to make new friends. Think about it. That Saturday detention in 1985 was interesting because it was a group of people that didn’t normally interact.

    Talk to strangers. Here are some people to work with in study hall and invite to the prom…

    • People you want network with…
      This could be bloggers, journalists, and influencers in your field.

    • Prospects in the pipeline…
      If you want to provide a service to them, why not start by collaborating on content?

    • Other randoms…
      Use social media search tools to find super specific people to collaborate with.

    Most people will happily agree to be interviewed. But if they’re “too cool for school” just move on and find someone else. There are millions of potential collaborators! Personally, I’ve never declined an offer to be interviewed.

    If you’re not making friends, you’re doing it wrong.

    Quick Tip: Contributor quotes (like the quotes in this post) are even easier than interviews. Before you publish something with no data, statistics, or evidence, slow down. Take a minute to add a quote from an expert. It will improve the post and it will add someone to the party invite list.

    “Just answer the question, Claire!”

    Collaboration makes writing easier and more fun. Interview someone and you’ve got a partner to help promote. It’s called “ego bait” and it works.

    So get your homework done and get the party started!

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Comments (17)
  • Hey Andy, thanks for this great post. Everything was summed up pretty well. I am a beginner in influencer marketing and felt great to have found this article.

  • Awesome!! Now this post is my favorite post. 🙂

  • cool, yeah indeed if you’re not making friends, you’re doing it wrong. i am inspired 🙂

  • YOU TRICKED ME! This was all for ego bait. Hrumph.

    I actually think there is a difference between the advice you give her and ego bait. The ego bait are the lists that honor the experts. The 17 social media gurus. The 122 marketing experts. That is ego bait.

    This? This is real advice that actually works and doesn’t make people mad they’re not on a list.

    P.S. Did Amanda do the image for this post?

    • Ego bait just sounds so terrible, doesn’t it? I want to wash my hands every time I type it…

      But adding you here was super relevant! The Spin Sucks Inquisition is a great example. There are definitely examples (“826 Thoughts from Thought Leaders”) that are truly spammy.

      The picture? I think it came from a Google image search for “last scene from Breakfast Club” Triumphant, isn’t it? That’s actually the Deerfield High School football field. I was there at the time. Class of ’90.

    • a. I agree with you regarding ego bait.
      b. I WISH I could take credit for this pic. Although, Andy did ask me to put text over the top and I said no way this pic is perfect!

  • Great advice, Andy. I’ve been included in roundup posts in the past, but never actually used that strategy for any of my own content. An added benefit of this strategy is that the people you include in your post will be inclined to write more on the topic on their own blogs, so your question may act as a seed for new content on other websites. Everyone wins!

    • Good point, Alex. Getting contributors on your site lead to more content from those same people. I’m sure it happens all the time!

      It could happen organically or you could get together with some bloggers and plan to all write on related topics for a week, and then refer to each others’ work. I recommend starting small mastermind groups to trigger ideas like this. It’s much more fun than working in a vacuum.

      Thanks for the comment, Alex! Nice to see you here…

  • Andy–Thank you for including me in this “roundup” post. It’s great for egobait. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

    • Thank you for contributing, Heidi!

  • I especially liked the ‘who to collaborate with’ section – it really got my mind thinking of ways to not only provide valuable content, but also ways to make valuable connections for our business.

  • This may be my favorite post header to date.

  • Hi Andy, what do suggest is the best way to find good people to contribute? It seems like an email out of the blue might be hit or miss, especially if your blog doesn’t have a large following. I’m going to a few conferences in the coming weeks and I was thinking of asking people at the conference if they wanted to contribute to a round up post I’m putting together. It seems like that would be an effective way to get some great people on board!

    • Yes, in-person is ideal. If you already have a relationship with them, no channel is too informal. Just yesterday, I invited someone to guest blog for us over twitter and she was interested. Also, someone asked me if I would contribute to a column and I was interested. These were both tweets but they were people I’d met before.

      If you don’t have a connection yet, then you’ll need to either go slow (tweet, follow, comment, share, DM, email, phone, face-to-face) or go big. Try this…

      If you’re doing blogger outreach to high profile people, make a personalized YouTube video for them with your pitch. You’ll probably be the first to ever do it and they’ll likely be impressed. I heard this recommendation on the Social Media Examiner podcast the other day. I bet it works beautifully!

  • Great (actionable) insights, as ever. Thanks Andy. One question: that link to your study group websites… nofollow or dofollow?

    • This might sound strange, but I’ve never made a “nofollow” link. In all these years, I’ve just never had a reason to. Some people pay a lot of attention to this. I don’t.

      Is there a reason to tell a search engine not to follow a link to someone you collaborated with? I can’t think of one…

      • Great response—feeling liberated right now 🙂

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