We all want to create valuable, relevant content. Conducting and sharing original research or taking a unique spin on a topic are two ways that can help you stand out. But what if you don’t have the resources for original research or you’re struggling to find a new twist on a topic?
Expert interviews are your secret sauce. Whether you write thought leadership articles, blog for LinkedIn Pulse, create content for trade journals or develop case studies and white papers, you’ll improve your content’s effectiveness and reach by including quotes and other content from subject experts.
Experts add depth to a story that isn’t possible with a straight narrative. Think about the difference between an article that tells you hospitals are creating new executive roles and one that features interviews with hospital leaders who provide meaningful context and explain the who, what, when, where, why and how.
Well-placed quotes from experts also give content weight and credibility. People pay more attention to content that includes expert quotes and information. If you write a story about how remote work is expanding across the United States, but you don’t interview thought leaders who are seeing it firsthand, you’ll have an opinion piece that shares only your perspective.
Complex, technical subjects often require experts to explain things in a way that general audiences can understand. While you might not grasp the finer points of metallography, industry scientists can help you break it down and make it meaningful for people who know nothing about it. For example, the gazillion fasteners that hold airplanes together require extensive metallurgical testing. You could write an article about the testing, but it’s the expert who will explain its importance – namely, keeping planes from breaking apart in the sky – and how it works.
Where to Find Subject Experts
Now that we’ve covered some of the benefits of expert interviews, let’s explore how to find the right sources:
1. Internal sources
Your company probably has subject experts in-house, and they might even sit next to you. Some companies designate thought leaders who share their expertise in formal capacities, while others have “hidden” subject experts. At most organizations, employees are constantly learning new skills and sharing their knowledge with one another. They’re instrumental in helping their companies succeed and can contribute to blog posts, white papers, case studies, trade journals and presentations.
Your customers might be your best kept “secret” for a deep dive into many topics. Assuming you talk with them regularly, they’ll probably be flattered that you value their knowledge enough to seek interviews with them and will be happy to help. One caveat: Steer clear of asking for proprietary information that could tip off their competitors. While customers might not expect you to offer an incentive for their participation, treating them to lunch or sending them handwritten thank-you notes afterward would be a nice gesture.
This platform from well-known agency PR Newswire connects experts with people who want to interview them. While ProfNet is geared toward journalists, you can sign up if you fit into categories that include bloggers, freelancers, trade journal writers and others. The database contains experts in 14 categories, including analysts; authors, speakers and consultants; bloggers; colleges and universities; corporations; government agencies; and nonprofit organizations. You can submit a query online and wait for sources to contact you, or you can search ProfNet’s database to find appropriate experts.
Expertise Finder is a search engine for qualified experts in the United States and Canada. Search for the type of expertise you need, read relevant profiles and contact anyone who looks like a good fit. Sources on the site must be affiliated with an accredited university, four-year college or reputable think tank. Most profiles include an email address and/or phone number.
Coursera, the well-known online learning platform, has a searchable database of experts from top universities, including Yale, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. Each expert has a profile and contact information. The database is geared toward journalists but allows others to contact experts.
ExpertFile, which is also designed for journalists, has a database of curated experts from universities, institutions, think tanks, associations, companies and other sources. Profiles include bios, information about their expertise and their preferences for being contacted. If you’re not a journalist, you can use the “general” inquiry form to contact experts.
Contact the media relations departments at universities. They usually curate lists of professors who will share their expertise. Explain your topic and the type of professors you’re looking for, and they’ll help make the introductions. If you need a quote or two quickly or you’d rather not deal with media relations departments, you can try a Google search. For example, a search for “University professors who are experts in metallurgy,” provides a link to (among others) University of North Texas faculty as well as profiles and contact information.
Need more academic sources? Try Google Scholar, which includes journal articles and academic papers, among other content. Search by subject and year to find relevant publications. Look up the authors of those publications as potential sources. Their email addresses are often listed in the publications. If not, you can search university directories online.
9. Professional associations
Professional associations are as prolific as oxygen. Simply search for your topic and “professional association” online. Some associations have experts who can provide background and quotes, while others will connect you with their members who are subject experts. Associations can also provide background about your topic and their experts.
10. National and nonprofit organizations
You’ll find national and nonprofit organizations for every field and topic imaginable with an online search. For an article on growth hormone treatment for children, for example, a search for “growth hormone organizations” provides no fewer than seven national organizations. Look for their media relations contacts or spokespeople to get started.
First, search your connections to see if anyone in your network has the expertise you need. If not, you can use the search box in the top left corner of your profile to find experts. For example, enter “artificial intelligence experts” and you’ll get significant results. Narrow your search by selecting “People,” or “More” and then “Companies,” “Schools” or “Groups.” Within the “People” search, you can drill down to specific locations and current companies. Home in on the right sources by adding more keywords, or exclude keywords. For example, you can look for artificial intelligence experts in specific tech companies but filter out those who don’t have enough experience.
12. Conferences and trade shows
You don’t have to attend a conference or trade show to find prospective experts. Merely search for events that focus on your topic online and review the agendas to identify scheduled speakers. You can then search for those speakers to learn more about their expertise and how to contact them. While they’d appreciate your attending the events where they’ll be speaking, they might be open to cold outreach.
Search online for authors who have written about your topic. You’ll need to do your homework to ensure they’re qualified, as anyone can write and self-publish a book. Authors usually appreciate free publicity, so by including their names and book titles in your content, it will be a win-win situation.
Enter your topic in Google and dig through the results. You can search for experts, influencers, bloggers, authors, professors, speakers, companies, organizations and many others. Use Boolean searches to help you find results that match the expertise you seek. Boolean search uses modifiers to refine searches, including “and,” “or,” “not” and quote marks around search terms.
What’s Not Included
I omitted one source from this list – Help a Reporter (HARO). By reading online reviews, you’d think HARO is the top resource for experts. Sure, if you work at The Wall Street Journal or another marquee organization. What most reviews don’t tell you is that HARO, which is a Cision platform, is exceedingly difficult to access. Check out HARO’s 29 rules. The biggest hurdle is that your website must have an Alexa.com ranking of 1 million or less. Alexa is a ranking system that gauges websites’ popularity based on traffic. The lower your Alexa rank, the more popular your site. Small to medium business-to-business (B2B) organizations have little hope of ranking 1 million or less.
Trust but Verify
No matter where you find sources, don’t just skim their credentials. Trust but verify. I know this from my journalism days, but I still stumbled recently when I contacted an “expert” I found on LinkedIn. It was an author who had industry accolades and multiple appearances on national TV. I messaged him through LinkedIn, requesting an interview. It’s a good thing he ignored me. Through another source, I discovered the study he based his book (and premise) on had paid participants. I found the fine print on that buried in his website.
Now that you’ve built a list of experts, the next step is to contact them and line up interviews. I’ll share my best tips for how to approach experts and ace interviews in my next post.
How do you find subject experts? Do you have a favorite source? Let us know in the comments below.