Originally published by BtoBlog, January 3, 2012.

In my last blog, “Your company is ready to launch a social media effort. Now what?,” I specified the social media manager’s responsibilities of leading SMEs (subject matter experts)—carrying out editorial planning, and sharing trends and metrics, among other things. Vince Giorgi from Hanley Wood Marketing commented that the most valuable role of the social media manager is to influence SMEs to think like content marketers. What a great idea! Vince also asked me if I have any best practices to share. I’ve tried multiple ways to motivate SMEs:

  • Obtaining mandates from senior managers
  • Providing social media training to SMEs
  • Recognizing content marketing behavior with monthly gift cards or other incentives
  • Publicizing peer-group efforts to leverage content marketing and having it included in their performance evaluations.

Thus far, I haven’t found a Holy Grail. So I reached out to Vince to discuss our approaches. Below are the additional best practices Vince shared with me:

Paint the big picture

Make sure SMEs understand the strategic objective. Are you looking to build awareness to help the organization grow? Do you need to more sharply differentiate your value proposition from competitors’? Generally speaking, people give more commitment once they understand the cause they’re being asked to support.

Focus on the small picture

It’s easy for SMEs to get stymied by the notion that they must come up with big ideas. Encourage SMEs to think about customer pain points or product performance issues. Then ask them to identify one particular building block or ingredient within that broad topic that might be useful. Finally, urge them to explain that single piece of the puzzle as if talking to a neighbour across the back fence. Point out to SMEs that great content already exists at their desks, on their workbenches and in their labs.

Provide a template

Make SMEs’ job easy by developing a fill-in-the-blanks template. In their book “Content Rules,” Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman describe how content managers at Kodak have developed what is essentially a fill-in-the-blanks template for SMEs. By answering the template questions, even a nervous newbie contributor can produce a passable draft blog post.

Show, don’t just tell

Find some samples you consider particularly effective. Analyze what makes them so. Then share those pointers with SMEs in a workshop setting. Better yet, take content SMEs have already developed and show them how it can be sliced and diced into a webinar and a few blog posts.

Appeal to their competitive instincts

Try to identify competing organizations where SMEs are contributing to content development—and building their personal brands in the process. Once you get SMEs involved, you might foster friendly internal competition by publicizing whose tweets, posts, videos or white papers are gaining the most downloads and social sharing. Buy the top performer lunch once a month. Treat the top three to a gift card once each quarter.

Settle for half a loaf

What you need most from SMEs are relevant topics, meaty insights, and useful takeaways. The prose that knits them all together into publishable content might be frosting on the cake. Rather than expect every SME to develop pieces start to finish, pair those who need it most with a writer who can turn their know-how into stories. SMEs might be more willing to produce X number of assets each quarter if their role is to be interviewed, inform the content, and finally review for accuracy once it’s written. I particularly like the template, showing examples and pairing SMEs’ ideas with writing support, which is something I have never attempted before. They are going to be part of my 2012 recommendations to my social media teams. Thank you, Vince! Are you trying something new to further engage your SMEs in 2012?

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