Thought Leadership for Subject Matter Experts

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If you’re a multi-billion dollar company with major brand recognition, it’s not difficult to get the media to listen to what you have to say. But what about small and medium-sized businesses? They may not have the national clout or major announcements that press releases love to highlight, but they still have a great deal of valuable industry knowledge and expertise to impart. Here’s how your business, no matter what its size, can use a thought leadership strategy to build a name for itself in the industry.

Become an SME (subject matter expert) for SMEs

Choose a theme or question that will serve as your overarching idea for the year, then outline topics around that theme. Keep in mind that the topics you choose to write about should benefit the industry, not yourself (directly). For example – “Here’s why we are better than our competitor” is not a good thought leadership topic. Here are some questions to get you started thinking about where you want to become a subject matter expert:

  • What conversations are trending in your industry that you can take a stand on or have an opinion about?
  • Are there industry-specific policies or political changes being implemented that you or someone on your staff has knowledge to write about?
  • How does the philosophy that drives your business improve how people should use or engage with the products and services in your industry?

Once you choose your topic, consider the resources you can commit to determine how often you’ll be able to create pieces (monthly or quarterly is a great place to start). Remember that a thought leadership strategy isn’t just about writing content, it’s also about reaching out to media partners and building relationships, so be sure to factor the time necessary for follow-up into your assessment.

Mix thought leadership with helpful tips

Providing a list of how-to or Top-5 tips is a great way to get people interested in a webinar, to share a blog, or to make it onto Buzzfeed (if that was one of your business goals…). But when it comes to thought leadership, don’t be afraid to include the occasional piece that takes a deeper dive into a new way of thinking – a piece that makes the reader think, “Huh. I never thought about it that way. I should share this with my CEO/CFO/Board.”

While tips are great for making an article actionable, sometimes they focus our attention on the “doing” to the detriment of the “hows” and “whys” that are so critical to strategic thinking and business development. Business owners and leaders will appreciate a piece that asks the hard questions or challenges how they think about your subject matter, so don’t be afraid to take a step back from the “easy tips to accomplish xyz better” and focus some of your thought leadership on being just that – a thought leader.

Research Editorial Calendars

Editorial calendars are like the answer key at the back of the text book. Rather than wonder if a topic you’re passionate about will be of interest to a media outlet, let an editorial calendar tell you. Research the editorial calendars for 5-10 publications, using a mix of local and regional/national outlets and industry-specific outlets with general business publications. As you’re building your thought leadership pieces throughout the year, review these calendars to see if one of the monthly/quarterly themes touches on the topic you’re discussing. While your content should stay true to your theme, consider adjusting the introduction or tweaking the audience to make the piece more applicable to the publication’s needs. And, of course, keep in mind that deadlines for pieces – particularly those for print – are often well in advance of the month of publication, so be sure to give yourself enough time to draft!

Choose a media partner to invest in

Finally, identify one media partner with whom you’d like to build a more in-depth relationship. You may start by submitting a piece to their Editorial section or responding to a request for articles. Another more straight-forward way to get in the door is to buy some advertising space on their website, newsletter, or print publication, particularly if you have an event (like a webinar) to promote.

Build the relationship further by nominating colleagues for awards the publication offers and attending the outlet’s networking events, luncheons, or annual galas. Consider becoming a sponsor of one of the events that you’ve found particularly valuable. At each stage of the engagement, keep your point of contact engaged so that they can keep an eye out on your behalf for other opportunities to get involved. By investing in a relationship with this publication, you’ll be amazed at how becoming a “top of mind” partner can open doors to new opportunities and new connections to leaders within your industry.