How to Identify and Leverage Subject Matter Experts
Software developers are notoriously marketing-immune, if not marketing-averse. To reach this particular group, marketers often need to look outside of their department for assistance. As a marketer with experience with the developer community, I’ll be the first to admit I’m no technical expert – I typically can’t meet developers at their level.
Luckily, marketers (particularly those who market to developers) don’t work alone! The resources you need to provide compelling content for your marketing channels, whether they be content, events, social media, or something else, are likely right under your noses.
Where to Find Your Company’s SMEs
To find these SMEs or subject matter experts, you probably need to look no farther than your own organization. Your company builds products for software developers; at least one of your coworkers is an expert on those products and how devs can use them.
Your Engineering Team
Who better to write about your tech solution than the people who work with it day and day out? These individuals know the nuts and bolts of your product, right down to the code, and can speak to it in greater detail than even the most tech-savvy marketer. The best SME candidates are those who’ve dealt with client challenges and obstacles as well as success stories. These use cases and examples of problem-solving often make for compelling content.
Your Company Blog
If your company has a blog, someone is probably already writing about your products. They may not be doing so with the software developer market in mind; however, your marketing team can provide guidance on proper messaging and/or an editorial calendar of more marketing-focused posts. Bloggers make great SMEs as they are already comfortable writing and producing content consistently.
Identifying SMEs Outside of Your Organization
Let’s say you can’t find any ready or willing subject matter experts at your own workplace. If your organization has positive relationships with particular clients or with local events, you may find external SMEs through these channels.
Your Clients and Channel Partners
Your best and most responsive clients might have their own SMEs that they can “share” with your organization. Perhaps a developer at a client company used your tool to solve a problem or improve efficiency, then wrote about it for your client’s company blog. They might be willing to cross-post to your own blog or share that post on social media while tagging your company.
If your company hosts a meetup or sponsors one, you may be able to approach potential SMEs in that context. Some attendees may be interested in contributing to your company’s blog in exchange for more exposure or additional experience.
Selecting Your SMEs
What makes a good subject matter expert? How do you find the best SMEs for your particular marketing goals?
Traits of Successful SMEs
At DZone, our top contributors (aka the SMEs who write all of our user-generated content) tend to have the following traits:
1. An open-source mentality. Is this person responsive to comments and open to feedback? Is he or she aware of their own strengths and weaknesses? SMEs with an open-source mentality are ready and willing to teach others, receptive of differing perspectives, and eager to share their own knowledge and experiences.
2. Real-world experience. The most helpful SMEs not only know a lot about your tools, but they also have practical experience with them as well. Their content, whether it includes articles, podcasts, presentations or something else, reflect the challenges they’ve solved and the solutions they’ve found useful. Their work is characterized by actual experiences and helpful, practical advice. Can they write tutorials? User manuals? How-tos?
3. Proficient writing skills. SMEs need to be good communications, especially using the written word. Can your potential SME organize his or her thoughts clearly when writing? Does he or she have a personal writing style that can make your brand stand out?
Another important consideration is how much time the individual has for the additional commitment of being an external-facing SME. Are they willing and able to go that extra mile?
Your Company’s Goals
Maybe one of your top organizational goals is to drive trials of a certain tool. Maybe it’s to break into a new market segment. In the first case, you might look for an SME with experience with that particular tool; in the second, you’d need someone with insight into that segment. Your goals will inform which SMEs to work within your marketing efforts.
Your Company’s Target Audience(s)
Who uses your software development tools? Is it Java developers? Big Data developers? Knowing the specific challenges and needs of your target audiences will help you select SMEs who can write or speak in detail on these subjects.
Leveraging SMEs to Reach Your Business Goals
There are several ways SMEs can boost your brand and drive developer awareness of your products. Here are some of the most common.
Posting to the Company Blog
Content marketing is a great way to grow awareness of what your developer products can do. Learn more about content marketing do’s and don’ts.
Writing Ebooks and Whitepapers
Downloadable resources are an excellent channel for generating interest in your product and even client leads. The more useful and technical the content, the better!
Joining Online Communities Related to Your Product
Many marketers, myself included, feel a bit uneasy wading into highly tech-focused developer communities. These might include user groups on LinkedIn or subreddits focused on particular languages or tools. SMEs, on the other hand, know the lingo! They may be able to generate interest in your company’s products in an organic, authentic way.
Speaking at Events and Conferences
Having your most successful SMEs speak at popular conferences is a great way to build brand awareness and promote the features of your products. These venues also offer a chance to interact with your products’ users in person and answer any questions they may have.
Writing for DZone
A global audience of software developers visits DZone each day; these devs are looking to improve their skills, connect with other like-minded tech professionals, and discover new tools and solutions. Your SMEs can reach this audience by posting articles to DZone. Learn more about contributing to DZone. If your company has a blog with quality content written by multiple SMEs, you might also consider our MVB program.
How have you identified SMEs within your organization? What criteria did you use?