How Do Subject Matter Experts Affect Content Development?

Christy Walters


December 8, 2022 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

the word "steps" typed on a white piece of paper and circled in yellow highlighter to demonstrate how subject matter experts affect content development

Subject matter experts (SMEs) help content marketers share factual, helpful information their audience can trust on any topic. It’s easy to think of SMEs as little more than research tools. They’re your human Google search that you use to gather information and nothing more. But that’s not the case. SMEs can help your content team throughout the entire content lifecycle. Today, we’re looking at how subject matter experts affect content development and how you can use their varied expertise and functions to your brand’s advantage:

How To Use Subject Matter Experts in Each Phase of the Content Development Process

the word "steps" typed on a white piece of paper and circled in yellow highlighter to demonstrate how subject matter experts affect content development

Image via Unsplash by @claytonrobbins

While it’s common to use subject matter experts for research during content development, that’s not the only time you can use their services. Explore how you can work with subject matter experts at distinct steps in the content development process:

1. Goal Setting

The first phase of content development is setting brand goals. Strategic brand goals are the long-term objectives for your company. Where do you see your brand in five years? What things do you want to accomplish? Although this may sound like an internal strategy team project, your subject matter experts may actually have insight into where your brand should head in the next few years, especially for smaller niche companies.

While most strategic goals are big-picture, SMEs may help your team set short-term goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) for individual content campaigns and projects. These build your success to help you reach the larger strategic goals. For example, if one of your goals is to gain new customers in the next few years, your SMEs may provide insights about upcoming trends or shifts in the way people in the industry do business. If you can tap into those things with a specific content campaign, you’ll be that much closer to reaching the larger strategic goal.

Remember, your experts are also part of your target audience. They hold a unique place in the content development process because they can see any issue that arises from both the business and consumer sides. Use that duality to your advantage.

2. Research

The research phase is where you most commonly think to use your SMEs during content development. At this phase, your content creators—such as writers, podcast hosts, or videographers—work with your SMEs to collect information on your topics, which they can turn into expert content. The more data you collect from your SMEs, the more in-depth your content pieces can be. You may even get enough information to create a longer content series rather than a one-off article or video.

During the research phase, your content creators prepare a list of questions and interview your SMEs to get their insights. Your team can do interviews in person, virtually, on the phone, or through email and messaging.

3. Competitor Analysis

Competitor analysis helps you compare your brand’s content and marketing strengths and weaknesses with its closest rivals. Similar to goal setting, this sounds like it should be an internal strategy team activity. But your SMEs may provide more insight into this area than you realize. Many SMEs outside your company that provide their expertise as freelancers work for multiple companies at one time. They don’t have loyalties to one organization over another. They’re chasing either money or recognition.

Subtly ask your subject matter experts how they’ve worked on similar content for related companies in the past. While your SMEs can refuse to answer these questions, especially if they’re bound by contract, many won’t have a problem providing information about their experiences. If you’re looking for more ways to conduct competitor research for your content development, request your free content marketing analysis report from CopyPress today.

“CopyPress gives us the ability to work with more dealership groups. We are able to provide unique and fresh content for an ever growing customer base. We know that when we need an influx of content to keep our clients ahead of the game in the automotive landscape, CopyPress can handle these requests with ease.”

Kevin Doory

Director of SEO at Auto Revo

4. Audience Analysis

Your SMEs are both your resources and part of your target audience. They’re part of the field, niche, or industry you’re trying to reach with your expert content. Who better to provide insights about what your audience really wants or needs from your content than someone on the inside? Use your SMEs as models for your audience profiles and customer personas to better understand all of your audience segments. The more SMEs you have, and the more targeted profiles you create, the better chances you have of reaching audience members at all stages of the marketing funnel.

5. Content Type Selection

Your subject matter experts can help your content team decide which types of content to create for every campaign. For example, if your brand usually develops written articles, but your SME has a strong background in helping with video content, give that a try. Just make sure you have the talent and resources to start something new.

You’re going to get the most out of your subject matter experts when they’re comfortable with the interview format and have a clear sense of how the project works. If your team has the time and resources to make those adjustments based on their preferences, it may open your brand up to new marketing channels. It can also attract new audience segments you wouldn’t have tapped otherwise.

6. Content Topic Selection

Even if your team has content topics or content gaps in mind to fill with information from your SMEs, sometimes their insight into what the audience really wants to see can change your development course. Your SMEs know their strength areas. They also know what’s trending in their industries, and what people in those industries really want to know during the time you’re creating and sharing each piece of content.

While your team’s research and metrics should have most of the pull when selecting content topics, don’t count out that boots-on-the-ground approach. If your SMEs recognize a content need that your team hasn’t seen, do more research and decide if it’s worth pursuing.

7. Editorial Calendar

Though your team has the final say over your editorial calendar, your experts’ schedules may influence how you structure it. Their availability may affect the dates and times of publication and promotion. Work with your SMEs to set an interview schedule, slot them for fact-checking or editing, and any other roles an SME takes on with your team. Their availability may skew your original deadlines or production timelines. Work with your SMEs as far in advance as possible to learn their schedules so you can set production dates that work for the entire team.

8. Content Creation

While you mostly use SMEs for research and strategy, some may write, record, or edit their own content. Consider asking your SMEs to write their own blog posts or film their own video clips if they have the content skills to do so. Other ways your SMEs may work during the content creation phase include proofreading or fact-checking your content team’s work to make sure it’s accurate. They may also read or watch nearly finished content to make sure it’s easy for your audience to understand the complex topics.

Related: How To Use Subject Matter Experts To Create Quality Content

9. Promotion

After your team publishes SME content on its own channels, get your experts to share it with their own networks. A few ways your SMEs can spread the word about new content include:

  • Sharing pieces on social media
  • Adding a link to their personal newsletter
  • Mentioning the content in other interviews or at speaking engagements
  • Sharing a link on their personal blog, website, or digital portfolio

Not only does the promotion process help your SME, but it also provides a host of benefits for your brand and domain, such as:

  • More backlinks
  • Better domain authority
  • Increased search positioning for content

Content Subject Matter Expert FAQs

Get answers to some of your frequently asked questions about how SMEs integrate into the content development process:

Is It More Important To Have Subject Matter Experts or Skilled Content Experts?

Many new content marketers, or those new to working with content SMES, try to weigh what’s going to matter most to the audience: factually accurate, in-depth content or well-written/recorded content. The thought that one of these is more important than the other is a flaw in logic. Both matter to your audience. Think of it like listening to music. Both the lyrics and the beat have to appeal to the listener or they’re going to turn off the song. If you don’t produce easy-to-digest and truthful content, your audience will click away.

Your content creators are no more important than your SMEs and vice versa. They have to work together to develop the best content possible that’s both engaging and helpful to your audience. While you may spend more time and effort finding skilled content experts because their talents take more work to develop, that doesn’t mean you should ever forego working with subject matter experts in favor of your basic content team alone.

How Do You Get SMEs To Join Your Project?

We’ve talked before about the benefits of using an SME for your brand, but what’s in it for them? How are you going to convince an SME to add working on your content projects to their already busy schedules? If you can show your potential SMEs what’s in this partnership for them, you have a better chance of enticing them to work with your brand. Some perks to attract SMEs to join your projects include:

  • Validation: You’re calling this person an expert and you and your audience are interested in their thoughts and opinions. This ego validation may be enough to attract some SMEs.
  • Challenges: Most SMEs share similar qualities, like curiosity and a love of learning. By presenting your projects as a new challenge for them to tackle, they might be interested enough to hop aboard.
  • Altruism: Reminding SMEs that their contributions to your project help others in the field may encourage them to provide insight and feedback in good faith.
  • Personal branding: SMEs trying to make a name for themselves in that niche may see your collaboration as a chance to kick off or enhance their personal branding and reach.
  • Payment: When all else fails, money talks. Reminding your SME candidates that they can make money from working a side gig helping you with content projects may help sway their decisions.

Where Can I Find Subject Matter Experts?

SMEs are everywhere. You just have to know where to look. The first step to finding an SME is understanding what you’re looking for in a candidate and how working with one integrates with your brand goals and workflow. After you’ve made your list (and checked it twice), look for SMEs in places like:

  • Social media channels: Join groups and search hashtags related to your most pressing industry topics to see who’s already providing insights. Browse their credentials and then contact these candidates to set up a partnership.
  • Professional associations: Joining or contacting professional organizations in your industry gives you access to the best, brightest, and most dedicated professionals in any field. Attending events or striking up conversations with these people may lead to your next SME candidates.
  • Competitor research: Freelance SMEs often aren’t bound to one company in their contracts. Research your competitors to see who they’re working with and see if you can sway those experts to work with your brand, too.
  • Search engines: There are plenty of organizations, job boards, and other online tools that specialize in setting up SMEs with the right brands. A simple Google search for “subject matter experts” + your industry or topic could be a good place to start.
  • Networking: Ask people in your professional network if they know anyone in the field looking for SME work. People who come with high-quality recommendations may be your best performers yet.
  • Internal team members: You don’t even have to leave your organization to find experts on different industry topics. Ask around or send out a company-wide memo asking for participation in your next content project.

Related: 11 Questions To Ask Before Picking a Subject Matter Expert

How Do You Know If You’re Creating Expert Content?

Just like there’s a checklist of qualities to determine if you’re picking the right subject matter expert for your brand, there’s one to see if you’re developing expert content from their interviews and feedback. Expert content is:

  • Insightful: The piece provides new thoughts on a topic that your audience hasn’t heard before.
  • Deeply knowledgeable: The piece digs below the surface to provide more than a basic overview or understanding of the topic.
  • Widely knowledgeable: The piece connects to other industry topics and practical audience questions and needs.
  • Relevant: The piece matters to your audience and covers a topic they want or need to know more about.
  • Easy to understand: The piece doesn’t go over your audience’s heads. It gives the right information they need to know in terms and a format they can digest easily.

Plan Your Next Content Strategy With CopyPress

Even with the best SMEs and content development tools, your content marketing plan is nothing without analysis and strategy. Figuring out where to start can be tricky, but CopyPress has you covered. Download our free eBook How To Analyze Your Content and Craft a Winning Strategy for 2023 today. You’ll get expert insight from our Director of Content Analysis, Jeremy Rivera, on:

  • The differences between the types of analyses you can conduct
  • How to find your competitors
  • How to see and measure the return on investment (ROI) of your content efforts

After you’ve read the eBook, be sure to schedule your strategy call with our team to bring together strategy development, qualified SME placement, and top-notch content development. With CopyPress, you can push your company ahead of its competitors where it counts: in search and beyond.

Author Image - Christy Walters
Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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