Companies have team members like developers, senior product designers and other experts with deep knowledge that can translate into valuable content. But it’s a Catch-22: Experts are often so busy working that they don’t have time to write.
OpenView, Payscale, Miro, and of course Intercom have used the subject matter experts on their teams to create great content. Rather than training the content specialists or individual contributors to be SMEs, the content team’s role is mainly to facilitate content with the SMEs.
This strategy isn’t easy to implement but is worth the effort. When done consistently, it helps create unique content that the target audience can identify with. This article will give you a framework to leverage your in-house SMEs, inspired by companies that have done just that.
The first step is to determine the key people with ideas and knowledge. If you work at a large company, that could be overwhelming.
One way to think about it is that whichever team is closest to the product or uses it the most should work closely with the content team. For example, if engineers primarily use the software, they should work closely with the content team. Working closely with (or even building) the product means they know how it can solve customers’ problems.
Alternatively, whichever team interacts most often with the target customer should work closely with the content team. For example, at venture capital firm OpenView, operating partners who interact with founders write articles (example) or are featured on podcasts.
The next step is to create relationships with these teammates and get them interested in creating content.
Don’t make it overly complicated to go from ideation to publishing. If the SME is creating their own content, make editing a collaborative process. For example, have a feedback call explaining what worked and what could be improved rather than crowding a Google doc with comments.
Alternatively, if you're interviewing the SME to extract their voice or opinions, make the process simple and ask the right questions (more on that below).
How you work together will depend on the individual and their working style. They may prefer:
Regardless of the format, make creating content easy. Work how they want to work and adapt the creative process to their thinking style and schedule.
The fewer people involved in this facilitation and writing process, the faster and better it will be. For example, in “How (some) good corporate engineering blogs are written,” Dan Luu explains that the best blogs (Cloudfare, Heap, Segment) are not bogged down in approvals and conditions on what can or can’t be said.
You want some type of process, but not an overly rigid structure that prevents your experts from hitting the ground running.
Additionally, content created by SMEs doesn’t have to be a written thought leadership article. For example, Miro’s team videos are casual Loom-format videos with slides. They feature people like the Product Marketing Lead, Customer Success Managers and others.
Payscale has webinars on compensation fundamentals and budget plans that feature their team's experts, like the CFO and pay equity experts. Featuring in-house experts adds credibility to their content, even though Payscale also features external experts.
Some in-house experts prefer a facilitation format, while others prefer to work more independently. When interviewing an in-house SME, asking smart questions helps create great content. These questions are what thought leadership writers Eric Doty and Seth Merrill ask when interviewing SMEs.
These questions help add clarity and depth to the interview and make it easier to format the SME’s thoughts into an article.
As you may have noticed, there’s no set-in-stone way to extract knowledge from expert members of your team. The key is to be flexible, give them creative freedom, and be open to working in their preferred working style.
After that first piece goes out, keep the contributor updated. Tag them wherever you distribute content and encourage them to share on their socials. There’s a dopamine hit that comes from people telling you they enjoyed your writing.
Getting positive feedback after sharing something publicly feels great, no matter who you are. The same thing happens when we get likes and comments on our Instagram posts and tweets. We feel connected to others and want to keep replicating the feeling.
If all goes well, the SME's will want to keep publishing content and contributing their expertise. With time, you'll have a rich content library that's differentiated by first-hand expertise.