Stakeholders are the people involved with the organization’s programs, products, or services. They may have a variety of roles, from management to execution. The stated purpose of stakeholder interviews is to learn about the content they publish as well as their goals and challenges. However, the interviews are valuable in more ways than just that.
One of the first tasks in a content strategy project, these interviews are key to understanding the organization’s content. They also provide insights into its culture — the environment in which content is created. Done well, they serve to document what works well and what could benefit from reexamination.
How to get the most value from stakeholder interviews
A key goal of stakeholder interviews is to make sure that stakeholders’ needs and perspectives are part of the effort right from the beginning. It’s helpful to remind stakeholders of this: I express this sentiment by reminding them that the project is happening “with you, not to you.”
- Listen to inspire buy-in.
Stakeholders want the opportunity to share information with you. If you start a content strategy effort by listening to stakeholders, you will have a much better chance of getting their buy-in for the results of the work – especially if they will have to change the way they do things.
If you get to know the stakeholders, they’ll be more confident that your recommendations will help them overcome their current challenges and meet their goals.
- Seek to understand.
In a stakeholder interview, you’ll want to ask about
- how their work connects with other work people in the organization are doing
- whether or how they use metrics to make decisions
- how they identify content success
Often, these will be unfamiliar lines of thinking for the stakeholders, so ask these questions gently and carefully so they don’t feel attacked.
I’ve even occasionally encountered outright hostility to other groups during a stakeholder interview. This kind of behavior is a huge obstacle, one you should escalate immediately.
- Separate managers from those responsible for execution, and ideally don’t have the client in the room at all.
The subject-matter experts (SMEs) who create the organization’s offerings are usually focused on the details. They will be much more candid about both the good and bad if their boss isn’t in the same conversation.
Conversely, managers are less interested in the details, which is why the questions for them are different.
What to learn
Once you’ve talked to all the stakeholders, just sit with all that knowledge for a little while.
After the information settles, you will be able to see consistencies and inconsistencies in how well groups set goals, make decisions, collaborate, and communicate. The other area to ponder is how much each group even considers the other groups — how aware they are of how other groups work, what they are working on, and what their goals are.
It’s that understanding of what goes on between the lines that is ultimately the biggest value from stakeholder interviews. That understanding will truly inform your awareness of what the organization is doing well now and recommendations about what should change in order to make its content more effective.
Download our stakeholder interview template (Word, 42k).
How to document what you’ve learned
The deliverable from these interviews is a report. The stakeholder report should document the themes of what you heard, with recommendations related to each theme.
- You may or may not want to include the notes from each interview as an appendix, depending on the level of confidentiality of what stakeholders shared with you.
- The stakeholder report may be a standalone deliverable or may be part of the overall discovery report; either way works fine.