Digital Marketing, Thought Leaders

How to Use Subject Matter Experts in Content Marketing

March 14, 2018

by Lauren Fairbanks

Co-Founder & Managing Partner, S&G

You can't hire content writers who are knowledgeable about every topic, which is where subject matter experts (SMEs) come in. SMEs can provide valuable insight, help craft content, and offer feedback.

B2B content marketing is tricky. How do you appeal to other businesses?

You can’t just fill the sales funnel by simply cold calling; it's time-consuming, inefficient, and expensive.

Instead, naturally developing a reliable web presence can drive far more traffic and brand awareness than one person can do alone.

But to develop a web presence – and do it well – you need to build a constant stream of content (like blog posts, e-books, photos, infographics, and videos) for your company’s website. In fact, 80 percent of current B2B marketers use blogging as a key part of their marketing strategy.

To cultivate a relationship of trust with buyers and to generate content in complex arenas, companies often consult subject matter experts (SMEs).

Our agency regularly consults SMEs because we can’t hire content writers who are knowledgeable specialists in everything.

Over time, we found some solid ways to discover, prepare for, interview, encourage, and share subject matter expertise across different fields.

Here are five steps in leveraging subject matter expertise in B2B content marketing:

1. Identify Subject Matter Experts

Chances are, your company or the company you’re working with has a few passionate SMEs. It could be the CEO, someone else in marketing, or the coworker sitting right next to you.

At S&G Content Marketing, our clients usually have SMEs in-house who have a hand in product and service development, and they’re usually eager to dispense knowledge with clarity and depth.

All you have to do: Listen to them.

If you don’t have in-house SMEs and you want to find subject matter experts who really know what they’re talking about, you’ll have to know where to look.

Social media is a good place to start. There’s LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and anywhere else prominent people publish content.

Start by searching for hashtags that incorporate the subject matter you’re researching. SMEs on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram almost always tag their conversations with industry- or topic-related hashtags.

You can also use LinkedIn groups and industry-focused forums and publications to find subject matter experts who are publishing and sharing their opinions and research.

In a LinkedIn post, social media strategist and author Paul Gillin recommends searching for SMEs “who are already active in social channels, just not yours; are frequent speakers at professional conferences; contribute to trade publications or professional journals; frequently share links or ideas via email; enjoy leading internal seminars or discussion groups; and/or are active contributors to your intranet or internal social network.”

SMEs who do the above are more likely to be willing to speak to you.

2. Learn About the Topic

Your knowledge level is not going to match that of SMEs, but before you talk to them and ask them questions, you should ensure you're going to ask the right questions.

You risk asking an SME something basic and obvious and getting a similar response in return if you don’t know anything about the topic.

But that’s okay; you can familiarize yourself with the topic before speaking to them. And this is an important point – SMEs usually have limited time, so make the most of it by asking the best questions.

You’re not going to become a subject matter expert overnight (or even through your own research), but it's always helpful to prep yourself with a baseline of knowledge about the topic or industry of an SME. Learn the vocabulary, and get to know the topic more.

For example, one of our clients deals in cybersecurity and compliance.

First, it helped us knowing those two terms don’t mean the same thing. If you’re unfamiliar with a topic like that, it’s best to search for websites and names associated with each subject – also another good way to identify SMEs.

On the B2B content marketing side of things, it’s best to brush up on industry-specific keywords, so in the case of cybersecurity, you’ll want to learn about phrases like encryption, tokenization, GDPR, NYCRR500, CDP, key management, ransomware, authentication, and authorization.

Now that you’ve amassed a wealth of information and a bit of confidence through some research, it’s interview time.

3. Interview an SME

Interviews are a great way to leverage subject matter expertise in B2B content marketing. This is a content marketing best practice.

Even if you ask the basic “who, what, when, where, and why,” that can be enough. What’s really important is to listen and learn from the SME.

Ask good questions, ask follow-up questions, and keep going.

End the interview by asking if you overlooked anything important, and see if your interview subject can pinpoint any holes in your research.

A good awkward pause can even work, too. Your SME will tend to fill the silence with more interesting information, or you’ll have a little more time to think of a follow-up question.

One of the best interviews we conducted involved a partnership with a lighting company. We questioned engineers who explained everything from LED technology to the intricacies of wavelength radiation and diurnal rhythms.

We recorded the interview on multiple audio devices (back-ups are always a good idea), kept track of time and queries through hand-written and typed notes, quickly followed up with more questions, and asked for elaboration of any hazy concepts.

The conversation took only 30 minutes, and we were left with a plethora of information for the next several blog articles.

4. Thank the SME

You’ve translated the complicated engineer-speak into regular, everyday language for some blog posts, and now it’s time to thank the SMEs for their time.

Like one of our writers explains in our in-house blog, SMEs have the right to hesitate to participate: “For many of them, every piece of writing they produce is directly tied to them and becomes part of their body of work that they will be judged on in the future, from authorship of articles in journals to their thesis and defense, to criticism and reviews, to blog posts and infographics. For a lot of people, this is literally everything they are in the workplace.”

When an SME participates in blog posts, he or she is tied to the article, so it’s always a risk if what they say is interpreted poorly.

If you do find an SME who is willing to participate, it’s essential to thank them.

Because their contribution matters so much, one thing we like to do is show SMEs their help is valued, even if it’s just a simple thank-you email or a word of gratitude during a meeting.

SME thank you email

People like to be appreciated, and if you want to leverage their subject matter expertise again, you will want them to know that insightful conversation was worth it for everyone involved and that you look forward to another project in the future.

5. Publish and Promote Your Post

You successfully took a journalistic approach to a subject, interviewed a subject matter expert, and have well-written articles, eye-catching graphics, or a dynamic video to prove it.

The last step for a B2B content marketer is to hit the publish button and share that content. To promote, we turn to social media.

Maximize your presence and help guide others to the informative content your SME helped you produce with a tweet or professional post on LinkedIn—wherever your targeted audience may interact.

S&G SME promotion

If it’s well-produced, expert-level content that users can’t help but share, then both your brand, and the brand of the SME, will benefit.

Strengthen Your Content Marketing With SMEs

Use the following process to effectively leverage SMEs for your content:

  • Identify the SME for the topic at hand 
  • Educate yourself to gain familiarity and prepare questions
  • Interview the SME for a set amount of time
  • Translate the answers into easy-to-understand language for your targeted audience 
  • Thank the SME for his or her contribution 
  • Publish and share the content

Subject matter experts play an important role in the development of B2B content marketing. They provide valuable insight, help craft the content, and offer feedback that can further improve and strengthen your business.

About the Author

Headshot of Lauren FairbanksLauren Fairbanks is the co-founder and Managing Partner of S&G, a data-driven content marketing agency.

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