atch 22: expert sources or engagement first?
At first glance, the formula for creating great content (that can be promoted on social media channels) might look simple and straightforward:
- Google likes and rewards websites with quality content
- Therefore, I will write quality content for my blog
- One of the best ways to create quality content is to use primary source material; here are examples of primary sources:
- First person accounts of your own when you are an expert
- First person accounts when you attend a relevant conference, show or other event
- Interviews of experts
- Original research material (surveys, testing, medical research and the like)
- Diaries and other original sources of text
This all sounds great and you enthusiastically begin hunting out top expert sources for your material and you ask for interviews. But . . . the experts don’t respond. Or they say “no,” no matter how professionally you make your requests. There are numerous reasons why this could be happening, of course, but here is one very common reason:
Your blog simply doesn’t have enough traffic, enough engagement, enough social media attention.
These top experts get lots of demands on their time and they may simply be choosing to be interviewed by bloggers where they get more bang for their buck – as in more online attention for the investment of their time. And, can you really blame them?
So, what do you do? Work hard until you find top expert sources, no matter how long it takes, and hold off blogging until then? Or work hard to create engagement with secondary source material, no matter how long it takes?? What should you do???
Relax. There is effective middle ground.
Stop searching so hard for experts
The reality is that you’re surrounded by expert sources, most likely every day. But, because you see them every day, they blend into the background. You don’t see the people that you call your friends, your neighbors, your classmates, your coworkers and the people that you volunteer with and serve on boards with and socialize with as experts – but surely they are. At something. And, what about those people that you call Mom or Dad or Sugar Honey Bear? Where do they work? What education do they have? What are their hobbies?
Is there a psychologist in the group? A successful small business owner? A mother of twins? Someone who makes beautiful pottery as a hobby? Someone who fled from Germany when the Berlin Wall was being constructed? Let’s say that the answer to those five categories is a “yes.” You know people with those characteristics.
That means that you have experts in those topics. But, you say, how does that expertise fit into the theme of my blog?
Well, to use them effectively, you may need to turn your process of blog post writing upside down, but it’s almost always worth the effort. Let’s say this is your normal process:
- Brainstorm an effective topic, perhaps by using keyword research, by seeing which keywords have driven traffic to your site in the past and so forth
- Think about who is a well-known SME for your chosen topic
- Contact that expert for an interview
But, that process isn’t working for you, remember. The experts aren’t agreeing to be interviewed.
So back to your theoretical set of experts, detailed above. Your task is to spend some time talking to the psychologist, the small business owner, the mother of twins, the potter, the successful escapee. Yes. Just talk. You know, person to person – like we used to do before every conversation needed to be strategic, before every breath needed to give you street cred with Google, before every introduction needed to be sealed with a LinkedIn kiss.
What can you learn from these people about life in general that can successfully be applied to your blogging and how can an interview with these people enrich your writing? Once you know that, you can contact them again and ask a few targeted questions.
So . . . how does this work?
I’m going to list three types of blogs, along with suggestions of how you might use the experts listed above to create high quality primary source material for your blog. And then I’m going to share one real life example of how I’ve used one particular expert for multiple successful (paying!) writing projects.
Back to the three types of blogs to be used in our example; they are:
- Business consulting
- Time management
If you have a business consulting blog, here are just a few ways to use the experts described above:
- Talk to the psychologist about the psychology of persuasion; what can you learn from her to help your readers improve sales? Ask her about dealing with difficult people, and then write a column about working with ornery clients. And so on. The possibilities are endless with this combination of blog type and expert.
- Use the successful small business owner regularly! No more needs said.
- Ask the mother of twins how she was able to become more efficient in her child rearing and apply those lessons to businesses. Few people are as efficient as a loving mother with new babies to care for!
- Discuss the importance of process and not rushing the process with the potter. What similarities do you see with growing a business? What role does quality work (over quantity of work) play?
- Ask the person with the historical escape how to overcome adversity; how to adapt to new challenges; and so forth. Apply those to business challenges.
If you have a parenting blog, here are just a few ways to use the experts described above:
- Ask the psychologist how to handle your toddler when she throws a tantrum; or your 5-year-old who starts to wet the bed again after he starts all-day kindergarten; or how to help your shy child adjust to high school. Again, endless possibilities!
- If the small business owner has a retail establishment, ask for examples of good behavior in the store and of bad; what observations has he made from how parents handle their children in the store? Then, consider calling the psychologist for professional recommendations. (See! A multi-interview piece)
- Use the mother of twins regularly, perhaps by posting an update on life with twins every quarter or every six months or so. How has life changed as the twins get older?
- Ask the potter for beginning art projects that you can make with your children.
- Ask the person who escaped from East Germany what his childhood was like. What can be learned about cultural differences between countries and their child rearing beliefs and practices? Is what we do in the United States “right” or just one method?
If you have a time management blog, here are just a few ways to use the experts described above:
- Ask the psychologist for tips on how to overcome procrastination; how to balance family and work; and a multitude of other things.
- Ask the small business owner how he or she prioritizes while needing to wear numerous hats in the business, from sales to customer service and from accounting to marketing.
- Talk to the mother of twins about the ways that she has rearranged the family’s routine to make key times of the day more peaceful.
- Ask the potter how she makes time for her art in the midst of family and work commitments.
- Ask the East German refugee about his experiences and then determine how many of our time management challenges are really first-world problems. Use this to offer perspective and encourage people not to make their problems bigger than they need to be.
If/when an expert doesn’t have an answer to a particular set of questions, you simply say at the end of the interview, “Who else should I be talking to about this subject?” When a name is mentioned, thank the expert and ask for an introduction. Then, delve even more deeply into your subject with expert #2.
This system really does work. You need an open mind and a willingness to be creative – but it does work.
Real life example: multiple pieces of writing from one interviewee
I have found numerous successes by interviewing one person: my father. No stress, no pressure to find an expert. I just . . . called Dad.
Here are a few examples:
- I saw that a respectable publishing company was looking for a professional writer to write a book about how to become a funeral director and this writer was required to have personal experience in the field. So, I contacted them and said that I could write the book after interviewing my father, a professional funeral director of many decades. Not only did they give me that book contract, I’ve had three more with them.
- My first story to be published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology was about a cat that moved into my father’s funeral home. So, he and I traveled back along memory lane – and then I wrote the essay.
- I’ve published material about his 1937 Cadillac LaSalle. I interviewed him first and then asked for names and contact information for others – and it easily and painlessly turned into a multiple-interview piece.
- I’ve also written about life in the funeral home for a well-respected literary journal; set up interviews with his friends who are experts in multiple other arenas; and so much more.
And, I’ve used a similar process with a boomerang-throwing friend of mine; a psychologist that I know; and more. It really does work.
- Is it helpful to have a top name expert quoted in your blog post? Sure. If you can get one, go for it.
- Is it likely that someone will turn away from well written relevant content with quotes from lively interesting experts if the experts don’t have a “top name”? Of course not. People want and need information that improves their lives and that can come from a variety of sources.
As your blog gains traffic, social shares and engagement, then you can climb up the expert ladder, if you so choose – but never forget the marvelous experts who surround you each and every day.
How about you? How do you find experts to interview? What examples of primary sources can you share?