January 19, 2023 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
You can find subject matter experts (SMEs) to help with content development anywhere if you look hard enough—even in your own company. Depending on the project, the people who know what your audience wants to hear most could already work side-by-side with you. And if they’re not already experts in what your brand shares or sells, they can become ones with some support. Today, we’re looking at how to turn your team members into SMEs and what your company can do to promote its internal experts as part of your content marketing strategy.
Depending on the topic, anyone can be a subject matter expert. The knowledge level and expertise of your audience is also a factor when choosing who qualifies as a subject matter expert. Depending on what audience you’re writing for and what type of content you’re creating, here are seven ways you can help your team members become SMEs:
Everyone does something well. A skill like remembering all the lyrics to every Fleetwood Mac song might not make you marketable at work, but it’s still a skill. It’s often harder to self-identify your on-the-job skills because they become routine. You don’t actually realize you’re good at something when you do it day in and day out repeatedly. But encouraging your team members to think about what they do every day and what they’re good at is a simple way to help them feel more confident in their skills.
And SMEs have an innate confidence in their skills and their jobs—enough that they feel they have the authority to share what they know with others. If your team members can pinpoint what they do well, they can further develop those skills or do additional training to back them up.
Image via Unsplash by @wocintechchat
Sometimes people are good at things they don’t actually enjoy. You may create a wicked spreadsheet, but have no desire to work with data all day. Or you might write a great email, but it takes you hours to get it down because the process stresses you out. Skill doesn’t always equate to passion. And the best SMEs are both knowledgeable and passionate about their core areas. After you get your team members to think about their strengths, have them consider which aspects of their job they’re passionate about.
If none of their skills match up with their passions, ask them what things they would like to do instead. Identifying passion areas may help you choose training and workshops you can offer to develop team members’ skills further.
As the marketing department, your job is to analyze both your SMEs and what information and skills you want to convey to the audience. You’ll likely already have your audience segments or content analysis done before you work to identify your internal SMEs. Once you have all the data and information, you can work to match team members with specific audience segments and content projects.
Even if your team members aren’t full-fledged SMEs yet, knowing the projects you want them to work on or which audience segments you want them to target can help you prepare for the rest of their SME training. For example, if a content marketing company finds they have a team member passionate about children’s literature, they may want to put that person on projects that target education or even retail clients.
SMEs become experts through continuous practice and the use of their skills. They can also become experts faster with more education. Working with your company to provide more opportunities for continuing education may make your team members more likely to take advantage of it. LinkedIn Learning is a viable option for remote companies or those who want to give employees the chance to learn about many different topics on their own time.
Inviting guest speakers, holding workshops, or encouraging participation in company-wide webinars can also be great ways to encourage your team to expand what they know. Depending on your industry or the type of content you plan to share with your audience, you can work with human resources or the department that plans and schedules company training. Ask if you can suggest certain topics or sessions that could be most beneficial for your SMEs.
If you already know of some SMEs on your staff, you can set up coaching programs for them to pass on their skills to newer or less experienced co-workers. Coaching and mentoring programs help potential SMEs learn more about their roles and what those roles mean to the company. Unlike training sessions or continuing education courses, one-on-one coaching provides a more relaxed environment.
When two team members get to know each other on a more personal level, they may feel more comfortable asking questions or asking for help. These types of partnerships can also help with personal goal-setting and development. Coaching and mentor programs also give the mentees something to aspire to. If they work hard and stay with your company for an extended period, they can become coaches in the future.
Training and learning don’t all have to come from your company. Encouraging team members to do their own continuing education from outside sources helps them grow as employees and strengthens them as SMEs. For example, you may encourage your content marketers to subscribe to industry newsletters or follow industry leaders on social media.
In other cases, you may encourage team members to get certified by or join professional organizations in their niche. Groups like the American Marketing Association (AMA), the Project Management Institute (PMI), and the American Society for Quality (ASQ) are just a few examples of professional communities your team members can join. With these memberships, they receive access to industry publications, training opportunities, and networking that help them grow in their individual skills and subject areas.
Expertise doesn’t just come from knowledge and skill. It also comes from recognition. Even if your team members are highly skilled and super smart, if no one knows their names, you’re not going to get as many benefits from working with them to develop content. Your audience wants information from SMEs with authority. If your team members don’t have authority in their industry, they can earn it in a few different ways.
Encouraging networking, featuring them on your brand’s social media channels, or including their information in your company newsletter are all options to increase your team members’ authority. You can also encourage them to create their own professional social media accounts and become content creators. Aside from LinkedIn, many professionals use Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to connect with their audience and share photos, infographics, blog posts, and other helpful content related to their industries and niches.
With these professional accounts, your audience can share any content they contribute to your brand. This helps your pieces get more reach and potentially more backlinks for SEO. Finally, creating an online portfolio can also help your SMEs develop a name for themselves online. Whether they create their own content or simply share your content to which they’ve contributed, having an online presence helps them appear in search results.
As you can see, there are ways you can mold your team members into the exact subject matter experts you need for any piece of content. But what if you didn’t have to do any of that prep work? What if you could simply ask a team member to provide you with some expert content and they deliver? This option is possible too if you know how to pick out the right experts. Here are a few ways you can identify if people in your company already have the SME qualities you’re looking for:
Who is best known for what at your company? Does someone create the best slide presentation in the organization? Is there someone on your team who’s great at accounting? Maybe there’s someone on your team who does construction in their spare time and gives everyone tips for their home remodels.
Depending on what your company is marketing or selling, both on-the-job and hobby skills can help identify your internal SMEs. If you can’t name team members with special skills yourself, ask around. Department managers, co-workers, or HR specialists may be able to help you find and choose the right SMEs for any project.
Some of your team members may not discuss all their strengths and hobbies at work. But most times if they have training or skills in specific areas they’ll likely share them on LinkedIn. If your organization has a company page on LinkedIn, when someone lists that information in their work history, it links to your page. You can browse a list of these employees right from your company page by clicking the highlighted link in the screenshot below.
From there, LinkedIn provides a list of all your linked team members. Check out their resumes for past work experience, educational background, and training that could help with your content projects. Outside of LinkedIn, you can check team members’ personal and professional social media profiles to see if they share any additional information about hobbies or skills. Some may even be content creators or influencers off the clock. That makes bringing them into your content development process easier.
One of the easiest ways to find out if you have SMEs within your company is to ask team members directly. Create a survey that you can send company-wide through email or a professional messaging program. Ask questions like:
While these aren’t the only questions you can ask, they are a few to get you started. If you know which projects you need SMEs for, you can ask more targeted questions related to that content. You can keep these surveys on file by creating a searchable database. Update the database regularly to make sure you’re accounting for any new skills people learn or new team members who join the company.
Once you’ve either developed or identified your internal SMEs, the marketing team needs to consider how they’ll use these people on content projects. Keep these tips in mind to help you manage your internal SME assets:
While you may not need to use an SME for every content project you produce, providing expert information should start to become part of their regular jobs. It’s not just a quick add-on they’ll do every six months. SME work is also not something they should have to do on their own time.
Work with your SMEs and their managers to build SME duties into their workflow. This may include being available during work hours for interviews, fact-checking information, or other SME responsibilities. When SME work becomes part of an employee’s regular job, they may be more likely to provide quality work and look forward to small breaks from their regular routines.
When you work with internal SMEs, providing content might be their most important role to the marketing team. But it’s not the only thing they do. Be realistic about what you can expect from your internal SMEs. Try not to overload them with too much content work if it’s not directly related to their everyday jobs. You’re going to get better information and content from your team members if it fits into their natural workflows. It won’t happen if they become overworked and stressed about getting “one more thing” done.
If you need SME information for a project on a tight deadline, be sure to share this information with your SMEs and their managers. While you don’t want to take your SMEs off too many of their regular projects, it’s also important that your needs move to the top of their lists when necessary. Working together and staying in constant communication helps your SME team better prioritize their projects and responsibilities so that everything gets done on time with less stress.
Everyone can be a subject matter expert in something. Your biggest challenge as a marketing team is finding the right people to grow and shape into the SMEs you need for each of your content projects. Once you have these people prepped, trained, and sharing their expertise with you, content development becomes even easier for your brand.
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