Make Your Content Sing With the Help of Subject Matter Experts

Justin Lambert

Written by Justin Lambert on Fri, Jul 31, 2015

6092105212_f625893db6_zI attended a really great webinar put on by the team over at Relevance this month. It drew me in because even though I’m a writer by trade, the requirements for high-quality content development these days have me on the phone speaking to subject matter experts (SMEs) on a regular basis. The webinar was entitled, “5 Steps to Content Marketing Success: Partnering With Subject Matter Experts.” They’ve also released an ebook summary of the material which is really good.

Quick Webinar Recap

I don’t want to take away from the benefit you’ll get from checking out the full package from Relevance, so I just want to briefly recap the key points I got out of the webinar and ebook:

  1. The SME is different from an influencer. While in rare cases, they’re one in the same, usually the SME is an expert who’s down in the trenches day in and day out and may or may not be really well known, but their position, knowledge and experience gives them clout. An influencer, on the other hand, is usually very well known in the niche where they own an audience, although they may not be the most knowledgeable person on the subject.
  2. Combining the two for content creation and distribution is the perfect 1-2 punch. Creating content with the help of an SME and distributing it with the help of an influencer is a formula for success.
  3. Effective SME outreach takes time. While it’s never a good idea to rush content development, there are some pieces that can be put together in a few hours or days. This isn’t the case when SMEs need to be interviewed. They’re busy people, and pinning them down to an interview can take up to a few weeks.
  4. Preparation is key to a successful interview. Again, these are busy folks, so it’s important to be well prepared for the interview so no one’s time gets wasted. Make sure the SME gets a copy of the interview questions ahead of time so they can give them some thought or, if they prefer, respond in writing.
  5. Include the SME in content promotion as well. While they may not be as well-known as an industry influencer, your SME likely has many contacts within the industry who would be interested in checking out the finished product. Plus, if your content includes input from more than one SME, your audience expands dramatically with each one that helps spread it.

The overall message was clear: respect the subject matter expert’s time, make the process as easy and painless as possible, and let them help make your content the best it can be.

Some other thoughts about working with SMEs

In addition to what I pulled from the webinar and ebook, I’ve also learned a few things in recent months about working with SMEs that I didn’t have enough experience to put together before. Maybe some of these thoughts will help you as you’re working with SMEs in your web content development process:

  • The SME may be a terrible communicator. This is nothing at all against the individual. Their ability to communicate has no bearing on how valuable their knowledge and experience is. But what it does mean is that we – as the professional communicators – need to work extra hard to ask the right questions in the right way to really draw out the best of the best.
  • The SME often has no concept of an editorial calendar. Even in circumstances where the SME I’m working with is a team member in our client’s organization, they’re rarely directly involved with marketing, and often have little if any concept of what type of content schedule has been set up in advance. And, to be honest, it’s not their problem. It’s mine. So, again, it’s up to me (and my Content Marketing Manager) to do the best we can to tactfully guide the client to a schedule far enough in advance of publishing to allow for SMEs with busy and chaotic schedules.
  • Some SMEs love to talk. This is the other side of the coin from the first point, but equally challenging. One of the reasons we’re talking to this individual is that they know a lot about the subject at hand. In many cases, they absolutely love the subject too. Once you get them started… look out! I’ve found it’s important to learn how to skillfully direct the conversation to stay on point, out of respect for their time and my own.
  • Some SMEs are influencers in disguise. As noted above from the webinar, there are rare circumstances where the SME you’re interviewing is, in fact, an industry influencer and may not even realize it. In one case, we have an executive in a client organization whose LinkedIn updates (generated automatically through HubSpot each time a blog post is published) consistently outperform every other team member’s updates AND the Company Page for the organization. That guy is an influencer, and he probably never realized it before. We can help him take advantage of that.

What kinds of things have you learned about working with subject matter experts and influencers in your content marketing work? To learn more about why your business needs an influencer marketing strategy, click the button below.

Photo credit: Matthew Hurst via Flickr

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