Have you ever been in one of those conversations with someone who’s talking your ear off, but isn’t really saying anything?

We’ve all been there.

Their intentions might be good, but if that person isn’t talking about anything you find interesting or useful, then you probably want to make a quick exit out of that conversation.

Think of your content in the same way: If your brand isn’t providing readers with the information they’re looking for, you can kiss them goodbye. A user comes to your site to find answers to their questions. If they can’t locate them, they’re going to go elsewhere.

This is why you have to be a thought leader with your content.

Tapping into your subject matter expertise is the best way to not only educate readers, but to give them exactly what they’re searching for. Providing this SME is a key part of building a long-lasting and successful relationship with prospects through thought leadership.

Importance of SME

Over the past few years, thought leadership has become a crucial aspect of content marketing – both for businesses and prospects alike.

When listing what they want to achieve with their strategies, 43 percent of businesses surveyed put thought leadership as one of their top content marketing goals. On the other side of the coin, 96 percent of potential buyers said they want content that contains more thought leadership and SME.

So why is thought leadership so important for today’s content marketers?

Perhaps the biggest benefit is that it helps to build trust and authority. Go back to the example in the intro: If someone is just blabbing away without saying anything of substance, are you going to think of them as an expert in their chosen field?

Probably not.

What this means is you can’t just produce content that checks all of the SEO boxes and expect to get results. You have to create content that provides the best answers and solutions to users’ questions and issues. By doing this, prospects will turn to your brand as an authoritative voice in your industry, which will help to develop a trusting and valuable relationship.

Think of some of the companies you rely on to get expertise in your sphere.

For example, I look to sites such as Moz, HubSpot and Search Engine Journal, among others, to stay on top of content marketing and the latest trends.


Because these brands consistently use their SME to inform readers and give clear answers to questions, making them some of the top authoritative resources for marketers.

There is also a monetary aspect tied to the trust that thought leadership builds. If users don’t trust your brand, what are the chances of them purchasing your product or service? Likely little to none.

For that reason, using SME to establish thought leadership is a vital component of not only increasing trust, but also boosting revenue.

How to flex your subject matter expertise with content marketing

Calling all experts

You’re ready to start on the thought leadership journey. But what’s the first step you need to take?

First, you’ve got to find your subject matter experts, whether internally or externally.

If you have the necessary expertise within your company, take full advantage of it. Set up a meeting (or several) to pick your internal expert’s brain and get their feedback on a specific topic. Share with them as much information as possible, including the direction of the article, the type of audience it’s geared toward, and what you want that piece of content to accomplish. Ask for their input on how to make changes that will truly make it a thought leadership resource.

Using an internal SME not only gives you better access to all the knowledge you need, but it helps to also significantly boost your brand’s authority. Take the time to make your internal experts more recognizable to your audience. Try to capture their voice and personality in your article. Give readers some background on each person and their credentials. Maybe throw in a bit about their personal life (with their permission, of course) to add a more personable touch. All of this goes a long way toward building trust and, ultimately, authority.

If you have to rely on an external expert, don’t fret. This is a prime opportunity to make a valuable connection with an industry leader. You may already have someone in mind based on past work experiences, or you may be stumped for ideas. The best way to find an outside expert is to head to social media, especially LinkedIn. Another tactic is to ask your customers – they may be willing to help you, or they can put you in contact with someone who can give you the SME you’re looking for.

Also, don’t be afraid to think big. Just because you may be a smaller company doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to the giants. Take Brafton, for example. We snagged an interview with Moz founder and all-around SEO and inbound marketing wizard Rand Fishkin.

Just like with your internal guru, make sure you have everything lined up before speaking with that person – even more so since you could only have one chance to talk to them. Come with a detailed list of questions, the audience you want to appeal to, research on that person’s background and expertise, and at least an outline of the thought leadership resource you are creating. Failing to do this shows your expert you’re not prepared and sets you up for a poorly constructed piece that falls flat when it comes to SME.

Whether you go the internal or external route, there are a few things to keep in mind when working with your expert:

  • Start with your personas: Like with any other aspect of your marketing strategy, when developing thought leadership content, you need to start with your personas. Look at each individual profile. What are their pain points? What issues do they have that you can solve with SME? Narrowing down the questions each of your personas have gives you a strong foundation for being able to provide them with the information they need.
  • Get the right information: When talking with an expert, take all of the notes you can. You may not use every piece of information they give you, but having a full record of your conversation ensures you have everything you need. Pay attention to any quotes you can use, as they lend not only credibility to your content, but also another voice. Other pieces of information you want to include are definitions of any jargon or industry terms, as well as additional research or reports your expert has that would be beneficial to your article.
  • Answer the (almost) impossible: If you want users to view your content as valuable and trustworthy, then you have to focus on the hard-to-answer questions. There are seemingly a million other places online that prospects can go to get simple or average answers. To get them to come back to your brand as an authority, use your experts to solve the questions readers can’t find a solution to elsewhere. This tactic is one way in which your company can differentiate itself and help users sift through the marketing noise to find what they need.
  • Engage your readers: Yes, you’re relying on your SME to turn your brand into an industry thought leader, but who said the experts have to be right all of the time? Encourage your readers to interact with your content by starting discussions or debates on various topics. Invite them to lend their own expertise and knowledge to the conversation. This shows your audience that although your company is an established thought leader, it still values the opinions of others, which is yet another vital aspect of successful working relationships.

You’ve got the drive, the know-how and the resources to develop a solid thought-leadership strategy. Now get out there and show your audience just how valuable your expertise can be.

Tressa Sloane is the Sr. Manager of Editorial Development in Boston. Born a Southern belle, she now resides in the chilly (but wicked awesome) Northeast, and when she's not learning everything she can about content marketing, she's obsessing over Elvis, Auburn football and France.