Have you heard about HARO yet? HARO stands for Help a Reporter Out. And it’s hands down my favorite tool for finding expert sources to quote in my content marketing.
Rather than hunting down possible subject matter experts for interviews, with HARO the experts come to you. It’s easy, fast and effective.
But using HARO can be quirky. To help me wrap my head around best practices for using HARO, I interviewed a handful of great content marketers to learn more about how they use HARO in their own work.
Here’s what they shared with me.
What is HARO?
HARO is an email distribution list that connects bloggers, journalists and other writers with expert sources on nearly any subject matter.
These aren’t just niche bloggers, either (although HARO is in fact a great resource for niche markets). HARO is hugely mainstream, with over 30,000 journalists using the service from such respected media outlets Reuters, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Mashable and more.
Why use HARO?
Sometimes your content needs more than just your own perspective. A well-placed quote from a subject matter expert lends weight and credibility to the insights you’re trying to share in your content.
Finding and interviewing those subject matter experts can be another story, though.
Typically, you start by scouring your database of contacts to see if you know someone who might know someone. Once you find someone, you get stuck in an email back-and-forth trying to schedule time to talk with the person. And after you do connect, you’ve got to record and transcribe the interview – all before you can even start writing. Yeesh.
If you’re working on a tight deadline, you’re going to be in trouble.
HARO puts a global network of expert sources at your fingertips. It’s a beautiful thing.
In fact, it’s so beautiful that Lee Price, Managing Editor at Rep Cap, uses HARO almost every week. “We put out queries for our content and our clients’ content, looking for responses from everyone from nurses, manufacturing leaders, HR managers, tech experts and marketers, depending on what we’re working on that week.”
But what if you’ve been in your industry for a while, and you already have a decent network you can turn to?
All the better, says Price. HARO is a perfect supplement to those resources, because it gives you access to additional insights.
“When I’m working on an article and I want new opinions and ideas, I talk to my network, ask questions on forums like private Facebook groups, and I use HARO,” she says. “I think of HARO as a fast, easy crowdsourcing tool. It brings new voices and perspectives, and it connects me with people I don’t already know.”
Virginia Hamill, Content Writer at the Insureon blog, agrees. “Sometimes I’ll put out a HARO request even if I know someone who might be a good interview,” she says. “While I may be confident that a source can answer well, it certainly doesn’t hurt to see what other people have to say. If I get a really great pitch, that’s one more person to add to my network – and I get a fresh perspective that teaches me something new.”
As if that weren’t enough, there’s another benefit, too: the power of content promotion.
“It's always nice to get other perspectives and advice for an article instead of it all coming from me,” says Susan Payton, President at Egg Marketing & Communications. “Plus, when I source other people as experts, they help promote the article!”
How to use HARO: Tips to get the best results
The actual process to have your query listed on HARO is straightforward.
First, you’ll need to sign up for an account. (Don’t worry, it’s free.) In doing so, you’ll be added to the HARO email list, which means you’ll get three emails every weekday with requests from writers looking for expert sources for an article. It’s helpful to read through a few of these emails, to get a sense of what a typical request looks like.
To submit your own request, from your account login, click on “My Queries” and enter the details about the type of expert you’re looking for, what you’re writing about, and specific questions you’d like the expert to answer. Set a deadline (date and time) for sources to send you their pitches.
Now sit back and watch the responses pour in. Literally.
Everyone I spoke with stressed that HARO queries can bring in a LOT of responses, so be prepared.
“It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the email replies, says Price. “I’ve learned that it’s important to get organized. I set up a Gmail filter to send all HARO responses out of my inbox and into a folder. Once I’m ready to read the responses, I go through them all at once and flag the ones that I want to use or respond to.”
The trendiness of the topic may dictate how many responses to expect. “One of our writers once got over 50 responses,” says Hamill. “Her query was for HR consultants to talk about corporate culture, which is a fairly hot topic.” Other topics might not generate the same level of interest.
Payton says her HARO queries can bring in as many as 30 to 50 responses at a time, but often what she gets is a mixed bag in terms of quality. “For example, despite the fact that I specify that I won't conduct interviews, some people just respond with their contact information,” she says. “I know I’m going to have to spend some time sorting through them to find the good stuff.”
That’s not really a problem, though, she adds. “Because of the number of quality responses I do get, I just delete the ones that don't follow my instructions.”
So what did I learn about how to write a HARO query to get the best results? Here are the HARO tips our experts shared with me.
- Be specific with your questions. Price suggests that if you ask general questions to a general group (e.g., “What should marketers do differently this year?”), you’ll get generic responses. But if you get specific (e.g., “I’m looking for B2B content marketers who have recently tried a new editorial calendar format. What change have you made, and what results have you seen? Would you recommend your tweak to other marketers?”), you’re much more likely to get helpful responses.
- Ask for everything you need. Payton always asks sources to include their head shots and links to people's websites as part of the process, to save the back and forth via email once she’s selected the responses.
- Indicate the type of source you’re looking for. Hamill recommends being direct and clear about who you want to talk to and what you’re looking for. For example, if you need a marketing consultant, mention that in the summary to catch their attention.
- Dangle some bait. Hamill also suggests you remind respondents that you’re happy to link to their site and put their expertise in front of your audience.
- Plan ahead. Don't wait until the last minute to write and send your query, Hamill says. Sometimes you may need to reframe your topic to get the type of response you’re looking for, so build that into your timeframe if possible.
The next time you need that extra credibility and insight that only an outside expert can provide, try using HARO to make a connection. With just a little foresight, you can find the right perspective to take your content to the next level.
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