If you're a brand marketer, you're likely familiar with subject matter experts, or SMEs. These topic-based specialists are extensively experienced within a particular niche, such as technology or healthcare -- and often, some of the most experienced figures in a given niche can be internal experts in your own organization. When you activate them in your brand's content, you can achieve new levels of depth and insight.
That depth can lend your brand new credibility, authority, and authenticity. Turning to SME knowledge demonstrates to your audience that you know exactly what you're talking about -- and that your advice can be trusted.
That said, successfully engaging a subject matter expert in your content marketing takes a certain finesse. Like all partnerships, an SME relationship is built on clear communication and effective collaboration.
Here are a few tips to help you bring SMEs into your content program.
1. Involve SMEs in Your Content Strategy
At a minimum, hold briefings with your SMEs semi-annually as you plan your editorial calendar. SMEs know your industry's landscape like the back of their hand. Their insight can help you plan general themes for upcoming content that tie back to your products and solutions -- and then tweak your messaging to stay on top of recent trends. Your audience comes away with thorough, up-to-date information throughout the year.
Your SMEs can also be one of the best sources of information about your audience. In addition to providing audience search data, insights from sales, and direct customer feedback, an SME can tap into very human elements: what your audience cares about, their challenges, and how future content can address their concerns in a valuable, practical way.
2. Determine if Your SMEs Will Be Passive or Active
As you begin collaborating with SMEs, you'll need to make an important distinction: will they play a passive or active role in your content program? Each option requires a unique management method and content workflow.
Whichever route you take, set aside time with your SME to nail down a process that works for everyone.
Active SMEs are more involved in the nuts and bolts of content creation. They may serve as an interviewee for another writer's article, offer their byline to represent new thought leadership, or even write the content themselves.
As they'll be more hands-on with the content, you'll want to maintain an open dialogue. Ask about their availability, get a sense of their personality, and figure out what medium is best suited to their strengths.
Take Samsung. When designing a content plan with Skyword, Samsung identified Taher Behbehani, GM and head of Samsung's Mobile B2B Business, as an active SME. His personality was perfectly suited to hosting, so the Samsung team developed a podcast series with Behbehani as the host and face of the show. In every installment, Behbehani interviews IT influencers to understand market trends in tech.
Outside of videos and podcasts, an active SME might contribute regular interviews or even one-off quotes to help bring highly technical content to life. If they prefer to write content themselves, you could give them a featured spotlight on your website to drive interest and engagement.
Passive SMEs typically provide higher-level support, such as reviewing ideas, finalizing content, and providing general guidance. They might add comments to content to highlight certain phrasing that should be corrected.
Ultimately, their role is more limited, so aim to streamline the review process as much as possible. Only provide passive SMEs with the context and materials they need. For example, if they'll only review content after a draft has been written and edited, send them a clean copy they can mark up and return to you.
Clearly define their role so both you and they understand when and how they need to jump into the process. This will allow them to focus their efforts on providing their expertise.
3. Steer Your SMEs Away from Detail Overload
Often, SMEs are more invested in product details or technical specs than the everyday reader. This passion is useful for tying your content back to the bottom line, but SMEs may lean too much into explaining every detail -- and could lose readers in the process.
The average reader likely doesn't need the level of depth SMEs are able to give, especially for early-stage content. As such, it's worth taking the time to explain the iceberg approach to your SMEs.
Point out how it's often more effective to show off the tip of the "product iceberg" in their content and demonstrate how that product can make a difference in reader's lives -- with just a hint at the true depths hidden below. Rather than explaining every minute detail up front, this approach draws readers in and piques their interest to drive engagement.
4. Make the Most of Your SMEs' Time
According to 2021 Skyword research, brands typically have trouble getting SMEs to write marketing content. It makes sense: SMEs are busy people, and being part of a content program means committing time and effort to it.
As such, approach any SME with a structured plan that both respects and maximizes their time. Brief them on your content program, outlining your goals, intended audience, their role as reviewers or contributors, and the impact the content will have on their line of business or personal career. This will help them understand why contributing to your content is worth their investment.
You should also explain the ways you'll streamline the workflow process to make it as frictionless and easy to follow as possible. For instance, you might:
Create a template, standardized brief, or list of questions to capture their outputs. If they're reviewing topic ideas, you might ask them the same questions for each: What advantages does the product provide here? What challenges are facing the reader? What can help them overcome those obstacles?
Pair SMEs with ghostwriters. If your SME wants a byline but doesn't have enough time to write content, a ghostwriter can interview the SME and translate their unique point of view to the page, taking care to capture their personality.
Make it easy for SMEs to share their content. You could write social copy for them or share ideas about how they can leverage the assets they helped create.
These are just a few examples, but you shouldn't stop there. As your SME gets used to contributing, take time to make process improvements and fine-tune the workflow.
5. Follow Up with Wins
It's one thing for an SME to understand the impact they're having, but another thing entirely to see the results of their work. Make a point to collect performance data on your SME content. How many times has it been viewed? What's the click-through rate? How many likes or comments has it gotten on social?
As you gather this information, make a habit of writing a short note to the SME or sharing a nice comment from a reader to bolster their mood and keep them engaged. Seeing results will help motivate them to keep delivering high-quality content, and your audience will sense that enthusiasm.
6. Scale Your SME Program
Ideally, you'll kick off your SME program with a few rock stars who will embrace the fact that a new process may have some growing pains. After you've collected data showcasing an SME program's impact on the business and the SMEs' careers, you can use it to promote the program further.
By taking the time to build a thoughtful approach to SME collaboration, you can engage readers with content that's more robust, well-researched, and backed by industry expertise.
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