As a content creator, you’ve probably reached out to expert sources only to receive generic advice or a few fluffy lines—none of which is quotable. How can you land those “golden sources” who give compelling insights and in turn add the most value to your work?
Check Where Else a Source Has Been Quoted
To start, do a quick Google search to see where else a potential expert source has been quoted. This will help you gauge how likely they are to respond. Plus, they’ll have some experience as a source under their belt. In turn, they may offer more compelling quotes and give you ample material to work with.
Checking where else a potential source has been quoted also gives you insights as to what topics they’d be most interested and qualified to cover. If they’re already spoken on the topic, chances are they have plenty to say.
Sometimes a tidbit gleaned from a source in an article will open the door to a related topic that the source can be interviewed on. For instance, let’s say you’re looking for a few experts to provide a few solid quotes on the state of finances among millennials and you stumble upon a financial planner who’s quoted in a general piece on retirement. However, she’s attributed as a fee-only planner who is part of the XY Planning Network.
The XY Planning Network is a group of financial planners who work with—you guessed it, gen X and Yers. And those who are fee-only means they aren’t getting commissions for any products they sell to their clients. This means they’re more likely to give an unbiased opinion.
Before reaching out to an expert source, I also like to do a bit of online sleuthing and check their website and LinkedIn profile. Back to the world of financial planners, a CFP®, such as Matt Becker, whose blog is Mom and Dad Money, would probably have a lot to say about money matters for families. And the fact that Becker also writes for a handful of personal finance outlets means he’ll most likely be able to explain complex financial topics in a palatable, easy-to-understand way.
Image attribution: Toa Heftiba
Make Sure the Source Is a Good Fit
When hunting for sources, you’ll want to make sure someone is not just a good fit for the topic but also for the type of outlet and its readership. For instance, if they’ve been quoted in large, widely read publications, they may not respond to a post for a start-up’s blog. However, those who have subject-matter expertise but have not been widely quoted may be more responsive. The same goes for those who are newly credentialed and are working toward building credibility and exposure in their subject.
It certainly never hurts to ask, and an initial “miss” could potentially lead you to solid sources. But if you’re pressed for time, assessing whether someone is a strong and natural fit for the publication will help you land golden sources quicker.
Consider the Value for Both Sides
A seasoned freelance writer colleague of mine once pointed out, “You’re not asking for a favor; you’re offering them something.” Keep that in mind when going for the ask. You’re matching experts who can provide insights, anecdotes, and tips to your pieces. In turn, they’re gaining exposure and possibly valuable backlinks. If the topic or outlet isn’t a good fit for your source, then keep hunting until you land on one that is.
A quick note on backlinks: Usually a source will provide a link to the website they’d like a backlink to. If you’re working on behalf of a client, it’s good practice to let your source know that while you’ll request a backlink, the final version is ultimately out of your hands. And if you aren’t able to provide a link to their site, be upfront about it.
Image attribution: Alejandro Escamilla
Details, Details, Details
When sending out media queries, whether through HARO (Help a Reporter Out) or a professional network, be as detailed as possible, suggests Kara Pinato, vice president of M&C Saatchi PR. Besides sharing the story’s topic or theme, sample questions help PR teams identify the best client resource and helps make sure the PR team is delivering client commentary that strongly supplements the article the writer is developing, explains Pinato.
You’ll also want to be specific about what kind of expert you’re seeking and if they need to live in the US. Plus, it’s helpful to know whether the writer would prefer written or verbal responses and to clearly articulate your deadline. “This is not only helpful to ensure the PR team meets the writer’s deadline but also assists the PR team in managing their clients’ expectations,” says Pinato.
Go for a Multiple-Pronged Approach
Sending media requests on sites such as HARO or through a professional network can be a hit or miss. The site is full of busy professionals that want a plug but don’t want to dedicate a lot of time to answer queries, explains seasoned freelance writer Ashley Eneriz. To find that gold nugget of a source, Eneriz suggests writing your query from two or three different angles.
For example, if you are writing a piece on repairing your credit score and need a source to make your story more interesting, then try submitting a query for a person who has improved their credit, a query for a professional sharing a strategy for how they improved a client’s credit, and perhaps an expert’s knowledge about what matters the most when approaching a credit score.
Not only can you try sending several queries from different angles, depending on the story, try submitting it within different categories, recommends Eneriz. Back to the credit score query: Try submitting to both HARO’s lifestyle and education categories to see if you can land the sources you want for your story.
Image attribution: Shane Rounce
Be Wary of Overly Promotional Sources
When sending out HARO requests to find those expert sources, be wary of those who are too salesy and overly plug their products or services throughout their tips. While it’s standard for a source to plug themselves—especially if they’re responding to a HARO request—if they’re excessively promotional, their tips may feel inauthentic. Besides having credibility, you’ll want your sources to be authentic in their opinions and viewpoints.
Make the Most of a Miss
Sometimes you reach out to someone and it turns out they aren’t the best fit for the story. If that’s the case, be sure to politely ask them if they know of anyone who would be stronger suited for the story. I also ask them what topics they’re most passionate discussing and if they would like to be interviewed for future reference. I also do this for sources that work out—that way I’ll know what else I can reach out to them for.
As you can see, finding expert sources for your stories is a bit of a matchmaking game. By employing a few tactics, you’ll find the best fit for your content. And over time, you’ll build your network of sources, which—as a content creator—is a gift that keeps on giving.
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Featured image attribution: Charles Deluvio
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