December 1, 2022 (Updated: August 24, 2023)
Subject matter experts (SMEs) are people who have in-depth knowledge of or experience with a specific industry topic. Partnerships with these professionals are extremely valuable for content marketers. How else do you think you can get interesting first-hand information on any topic you’ve ever wanted to write about and guarantee its accuracy? Today, we’re discussing how to use subject matter experts within the content development process to create better, more engaging pieces your audience can trust:
Subject matter experts help fill the gap between what your content development team knows about your industry and what really happens during the day-to-day grind. SMEs provide valuable insights to your audience who either already exist in the same industry spaces or want to break into them.
Working with an SME for your content projects helps your brand become more authoritative on any topic, more trustworthy to the audience, and better prepared to create and share useful content for every audience segment. Use these steps to work with a subject matter expert and incorporate their knowledge and experience into your content development process:
You likely won’t need a subject matter expert for every piece of content you create. The most common projects that involve SME help include:
It also helps to consider what format your content will take when it’s done. Do you plan to use SME quotes throughout a research article? Does the format lend itself to a Q&A-style interview, like a podcast or blog post? Do you plan on ghostwriting the article either under the SME’s name or using their information under someone else’s name, like your CEO? Determine which types of content you want to develop for every campaign to see if you need an SME collaboration or if you can get along with just your regular editorial team.
Before you can work with a subject matter expert, you have to locate the right ones first. You may find that your company already has great SMEs on staff. They may work specifically in an SME role and hold that job title, or they may just be employees from other departments that are highly skilled and knowledgeable about your brand and industry. Talking to your company’s human resources department, sales team, and upper-level management may help you find these SMEs throughout the organization and create partnerships with them.
There are a lot of conversations about how Google understands authorship, and improves SEO outcomes with sites that create quality content that demonstrates expertise, experience and authority.
If you work for a smaller brand or a startup and you don’t have potential SMEs on staff, there are other ways to find the right talent for a content partnership. The internet and social media are good first places to start. LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube are great social media hunting grounds for SMEs. On these channels, you can search industry or topic-related hashtags to find out the big names discussing your content topics. Profiles allow you to browse each person’s credentials and see what other types of content contributions they’ve made in the past.
Other places to look for SMEs online include forums, chat boards, comment sections, and guest posts on other relevant industry blogs or websites.
After you find the right subject matter expert for your content project, form a bond with them to encourage them to agree to work together during the development process. If your SMEs are internal to your company, the introduction process may be easier. You may already know the people you plan to ask to collaborate with you on a content project, and the partnership is as easy as asking if they have the time.
Even if you don’t know your internal SMEs personally, you may ask a colleague to introduce you. Or you could send an introductory message or email to explain who you are and how you’d like to collaborate.
For external partnerships, approaching SMEs may require a few more steps. You’ll need to contact the SME, introduce yourself, talk up your business and content projects, and entice them to take part. It may take longer to develop strong SME partnerships with outside experts to persuade them to work with you. For this reason, consider developing SME relationships long before you plan to use them in content development.
Even though you’re bringing in an SME to help with content development, your writers, editors, or other developers still need a working knowledge of the topic you’re discussing. Researching the topic before meeting with your SME helps your content team develop the best questions to ask for each piece. It also helps them get familiar with how they may want to structure the content and where the gaps are that they really need the SMEs to fill in.
For example, if your tech company is working with a cybersecurity expert for a specific content project, research the industry and field before the initial meeting with the SME. Your team may look up basic information like the definition of cybersecurity, its history, and other surface-level information IT information like how to prevent common cyber threats like phishing, tech support scams and identity theft. Some of that content you MAY not need to talk about with the SME to get it right.
From there, your team can take notes about topics they don’t understand or that would benefit from real-world explanations and stories from the SME. They can develop questions around these areas of the topic and make them the focus of the SME interview.
And speaking of interviews, that’s how you’re going to get the right information out of your SMEs. Depending on what type of content you’re creating, there are plenty of ways to interview that fit with your team’s and the SME’s schedule and comfort level. Some interview options include:
No matter what interview format you choose, it’s important to come up with a list of questions to guide the meeting. Turn the interview into a dialogue. If the SME says something interesting, ask them to expand. Ask follow-up questions where needed, even if they weren’t on your original list. The best SME information comes from a good story and an engaging conversation. The more you let it flow and happen naturally, the better information you can get.
Related: How To Be a Good Storyteller
Your SME interviews are only as good as your notes. You can have the best conversation in the world with your expert, but if you don’t record the key points, the entire conversation was a waste of time. Just like there are plenty of ways to interview, there are also plenty of ways to take notes and collect the important information your SMEs share, like:
If you plan to record your SME through audio or video, get their permission first.
After your initial interview with the SME, the marketing team can likely work through its traditional content development process as normal. Interviewing and working with an SME usually replaces the bulk of the content research phase, but the writing, filming, editing, and other steps should work the same as they do with any other type of content creation.
During the writing or development phases, you may continue to spot contact your SMEs through emails, messaging, or calls to clarify information. You may also ask them to fill in additional holes with information you didn’t get in the original interview. These types of situations are normal and often welcomed by SMEs because it shows dedication from your team to sharing the right information and portraying them in the best light possible.
After you’ve created, edited, and proofed your content, it’s time to share it with your audience. Publish your content on the appropriate channels, such as your website, blog, or social media profiles. Then promote the content through other channels. Link to articles in your email blasts. Share links to your podcasts or webinars on social media. Answer questions on forums and link back to the content on your blog.
Working with SMEs also opens another avenue for content promotion: self-promotion. Ask or encourage your SMEs to share the content with their networks through any channels where they communicate with an audience. Their clout can help bring authority and new leads to your brand.
Though you can work through all the basic steps of collaborating with a subject matter expert, there are still some nuances you should know to help the process go as smoothly as possible. Use these tips to get the most out of content creation with an SME:
Once you’ve found a good SME for your industry or brand, you want to hold on to them. Similar to how you nurture client and customer relationships, you want to cultivate good long-term partnerships with your SMEs. After you finish a project with your SME, be sure to thank them for their time, both at the end of your interview and with a follow-up email or message.
Within the follow-up message, you can give the SME details about when you plan to publish and promote the content they assisted with. You can also give details on how or when they can share it with their own network. Remember, the best relationships come from constant tending and communication, so don’t wait to contact your SMEs just when you need something. Check in regularly to ask how they’re doing. Turn the partnerships into professional friendships rather than business transactions.
While you shouldn’t plan out how long your interview will be before it happens, it’s still a good idea to stay mindful of the time. Your SMEs are busy. Whether they have other work obligations or family expectations, they make time to do your interviews, but they’re not the only things going on in their lives.
Most interviews last somewhere between 15 minutes and one hour. The length generally depends on the complexity of the subject, the content format, and how engaging the conversation becomes. If possible, be courteous and ask your expert if they need to be done with the interview by a certain time. For longer interviews, you can ask if they want to take slight breaks throughout the process.
Unless you’re doing a live interview with a set time slot, you and the SME can determine a schedule that works best for both of you. If the interview runs long and you haven’t covered all the information you need for your content, you can always schedule a secondary or follow-up interview before your deadline.
Picking the right interview questions is crucial for getting the right information for your article and keeping the interview on time. As we already mentioned, avoid asking basic questions that you can find answers to online. General information about a business, brand, product, service, or someone’s professional background is easy to look up and verify without wasting time on that during your interview.
Instead, focus on the questions you can only get answers to from your SME. Reporters often use the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” method to get the facts for stories. But in SME interviews, the whys and hows are going to give you the best information. Asking things about an SME’s personal experience, and more importantly, getting them to tell engaging stories based on your questions, often leads to the best content results.
The upside of working with SMEs is the fact that they know everything about their industry niche. The downside is that you don’t always need to know things down to the smallest detail. When interviewing or working with your SMEs, be aware of how much your audience really needs to know about a topic. Understanding your target audience can make that easier.
If you’re creating content for experts, then you may want highly technical pieces with a lot of detail. But if your target audience is full of beginners, you don’t want to overwhelm them with more advanced information. If your SMEs get too detailed in their explanations, remind them who your primary audience is. Tell them you may use some of their highly technical knowledge later for a different audience segment.
One interview session with your SME doesn’t have to be for just one piece of content. In fact, you may get three to four articles’ worth of content out of a single one-hour interview session. These are the areas where your content team really shines. They can determine where the most logical breaks occur in each interview and where to split up the information to make your SME content go further for your brand.
Stretching the interview information also saves time for your SMEs, because you may not have to contact them repeatedly for more interviews on different topics. You can instead get all the information in one interview session and use it for ongoing content projects.
The best way to maintain relationships with subject matter experts for long-term use is to make the sharing process as clear as possible for them. Always communicate what you expect from your SMEs and what you’ll do for them in return. Share interview dates and expectations in advance, and work with SMEs to pick dates, times, and formats that fit their schedules. Depending on the type of interview you expect to do, you can share the questions ahead of time to let the SME prepare.
The easier it is for them to walk in, do their part, and go back to their daily routine, the more willing they’ll be to work with you again in the future.
If your SMEs are part of the editing or quality assurance process on a content project, be sure to listen to their advice and give it full consideration. Even though your SMEs aren’t on the content development team full-time, their input still matters at all phases of production. They may be content readers, listeners, or watchers outside of their SME life and have insights about real user experience issues for audience members like them.
Even if you ultimately don’t incorporate or use SME feedback in later stages of content production, creating an environment where everyone feels heard and appreciated makes for better collaboration.
At CopyPress, we’re committed to putting the most knowledgeable writers, editors, and subject matter experts on every project, guaranteed. What you say to your audience matters, but so does who says it. That’s why we source our writers and subject matter expert consultants for every project. We want to ensure we’re putting the most knowledgeable people on each campaign, no matter the industry or content type. Are you ready to see what CopyPress and a dedicated team of SMEs can do for your brand content? Schedule your first strategy consultation with our team today.
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