We all know that business blogging is one of the core tenets of inbound marketing. It helps drive traffic to your website, convert that traffic into leads, establish authority, and ultimately drive long-term, bottom-line results. With all of those benefits, you’d think executives would be lining up at your cube, laptop in hand, ready to blog.
Unfortunately, that’s rarely what happens in real life. Even when they’re bought in to the benefits of blogging, getting executives and other experts in your company to write posts is almost always a struggle. Between busy schedules, not-so-stellar writing skills, and sometimes a fear of commitment, thought leadership blogs posts can easily fall to the bottom of their to-do lists.
So if you volunteer to write the post on their behalf, the chances of it getting done — and done well — increase exponentially. That said, interviewing someone in order to ghostwrite an article on their behalf can be trickier than you think. To help you navigate the first few pieces you ghostwrite, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1) Always be prepared.
The interview itself is not the time to brainstorm with your executive about what she wants to cover in the post. Before you set up the interview, you should provide some topic suggestions that you think will work well and then chat with her to finalize the topic. Remember, this brainstorming process should have both of your inputs. Your exec will have an opinion about what she wants to talk about, but you are the marketing expert and should also have an opinion about what you think will resonate with your readers. The best topics address both of your opinions.
To that end, once you’ve identified the topic, make sure you do preliminary research. While you may not be the content expert (and should not expected to be), you don’t want to look like a dummy when you sit down to start your interview. If you don’t already understand the topic at a basic level, do the necessary research. Brush up on terms and beginner concepts so that when your exec throws out that funny little acronym, you don’t have to ask what it is.
2) Record everything.
This is journalism 101. It doesn’t really matter how fast you can write or type, recording your interview ensures that you won’t miss or forget a single detail of the conversation. Recording interviews affords you the ability to make eye contact and have a real conversation with your exec as you talk through the topic rather than scribbling away on a piece of paper with your head down trying to write down every last word he says. It should also keep you from having to bug your exec after the fact to remind you what that example was he shared when you spoke.
However, keep in mind that transcribing an interview usually takes about twice as long as it does to conduct it. So, it’s helpful to simultaneously take some handwritten notes of key quotes or write the time-stamps from important parts of the conversation so you can easily find them after the fact.
3) Schedule enough time.
Determining how much time you will need to get enough information from your executive to fill a blog post can sometimes be tricky. For posts between 800 and 1000 words, somewhere around an hour should suffice to get the information that you need to draft a well-informed piece. But, because every executive is different, that time may need to be increased or decreased to get the results you’d like.
So before you send a calendar invite for your next interview, take a few key things into consideration:
1) How much do you already know about the subject, and how much do you need to learn from your exec? The more you know, the more you can fill in the blanks without hearing them directly out of your execs mouth — which means you need less time for the interview.
2) How easily does your exec open up? If you know that it’s going to take the first 15 minutes of your conversation to explain to your exec why this interview and blog post are important, make sure you add that into your schedule. You don’t want to run out of time to ask the important interview questions or make your executive late to their next meeting.
3) What does your exec’s patience level and calendar look like? Sometimes you have to make due with what you’re given. While an hour may be ideal, sometimes scheduling only allows for less. If that’s the case, make sure you prioritize the questions that are most important for your exec to answer directly and drop questions that you can research in other ways (or ask other people at the company about).
4) Get the conversation going and keep it on track.
In an ideal situation, you will sit down with your exec and have a fluid conversation about the topic at hand without any pushing or prodding. But, often, you’re not going to work with best-case scenario.
The reality is that sometimes it can be hard as an interviewer to get your interviewee to open up. On the flip side, sometimes they want to jump on a soapbox and run off on tangents that have nothing to do with the post that you are writing. Both situations can be a struggle to manage, so it’s best to be prepared with a plan for both.
Schedule the interview for a place and time that you know your interviewee will be comfortable. If sitting in a stark conference room isn’t your exec’s style, set up time in a quiet corner of the cafeteria instead. Make sure he understands the purpose of the interview and why it’s a valuable use of his time rather than a waste.
To get things started, it helps to write up a handful of questions in advance. You should have an idea of the key points that you want to hit in the post, and the questions that will ensure you don’t leave the interview without the answers you need. Your questions should also be constructed in a way that doesn’t allow for one word, yes or no answers. Asking ‘how’ and ‘why’ will help your executive open up and provide the detail that you’re looking for.
If things go the other way and your interviewee gets on a tangent that is too far-gone from the topic at hand, reel him in quickly. Remind him that you want to be cognizant of his time and circle back to the questions that will be valuable for the post your writing. But, if the tangent is a good one, let him know that you’d love to set up another time to talk it as the topic of your next piece — always be on the lookout for great blog fodder!
5) Think like a reader.
As your exec is talking through the subject matter, think like your customers and readers of your blog. Don’t hesitate to ask the questions that you know they will have. Your exec lives this topic day in and day out but, not everyone else does. Providing the context to these questions in the body of the post will help eliminate these types of basic questions in the comments section, leaving room for much more valuable conversations.
6) Listen for sound bites.
Style and tone are essential to an interesting blog that will keep readers reading and coming back for more. But, when you’re writing for someone else, it can be difficult to keep their tone and personality running through the entire post. One of the best ways to do this is to keep an ear open for punchy sound bites that will liven up the post. Find tweetable sentences (also a valuable inbound tactic) that you can include in the piece to give it the character that it needs.
Note: If your exec doesn’t have a particularly exciting character, feel free to take creative license with these sound bites. Just don’t stray too far from her personality — you want to keep things authentic.
7) Give them a preview.
You will be publishing this under someone else’s name so, as a general rule of thumb, you should always share it and get the approval of the exec that you wrote it for before hitting publish. This allows you to make sure that you haven’t taken anything out of context or misrepresented your interviewee or the topic in any way. It’s also a great way to get a second set of eyes on the post to check for and straggling readability, grammar, and style errors before it’s live for public consumption.
8) Explain why and share its success.
While it’s nice to believe that everyone in the world understands blogging it’s simply not true. Make sure your exec understands two key things: 1) why writing this blog post is important in the first place and 2) what success looks like so that when you reach it, you can easily convince her to do it again next time.
Explain to her why you’re doing this and what the opportunities are for traffic, lead generation, social influence, etc. after it publishes. You should outline what your current metrics for blog posts are and how you expect this one to measure up. The last thing you want is for your exec to feel like any part of this process was a waste of time. If they understand how it will directly support the business and the bottom line, they will be more invested in helping you make it happen time and time again.
What other tips do you have for making the ghostwriting process a breeze?