Unleashing Thought Leadership from Subject Matter Experts

Irene Etzkorn, Chief Clarity Officer

Irene Etzkorn, Chief Clarity Officer

Content, in the form of thought leadership, is a powerful differentiator for any company. The greater the parity of goods and services in an industry, the more critical it becomes. So, companies, in all fields, push their subject matter experts to write, speak and present their ideas. Some companies mandate contributions and make compliance a part of performance reviews—“the blog-a-month club”— while some cajole with the carrot of increased professional recognition and esteem. Yet, neither method is working since there is no CMO in the U.S. currently trying to turn off the gushing tap of high-quality content.

Every marketing department wants content on a regular basis, so why isn’t it flowing? Here are a few reasons along with some solutions:

1 - The most knowledgeable experts often have the most difficulty writing about their subject precisely because they are so close to it.

Sometimes, material is so specialized or experts are so used to speaking to other experts that they can’t convey their insights without falling back on arcane acronyms, jargon and “inside baseball” references. The result is an article that is “as dry as toast” with very limited readership.

Here, storytelling is critical to the solution. Have a professional communicator interview the expert in person, by phone or via Skype. This will naturally encourage the expert to describe topics and issues metaphorically to enhance the understanding of the interviewer. The professional interviewer/writer can then capture the nuggets of content and craft them into a more relatable, compelling narrative that will be of interest to a broad audience.

2 - The very talents that make people experts in fields such as finance, engineering, medicine, architecture or aerospace are not naturally compatible with great writing.       

In college, I double-majored in English and Biology so I do understand that art and science can co-exist in a person’s DNA. However, many view writing as painful, time-consuming, laborious and stressful. Rather than force experts to write, let them dictate articles into their computers. Speaking, rather than writing, comes easily to most people. Encourage them to avoid editing their dictation. The benefits are two-fold:  their speech will likely be less academic and they can quickly get their thoughts out. A professional writer/editor can then take the dictation and transform it into useful prose. This process also allows the subject matter expert to “edit” the writer’s copy when they submit it for validation—fulfilling everyone’s innate love of editing.

3 - Don’t assign topics; let experts choose their own.

Clear writing is a reflection of clear thinking. Assigning topics to people ensures lackluster writing because the author is often searching for something to say rather than sharing insights enthusiastically. By allowing the experts to generate the topic, they are more likely to provide valuable content, write quickly and engage readers.

4 - Focus on the benefits and make participation easy.

Commanding someone to write is much like advising carnivores to eat vegetables; begrudging, inconsistent compliance will be the result. Explaining the benefits of sharing thought leadership must be coupled with easy, accessible tools for compliance. Taking the drudgery out of writing by positioning it as “talking,” “explaining,” or “sharing,” and placing the burden of writing on professional writers, will produce more, high-quality content.

Irene Etzkorn is Chief Clarity Officer at Siegelvision and has 35 years of experience achieving breakthrough simplicity for a myriad of industries. She is also co-author of the book, Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity.