The Subject Matter Expert (SME) Content Paradox and Pulling Teeth

When it comes to creating quality content assets for high-tech companies at scale, we have noticed the following paradox in the marketplace:

  • Writers know how to write but they don’t have hands-on, intimate knowledge of the technology.
  • The SME live and breathe the technology, but they don’t know how to effectively and engagingly write about it.

Of course there are exceptional individuals who are both knowledgeable and good writers but, let’s face it, they are few and far between—and, if you find one, worth his weight in gold.

Trying to Solve the Paradox

So you’re in charge of marketing at a high-tech company and you know that you need a stream of engaging content to draw in your target audience. You’ve reached out to your network for recommendations for good writers and you contracted with someone to write one blog a week. You guide him/her on your content marketing goals and target audience: Let’s say, experienced veteran sysadmins who are looking for guidance on building a network on Amazon cloud. Then you provide an initial list of relevant topics.

You tell the new writer,

“If you have subject matter questions, don’t hesitate to contact Joe in our technical support team.” “For sure,” was the response. Then you received the first draft for the first topic. It was definitely well-written but there’s no way it would have value for your target audience—it was too generic, no real-life examples, and didn’t get to the core of the problem. “Did you try to get in touch with Joe?” you ask the writer, who responded, “Yes, several times, but he didn’t have time to go into the detail that I needed.”

So you keep going to the end of the month, managing this task more than you wanted to or have time to. Things don’t get much better. You thank the writer for his efforts, pay the invoice even though it was a waste of money, and you are back to Square One.

As you can probably tell, I’ve been through this routine myself—many times, as a community leader and evangelist. Very often, the next step is to try and create the content in-house.

With the support of management, you rally your R&D and product management leaders to contribute pieces, with an experienced editor (maybe in-house, maybe outsourced) lined up to polish the rough edges. More often than not, however, content is absolutely their last priority and getting it from them is like pulling teeth. And, once again, since they are not writers,  the blog needs to be re-written by the editor, who can’t reach the “writer” to clarify technical questions. The article never happens and even if it does the process is frustrating, painful, expensive, and, at the end of the day, it’s not generating enough content to support your inbound marketing needs.

From 7 to 70 SMEs in 7 Months

One day I had a revelation—what if you paired up a knowledgeable expert with a talented writer, as co-authors? What if they became a team that could produce high-value content at scale for technological audiences? I tried it once, I tried it twice, and it worked! I tried it three times and I felt that I could predict delivery success. That was when I founded IOD, a small marketplace that focuses on high-quality content for companies in the cloud world.

Our secret sauce is our well-vetted pool of subject matter experts and matching them up with hand-picked writers. But it doesn’t end there. We also have a strong editorial team, headed up by Jen Maidenberg, that carefully edits each piece of content before it’s sent to our customer for review. We must be doing something right, because we have grown from seven to 70 people over the last 7 months (from Jan).

What you’re reading right now is a perfect example. I provided a quick brief to Tina Ornstein, one of our valued writers, and she took those patchy insights and turned it into this wonderful blog. Jen looked it over before it went live to make sure that all the “i”s were dotted and the “t”s crossed. Et voila—three skill sets have worked together to cost-effectively produce an interesting piece of content. Hands-on expertise + writing/blogging + thorough editing/quality control.

It’s Not Simple, But It Works!

I may have made it all sound simple, but there are actually lots of subtle ingredients in our secret sauce. They all have to be present—and in the right proportions—to achieve the desired results. Our expert-writer teams are learning to work seamlessly together and, as a team matures, its ability to produce skyrockets. We see our team as a family and we built the framework for the members to be able to network among themselves. You can see them learn from each other, each bringing to the table a unique and irreplaceable skill set backed up by years of experience.

I invite you to join our team or ask for our services. Just contact me directly at

Related posts