No matter the format, message, or style of online content, everyone’s striving to reach the largest possible audience with the best possible content.
Making that a reality requires companies to create something that answers an audience’s most pertinent questions, is presented in an engaging way, and maybe even offers some new ideas no one’s hit on before.
As content marketers aim for these goals, one ingredient can distinguish popular content from something that barely gets noticed: the input of a subject matter expert (SME). Partnering with an SME can strengthen content’s credibility and value, in turn helping audience growth.
In this post, we’ll review what a subject matter expert is, how to become one, and why your company should leverage SMEs in your content marketing strategy.
What is a subject matter expert? (SME)
A subject matter expert (SME) is someone who has unique expertise and specialty in a certain area. They’re usually sought after to solve specific problems, overcome challenges, and provide insight for marketing and business development. SMEs can exist in all industries, but it is common to find them in IT, software, marketing, customer service, sales, and other areas of business.
Businesses might leverage an SME to integrate new software, fix technical issues, design their website, extract and format data, and provide insight. Additionally, a company may hire a subject matter expert to have on retainer as an ongoing consultant. When that’s the case, you might be wondering what that job looks like. Let’s dive in below.
Subject Matter Expert Job Description
While people can become SMEs no matter what their official job title and description are if you’re a subject matter expert looking for a job, you might find a job that reads something like this:
At ‘Company X’, we are looking for a subject matter expert in social media to help us develop an end-to-end social media strategy. This person will be responsible for creating our social media strategy and managing it on a daily basis.
As the social media subject matter expert, your duties will include evaluating our current social media content and recommending new strategies and trends to lean into. To ensure success, our social media subject matter expert should possess an exceptional track record of increasing engagement and pioneering multiple successful social media campaigns.
- Master in Social Media Management
- Demonstrable credentials as a leading social media Subject Matter Expert.
- 10-15 years of experience working in a relevant area of expertise.
- Advanced knowledge of project management and social media management.
- Advanced ability to recommend and implement social media campaigns.
- Exceptional leadership and mentorship abilities to introduce and implement new strategies.
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
Now that we’ve looked at an example of a subject matter expert job description, let’s review what the roles and responsibilities of this individual might be.
Subject Matter Expert Roles and Responsibilities
The typical roles and responsibilities of a subject matter expert will vary greatly depending on the type of position you’re applying for. You could be an in-house manager or a hired consultant to specialize in helping a company grow in a certain area.
Going along with our social media subject matter expert example above, typical roles and responsibilities might look something like this:
Roles and responsibilities for a social media subject matter expert:
- Analyzing the company’s current social media content and activities to identify areas where new solutions would improve performance
- Providing a new strategy for each platform that you find is most important and appropriate for our audience
- Creating a process for content creation and scheduling content
- Making recommendations for social media platforms, content, and hashtag ideas
- Validate requirements and deliverables required for our social media team
- Consulting and collaborating across teams to create useful content
At this point, you might be thinking, “This is great. How can I become a subject matter expert in my field?” To become a subject matter expert, you’ll need to develop your expertise in your discipline over a long period of time. Below we’ve outlined some good steps to take.
Becoming a Subject Matter Expert (SME)
- Obtain advanced degrees in the area of specialization.
- Maintain current knowledge in your area of expertise by continuing education.
- Consistently consume and create content and remain up-to-date on current industry trends.
- Experiment with your own ideas.
- Participate in social media and community forums.
- Share your expertise.
- Remain credible and value your reputation.
- Become a person of authority in your space.
1. Obtain advanced degrees in the area of specialization.
The first step to becoming a subject matter expert is studying the area that you want to specialize in. You can obtain advanced degrees and spend time writing dissertations in your field. This will require years to obtain degrees, certifications, and study your industry.
2. Maintain current knowledge in your area of expertise by continuing education.
Once you’ve obtained your degrees and been studying in your field, it’s important to continue your education. As the world continues, your industry will evolve and you should be consistently maintaining your current knowledge by reading current news and trends.
3. Consistently consume and create content and remain up-to-date on current industry trends.
Another great way to become a subject matter expert is to consume and create your own content in your field. Write about what’s going on with current industry trends and be an active part of the conversation.
4. Experiment with your own ideas.
Besides participating in the conversation, you should be working on projects and experiments in your field as well. This will continue your education and develop your skills even further. Plus, you might find new learnings and be able to write and discuss what you’ve found.
5. Participate in social media community forums.
To participate in your community, you should be active on social media and community forums where your industry discusses industry news. Interact and engage with other subject matter experts and don’t be afraid to share your opinion — bringing me to my next point.
6. Share your expertise.
When you’ve experimented and been studying, it’s important to come to your own conclusions and test your hypothesis. Then, share that news and your findings with others in your community by participating in speaking engagements, participating in social media, etc.
7. Remain credible and value your reputation.
To truly be considered a subject matter expert, your reputation and credibility are of the utmost importance. To hold on to this, try to remain neutral and seriously consider other people’s thoughts and opinions.
8. Become a person of authority in your space.
The last step of being a subject matter expert is becoming a person of authority. Whether that means working your way up at a company and holding a position of leadership, or running a freelance consulting business.
Now that we’ve learned how to become a subject matter expert, let’s look at some examples of what this looks like in action.
Examples of Brands That Use Subject Matter Experts
A great example of a brand that uses subject matter experts is HubSpot itself. On our blog, we work with thought leaders and subject matter experts to grow our audience and provide as much value as we can in our content.
For example, review some of our thought leadership blog posts below:
Backlinko is the brand from subject matter expert, Brian Dean. As Brian Dean has become an SEO expert, he decided to share his thoughts and research experiences on a blog called Backlinko.
A few great examples of thought leadership posts that are written from the SME perspective include:
3 Top Benefits of Leveraging a Subject Matter Expert
- More attention will lead to better results.
- Know and understand current industry trends and challenges.
- Spread the news and reach more people.
1. More attention will lead to better results.
It’s not a stretch to say an SME will offer immense benefits to a content project. When a well-known name is attached to a project, whether it’s a downloadable ebook, video, or series of articles, attention will inevitably result. Just as a popular novelist can earn pre-sales purchases months before a book is even published, name recognition can lead to an automatic buy-in from a community of enthusiasts.
2. Know and understand current industry trends and challenges.
An expert can also serve as a source for up-to-date knowledge and news on an industry. He or she will be able to convey the biggest challenges, the latest breakthroughs, and future concerns around a particular subject. This kind of information will allow you to shape the direction, message, and format of your project.
3. Spread the news and reach more people.
Then once you’ve completed a project, an SME can also play an important role in helping spread the news about it with his or her social media followers. With a well-known expert, your content promotion efforts have the potential to reach a huge community of enthusiasts, fellow experts, and industry leaders. Awareness of your content, and your brand, can reach an unprecedented level of exposure when you take advantage of the social channels an SME can bring to the table.
Leveraging a Subject Matter Expert in Your Content
A subject matter expert’s insights and perspective can take a piece of content from being one-dimensional to a complete and nuanced portrait of a topic or event. Taking on some of the fundamental tactics of a journalist entails researching who would be the best choice of experts, reaching out to them, scheduling a time to speak, devising some effective questions, and then conducting the interview itself.
As any journalist could tell you, conducting an interview is much more than just asking questions. The best interviews require thorough planning and shouldn’t be done in a lockstep Q&A fashion. Being able to ask spontaneous questions or ask an interviewee to elaborate on a statement can help ensure the discussion is a meaningful one.
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