3 steps to persuading subject matter experts to write for your blog

Topical know-how provides added wallop to your corporate blog; it’s your job to ease the way for those wizards to share their magic with your audience. Here’s how…

I was a little surprised by a recent statistic that came across my desk. Out of 534 Fortune 1000 CMOs surveyed byBlog2Print, only 23 percent use corporate blogs.

As a content marketing insider, I thought everyone and their sister (well, my sister is, at least) is blogging. But that’s my problem.

So I pulled another Sherpa book off my shelf (the 2010 Social Media Marketing Benchmark Report, for those keeping score at home) and noticed that although communicators find blogging to be one of the most effective social media tactics (behind only blogger relations and micro-blogging), it is also one of the most difficult (second only to blogger relations).

So, here’s a three-part answer to the pressing question: How can I get subject matter experts onto my corporate blog?

Step 1: Make it easier

Though I have the luxury of a highly talented team of reporters and writers on the MarketingSherpa blog, over on the MarketingExperiments blog we rely on subject matter experts who have better things to do than write blog posts. Their time is valuable. And one way they don’t want to spend it is figuring out a blog platform.

Yet when I first started with that blog, our research analysts were publishing their own posts. They were going into WordPress, wrestling with picture layouts, the whole nine. We quickly removed that impediment. All we require is a poorly written Word document —sometimes just an interview. Heck, once I even received a blog post written in Excel from a data analyst.

We don’t need their writing (or blog-posting) skills. We can do that for them. We just want their subject matter expertise. These guys and gals are smart, and there is no way we can replicate their years of research and experience.

You might not have the exact same infrastructure, but ask yourself this: Is there any way I can make the entire process easier? Ask them to forward an e-mail they’ve already written. Take them for a walk, and pick their brains. Heck, check out what they scribble on whiteboards throughout the day. After all, though they may be engineers or architects, they certainly aren’t writers. And they don’t need to be.

Step 2: Show them what they know

Another thing I’ve found with subject matter experts is that they are, as the name implies, experts. That means they have extremely deep knowledge. So, sometimes they set too high a bar for themselves. They don’t realize that their likely audience is not, well, experts. So when it comes to putting themselves out there in the world, they want to write a deep, knowledgeable post that will take them three weeks to compose and will be understood by maybe three people.

Or they could swing in the other direction. They assume everyone knows what they know and that they would be mocked for even thinking about writing about such a simplistic topic. “Pssshhh. Everyone knows a 3.89-meter transinducer couldn’t stand up to the shock of multiple neutron bomb strikes with a 12 parsec velocity.” Substitute the word “transinducer” with “server specs” or “mortgage regulations,” and you’ll probably face the same challenge.

It’s something we wrestle with on our blogs as well. Where is the sweet spot? We don’t want to write content that is too elementary, nor too advanced. But sometimes I overshoot as well and forget that simple blog posts can be very helpful, as we’ve found with blog posts about e-mail marketing and landing page optimization.

So challenge your SMEs with this question: If I were new to our industry, what are the first three things you would want me to know? A treasure trove of blog posts lies in the answer to that question.

Step 3: Reward them (differently)

Although doing something good is its own reward, writing a blog post is not. It’s one more task that you’re throwing onto an already big heap. After all, they (like you) are busy.

Essentially, what you’re trying to do here is make a sale. Getting a subject matter expert to write a blog post is a conversion. So work up some of your marketing mojo, and make sure there is a true value exchange. You are buying some of their precious and scarce time; what do you have to offer in return?

Though it is part of everybody’s job to help make the company more successful, in fairness, you will be getting more than you’re giving. Still, it’s important to reward your SMEs for the time and effort they put in to help grease the wheels as you solicit future blog posts from them.

No one-size-fits-all solution makes a good reward for a blog post. So, you must ask yourself: What motivates my subject matter experts? Here are a few types of SMEs and the rewards that might be most helpful to them (most people are a combination of the following archetypes):

  • The Aspiring Industry Rock Star – Show them all the recognition they’re getting on the Web and particularly in your industry. Show them how their post was tweeted or quoted by an industry luminary.
  • The Plumber – As Eddie Vedder said, “I want to be the plumber of rock stars.” Some people just like helping others and making a difference. For these people, share audience feedback showing how they helped move the needle in people’s careers and lives.
  • The Ladder Climber – For these people, it’s all about career growth. So, do what you’re doing for the plumbers and the rock stars, just make sure that their boss and their boss’s boss know about it as well.
  • The Bottom Liner – It’s all about the Benjamins, baby. One of the reasons we all work, we all leave our loved ones and head out on that 6:35 train, is for filthy lucre. Try to work with your management in getting a little something extra for bloggers. A $25 Starbucks gift card for the blogger with the most tweets every month. A small yearend bonus for the person with the most comments. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth properly incentivizing.

Daniel Burstein is the director of editorial content for MECLABS Primary Research. This post originally ran on MarketingSherpa.com.

photo by: Mai Le

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