More often than not, Subject Matter Experts (or SMEs) play one of the most pivotal roles in the creation of great content. No matter the industry or specialization, SMEs add an extra layer of credibility to the learning experience and provide project teams with the context they need to meet their goal of delivering content that resonates with, and engages, learners.
But finding that perfect SME is often easier said than done. Whether the industry you’re researching is over-saturated with experts or if the pros are few and far between, this guide will help you find a SME that meets your project needs, and help you qualify whether they’re a fit for your team or not.
The Benefits of Working with Subject Matter Experts
As specialists in their own respective fields, subject matter experts can add value to any type of content. If done right, a subject matter expert will help you:
- Establish credibility and depth;
- Validate facts, hunches, and concepts;
- Create relevant and up-to-date content; and
- Humanize the learning experience.
Engaging a SME in your project lifecycle is a powerful way to take your content to the next level. But there’s a big difference between finding just any old a subject matter expert and finding one that works well with yourself, your team, and your publishing workflow.
But what should you look for in a good SME, and where do you even start your search for one in the first place?
How to Find a Subject Matter Expert
Finding a SME is easier said than done. Streamline your search by taking a few quick steps that can save time, money, and energy for everyone involved.
Start With Your Network
Start by reaching out to your own network and see if anyone has any recommendations for subject matter experts who specialize in your content needs. By putting the feelers out there, you can save hours of search time and qualify your SMEs through referrals and recommendations.
Don’t be afraid to take to LinkedIn and see if someone you know has a lead on where you can find your next SME. While you might not be personally connected with an expert in the field of melittology, someone you know might be.
There’s nothing quite like a good old fashioned internet search when you’re on the hunt for a new SME. Take to your favorite search engine and see what you can find on the subject matter at hand. Who’s writing about it, and what are other people in the industry talking about?
Once you have a pulse on common themes and topics in the space, it becomes easier to narrow down your search and find the expert that you’re looking for. It also helps you learn their language so that you can engage with them on topics that they’re passionate about as well.
Reach Out to Professional Associations
Many subject matter experts are also members of professional associations related to their industry or field of study. Because these organizations work to represent their members’ interests, they will be able to point you in the right direction for your content needs.
Reach out to associations and ask for recommendations or referrals for your next SME. More often than not, they'll be able to provide tailored recommendations based on your needs.
Social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram are filled with great content from SMEs in almost every industry. Don’t be afraid to leverage social media in your search, and look to find influencers who are well respected in their field. When in doubt, search popular hashtags from your potential SME’s industry, and see who’s leading conversations in their online community.
What to Look for in a Subject Matter Expert
Now that you’ve found some qualified candidates, it’s time to make sure that they’re a good fit for your team. Remember, while the right SME can take your content to a whole new level, failing to take the time to vet them properly can introduce new and unnecessary risks into your development cycle.
Consider these skills and qualities when choosing whether or not a possible SME is right for you, your team, and your content needs:
Your SME doesn’t have to have a PhD to provide valuable content and insight, but they should be able to demonstrate their experience working within their chosen expertise. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like “how long have you been working with ‘X’?”, or “do you have any experience in our particular niche?” Just because a SME has a lot of knowledge on one topic, it doesn’t mean that same knowledge will transfer over to yours.
When in doubt, check for credentials and references that can verify your SME’s expertise. Take a look at their professional profiles online, and don’t be afraid to ask for examples of past work or related projects.
Look for a SME that takes a hands-on approach. An engaged SME will be fully prepared to dive into their topic, collaborate on engaging learning materials, and offer guidance to your team. Look for SMEs that demonstrate willingness to be active participants and not just passive observers.
This type of engagement does more than guarantee a pleasant working relationship. SMEs that show that they are willing and ready to contribute are more likely to be open to your internal processes, tools, and collaboration techniques. Get them introduced to your workflow sooner rather than later, and get a feel for their level of engagement.
3. Soft Skills
Vetting your SME for soft skills like communication, initiative, and responsiveness will make your partnership much more pleasurable for everyone involved, and also save you time and energy by trying to manage an additional resource outside of your organization.
Pay attention to how a prospective SME communicates with you, your team, and about your content as a whole to get a glimpse of what your working relationship will look like. If you’re having a hard time connecting with them after the first few conversations, consider whether or not they are a good fit for your project and its goals.
Introduce Your SME to the Team
Last but not least, try your best to connect your SME with your content team in order to establish a mutual connection and understanding throughout the content development process. Not every SME will be able to meet with your team in person, but the ones who can will get a better idea of who your team is and what it is you are trying to accomplish.
While meeting face-to-face might sound like mostly pleasantries, it can also help to identify potential red flags that you can’t pick up over email or the phone. Take a look at how your SME interacts with your team, and pay attention to things like their collaboration style, patience, interpersonal skills and problem-solving abilities. If in-person isn't an option, leverage some free video software like Skype and Google Hangouts.