Become a Subject Matter Expert in 3 Steps
Subject matter experts, or SMEs (pronounced "Smees" as they are known in the public relations arena), are people who are experts in a particular field. For example, when I was in the Army, if we had to talk to the press about something related to aviation, we would find a personable aviator, train them on media interaction and have them do interviews. If we were talking about airborne operations, we would find some well-versed paratrooper, train them up, and put them in front of the camera.
SMEs are experts in their fields because they have spent a long time working in their discipline. How long? Well, that depends and it varies from industry to industry, but one thing remains true no matter the trade, SMEs are seasoned pros.
That said, if you are a small business owner and have deep professional experience, you should seriously consider positioning yourself as a SME in your community. That does not mean that you should go out and start spending a lot of money on advertising. A company that advertises a lot might not necessarily be replete with SMEs. What it does mean is that they have money to burn on ads.
Positioning yourself as a SME in the community might take some patience, but it is a great way to earn a solid professional reputation and grow your brand organically. Here are three steps to take in becoming a SME.
Step 1. Walk the walk
Let's face it, if you're going to position yourself as an expert, you're going to need a lot of experience and/or education or training for most people to consider you an expert. A lot of people focus on how many years they've been doing something. For example, business owners (me included) tend to mention how much industry experience they have by using numbers; "25 years experience" or "more than three decades of experience." That's fine, but don't forget, you can have five years of experience and if you've gone out on several hundred service calls per year, that can add up to "thousands of service calls over the last few years."
There is no substitute for experience. You just have to present it the right way to show that you are an experienced professional. Be careful here. If you don't have the experience, pay your dues, be patient, and grow your business steadily. You can't, and you shouldn't, lie about your experience and qualifications. Just think of a certain congressman.
Step 2. Share information
I am a big fan of share what you know. That means as a small business owner you should be sharing information with your customers to help them navigate some of the less complicated things in their orbit related to your field. If you're an automotive repair shop owner, that doesn't mean that you show them how to replace a rear main seal, but it does mean that you can share a blog post or short social media video about how they can change their wipers or maybe replace a bulb on their brake lights.
This information should be accessible to anyone with a computer or device because your ultimate goal is to help others by providing useful information. Avoid having them join a mailing list or anything like that. It is cumbersome and most people don't like that clunky stuff. Videos will also lead to views and followers and that's something you can use in step 3.
You should try to post a blog or video at least weekly so your followers learn to look for your content. But be careful, posting too much can have adverse impact, so tread lightly at first and gauge response.
If you're not big into social media or tech then reach out to local civic groups (American Legion, VFWs, Rotary, local chambers of commerce, etc.) and ask to speak at a member meeting for 10-15 minutes. They are always looking for speakers.
You can offer the same useful information from a video, but the reach will be much, much smaller. Nonetheless, it will be impactful so bring plenty of handouts and company literature that supports the subject you are talking about and ensure it is branded with your company's logo. And don't forget the business cards.
This kind of outreach is worth more than any amount of money you spend on ads because it connects you to the community and it costs nothing. Pressing palms and meeting people face to face personifies your company. Your company is no longer an ad in a flyer, it is a living, breathing human being who is trying to help others.
You should plan to do these outreach events at least once monthly, but if you're pressed for time, try to get to one at least quarterly.
Step 3. Engage the media
In smaller media markets, this is much easier to achieve. It is a good idea to reach out to news editors and assignment editors at local news stations and newspapers and introduce yourself (explaining your qualifications) and your company. For example, if you own an HVAC service company, in your pitch to the local news station, you can explain who you are and that you'd like to offer some advice to the local community on things that they can do to prepare their HVAC systems for spring. If you make it sound as if you are doing a PSA (public service annoucement) you might get a news editor to bite and see the value in airing "news you can use." This is great, FREE, publicity. Most news stations have a news tips or story ideas email address, or a direct email to the assignment editor.
The challenge here is that some of the larger businesses in the community might have ad contracts that grant them SME status for that channel's news stories. So if a reporter is doing a story about "How to Get Your Home Ready for Spring," that station might be contractually obligated to run a story that uses advertisers as SMEs.
However, if there don't have any ad contracts like that, you might hit pay dirt especially if the news cycle is a bit slow. News groups can produce a story like this and run it at any time (called evergreen stories in the news biz), so it is worth the effort. The point is, you want to reach out and tell the news folks that you are an expert in car repair, lawn care, carpentry, insect control, whatever; and then explain that you have a storyline and that they can use you as a source for the story. If they don't do it, at the very least, if you write or say the right things to the news editors, they just might put you on a list of SMEs and when stories come up involving your industry, they might call you.
And if you've been sharing videos online as mentioned in Step 2, the news media might like your on-camera persona and those helpful videos might get you in a news story. Not to mention, when you are pitching to the media you can mention that you have 45,000 followers or that your videos have been viewed 2 million times, or whatever your numbers might be.
The more you do this, the more you solidify your place as an expert your field. So the question is, which would you rather be known as, the company who runs the ads, or the company who knows what they are doing?
As always, if you have any questions or need help, give us a holler or comment below.