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Marketing Content Strategy

The Art of Stroking the Ego: How to Get Your Subject Matter Experts Creating Content

9 Minute Read

If there’s one thing a content marketer doesn’t need, it’s more stats about the importance of content marketing and content creation. This data is so ubiquitous that there’s now even content marketing rounding up content marketing stats. But here’s an important one: 96% of B2B buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders and subject matter experts. Yet another: While 46% of consulting firms in a survey said their consultants’ field expertise was the best source of thought leadership content, only 35% of their content ultimately came from their own consultants. That leaves a lot of content creation to people whose knowledge isn’t always trusted.

And therein lies the eternal dilemma of the in-house content marketer. You want to pump out loads of great quality content that you know your audience will love and share—but you can’t get your internal experts to stop ignoring your calls.

We all know that experts lend authority to content and global B2B companies have a plethora of experts at their fingertips. It’s just that those experts all have day jobs. And those day jobs often earn them quite a lot of money for their time, which means the day job will always come before your requests for a quick chat about content creation, no matter how politely you ask.

So how do you convince those subject matter experts to give you their time when their time is money?

Make It Personal

Simple, if a little sleazy: It’s all about stroking their egos. Make them feel like you’re helping them, not the other way around. Entice them with author profile pages they can show off. Get their contact details on the stories so people can find them. Show them that by helping you, they’re actually helping their own careers—boosting their personal brands and getting something tangible to show off on their own social channels.

It’s an approach many companies have taken, and one that is central to Sage Advice, a new advice-led blog for growing businesses, produced by FTSE100 tech company Sage. The program puts Sage’s own experts front and center—on the homepage, on article pages, all over the blog. The very strategy is built around imparting the invaluable advice that Sage has accrued in its almost forty years working with accounting software, servicing 6.1 million customers worldwide, and helping them establish and grow their businesses.

“We have such a wealth of knowledge here within the company that we should be tapping it and looking to our own experts first before looking elsewhere,” says Julia Cantor, lead editor for Sage Advice US, the first of eight market blogs to go live for Sage earlier this year. “Thought leadership can come from anywhere, not just from writers. It’s the product managers, customer service and sales reps, developers—these are the people with expert knowledge, so we might as well amplify that. To be a good salesperson, you need to be a good educator.”

Screen shot of author profile from Sage Advice US blog

Quote Joe, Not the CEO

It’s the democratization of thought leadership that has really pushed the internal expert to the forefront. This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer shows only 37% of people rate CEOs as credible; for the first time, “a person like yourself” joins technical and academic staff as the most credible spokespeople for a company. As Member of the UK Parliament Michael Gove said during last year’s Brexit campaign, people have “had enough of experts from organizations with acronyms, saying that they know what is best.”

Your general employees, not your leadership team, are perceived as the most credible sources across topics like business practices, innovation efforts, views on the industry, and programs to address societal issues. What’s the best way for you to differentiate yourself in the crowded content space if not by using your unique employee voices?

“Your internal experts are exactly that—experts on the subject that you’re creating content about. And their input adds accuracy, credibility, and a deeper insight,” says Carlie Bonavia, a content marketer at global professional services company TMF Group. “And, unlike an expert on the same subject that you may source externally for your brand content, your internal experts have a deep understanding of not just their area of expertise, but precisely how it affects the customer—your target audience.”

Indium Corporation is often cited as a great example of experts-as-rockstars strategy. They make solder paste and electronic assembly materials—really exciting stuff, eh? But Indium’s director of marketing communications Rick Short explains it like this: “Our customers are engineers. Our technical staff are engineers. Engineers like other engineers: They understand them, they trust them. Heck, they were surrounded by hundreds of engineers for years while in university. They’ve been with each other all their lives. They seek each other out because they’re comfortable with each other. They speak the same language, making their transactions highly efficient and effective.”

In short, content created by engineers for engineers will win every time. If they’ve been in their role for years and can write empathetically and with confidence about the issues facing their industry, then that’s even better.

Bonavia agrees: “You want your internal experts to be your megaphone when it comes to putting content out into the world and seeing it fly. If your experts have had the opportunity to input and share their knowledge, they’re likely to be enthusiastic about promoting the end result. And getting in front of their professional networks can prove to be a goldmine.”

But the question still remains: How on earth do you get those subject matter experts to agree to content creation?

Bonavia says that, too, is mainly down to empathy. “First and foremost you need to respect that your expert’s day job is their priority. At a peak accounting and tax filing time, I can’t expect a subject matter expert to always have the bandwidth to meet a content deadline. I have personally built up a network of experts who are happy to support on content. Some of them simply enjoy the opportunity to do something a little different and flex their expertise in a new way. Many recognize that writing or contributing to thought leadership in their field is an excellent way to enhance their professional profile.

“Our experts also understand the important role that content marketing plays in generating warm sales leads, and they want to do whatever they can to help. Getting our experts involved in the creation of brand content has given us the opportunity to educate them about content marketing—how it differs from other forms of marketing and advertising. They learn that it’s about so much more than regurgitating a product flyer in article form. Being able to demonstrate the impact of their work through analytics has been incredibly important too—they see where their contribution sits in the sales funnel, the types of audiences who are engaging with their content, and how it is playing a part in the success of the business.”

Two colleagues chat in the office

Presents For Presence

But no one is debating the effectiveness of leveraging your internal subject matter experts for content creation. The question is in how to get face time with them, how to get them onside. The answer? Don’t be shy about asking for help.

Says Sage’s Julia Cantor: “We connected with our internal comms manager, and she’s been brilliant. She helped us issue calls for help and get the word out. She also gave us some Sage-branded notebooks, and when people signed up and came to our introductory meeting, we sent them the notebooks as follow-up, asking them to jot their thoughts down. We got so many thank you messages. It really keeps it top of mind for people.”

While Sage asks for written contributions, some companies go another route: ghostwriting on behalf of experts. This can be from an interview or discussion, or it could simply be from a brain dump by the expert that an in-house or freelance writer pulls into a narrative for editing and approval.

TMF Group’s Carlie Bonavia discusses the options for gathering information: “Be prepared to customize your approach to brand content creation based on your expert. Some will be able to put down 2,000 plus words about a subject without blinking; others may need more support from you. Your expert may be great at explaining a concept over the phone, but wouldn’t know where to start if you asked him or her to write about it. You may need to record and transcribe interviews to get the good stuff, use a ghost writer, provide your expert with a template that has guidance as simple as ‘who, what, when, where, why?’ to help them understand the points that are important to cover.”

And don’t forget the all-important public thanking. Content marketer Martin Wanless writes: “Make sure you shout about it. Thank them in front of people for their help. Share it on social. Update them on how many people have engaged with the piece, how many clicks. Hopefully, how many comments or phone calls. But make sure they’re fully aware that their thirty-minute chat over coffee is so insanely valuable for you and the business that they’ll be approaching you asking to do it again.”

Coworkers collaborate

But Beware the Pitfalls

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Sage’s Cantor; she’s been navigating uncharted territory in a way, and while enthusiasm was rife, process was still in its infancy. She advises sharing honest expectations upfront, with clear, concise guidelines, and guardrails to keep people on track. Stay in touch with them, keep them engaged, and offer obvious incentives. She also recommends consulting with your in-house legal team to ensure that there is no issue with using names and faces, and to clarify that your company owns the content; you don’t want to have to take down your best performers just because someone gets a new job.

“Overall people are really, really excited to be involved,” Cantor says. “The way I’ve been pitching it is a win/win. It positions them as a thought leader, but also helps us get content for the blog. I focus on what’s in it for them. I do think incentivizing people is the key, ultimately.

“We’re still new to this, but it’s exciting to see the interest, and to also promote our team’s efforts to the rest of the company. We’re really proud of Sage Advice. My dream is to be able to see leads come through from content; that would be a great case study for us, to be able to show something one of our own experts has written has generated sales.”

And that final kudos—knowing you have a reputation for bringing in big sales, regardless of your department—is perhaps the biggest ego boost of all.

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Lauren is a storyteller. A journalist by trade, she has worked in agencies, in-house and in the media over her 20-year career. She's worked as an editorial strategist and content creator for some of the world's biggest brands, setting up processes and guidelines, advising on planning, auditing content, building loyal audiences, leading social campaigns, writing blogs and flyers and presentations - pretty much handling the stuff with words. She was born in Australia, has resided in London for the last decade, and writes fiction on the side. You’ll often find her grinning like a fool at a rock concert.

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