Last week, we began the conversation on how to work with subject matter experts to create thoughtful content. Because it’s not a small undertaking, we broke it into two parts. Now that you’ve started the process of getting information from your subject matter experts to inform your content marketing, it’s time to implement it and start creating.
Prepare to Meet With Your Subject Matter Experts
Your first few meetings will be a bit chaotic. No one will know what to do—and even though you’ve told them the goal of the meeting, they’ll still look a bit like deer in headlights (especially if you’re doing it on video conferencing).
That’s OK! It’s totally normal. You’ll spend the first few weeks figuring out a rhythm, but there are some things you should do for every meeting, no matter where you are in the process:
- Create an agenda. It should include news items, industry trends, research or data that’s recently been released, what the competition is up to, and other marketing campaigns happening in the next 30 days.
- Choose three priority topics. From there, prioritize. You’ll only be able to get enough information out of a weekly, 30-minute meeting for three topics. We always create our agendas two days before to let them sit overnight, in case we change our minds. There will be some last-minute changes, as well, and your subject matter experts may have topics they want to discuss but haven’t brought to your attention yet.
- Write a list of questions. This is just like you are preparing for an interview. Even with the clients who we have subject matter expertise or have worked with for years, we still write questions. This helps you stay focused during the meeting and it helps you maintain control of what can easily be derailed.
- Make an assumption on who your expert will be. For one client, we call this a “sponsor” of the topic. This person will not only be the author or spokesperson for it but will be who you go to with questions and for additional information. If they have an assistant, check with that person to be certain they have a little extra time in their week to help you out. If they don’t, just a quick text, email or Slack message directly to them will suffice.
- Collect a list of all the extras you’ll need. By this, I mean the images, the audio notes, the data, the research, the talking points, the messaging and anything else that will be helpful to your content.
How much time you spend preparing for these meetings each week is up to you. You’ll likely spend more time in the beginning, as you figure out what your process is.
Our prep time for clients runs between 30 and 90 minutes each week.
Running the Meeting
Now it’s finally time to get input from your subject matter experts.
Spend the first couple of minutes to set the tone for the meeting.
“This week, we want to spend our 30 minutes on the research just released by NASA about the Mars Rover and whether or not you can truly grow potatoes up there.”
Because you’ve narrowed your topics down to the three most important—and you know who your “sponsors” will be—you can keep the interview/conversation to 10 minutes per topic.
Make sure you record the meeting because it’s going to go fast and you’re going to type as fast as humanly possible and you will miss side conversations and nuance.
Plus, if anyone else on your team (or a contractor) is going to help develop content, you’ll want them to have the same context.
I always start by saying, “Remember I am recording this meeting so remember who you are and what you stand for.”
(That’s what my mom told us every time we left the house when we were teenagers.)
Sometimes you won’t get to all three topics. There will be times that one topic takes precedence and you find you can actually get multiple pieces, or an entire campaign, from one topic.
Don’t be so rigid in your process that you can’t be flexible to what’s top-of-mind for your experts.
A little trick I use: when I create the agenda for the week, I make a copy of the previous week’s agenda and then go through it to see what we missed and what I might be able to bring back to the top. We have one client whose agendas are multiple pages long—and we go back to them often for content ideas.
Determine the Right Content Formats
It’s important to note that strong writing or even on-camera skills are not prerequisites for your subject matter experts.
We have one client who looooooves to be in front of the camera and his business partner would rather dig himself a six-foot hole in the ground. For the former, we get him in front of the camera as often as possible. He’s great at taking feedback and implementing it immediately. We’re almost to the point (a year in) that we don’t have to edit him much.
His business partner, though? Let’s just say opposites attract. For him, we ghostwrite all of his content.
You don’t need your experts to actually create the content if you’re running the content meetings appropriately. Those will give you everything you need to do it yourself—and make them shine.
But if you do want to align the format to the specific customer journey and needs, ask yourself the following questions for every piece of content you create:
- Would this thought leadership be more valuable as a byline or journalistic-style citation from an expert?
- Can I repurpose any of their quotes for future pieces?
- Is this a good candidate for media training?
- Is this a good candidate for a video interview?
- Is this a good candidate for a podcast interview?
- Does this expert bring new connections to case studies or customer stories?
If you’re going to have the expert on camera or in an interview or doing any audio work, you’ll want to schedule a meeting separate from the weekly content meeting.
With a few tricks from professional videographers, you can do all of this work on video chat. I prefer Zoom because it lets you adjust how the person looks and even use some filters if need be.
The goal is to get as much information from them as little time as possible. If you do that and you make them look good, they’ll give you anything you need (within reason).
Beyond everything we’ve covered here today and last week, there are a few additional best practices to keep in mind.
- Once your content meeting is over, create content briefs based on your discussion. This will allow you to keep on task and your subject matter expert to understand their role in the campaign’s success. This also allows them to refer back to the content they helped you build when it comes to annual review time. Very important!
- Build a simple process for idea-sharing. We talked a bit about this last week, but it cannot be overstated. The easier you make it for your experts to share information, the more you’ll get. For some clients, we use a specific Slack channel, and my team and I are in there multiple times a day because it’s so lively and engaged. For others, they just text us links or thoughts. That’s a little more work for us, but I’m OK with that because it gives them an easy way to get information to us.
- Don’t overthink, try to be perfect, or be too rigid in your approach. Things will change. You may start with some of these ideas and find they evolve. Or that some of them just don’t work for your organization. That’s OK! The point is to start somewhere and get it going. It will change as the process grows.
- Praise, give gold stars, and be thankful. We all like to be praised for the work we do. We especially like it when we go above and beyond and someone tells our boss about it. Even when you’re the boss, it’s nice to be praised. So give plenty of that out. People’s egos will be stroked when the content they sponsor goes viral and journalists call for their expertise, but it’ll mean even more when their boss is told about their extra work.
Remember your experts have a full-time job and are often not directly incentivized based on contributions to marketing efforts and performance.
This can feel like a huge undertaking, but if you take it one step at a time and get buy-in from the top, you’ll both raise the profile of your organization and contribute to business results.