When times are uncertain. When businesses must run lean operations. When there's the same amount of work to do but fewer employees to get it all done. In these scenarios, brands often turn to freelance support. However, the freelance relationship is a resource that can help bolster your operations all year round.
But any old freelance support just won't do. Brands are shying away from generalists in favor of subject matter experts, better known as SMEs. These freelancers come with the specific knowledge and industry expertise that allows them to produce content for your brand that's more authentic, valuable and useful to your audience.
As more brands get into the content marketing game, your organization will need to do even more in order to stand out from the crowd. By forging relationships with these industry experts, you're taking the first step toward creating the sort of content that search engines and your followers want to want to see.
"To rank well on Google, you need to nurture your brand by building its expertise, authority, and trustworthiness," writes Ian Booth for Moz. Content that satisfies these requirements is often identified by the SEO acronym E-A-T. Highlighting the need for relationships with SME content creators, Booth continues, "Google wants to see who the author of a page's main content is and what their credentials are with regards to the subject matter."
This is just one of the reasons why Skyword's associate director of community management, Molly Conicella, is seeing an increased demand for SME writers from clients and prospects.
ABOVE: Molly Conicella, Skyword's associate director of community management, connects brands with freelance content creators and subject matter experts.
Experts Lend Authenticity to Content
Most brands are now demanding experts for content creation, says Conicella. Even B2C content programs are eschewing generalists in favor of SME writers and content creators in their specific industry or sector.
"It's been that way for the last couple of years," she explains. "Every client is asking for experts. They want authentic stories and writers who know what it's actually like to live that role and to be that person. You can read through research, but you can't research your way around cloud storage, for example; you have to know the ins and outs of the industry. When you can create something that's really rich and authentic and lands on target for the audience, that makes a difference."
Conicella's role is to source writers and freelance content creators for Skyword's clients, but her work starts way before contracts are signed. As part of her pre-sales work, she researches and contacts SME writers who could fit a prospective client's needs. This way, she's able to show brands just how Skyword can fulfill their demand for experts. To help her showcase the right talent on offer, Conicella advises her content creators to choose one or two subjects on which they're "super focused," and to make sure their portfolio includes recent examples of work in that field.
"The real X-factor for an SME is that practitioner level," she says. "You see it especially in medicine. The credibility that comes along with saying, 'I'm a physician,' or, 'I'm a dermatologist,' adds value to the client."
But an SME doesn't have to work in a particular field to be considered an expert on it. For instance, not all fintech SMEs are ex-developers or ex-financial analysts. If you're looking for a writer with a deep level of expertise, keep in mind that expertise can come from them regularly writing about an industry or from working within it. However, while a really strong journalist can conduct interviews with industry experts, extract key information, and create compelling content, an SME will know the right questions to ask and the right terminology to use, either because they have on-the-job experience or have done their research.
"When I present writers to brands, they want to review recent samples that are hitting that target audience with a depth of content; that's three or four samples at least in reputable trade and industry publications," Conicella explains. "That's why I'm constantly coaching writers to update their personal profiles and websites and to send new clips. Building a strong portfolio is crucial."
Questions to Ask a Freelancer to Evaluate Fit
If you're sourcing your own freelance content creators, you'll need to practice due diligence before giving anyone the go-ahead. Take time to ensure they're the right fit for your program, and that you can build a strong freelance relationship together. A freelance relationship can flourish or flounder based on honesty, transparency, and communication, so you'll need to establish boundaries and expectations early.
In addition to asking a freelancer about their rates, work style, communication preferences, and availability, there are a few other questions you can ask to ascertain and evaluate their expertise, including:
How long have you been working in this field?
What types of projects have you worked on?
What project are you most proud of, and why?
How would you assess your own level of expertise?
Can you provide relevant work samples?
Do you have references or testimonials from past clients?
Managing the Relationship between Brand and Freelancer
Even though freelance content creators are often brought in to boost your internal bandwidth, it can still be time-consuming for you to manage freelancers and ensure everything stays on track. That's one of the reasons why Skyword offers editorial services in addition to a community of expert creatives.
A trusted partner can give you the support you need to bring your content strategy to life, whether that's talent recruitment, data-driven ideation, editorial management, or creative direction. But even if you don't want to work with an agency, it's important to pinpoint exactly where your processes could be better in regard to relationships with subject matter experts. This way, you tackle each of these pain points one by one and ensure your freelance partnerships are fruitful for both sides.