How to Get Internal Thought Leaders to Create Content

Suman Sridhar recently graduated from Boston College's full-time MBA program. She is currently seeking new content marketing opportunities. Before grad school, she held several content marketing positions at B2B brands in Boston and New York. You can follow her on Twitter @ SumanSridhar .

Suman Sridhar recently graduated from Boston College's full-time MBA program. She is currently seeking new content marketing opportunities. Before grad school, she held several content marketing positions at B2B brands in Boston and New York. You can follow her on Twitter @SumanSridhar.

96% of B2B buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders. This isn’t a surprise. After all, wouldn’t you rather read about building UX teams or platform migrations from people who have actually done the work?

To find the right people, all you need to do is look around you at work. Your company is full of knowledgeable staff who have deep experience in at least one subject. As a content marketer, you can harness that knowledge and channel it into your company’s content.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. Internal thought leaders will have other responsibilities. There are projects, meetings and fires to put out. People might be working remotely. Not everyone is a writer or creator, and some may not consider content creation a priority.

The following tips are best practices on how to get internal thought leaders to create content. I’ve based these recommendations on my own professional experiences working with internal subject matter experts (SMEs) at a distributed UX company and a software company.

1. Lock down executive buy-in. Having management support from the beginning will set the stage for content marketing success from the top down. Companies that haven’t embraced or implemented content marketing are missing out on a key competitive advantage, and will surely be left behind. Consider the following statistics:

  • As of May 2018, 87% of B2B companies in the U.S. engage in content marketing. [MarketingProfs]

  • Content marketing generates over three times as many leads as outbound marketing and costs 62% less. [Content Marketing Institute]

  • Content has been proven to be a powerful revenue driver. One brand, Crazy Egg, has reported that content marketing efforts generated more than seven figures in revenue per year. [FlightMedia]

At the UX and software companies I worked for, management was already well-aware of the importance of content marketing and needed someone to execute it (me!). If you don’t have organizational support, particularly at the top, it’s time to start building the case for content marketing. Having supportive leaders made it clear to internal SMEs that creating content was a priority.

2. Know that you’re going to have to wear many hats. When you’re trying to extract content from internal SMEs, you’ll assume a variety of roles: creator, writer, teacher, coach, project manager, designer, and journalist being a few. Remember, you’re dealing with busy people who are likely not as experienced at content marketing as you. If you’re more writing-oriented like me, you could be working with people who hate writing, and you have to find ways to help them out.

One professional challenge that I faced was when people were new to the idea that content marketing was about providing information and thought leadership, not sales pitching in content form. Bringing up data and pointing to the activities of successful brands helped me navigate through this issue without coming across as patronizing. 

3. Make it easy for them. I often extracted content from SMEs by recording GoToMeetings, Skype calls and presentations (with permission). This was because one of the companies I worked for was distributed, meaning that most of the company was not in-house. There’s no need to go out and buy a recorder — just use your iPhone. This way, the thought leader can just speak about their subject. After recording, I could transcribe a draft and show it to them so that they could give feedback and make edits. This was especially useful if the SME was too busy or didn’t like writing.

Screen sharing is also a useful mechanism. During phone meetings, I could create outlines and bullet points, and the SME could look at it in real time. The same applied when I drove survey and video projects at a software company. I would project questions onto a screen so people could examine it, and jot down notes and answers in real-time. The thought leaders could correct any mistakes or suggest additions on the spot.

4. Be polite but persistent. This is where you’ll have to wear your project manager hat, since working on content with SMEs is a duty that’s dependent on other people. Be sure to SET DEADLINES with the internal thought leader, and mark the deadline in your calendar. Suggest that the SME blocks off a couple of hours or so during the week to work on the content project. When people couldn’t stick to their deadlines, I tried to never make them feel bad, since other priorities come up. Instead, I tried to do whatever I could to help them actualize the content, like recording and writing a draft for them to react to.

If getting people to deliver remains a constant problem, gently remind others that you’re doing this because you have certain numbers and targets to it. Ask people on your team and your manager how to get around this issue.

5. Incentivize SMEs and tap into their talents. For many SMEs, participating in marketing content creation could be enjoyable, or at least different. The content item would be a useful addition to their portfolio. When it’s completed, share it internally, and it can help with their internal visibility and show their managers they’re engaged with the company. I’ve also heard of companies who provide bonuses to non-marketers who participate in marketing activities.

If you have the resources, try to see if you can provide tangible incentives, like gift cards. Using a gamification tool like GaggleAMP can be a fun way to drive employee engagement. For example, it could show whose content has the most social shares. This could inspire friendly competition.

Also, maximize your internal thought leaders’ talents. For example, at the UX company, we also had a talented visual design team on hand. This meant they could create cool custom content for marketing like infographics or blog graphics at no extra cost. Maybe your CMO is a fantastic speaker, or you know of a product manager who presents well on camera. Loop them in!

 Though sometimes working with internal thought leaders to create content can be tricky, it can also be a rewarding experience. It’ll improve their external and internal visibility, and infuse your content with credibility. Your company’s content marketing efforts need to go beyond just having a blog where every post is authored by the marketer. Getting internal thought leaders to create content will help cement your company as an expert source in its field.