Marketers everywhere face the unending challenge of creating quality content to fuel their content marketing efforts. But perhaps no one faces as difficult a task as marketers who highly depend on technical staff to produce complex content that can’t be imitated.
In technical industries such as A/E/C, professional services and information technology, marketers are often stuck between a rock and hard place: unable to create content entirely on their own but also unable to get technical staff and internal subject–matter experts to help with content creation.
So how can marketers improve their success rate with technical staff? Here are eight simple tips that can lead to better results (and more content):
1. Get executive buy-in first
Technical staff and subject-matter experts are consumed with ongoing project work and new business pursuits and are expected to be billable for a large majority of their time. So making time to help marketing with content is often viewed as more of a favor to the marketing team, rather than part of their job description. With that sentiment, it’s best to start by getting executive leadership to buy into the strategic importance of content marketing and have them make content contribution for thought leadership as a priority for technical staff.
2. Identify and build internal advocates
Identify a handful of people in your firm that are thought leaders (or have the unlocked potential to be) and personally approach them about what you’re trying to accomplish. Hopefully, executive leadership has conveyed the importance of thought leadership and the need for technical staff to be involved, but go ahead and reiterate the power and possibility that their content carries.
Once they understand what you’re trying to do and realize that this is good for both the firm and their personal brand as well, you’re more likely to get them on board. And once they’re on board, you’ll have a group of champions that are not only creating content, but hopefully encouraging others to do so as well.
3. Spend intentional time with subject-matter experts
Be intentional about getting to know the technical experts in your firm. In additional to building relationships, you’ll also get a better understanding of what they do, what they know and how they can be leveraged in your content marketing efforts. These experts can also help you discern what topics would be beneficial to your prospects and clients, as well as identify the latest trends and innovations that are coming down the pike. You can do this by setting up one-on-ones, inviting them to internal marketing meetings or taking them out to lunch.
4. Don’t give them a blank sheet of paper to start with
Non-marketing people are often intimidated at the thought of writing a blog article or authoring an whitepaper. After all, they aren’t writers and you’re asking them to do something that’s probably out of their comfort zone. So be sure to give them a specific topic or even the title of the piece and a reasonable deadline for them to agree to.
In addition, try coming up with an outline for the content or even writing an introduction to the article. It’s easier for them to build on your foundation than to start entirely from scratch. They’ll appreciate this approach and feel like you’re working with them and not just delegating the task.
5. Take a journalist’s approach
Getting some of your technical people and top subject-matter experts to write content may be near impossible. So instead, try taking the approach of a journalist. A savvy journalist is skilled at asking good questions, taking detailed notes, doing lots of research and then putting all that knowledge into a story.
Before you interview an expert, first identify the topic and spend time planning your questions in advance. It’s best to familiarize yourself with the topic and do some research on your own before the interview. Once you’ve completed the brief interview (get what you need but don’t belabor it), your notes combined with research should provide the foundation for content that is 90% there. At this point, your subject-matter expert is merely editing content instead of writing it.
6. Don’t depend too heavily on any one expert
While it is important to build internal advocates and content champions, don’t rely too much on a select few contributors. Once you find an ally, it’s tempting to go back to them over and over again. But this is not ideal for several reasons. First, your topics need to vary and it’s likely that you need to cover more topics than just the ones you’re able to get from one or two thought leaders. Second, the more you depend on these select few, the more likely they are to get burned out and eventually stop contributing at all. The reality is, the larger your pool of contributors is, the less content and frequency will be required from each subject-matter expert.
7. Be courteous, respectful and appreciative
This one seems like a no brainer, but common sense and common courtesy are not always so common. Remember, technical people are busy and even if your executive leadership has made thought leadership a responsibility of technical staff, you still need them more than they need you. So needless to say, an entitlement attitude is not going to win you advocates.
Instead, always be respectful of their time constraints and do whatever you can do to help make content creation easier and less painful. When a subject-matter expert contributes in any way to your content marketing efforts, be sure to show your sincere gratitude and recognize them publicly in some way. Even though they should be helping you, treat them like they are doing you a favor—you’ll get a lot more traction (and repeat contributors).
8. Repurpose articles, presentations, publications and other technical content
Don’t reinvent the wheel. The nature of technical industries means your firm probably already has a significant amount of content. It might not necessarily be in the form of blog posts, but there is technical content that you can use as a launching pad for your content marketing efforts. Many of your technical staff regularly present at industry conferences and write research studies and articles for industry publications. That information can be easily repurposed into high quality content for use in a variety of formats.
Change your approach, increase content creation
While no perfect solution exists and challenges will probably always persist to some degree, these are some simple ways marketers can change their approach to improve the level of “production” they get out of internal subject-matter experts and technical staff. This will also allow you to deliver more client-focused content that will have a much more profound impact on your content marketing efforts.