Six Tips For Working Better With SMEs

Shaun H. Ruff


Over the past several years, the topic of getting Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to engage with content creation has faded a bit. With many available options, from ghostwriting to outsourcing in various forms, businesses have been more focused on quantity as a priority to catch up with search engine optimization (SEO) and the buzz of content marketing.

It takes time and effort for SMEs to create content; for starters, they are very busy, so it’s challenging to get them to commit to helping with marketing in addition to doing their regular jobs.

In tech or manufacturing companies, SMEs are valuable in their ability to provide the in-depth answers that our customers need when they try to make purchasing decisions, especially when there are various options to consider.

If there is a pre-existing pool of SMEs that you can tap into, GREAT! If you do, there are many ways to motivate and engage them.

Remember to:

  • Help them understand how their expertise can impact marketing outreach
  • Get their managers to commit to supporting marketing
  • Provide social media training to SMEs, encouraging them to be the influencers or brand ambassadors of their fields
  • Reward them with gift cards or monetary incentives.
  • Encourage them to publish their work in 3rd party publications or academic journals
  • Promote their published work on various social media channels
  • Work with their groups and HR to include marketing support as part of their performance evaluations.

These are just a part of the effort you’ll need to make. If you want to learn more, here are six approaches you can use to improve business relationships with Subject Matter Experts.

The key is to get them excited about participating in content projects.

Subject Matter Experts Tips

Here’s how to do that:

Paint the big picture

Make sure SMEs understand the strategic objectives. Are you looking to build awareness to help your organization grow? Do you need to differentiate your value proposition from the competition more sharply? Generally speaking, people are more willing to commit once they understand the cause they’re being asked to support.
Help them understand why you need their help! Be sure to explain how they can benefit, too.

Scope it by answering a specific issue or a question

It’s easy for SMEs to get stymied by the notion that they must come up with big ideas. Encourage SMEs to think about customer pain points or product performance issues. Then ask them to identify one particular building block or ingredient within that broad topic. Finally, urge them to explain that single piece of the puzzle as if talking to a neighbor across the back fence. Point out to SMEs that great content exists right at their desks, workbenches, and labs.
If they specialize in a specific topic or field, have them share their expertise in the context of product development. The best way to showcase their knowledge is to explain how unique product features they include could benefit our customers.

Provide a template

Make SMEs’ jobs easy by developing a fill-in-the-blank template.

If you are going to write a blog post about a specific piece of technology, your template can focus on the following questions:

  • What is the main definition?
  • Why is this technology important?
  • What are some challenges of using this technology?
  • What is the confusion that seems to be out there?
  • What are some use cases?
  • What are the top do’s and don’ts?
  • What is the SME’s point of view?
  • What actions should the customers take?

If they’re not into the template, another idea is to interview them. Sometimes, SMEs don’t want to write; they just want to talk. So, record the conversation and create a draft for them to review.

Show, don’t just tell

Find some samples you consider particularly effective and analyze them. Then, share those pointers with SMEs in a workshop setting. Better yet, take content that SMEs have already developed and show them how it can be sliced and diced into a webinar and a few blog posts.

Appeal to their competitive instincts

Try to identify competing organizations where SMEs are contributing to content development and building their personal brands in the process. Once you get SMEs involved, you might encourage friendly internal competition by publicizing whose tweets, posts, videos, or white papers are gaining the most downloads and social sharing. Buy the top performer lunch once a month. Treat the top three to a gift card once each quarter.
Also, make sure their managers know how much they are helping marketing. Recognizing their efforts at a company-wide forum is also a good idea.

Keep things low-lift

What you need most from SMEs are relevant topics, meaty insights, and valuable takeaways. The prose that knits them all together into publishable content is icing on the cake. Rather than expect every SME to develop pieces from start to finish, pair those who need it most with a writer who can turn their know-how into stories.
SMEs might be more willing to produce assets each quarter if all they need to do is be interviewed, inform the content, and review for accuracy once it’s written.

In summary…

For content marketing, SMEs’ knowledge, experience, and expertise is your asset. This is not something that can be outsourced.
I firmly believe that engaging SMEs is essential to showcase your company’s technical expertise and set you apart from the competition.
Leverage your SMEs as part of your content marketing efforts!

The Ultimate Content Marketing Guide

How to Pilot a Content Marketing Initiative in a Traditional Marketing Organization

How to Tap Into Stakeholders’ Knowledge to Boost Your Marketing Plan

How to Build a Winning Content Marketing Plan



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