Working With Subject Matter Experts
Three years ago, the call went out to brands: “Get Blogging!” Many of them got into the groove of posting regularly, but these posts often became a place to dump brand news and not actually extend a brand’s point of view or voice well. Often, people charged with managing their organization’s blog were simply overwhelmed with the necessary parts of blogging, meaning posting regularly and giving their audiences targeted content that was useful and on-brand.
If your company finds itself in this situation (or, your brand hasn’t even developed a blog yet) then there are a group of people who are able to help you out: Subject Matter Experts.
Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are influential voices in a given vertical market who have built up a level of trust and reputation in their area of expertise (think: Walt Mossberg for tech, Donny Deutsch for advertising). SMEs exist for every known vertical in existence, so you’ll never be without one should you choose to engage one.
What is an SME?
A subject matter expert is a seasoned professional or sometimes a passionate amateur who has spent years ‘living’ in a certain industry or vertical market and who understands the unique quirks and language of a particular area of expertise. He or she is a trusted voice who is called upon to weigh in on crucial topics in a given area.
All SMEs are influencers, but not all influencers are SMEs. It’s important to know the difference. Engaging an influencer is not the same as engaging someone who is an SME in that same vertical. Anyone can build influence by being passionate about a topic, blogging regularly on that topic, and growing a network. SMEs are influential for their expertise and work in a specific vertical market; they aren’t just enthusiastic about it.
The Benefits of Engaging SMEs
Your brand can benefit from engaging SMEs in various ways: If you’re looking to raise your company’s credibility in your chosen vertical market, SMEs who support your brand can lend their credibility to your organization in a halo effect. If you are looking for endorsement of specific brand values, SMEs can help validate those values to the people you’re interested in selling to. If you’re looking for knowledgeable people to contribute their unique perspective to your brand’s blog by adding color commentary, SMEs are a great choice.
Where to find an SME?
You should know enough about your company’s industry and market to recognize the biggest names in your area of expertise, but there are several ways to find who might be the best fit for your brand. A simple search will uncover SMEs who have the most influence: if they appear in the first two pages of search engine results, they are probably experts. You can refine your search to show who posted most recently to get an idea of how active an SME is on his or her own blogs. Some SMEs don’t post often. This could be a sign that they are too busy to be a valuable contributor to your brand.
You can also poll existing fans of yours to find out where else they get their information on your vertical market. This can help you find people who search engines can’t necessarily reach easily.
How to Best Engage SMEs
Once you’ve found your SMEs, it’s important to take some time to get to know their writing style and the topics they cover. Before you ever begin to engage them, you should know as much about them as possible, so when you reach out to them, you can craft an irresistible cold email.
Make sure you are confident that these SMEs – warts and all – are the right fit.
Craft a short email to your targets and make sure to reference why you respect their work, and why you think you could form a mutually beneficial partnership.
Once they have responded positively with interest in working with you, it’s important to be very clear with what you’re asking of them: How many posts, how frequently, and on which topics do you want them to write for you? Are you expecting them to moderate the comments on their work? Are you expecting them to promote your partnership through social media, or reaching their own lists? Be clear.
It is not always necessary to compensate SMEs financially. Think about exclusive experiences or contra deals you might engage them in, but remember that this is still a business for them, and they may stop the conversation with you if you don’t pay them.
Resist the urge to be overbearing to your SMEs. Don’t overthink their posts or worry about every word they write. Their work will not be scrutinized by the public.
SMEs can be indispensable for brands to help build credibility and form long-lasting relationships within their vertical. Planning, the right approach, and respect are key to engaging SMEs.