When you lead content creation for a B2B firm, you depend on cooperation from your company's subject matter experts. Unless they contribute their knowledge, you can't do your job. Yet it can be hard to get some experts on your side.
Some of them may see you as that person who is constantly asking for things -- ideas, customer examples, and precious time. Or, they may see you as the person who rewrites their words. And on top of that, some may not believe in the value of the company's thought leadership content efforts; that is, the value of your work.
How can you get your company's internal experts on your side? Consider these five best practices, gleaned both from our experience, and the experiences of the content leaders who attended our recent thought leadership content seminar:
1. Make your experts' lives easier. As a content leader, you are asking for your company's subject matter experts' time -- as noted, a scarce commodity. Think about how you can streamline your processes and communications to take up less of it. This includes being clear about writing and editing instructions and deadlines. For example, a content quality checklist (advice about avoiding jargon, the need for client examples) manages expectations, and lets the SMEs know what's expected of them.
2. Show them the fun part. Content creation is not all work and no fun. When one of your company's experts gets wide social network exposure due to a piece of content, make sure everyone in the firm hears about it. A simple "way to go" email, complimenting the person on the successful piece, and copying leaders at the firm, can get the word out. The same is true for speaking engagements, or mentions in trade press. Did a client send an email complimenting the piece of content? That, too, can be a fun win for the expert – one worth sharing with the firm. And it may be the beginning of an alliance between you and the expert.
3. Listen more, speak less. If you find it difficult to get an expert to contribute to content work, listen to him closely. Why isn't he contributing? What are the obstacles? They may vary widely.
One person simply may not understand what you can do to help them in writing and editing process. (That's easily fixed.) Another may have had a beef with your predecessor. (That's a trickier fix, but getting the expert a few wins can go a long way toward making him forgive and forget old grudges.) Still another may feel that the content team just doesn't "get" the industry-specific concepts well enough to help. (You have to prove fluency in the topic area. Request a face-to-face meeting. Most people like to talk about their work.)
Think about a past colleague who you felt really understood you. That person likely did more listening than talking.
4. Develop a process and stick with it. In content creation, as in parenting, consistency is key. If kids know the bedtime routine, for instance, the parent can stop negotiating each step, every night. As a content leader, you want to develop clear processes for idea generation, idea approval, and editing. I'm not a fan of rigid process that can never be tweaked, but a checklist can head off misunderstandings. Clear process also reassures time-starved people that the project will have a beginning, middle, and end and not drag on interminably. Processes also help convey the impression that you know what you're doing.
5. Pay attention to the skeptics. Every firm has oppositional experts. ("Why can't I write about the Internet of Things?" "I'm just too busy to write a story for your website.") Figure out who needs to be convinced of the value of your content creation and marketing efforts. With some simple strategies, you can win more people over.
For instance, has one of your difficult expert's colleagues written a terrific piece that prompted client inquiries and led to new business? That's a powerful convincer. Has one of your skeptic's peers secured a coveted speaking slot at an industry conference? Let him know that an article was a springboard for getting the gig, and maybe he would love to present at a conference, too.
Measure the ROI of thought leadership content efforts as clearly as possible, in terms of new leads, new business, and brand awareness. This helps you speak to the skeptics, and prove the value of your thought leadership content efforts.
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