The Beginner’s Guide to Expert Roundup Posts & Group Interviews

Tom Demers
by Tom Demers | Last Updated Nov. 19th, 2015 1 COMMENTS

The Begginer's Guide to Expert Roundups & Group Interviews

If you’re in the online marketing space, you’ve no doubt seen a hundred “expert roundups” or as I like to call them “group interviews.” You might have participated in a few. You may even be extremely sick of them and you may not want to participate in them or create them anymore.

Regardless of your opinion of them, though, the reality is this: if your objective is to get shares and traffic for your content, they tend to work quite well. We use them on this site. Popular blogs in the marketing niche still do as well.

And in other niches outside of online marketing, the tactic is frequently more seldom used and even more effective. The benefits are fairly straight forward: this post style allows you to get a number of smart folks to contribute content for you. They get exposure through your post, and you get a post chock full of different perspectives on a relevant topic to your audience that has built-in distribution.

If you’re not leveraging it, it’s something you may want to consider adding to your content arsenal. There are already a number of great guides to create your own with some excellent tips and tricks:

We execute a number of these kinds of posts for our own publishing properties and on behalf of clients, and have our own methodology we thought was worth sharing. As with “best of lists,” this post type isn’t always a home run. Frequently these assets will drive hundreds of shares for a domain that’s never had more than a handful for their content. They can generate into the thousands of passive unique visitors each month through search traffic.

And they can be time-consuming to create and promote, and fall relatively flat.

This is why we encourage folks to take more of a portfolio approach to content efforts: evaluate your content production and promotion based on your aggregate inputs and aggregate results. Understand that not all content succeeds, analyze results, and iterate over time.

You should do that with group interviews / expert roundups as well, but you can’t start evaluating until you get started testing the tactic. In this post you’ll learn how to walk through the ideation process to come up with a huge list of great group interview topics so that you can produce engaging expert roundups on a regular basis, how to contact possible participants, and how to promote the content once your posts are live.

Let’s dig into the process.

Step 1: Expert Roundup Topic Ideation

For the most part great topics for expert roundups are pretty similar to great topics for any content: I’m looking for ideas that are helpful to potential prospects. Things they’ll search for, problems they have that I can help solve, etc.

And as with general content ideation, there are a lot of different ways I can come up with great group interview topics.

1) Answer My Own Questions

If I have domain expertise, I can come up with some great ideas for group interviews by thinking about the things that I have problems with. For instance let’s say I’m a content marketer launching a product for other content marketers. Any time I encounter a problem and start to:

  • Consider Emailing a colleague to get advice
  • Posting on a forum for those folks’ two cents
  • Dropping a quick query into Google

About something related to my business, that’s probably a great topic to “crowd source” via group interview and get a piece of content around, because if I have the question or problem other content marketers probably do too. Some examples of things I’m always curious about and/or struggling with that I could (and might) turn into group interviews might be:

  • The best ways to get great survey data on a topic when you don’t have a list or existing proprietary data
  • Quick hacks for getting great images and visuals on a specific topic (how to find the perfect blog images)
  • Tips for running contests if you don’t have an established audience or brand (or if you should even bother)

Those could all be awesome topics to get input from a bunch of experts on, and are probably things that other folks would like to get some additional viewpoints on as well.

Similarly, even if I were totally new to content marketing, those questions could be interesting as well if my audience is beginners. In fact, if my audience is mainly beginners, I might be better off polling someone brand new to field and asking them what they struggle with or what they think they would have the hardest time doing if I asked them to go and start work creating and promoting content for a site today (again: it depends on my audience!). Finding folks inside an industry to talk to and ask about the things they struggle with (whether that’s a client, someone you’re connected with on LinkedIn, someone you hire for a consultation – whatever) is always a great way to start to brainstorm content ideas.

Grab someone with very limited or no experience on a topic (your friends, a junior resource in your company, etc.) and explain a fairly complex topic related to your business to them. Encourage them to stop you every time they have any kind of question. Write the questions down – these could all be great expert roundup questions!

2) Look at Tool Lists

Once I’ve recorded a lot of my own questions and the questions and problems that actual prospects and/or or folks who are very similar to my prospects would have, another way I’ll find ideas for great group interview topics is to look at lists of tools within my niche. Looking at categories of tools and software can be a great way to unearth topics for group interviews, because software is (frequently) developed in response to a problem. I can start hunting here with my old pal Google (NOTE: ads in the screenshot below have been removed to make things fit more nicely and because I think G is squeaking by OK without any additional free distribution for their sponsors):

A screenshot of the search results for content marketing tools.

I’ll click on WordStream’s list of tools to start since I used to work there, and as soon as I do I immediately find a few subcategories of tools:

A screenshot of how you can use subcategories from tool posts for topic ideas.

Each of these subcategories could represent an interesting group interview question (or a few) – for instance:

  • What’s your favorite content curation tool?
  • What’s the biggest mistake marketers make when curating content?
  • What’s your favorite content curation hack?

And similar (I’ll walk through some common formulas for questions in a few paragraphs, but many of the formulas I’m listing and would come up with would work with a lot of these topic areas).

Drilling into the specific tools lets me uncover even more interesting topic areas – I want to really look through a lot of the tools listed here and in other lists and look closely at their title tags and benefit statements:

An example of using software messaging to get content topic ideas.

Buzzsumo was on WordStream’s list. I love BuzzSumo and use it a lot, but I don’t often spend much time thinking about how they’d categorize themselves or describe the problem they’re solving. When I look at their home page I see lots of topics that are probably things content marketers find interesting and in some cases struggle with. Their title tag reads:

Find the Most Shared Content & Key Influencers

And the headline highlighted above is similar. So based on Buzzsumo’s popularity (and my own need for it) it’s a pretty good bet that content marketers might want to hear from other content marketers about:

  • How to come up with viral, sharable content topics?
  • How to identify key influencers in a niche quickly?

And others like these. I can drill into lots of other specific tools to find great group interview topics.

Similarly, looking at a list of features for a specific product can also serve as a good means of identifying more topics – for example if they feature a content calendar, content collaboration features, etc. each of those is likely a pain point you can turn into a useful question.

3) Look at Categories on Blogs

Similar to tool categories, you can find some categories that you can spin into lots of great group interview questions by looking at the categorization on popular blogs in a niche:

An image example of using categories to get topic ideas.

Problogger has a great footer that includes a list of categories – again as with the tool categories, lots of these could be interesting interview topics:

  • What’s the Number 1 Mistake Blogger’s Make with Blog Design?
  • What’s Your Number 1 Tip for Conducting Great Podcast Interviews?

4) Look at Most Popular Posts on Popular Blogs

Similarly, looking at the most popular articles on blogs in your niche can give you a great idea of what readers of these blogs (likely your prospects) are most likely to be sharing and reading:

Using popular posts to get content ideas for expert roundups.

Now I know the Problogger audience is interested in topics like making money blogging, growing community, Amazon’s affiliate program (and others, presumably), and starting their first blog. Assuming I know or am at least really confident my audience has a lot of overlap with Problogger’s, that’s another batch of potentially interesting topics to get a variety of expert opinions on.

5) Look at Agendas for Conferences

The people who organize conferences spend a lot of time thinking about what the folks who attend will want to see, and what they’re thinking about. If there’s a lot of overlap between conference goers at a specific event and your prospects, the agenda for that conference is probably chock full of topics that would be great group interview subjects:

A screenshot example of using conference agendas for expert round up ideation and looking for possible interviewees.

Above are some of the breakout sessions from Content Marketing World’s conference agenda (listed on their site). Topics like B2B content marketing strategy, video strategy on a budget, content audits, etc. could all be great group interview topics (again: I’ll really need to know which end of the market and who specifically my prospect is to best understand which of these would be better or worse – the folks who might be interested in a B2B content marketing strategy might be quite different than the folks who were interested in affiliate programs we found in the popular posts method above – I’ll really only know which topic is best for me to create a group interview around by knowing my audience and what their problems are).

6) Use Your Core Keywords to Get Ideas

The keywords I want to target via SEO can also make for great interview topics (and have the added bonus of potentially sending you some really specific, valuable, and continuous SEO traffic once you have the group interview live).

If I’m hoping to rank well for “content marketing software” my salesy product page isn’t likely to rank well, but a strong group interview question with a lot of great responses could rank well for that term, so I’ll consider wrapping up some of my core keywords in a solid group interview question formula (again a bit more on formulas below) – the good news here is that most of the questions I’d ask will probably be really relevant for my prospects (if you’re interested in tips for buying content marketing software, mistakes people make leveraging content marketing software, or similar, you’re probably at least potentially in the market for the stuff).

7) Identify Some Good Group Interview Formulas

As I think about different group interview topics, I’ll want to be aware of some good “formulas” for creating good group interview questions.

I want to make sure to:

  • Avoid any questions that are too easily answered with a yes or no
  • Have something sufficiently broad that there isn’t a single repeatable answer
  • Avoid anything where the range of answers would be really limited (seeing variations on the same basic answer or two isn’t particularly helpful or interesting)

Having worked on a bunch of these, here are a few good basic formulas I can apply to lots of different topics (with the formula, a sample question I could apply to my fictitious content marketing software company, and real example from a post “in the wild”):

Biggest Mistake(s)

Best Tips / Hacks

Favorite Tools

  • General Formula: “What’s your {Favorite / Most Used} tool for {Concept or Process}”
  • Sample Question: What is the single most valuable content curation tool you’ve discovered?
  • Real Example: http://www.clambr.com/link-building-tools/

You can also learn more about how well that link building tools post did in Brian Dean’s post on Richard’s process and results, and as I mentioned earlier you can check out Richard’s great in-depth guide on expert roundups for free on his site as well.

Successful Examples / Success Stories

Most Creative

Top Traits of the Highly Successful

Obviously there are a ton of question permutations that could work well – if you have a favorite formula and/or some examples of group interviews that did great or that you loved drop a note in the comments (we’ll promote any that make sense to the main post here).

Finding the Interview Prospects

Once I have a great question researched and lined up, I need to go out and track down interview prospects. What I’m looking for here are obviously smart folks, and of course I want to identify thought leaders who have distribution and a familiar name so that anyone nice enough to promote their participation in my post will help amplify the content’s reach, and also help lend credibility to the document.

I may think I have a pretty good handle on the top influencers in my niche, but ideally I want to identify something in the range of 100+ group interview targets, because as with everything not everyone I include will respond.

There are a lot of different ways to track down great group interview candidates.

  • Other Group Interviews – With some simple Googling around terms frequentl used in group interviews (like experts {your topic}) in many niches I can find existing group interviews. As soon as I find an existing group interview I immediately have a list of folks who are related to my subject, and I already know are willing to participate in group interviews.
  • Top Blog Lists – Popular blogs are home to popular bloggers, so finding a list of the most popular blogs in my niche (which I can find by simply searching for “best {topic} blogs” or looking someplace like Alltop) gives me another batch of great targets.
  • Power Users on Niche Social Sites – If my niche has a popular social site or Subreddit or similar, power users there are likely interesting targets and obviously have a certain amount of influence (for the group interviews I’m setting up for my hypothetical content marketing software company, looking at the top members on Inbound could be a good start).
  • Contributors on Major Multi-Author Sites – As I look for popular blogs, a great find is always a really popular, relevant, multi-author site. The folks contributing content these places are frequently experts looking for exposure and willing to share their thoughts. For example any of the folks who have contributed to Content Marketing Institute recently would potentially be great candidates to include in a group interview on a content marketing topic.
  • Conference Speakers – Similarly I could revisit Content Marketing World’s site, but this time look at the list of speakers there. Again the fact that they’re presenting at a well-respected conference likely means that they have expertise in my subject area, they’re willing to share ideas with folks, and they’re looking for exposure.
  • Get Some “Inbound” Interest – If my site meets the requirements for the various platforms, an additional way to get expert opinions on my topic is to post an inquiry as a publisher for contributions on sites like HARO, Source Bottle, or ProfNet.

Finally, just an additional note on determining who to include in group interviews: in general unless a respondent really sends something back that’s totally useless and/or inaccurate, my approach is to be really inclusive and assume “the more the merrier” as the more folks who are included, the more likely they are to help me promote – if I run into issues with or am concerned about quality control, I can always be careful and specific with who I invite to participate.

Reaching Out to Possible Contributors

Now I have a nice big list of potential contributors and an awesome question – next I need some responses. I’m going to start to reach out to folks on my list and ask them for a contribution. When I do I’ll generally use a really simple Email template. There’s a couple flavors I can try:

Short & To the Point

Hi X,

My name is Tom Demers, I’m the founder of Awesome Content Marketing Software, a content marketing software company. We’re asking content marketing experts like yourself to offer their take on a quick question:

{Question Here}

If you have a moment I’d love to have you contribute – we’ll be doing a lot of promotion around the post and obviously you’re welcome to link to and promote whatever you like in your bio along with your answer.

Thanks for considering!

Tom

Qualify Some & Ask for All of the Information Up Front

Generally I find shorter notes lead to better responses, but I can also consider or test adding in pieces like:

  • Asking for a headshot and bio up front
  • Linking to a previous interview that did well as a proof of concept
  • Including a date I plan to publish to encourage a quicker turnaround

Once I send a note, I’ll typically follow up once via Email. In the Backlinko post on Clambr’s group interview they also mentioned that Richard pinged people on Twitter as well, which is another great idea – particularly if the question lends itself to a quick answer like his did (again you can get a really detailed description of Richard’s process free on his site).

How to Create the Content

Once I’ve decided on a question and done my outreach, I have all of the content to create a really great asset. Typically I’ll want at least 15-20 folks contributing to really get a nice diversity of opinion and to have enough folks helping distribute the post to have it get good social and traffic traction, and ideally I’d get something north of that (for some niches that’ll be easy, for some it may be impossible to get 40 responses).

Now I need to format the post. There are a number of things I want to be sure to include:

  • A brief intro
  • A table of contents listing the contributors and linking to their answers
  • Everyone’s answers!
  • Headshots for every contributor
  • Contributor bios

And a number of things that can really help the post that I’ll create / include:

  • A custom banner or graphic at the top of the post
  • A nice mash up of all of the contributor photos
  • A badge the experts can share with their audience if they like
  • A specific offer and call to action (this might be a simple but highly relevant content upgrade like a PDF, check-list version of the post, some raw data on how many of the experts answered with what types of answers, etc.)
  • A twitter list with all of the folks who contributed

How to promote the list

Now I just hit publish and wait, right? I did promise you “built in distribution,” after all.

Almost! There’s still a bit more to do once I have all of the answers collected and formatted: I need to actually promote the post!

  • Email Everyone – Obviously I want to reach out to everyone on the list and let them know the post is live – I might also give them a link to my tweet of the post so that’s easy to retweet and if appropriate a link to the post submission on a relevant social media site to vote up if they like (important note here though: I don’t want to give them 8 different things to do – pick the one or two most important actions to highlight and let them decide what to do next).
  • Twitter – I’ll also queue up a number of tweets, and @ some folks who participated in the interview in the tweets so that they see the mention there and can easily retweet that if they want to share that way.
  • Paid Social Promotion – Depending on the topic, I may also consider some paid social promotion via Stumble, Reddit, or Twitter Sponsored Ads to get some additional distribution for my content there.
  • Additional Outreach – Another trick that takes a bit more time but can net some really high quality links: after asking permission in the outreach process, I’ll often reach out to each contributor’s alma matter and hometown newspaper. This requires a good bit of leg work (and on the alma matter front be careful of the season) but can net some great .edu links and awesome links and citations from quality local publications.

The final step here is often the most valuable: as you let people know they’re participating, be sure to note anyone who is interested in participating in future interviews, and (genuinely) offer to help anyone who has helped you here. Look at their Twitter bios. Start following their blogs and share their stuff, as well. Offer to try to be of use to them in future. These folks have contributed to a piece of content for you, and helped you promote it: be grateful, and take the opportunity to be of use and develop a real relationship that will benefit all of your content.

  • Rob Powell

    Hi Tom, great article thanks! Some really good ideas on how to come up with questions for roundup articles, especially ‘software tools’ and ‘conference agendas’. Good work!