How to interview a subject matter expert with an easy-to-use template.Click To Tweet
Preparing for Your SME InterviewWhen you conduct interviews, you should have your questions with you and your note-taking materials ready. We have a great interview questions and notes template for you, so you can go into the interview with a subject matter expert as prepared as possible.
What is a Subject Matter Expert?According to the University of Waterloo, an SME offers the expertise and knowledge in a subject area needed for a project. A bona fide SME understands their topic off the top of their head — without having to do extensive research. An SME will be able to perform tasks like these when it comes to their topic:
- Understand and explain the terms and language used in the subject area.
- Offer guidance on questions and problems in their area of expertise.
- Give recommendations for improving procedures.
- Explain their topic of expertise easily and clearly to others.
- Measure performance in their area of expertise.
How Can SMEs Help You Improve Your Content?Using an SME as a source can bolster your content with:
- Added authority: SME interviews boost content authority by providing original sources, demonstrating you’ve done your research, and delivering trustworthy information. With an authority on your side, your audience will have more faith in your content.
- A familiar face: If you’re exploring a new topic, your SME will bridge the gap between your subject area and theirs. People familiar with the topic covered in your project might recognize the SME — gaining more trust in your content.
- Unique information: With so many online sources on the same topic overlapping their content, an SME will provide information that you won’t find anywhere else. Your unique SME source will help you avoid creating “parasite” content that doesn’t provide any new insights.
How to Interview an SME in 7 StepsFollow these seven steps to find an SME, interview them, and use their expertise for your content.
1. Identify the SMEs in Your NetworkSMEs are closer to your reach than you might think. Social media, industry resources, and your professional network serve as a treasure trove of expertise. Try these ideas for finding SMEs to contact:
- Search on social media: Social media platforms, like LinkedIn and Twitter, are virtually a directory of SMEs, if you know where to look. Use keywords, such as “[topic] expert” and search filters, to find the right people.
- Explore industry resources: MSP Communications has plenty of ideas on how to find SMEs using industry resources. Look at trade publication bylines, frequent conference/webinar presenters, and prominent trade association members to see who professionals go to for advice.
- Create a call for experts: If you have a substantial following on social media, try asking your followers if they know anyone. Make a post saying that you’re looking for an SME who’s willing to answer some questions.
- Ask your colleagues: Ask around the office or company message platform, if any of your teammates know of an SME in your content topic. The expert you need could be one referral away.
Try identifying a subject matter expert through social media, industry resources, and your professional network.Click To Tweet
2. Determine What You Need to Learn From an SMEBefore approaching an SME, make sure that you know what information you want to get from them. The exact insights you’ll get will vary based on where the interview conversation goes, but you’ll want to define the topics that you touch on. You can then mention these topics when you reach out to the SME, so they know what to expect from the interview. For example, let’s say that we want to interview the cat expert, Jackson Galaxy, about becoming a cat behaviorist. The topics to cover would include:
- Required and suggested education
- Typical day-to-day
- Recommended resources
3. Request an Interview From an SMEOnce you have your person and your topics, it’s time to ask your SME for an interview. Depending on the contact information you have, you might ask over social media messages or email. Keep your request brief and friendly. Continuing our Jackson Galaxy example, our message could look like this. Note that we asked Mr. Galaxy if he would like to refer us to another expert if he couldn’t participate in an interview. Even if the SME you find can’t take part in your interview, they might know someone who can.
4. Schedule Your InterviewOnce you get the go-ahead from an interview source, schedule a day and time for your chat. A tool, like Calendly, will make the scheduling process easy for you and the SME, but it’s not necessary if you don’t have the budget. If you need a free option, you can create a Google event for the meeting to use as a touchpoint for the interview.
5. Create Interview QuestionsNow that you have your interview subject confirmed, you can draft your questions. By waiting until you know who you’re going to interview to tackle this step, you’ll be able to create more specific questions. You can use our formerly-mentioned, free downloadable question and note-taking template to keep your interview questions. Add or remove rows from the table as needed to put all of your questions and interview notes in one place. Try these techniques to make interview questions that will get the insights you need for your content:
- Do your research on the subject and SME: Within the scope of your abilities and resources, do as much research as you can on the interview topic and the SME’s background. This information will help you find inspiration for questions and in-depth topics to discuss.
- Use open-ended questions: Wherever you can, ask questions with open answers, rather than a simple yes or no. Open-ended questions will give you richer information and might cause the SME to mention topics that you wouldn’t have thought of. For example, asking “What education did you need to get into your job?” will prompt a more detailed answer than “Where did you go to college?”
- Ask your audience what they want to know: To ensure that you’ll deliver content that your audience wants to read, ask them what they want you to ask your SME. Depending on the nature of the interview and SME, you can mention the SME by name or keep the question more general.
- Remember the “grand finale” question: When someone is passionate about a topic, they’ll often come up with answers that go beyond your questions. Try making “Do you have anything you would like to add?” the last question on your list to encourage your SME to say what’s on their mind.
6. Conduct the InterviewWhen the big day comes around, these measures can help you keep your interview organized and insightful:
- Lay out expectations for the conversation: Once your SME agrees to the interview, send a confirmation message explaining how long to expect the interview to take and the topics you plan to cover. If you’d like, you can send the SME your questions in advance, so they can plan ahead.
- Record your conversation (with permission): Record your interviews whenever possible to have the original answers on hand. Make sure to ask your subject for permission and let them know when you start and stop recording.
- Let the conversation go in a natural direction: Use your interview questions as a guide rather than a script as you run a conversation between yourself and the SME. Ask for clarification when needed and feel free to give the SME time to think their answers through.
- Ask follow up questions: When your SME says something particularly insightful or seems to have more to share, ask follow up questions to get deeper information, and ask if they have an example.
- Take notes on key points: As you talk to your SME, take notes on the biggest takeaways that they cover. These notes will help you review your interview and highlight the most meaningful points in your content. Our question and note-taking template gives you room for notes organized by question for easy reference.
Lay out expectations for the conversation with a subject matter expert, so your interview goes smoothly.Click To Tweet
7. Analyze Your Interview ContentAfter you get your interview recording and notes together, ask yourself, “What are the most important points of the interview?” If you aren’t sure how to distill your interview into a few points, try summarizing your SME’s answers to each question in one or two sentences. From there, you can organize your new ideas into content sections.
Write More Authoritative Content Using Your New InformationNow that you have a one-of-a-kind source for your marketing content, it’s time to use it to make your content more authoritative. Try the following strategies to create top-quality thought leadership.
Use Quotes PurposefullyTo make the most out of your interview answers, know when to summarize your SME’s point and when to directly quote it. The University of Wisconsin-Madison recommends asking yourself what the most important point of the information is when figuring out how to add it to your content. They overview three types of information incorporation:
- Summarizing: A summary might work best, if you need to communicate an overall story or point.
- Paraphrasing: When your interview subject talks about a complicated topic, it may be time to paraphrase what they said using simplified language.
- Quoting: A quote can deliver the most value when the specific language your SME used matters, or they make an important point.