5 Ways to Engage Subject Matter Experts in Content Marketing

by Tonya Vinas, Director of Content Strategy

The input of subject matter experts (SMEs) is essential to create content that buyers trust. In fact, 78% of respondents to the Demand Gen Report 2018 Content Preferences Survey said they place a higher emphasis on the trustworthiness of content sources than they used to. SMEs can make content more trustworthy by providing insight on the latest product and market research and trends, as well as compelling customer use cases.

But convincing busy product or subject experts to participate in content projects can be a challenge. They tend to be very busy people, and helping out marketing isn’t always one of their stated responsibilities or top priorities. For very technical products, SMEs often have scientific or engineering backgrounds and feel uncomfortable in the “left brain” world of marketing and storytelling.

In working with our clients and our own SMEs, we have found these five things can help to improve relationships with these experts and get them excited about participating in content projects.

1. Choose the right one or two people.

The role of the SME in content creating is to be a specialist, so give them the spotlight and let them shine. No SME wants to be among so many “specialists” that the value of their input is diminished. It’s more important to identify the one or two people with the best knowledge on the topic than to gather a broad representation of input from multiple people.

The bonus for you is that with more focused SME input, it becomes easier to combine the product-value storyline with the buyer-needs storyline. When I’ve made the mistake of inviting too many SMEs to contribute, those links aren’t as crisp and require more review and refinement to smoothly combine.

Limiting the number of SMEs also shows respect for everyone’s time. You want the SME to end their discussion with you feeling a bit winded from doing most of the talking

2. Build your content on content they are already creating.

Think about your internal SMEs not only when you need help with your content but as potential sources of content ideas and material. Take a look at what your knowledge experts already produce (i.e., presentations, webinars, reports, interviews, articles), and then build on it.

Equifax, a 2018 Killer Content Award winner, developed a campaign consisting of more than seven touch points based on an existing Economic and CreditTrends report the company’s Office of the Chief Economist publishes quarterly. Each report focuses on economic trends relevant to the audience. The Equifax Solutions Marketing team gleaned enough content from the report to create emails, social posts, blogs and webinars. The first campaign exceeded goals for email open rates and webinar participation.

The SME behind the quarterly reports is thrilled with the expanded coverage and continues to participate in the program.

3. Help subject matter experts to become influencers.

Are there opportunities to include the SME’s name, quotes, social handles, etc., in the content? Influencer marketing is hot, and it’s likely that many SMEs would appreciate a boost in followers and SEO. It’s not uncommon for a blog platform to include posts from internal and external experts. Maybe today you help an SME find opportunities for influencer blogging and podcast participation—inside and outside your company, and tomorrow they help you with assets for a nurture program.

Another way to boost an SME’s profile is through video. Recording a simple interview or whiteboard session where an SME breaks down a complex topic can be a great way to demonstrate solutions knowledge while also positioning your company and its employees as experts.

4. Provide incentives for ideas and participation.

A small incentive can go a long way to encourage participation. One of our clients has built a steady flow of thought leadership ideas and reliable SME participation by providing a small financial incentive to its internal experts. This crowdsource model has also raised awareness about new ways for SMEs to showcase their knowledge, such as blogging, videos and podcasts.

Other small incentives such as gift cards, snack or beverage delivery, or even company swag can show someone that you truly appreciate their time and knowledge and increase the chances for a “yes.”

5. Be honest, humble and interested.

Most people will help a co-worker in need. Make sure to communicate why you need the SME’s input, and use research to show how much buyers value their expertise. The truth is, marketing couldn’t do its job without a constant education about what is changing with products and in the marketplace, especially with today’s rapid refresh cycles and quick-changing buyer preferences. SMEs should feel needed, because they are needed.

Also, take an interest in the work SMEs are doing day to day. They are a great source of information about nascent trends and new research that could influence marketing plans. They’re also people, after all, so they work better when you build a rapport and express appreciation for their contributions.

Finally, if all else fails, act dumb. It sounds silly, but it has worked for me. If an SME can’t commit to a 30-minute-or-longer discussion, try to ask as many questions as possible in a cold call. Say you really need help understanding one aspect of the product or buyer, and ask a very basic question. Often, this turns into a longer discussion where you’ll be able to cover much more ground. Just be sure to follow up with an email or message in which you thank the SME and explain what parts of the conversation you will be using where. Then send them a link to the completed content.

If you are honest and thorough, they’ll probably agree to that 30-minute chat the next time you need their insight.


Looking more ways to wow your readers with trustworthy content? Be sure to check out our interactive magazine, “Content Marketing Hit-Makers: The Ultimate Guide to Creating Content That Rocks.”