How to Use Subject Matter Experts
in Your Business Content

See also: Business Writing Tips

Effective content marketing answers users’ questions about a topic – usually a business challenge or point of curiosity.

To effectively engage and drive interest for your business through your content, though, you need to strike an authoritative tone about the topics you discuss.

Often, however, especially with technical topics, content writers struggle to attain a level of expertise they need to ensure that your company comes across as an expert about a topic.

Partnering with subject matter experts (SMEs), either through informal conversation or an interview, is an excellent opportunity to add depth and authority to your content.

Referencing authorities and respected thought leaders can fill in the knowledge gap that content writers may have about a topic and add authority to your brand.

Three Steps...

Consider these three steps for finding, engaging, and effectively partnering with a subject matter expert for your content.

  1. Identify the right subject matter expert
  2. Ask the best questions
  3. Engage him or her as a partner in the content development process

These steps will help you develop a relationship with a subject matter expert that will be mutually beneficial and produce clear, concise, and effective content.

How to Find Subject Matter Experts

Finding the subject matter experts that are best-suited to answer your questions and comment about the topics you touch on in your content requires research.

Consider the following resources for finding a subject matter expert

  • HARO: Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is a tool perfectly designed for engaging with experts. It allows you to submit queries asking for quotes or insight based on general categories (i.e., business, tech, lifestyle). Make sure to be very specific about who you want to respond to your pitch.

  • Directories: Reference local directories and reviews companies to find businesses that specialize in the area you are writing about. For example, if you are writing about web design, review a web design companies directory to determine the best companies and find a good point of contact.

  • Social media: Find influencers on your topic of interest on social media and shoot them a message to gauge their interest in providing insight about their topic of expertise. Look into social media groups that focus on the topic of your content. LinkedIn, for example, has great professional groups you can review to find a SME well-suited for your needs.

Using these tools, you should be able to identify a list of candidates to consider to outreach and feature in your content.

Ideal SME Candidates

Once you’ve established a good list, determine the SMEs that you think can best communicate their expertise in a clear and engaging manner.

The ideal subject matter expert can:

  • Explain Complex Subjects in Layman’s Terms

    The most effective SMEs make complex technical concepts understandable to both the writer and the audience. Content that is too technical or is full of jargon risks driving readers away.

    If a SME introduces technical concepts or terms, make sure that you clarify and define those concepts early in the article to avoid confusing readers.

  • Avoid Dumbing Down Concepts for Readers

    It’s important to balance reducing complex topics and patronizing audiences by dumbing them down to extremes.

    Dumbing down a subject too much may fail to provide readers with the answers or knowledge they were searching for and appear condescending.

    Content marketing experts suggest writing at an approximately 8th grade level to ensure all audiences can thoughtfully engage with the content.

  • Provide Thoughtful and Engaging Quotes That Hook Audiences

    The ideal subject matter expert provides insightful quotes that teaches audiences something new and compels them to further engage with your content.

    Of course, you can’t rely on a subject matter expert to pull compelling quotes out of thin air. The best way to produce effective quotes is through asking the right questions.

Ask the Right Questions

Once you have found the right SME and confirmed an interview, conduct background research on the topic to inform your interview questions.

A basic knowledge of the subject helps you generate thoughtful questions to ask, inform your writing, and contextualize expert’s quotes in the article.

When interviewing a subject matter expert, you should:

  • Offer background information: Start the interview with a brief overview of your goals to help the SME understand the sort of answers you expect.

  • Use open-ended questions: Open questions garner the best responses from interviewees. Rely heavily on “how” and “why” questions – these provide context about the topic for both you and the audience.

  • Clarify industry terms or concepts: Feel comfortable asking for additional information or context about an unfamiliar term.

  • Ask one question at a time: Avoid “double-barreling,” or asking multiple questions at once. This is both confusing and allows your interviewee to choose which questions to answer, rather than address all of them.

  • Challenge answers: Check to see if there are any contrasting opinions or schools of thought about the questions you ask, and challenge your SME with the opinion they did not express.

Don’t try to overreach with questions – if there is something that is unclear or confusing, let the subject matter expert fill in the blanks.

Continue the Conversation

Sometimes you get everything you need from a subject matter expert in one interview, but that doesn’t mean the relationship should end there.

SMEs can continue to serve as resources as you develop your piece and for future content partnership opportunities.

Once you review quotes or a transcription of the interview, you may need to reach out with follow-up questions.

SMEs often wish to review their quotes prior to the article’s publication. This gives them an opportunity to correct any mistakes or clarify any vague or conversational language. If your SME wants to review their quotes, be sure to give them at least one full business day to do so.

Finally, make sure to take any criticism that comes back from the SME constructively. Remember that their edits will only make your work better.

Rather than defend yourself, be thankful for the expert feedback and use it to improve.

Subject Matter Experts Add Value

Subject matter experts add tremendous value to content marketing creatives.

Their expertise and authority can make your work stronger, valuable, and effective. By finding the right SME, asking the right questions, and establishing a relationship, content creators can enhance their writing and make it more useful for many different audiences.

About the Author

Kelsey McKeon is a Content Writer for Clutch and Visual Objects. She conducts market research about web design agencies and trends.