The Who, What, Why, and How of SME Generated Content

The Who, What, Why, and How of SME Generated Content

As a business owner, you've probably heard that creating custom content for your business is a sure-fire way to increase traffic to your website and generate sales-worthy leads. Content creation also helps to establish your company's authority in your industry.

The catch with content creation is that whatever you're putting out to your customers needs to provide value. To create valuable content compelling enough to turn prospective customers into clients, you need to offer some form of specialized knowledge to your audience.

This is where subject matter experts come in. Subject matter experts, SMEs for short, are specialists who have extensive knowledge and experience in their industry, such as fitness, SaaS, technology, or marketing. These people have gathered knowledge throughout their careers and have become authority figures in their niche.

SMEs can even come from within your organization, like engineers or software developers. Consulting SMEs for your branded content can help your business unlock new levels of insight and depth. This lends to your brand’s credibility and authenticity while establishing you as an authority.

A venn diagram with three circles. One circle is labeled "Credibility", the second is labeled "Authenticity", and the third is labeled "Authority". There is a white star where they meet in the middle.

Using what you’ve learned from your SMEs, you’ll be able to build great, validated products and services that align with your industry’s best practices. Passing credible information from an SME to your audience will increase that bond as you prove yourself to be a well of valuable industry information.

Unfortunately, creating marketing content with SMEs doesn't come easy, and successfully engaging these experts requires a certain finesse with clear communication and effective collaboration. Always keep in mind that your SMEs are professionals first and have their own jobs they need to get done. You’ll need to work around their schedule and respect their time if you’re going to establish a productive relationship.

How to Get an SME Onboard

An illustration of an SME shaking hands with a content manager.

The Value of SME Content

An SME's insight into your brand provides a deeper understanding of your products, how they work, and what goes into their production. Therefore, they are better placed to speak about the item's capabilities, certifications, qualifications, and creation process when answering customer questions.

Where to Start

The first step is to search for someone within your company who is familiar with what your customers and prospects want. If you're looking for someone who fits the profile, try to think of who you and your colleagues go to when they need information about your products or services.

It can be someone as obvious as a customer relations manager, or the product developer, or the head of sales. Although SMEs know what your visitors want, creating content isn't always their top priority. They have their own tasks to focus on, including handling regular workloads and customer engagements.

Your internal SME might want to help, but they just don’t have the time for content creation or understand the potential value and ROI. They may wonder why they’d need to take on a task assigned to them from a non-manager. They also need to make the most of whatever time that they spend with customers. 

As the content creator, it’s your job to make it as easy as possible for them and to demonstrate the value and scalability of the content. Promise your SME that you’ll “say it here, say it once, and make sure you don’t get asked that question any more.”

Writing authoritative and expert content is the quickest way to establish this relationship. For starters, creating content with your SME’s knowledge helps potential customers learn more about your brand and product while they get to know you. Your audience is looking for an authentic experience, and creating content with your SME adds a personal touch with experts ready to answer your audience's questions, provide insights, and share advice. SME-driven content offers a unique voice and a definite point of view, giving you an edge over your competitors.

  • 78% of B2B buyers say they rely heavily on the content's trustworthiness
  • 85% reported seeking out trusted content whenever they want to make a purchase
  • 60% of people usually go through a brand's content first before checking out their products or services

External vs Internal SMEs

An external SME is someone outside your company but within your industry. External SMEs are well-versed with the industry, can give a deeper insight into past and present industry trends, offer relevant information regarding the competitor products, and pinpoint exactly why another firm is doing better to help you bridge the gap.

The choice is yours whether you want someone who knows your specific business or someone who can possibly provide more about your competition as well as an objective view on your products. 


How to Set Your SME up for Content Creation Success

An illustration of the SME and Content Manager coming up with a plan.

Be Realistic

There's no doubt that your SME is very knowledgeable and you want to tap into their expertise and transform it into something useful and engaging for your audience. However, you need to be realistic about their level of content creation expertise. How good are they at content creation? How good are you? Should you simply trust the entire process to only you and your SME?

Hiring a content writer may be beneficial, given that writing for marketing content might not be you or your SME's forte. However, if the information you need to relay to your consumers is technical, you can ask the SME to lay significant groundwork for the first draft.

Determine The Goal

Explain the purpose of the content creation. Establishing and communicating the goal of your content will show an SME why their contribution is valuable and why it's necessary to the company's success.

Create a Realistic Timeline

Content creation, like any element of marketing, requires a significant amount of planning and effort. Create a reasonable timeline of the tasks that need to be completed with deadlines for each task. If your responsibilities are usually focused on assigning tasks within a project, make sure you have a dedicated person to handle the content creation and SME interviews.

Offer the Necessary Resources

Always try to make the SME's effort as painless as possible. Provide them with the relevant materials and resources they need to complete a task. This can be tools such as an organized system or adding an additional team member to ease the workload.

How To Create SME Content


A illustration of the SME and Content Manager writing and editing their content drafts.

As a business owner, you are responsible for sharing your company's insights, knowledge, and opinions with your audience through videos, blogs, and social media content. Harnessing an SME's knowledge and putting it into the world is an essential aspect of your content marketing endeavor. Creating SME content that your readers can and will want to read is a generally simple process that, if done well, will greatly benefit your brand.

Agree on a Topic

When creating SME content, you first need to agree on a topic with your SME. Make sure they feel comfortable with the process by setting up a meeting with them. You can conduct the meeting via video call, email, or phone.

The SME should be able to trust you. A good way of creating trust between you and your SME is by assuring them that they will get the final say over the content you create under their name and that they can be as involved with each stage as much as they like.

Set time aside for the creative process and development of a topic. Prepare for your initial meeting with a handful of ideas that you send to your SME ahead of time. Let your SME review and provide feedback as well as their own ideas. The topic might end up being something the SME comes up with, a subject pulled from an editorial calendar, or something you both have noticed has been a topic often brought up by audience members.

Write a Style Guide

When creating SME content, it's crucial to have a style guide that will help you write in their authentic voice. Ideally, you should have some of your SME’s written work that you can go over. This work may be something like an article, newsletter, or blog post. Even their emails can reveal their voice.

If your SME is a company lead, then chances are you've heard them speak before, probably at company events or meetings. You understand their language choices, cadence, and general style of speech.

Before starting your content creation process, create a style guide based on your SME’s speaking and/or writing style. The style guide can look something like this:

  • Your SME is friendly but prefers a formal tone
  • They like to reference current events and statistics
  • They use bulleted lists 
  • Their written work is typically sectioned into subheadings for ease of reading
  • They prefer using italics when emphasizing things

Creating a style guide helps in two ways. For starters, the process of creating the guide requires you to analyze your SME’s work. It also makes the content you create with them true to them. The guide acts as a quick reference for revising or drafting as well.

Keep Personas in Mind

Once you have a handle on the natural voice of your SME, shape your messaging to your customers. Having customer persona templates at the ready will guide your writing process, as you think about what your customers are looking for and how they want to receive it. For example: if your SME uses highly technical language or industry jargon, but your customers don’t know what half of it means, you’re going to need to simplify your copy. Customers who understand your messaging are going to be able to act on it.

Create An Outline

Having an outline is the best way to keep you on track. Once you and your SME have decided on a topic, the next step is to write a series of questions or prompts. It's best to establish a trajectory you want the final article tol follow without making it feel scripted.

Do the relevant research to gain an understanding of the topic you wish to write about. After writing your questions, run them by your SME. You can turn your questions into headings that will help create the structure of the article.

Your outline will contain quotes, questions, and topics that will represent much of the information you wish to cover in the article. The SME can also have a copy of the outline to serve as a roadmap for what lies ahead. Discuss their level of contribution ahead of time so they know what to expect. Do you need a quick quote or a statistic? Do you want a short paragraph? Or are they writing the majority of a 2,000 word blog post or performing in a study? Setting expectations is crucial so everyone involved knows what is expected of them and how much time they need to budget for a project.

Interview

An illustration of the SME being interviewed by the content manager.

When interviewing your SME for content, you can ask for further explanations on specific topics you don't fully have a grasp on. This way, you obtain more information, and the SME feels more at ease participating in a collaborative process. Create an environment that feels more like a discussion than an interview. 

You can do this by frequently asking for clarification or directing the discussion to something that feels essential. It's advisable to keep this meeting to a maximum of 30 minutes to avoid obtaining more information than you can handle. If you’re conducting an in-person interview, record it. That way you’ll have a way to come back to it if you missed something.

Some people may prefer not to conduct in-person interviews or are not available for one. You can send them questions over email, use a shared Google doc, or hop on the phone with them when they have time. Ask your SME what their preferred interview style and method are.

Draft

Once you have your transcripts, style guide, and outline ready, it's time to begin drafting. At this point, you should know who is going to be writing your piece. If it’s your SME or a hired writer, make sure they have all the resources and information they need to get started. 

If you’re going to be ghost writing for your SME, keep your SME’s voice in mind, and start sharing the information they’ve provided you. The flow of the piece needs to blend with your SME’s expertise to create a successful collaboration. Add elements of text, syntax, and punctuation that resemble the SME's style. Remember that it's your job to provide the audience with your SME’s knowledge in the most efficient way possible.

Feedback

Present your SME with opportunities to provide their input, or offer your editing help to them if they’re the writer. Share the document between the two of you for easy access and editing.

If you’re wondering why you would be in a position to ghost write copy in your SME’s voice, think about the amount of time your SME actually has to devote to detailed writing. You'll often find that removing the burden of content creation from their schedule makes them more appreciative of your work. If you have a few points you'd like clarification for, you can ask them for their specific comments to help guide the feedback.

Don't Be Afraid to Reprioritize

If you find that the content you were looking to finalize is still in development hell after deadlines have passed, you might want to reassess it. Look into the reasons why the piece isn't making any progress, and see if you can find solutions. If not, you can change tactics to something you feel might help you reactivate the overall strategy.

Time to Get to Work

An illustration of the SME and Content Manager with their final, polished content document.

Coming up with content that has been created and approved by an SME can prove invaluable to your brand and, especially, your customers. People want information they can trust, and there is no better way to provide that than with a subject matter expert by your side. Even a one-time collaboration can provide you with the knowledge you need to keep producing content that leads to more conversions and a high ROI.


It all boils down to the trust between you and your SME and putting effort into the preparation process. This guarantees the actual content creation will be smooth and fairly painless. Discuss your expectations ahead of time, assign roles, and set a manageable timeframe to get your work done.


Looking for help to find and work with SMEs in your industry? As content experts, Steel Croissant can lend a hand. We’ll identify and work with internal or external SMEs to get you content that your customers crave. Contact us today to get started!

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