5 Easy Ways to Get the Content You Need from Your SMEs

October 20, 2016

It’s Friday afternoon, and you’re now officially under the gun and sweating bullets. You asked your subject matter expert for some important content almost two weeks ago and they still haven’t gotten it to you. No matter how much you pester them, they just won’t respond.

That’s what happens when you rely on a subject matter expert (or SME) to generate original content for you. It’s not entirely their fault—they’re busy with their own work, and writing is often an intimidating activity for them. Even just jotting down raw content for you to polish can be frustrating and overwhelming. Plus, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to sit at their computer trying to decipher exactly what you’re asking for and how to word it in a way that makes sense.

But there’s a better way of getting meaningful content from your SMEs, and it doesn’t have to be painful for either of you. Here are some tricks I keep in my bag.

Flaunt What You’ve Got

Chances are, you already have tons of content from your SMEs. You just don’t realize it.

I don’t mean the blog post you just squeezed out of them last week. I’m talking about the webinar they gave a couple of months ago. The collateral your sales team has been using all year. Even product manuals.

Your SMEs are probably already generating content on their own—and if they aren’t, your salespeople are. Curate the content other departments have produced and reuse it for your own project. You’ll be surprised how much expertise is already all set to go.

For example, there’s enough information in a decent one-hour webinar to become a full ebook, or a three- or four-post blog series. Record a product demo and rework it as a fact sheet. Scour your knowledge base and use the information to create a top 10 list. User guides have great information about your product that your customers may not have spotted.

It’s amazing how much expert content is already out there if you just look around you.

Talk It Out

A lot of the time, talking comes easier than writing for subject matter experts. Schedule a 30-minute block of time, prepare four or five open-ended questions, and do a short interview. This has been one of my most valuable tactics for getting expert content, because SMEs often throw in anecdotes or insights that don’t get included in company documents.

Some tips:

  • Be clear ahead of time about what you’re doing and what you’re looking for. The more context the SME has going into the interview, the more valuable the conversation will be.
  • Provide questions ahead of time, so they can think about what they want to say.
  • Keep it to 30 minutes or less. If you’re asking good questions, that’s more than enough time to get the information you need.
  • Record the conversation. It’s hard to keep up if you’re taking notes. You’re sure to miss something noteworthy, and you’ll be distracted.

The great thing about an interview is that you can publish it in an interview format, which lets the expert’s voice and personality shine through. And your readers get introduced to a real person at your company who they might not have otherwise connected with.

Write and Review

Sometimes it’s easier to ask forgiveness than ask permission, right? Same thing here. Just write something—don’t sweat the details. Write as accurately as you can, but feel free to take liberties and make guesses where you need to. Then give the content to an SME for their feedback. Often they’ll find time to give feedback if they can’t stop to write something from scratch.

Find Other Experts

If you’re still finding yourself squeezing blood from a turnip, consider turning to a different set of experts—your customers. Yep, your customers are experts, too. In some ways, they’re probably better experts than your SMEs—after all, who knows your customers better than your customers, right?

Reach out to your customers and ask questions about how they use your product or service. Some examples:

  • What’s the greatest value to them?
  • What surprised them when they first started using your product?
  • What would they tell others who are thinking of purchasing it?
  • What kinds of problems does it solve best, and how?

Become an Expert Yourself

Hopefully, you’re already doing this, but it bears mentioning. Even if you’re not a programmer or an engineer or a brain surgeon, you can still learn more about your company’s industry. And the more you learn, the more you’re able to write authoritatively on your own, without relying on others for information.

So the next time you need an SME’s input, don’t go to the subject matter expert! Roll up your sleeves and mine the wealth of resources that are already out there at your disposal.

Get More Help

Looking for more tips for writing great content that converts? Check out these articles. You can also download a set of ready-to-go marketing campaign recipes that’ll help boost your marketing ROI. Or, if you’re serious about getting to the next level with inbound marketing, you can contact us for expert help.

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