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From the Trenches

3 Business Reasons Your Subject Matter Experts Shouldn’t Write Content

Yvonne Lyons | November 28, 2018

Subject matter experts (SME) are important to create high-quality marketing content. Their expertise, opinions, and perspective on complicated subjects allows your company to stand out as a thought leader in your industry. You need them to contribute to your content to be successful and engage your audience, especially in technical or niche industries. Unfortunately, lots of companies confuse “contribute” with “write.” We’ve worked with many clients who initially come to us saying that their subject matter experts will have to do all of the writing because no writer has ever been able to master their subject matter.

I shake my head and nod in understanding. I get it that it truly is challenging to find great writers, especially for very complex subjects written for technical audiences. The argument from clients is fair. You can’t “fake” good content. Your subject matter experts absolutely should be including their viewpoints, garnered over years of experience, in your content — otherwise you end up with generic stuff that anyone with the ability to Google could publish. But I call bullshit on the idea that your “specialists” have to also do the writing because there is NO ONE out there would can write knowledgeably about your industry. We’ve done it — lots of times. You can find specialists to write in-depth content about your complex field and use input from your SMEs to add expertise and layer on your company’s viewpoints. We have written for companies that optimize super computers, network IT companies, healthcare companies, investor relations firms, and more. It’s all about finding the right writer — a true specialist — to work with your SMEs to generate that content.

There are plenty of writers and firms that specialize in the most niche subject areas. We even told you how to go about finding them in this post. But take note: Beyond just the quality of the end product, there are important business reasons that you should outsource your content creation instead of letting those SMEs write.

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Here are what I would consider the top three:

1. Your content needs to generate results.

It’s marketing content, not an academic paper. To generate results, your content needs to be well-crafted and engaging, use the tone and voice that reflects your brand, weave in keywords so that it shows up in searches, and offer advice appropriate for your reader’s stage in the buying funnel. Quality, engaging content is hard to write. Your specialists are highly trained professionals, but usually not writers. What I’ve often seen them produce is academic, dry content. That content is full of information. Is it engaging? Usually not. Many of your SMEs think they are writers because they’ve written a thesis, or a dissertation, or have published papers, but that’s not what we’re doing, right? As marketers, we are trying to educate and engage, but also (albeit discretely) sell your company’s product or service as the most appropriate solution. So, in addition to not considering tone and voice or SEO, I will guarantee you that your engineer does not really have a grasp on structuring his educational content appropriately to address the specific services or attributes of your product that will move your readers down the buying funnel. But that’s exactly what your content needs to do to be effective, especially in today’s cluttered content world. Mediocre content gets passed by pretty quickly, so then your “writer” is writing for nothing.

2. Your SME is not generating revenue when he/she is writing.

Even a seasoned writer needs time to create content. Frequently, when someone in management decides the best idea is for the technical people (or those on the front lines) to do the writing, it’s assumed that this is some kind of 60-minute commitment. I can tell you that unless what’s being written is a social media post, good content doesn’t take an hour to hammer out. Unless you’re a law office, most of you probably aren’t asking employees to track time. So you think it’s taking an hour or two to get that article or blog post done and published, when in reality your writer probably takes three or four hours to get that draft done and that piece still isn’t ready for prime time. What’s your hourly bill rate for that person? Do you actually have that much revenue laying around that he or she can spend a half day writing? Which brings me to my next point.

3. Your costs are not limited to just that SME’s time.

Ok, there are plenty of one-man/woman shops that are creating great content. But I would posit that the vast majority of those people are seasoned marketing professionals, not doctors or engineers. If your subject matter experts are doing the content creation (whether it’s writing or filming a video), they need to be edited both for clarity, professional polish, grammar, and search engine optimization. Now in addition to your SME being away from the job you hired them to do (and not generating revenue for you), someone on your team needs to function as their second set of eyes. If your SME is a good writer, maybe the time suck isn’t huge here. But if the piece he or she created doesn’t tell the story as well as it should or there’s not a viable keyword to be found, then you have a second person who is probably spending a few hours rewriting portions of that content, or more likely, you’re hiring a freelancer to handle editing and SEO. And that brings me to the overall cost.

How much is that blog post or article or video really costing you?

Now you are realizing it’s not just the mythical hour that your SME takes to write a blog post or tape a new video. A lot goes into that piece of content that your SME wrote: The time the writing really takes (and the amount of revenue you are not generating while that’s happening), the additional editing time (or freelance costs), and that intangible: the lost potential revenue from posting content that’s maybe not so bueno and doesn’t get any traction because your engineer wrote it.

It can add up really quickly. Not to mention that if your SME doesn’t actually get that writing done like he or she promised, then you have nothing to publish. Also not good.

The answer? Outsource either to a seasoned marketing firm that understands complex content creation or a niche freelancer if you have internal folks who can adeptly manage the process and the editing. But regardless, by outsourcing, you get more ROI from your specialists, better content that still includes their expertise, and you’re much more likely to engage that target audience (and generate some leads).

Need help creating great content? Get the tips you need in our interactive eBook, “How to Create Remarkable Content.” If you’re still struggling with finding the right person to create that content with your SMEs, get in touch. We can help.

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About Yvonne Lyons:

Yvonne Lyons is Right Source’s vice president of creative services, overseeing content and design for all of our clients. She ensures that all creative produced at Right Source is of the highest quality and is aligned with our clients’ business strategy and goals. Yvonne received a bachelor’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University in writing and literature and has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, branding, and communications.