Daniel Burstein

Content Marketing: How to help subject matter experts come up with blog topics

April 19th, 2016

Let’s say you’re an intrepid marketer at a company. You’ve read about the power of inbound marketing, have started your company’s blog, and … now what? How do you get these subject matter experts (SMEs) to blog? And what should they blog about?

Or perhaps you have an established content marketing blog — you’ve been going for years. But your SMEs are running out of ideas for blog topics. What should you do?

Keep reading (and then send your SMEs this blog post).


The analogy

Photo: Cirofono

Photo: Cirofono

Now that we’ve established the problem, let’s look to an analogy laced with a pop reference to help give you an approach to solve it.

When George and Jerry are pitching the idea of the “show about nothing” to NBC executives on “Seinfeld,” George asks …

George: What did you do today?
NBC Exec: I got up and came to work.
George: There’s a show! That’s a show.
NBC Exec: How is that a show?

The Seinfeld Method

If your SMEs don’t think they have anything helpful to blog about for your audience, ask them, “What did you do today?”

Their day-to-day role likely spurs many topics that would benefit your ideal customer but are hidden in the four walls of your company. In fact, are you read this blog post, your SMEs are probably:

Almost everything done in their job is content.

When they mention these activities, let them know, “There’s a blog post! That’s a blog post.”

They might think that none of these ideas are worth sharing — and question you, “How is that a blog post?”

And here’s why …

Their goal is to write a blog post that will be respected and impressive to the most advanced person they know in the industry. You can’t blame them, because think about it, that’s probably your first reaction as well. I know it’s mine. Heck, even in writing this very blog post you’re reading, I asked myself — is this too obvious? Does everyone already know how to come up with blog topics? What would Joe Pulizzi or Jay Baer or Seth Godin think of this blog post?

However, this way of thinking sets the bar too high. Joe Pulizzi is not the target audience for the MarketingSherpa Blog. Brand-side marketers who have so much more on their plate than just a blog and, therefore, struggle with this issue every day is our ideal audience — the folks who told us blogging is the fourth most difficult social media tactic (but also the third most effective).

There is a thin line between what is profound and what is obvious, between what is difficult and what is rote and commonplace. And once your SMEs have crossed that line, they (falsely) think everyone else already has as well.

They overlook the simple ideas that could be helpful and effective for your audience.

So you have to help your SMEs lower their sights. Don’t write for the industry rock star. Don’t write for the smartest person in your own company. If it makes it easier on them, they can caveat the blog post. For example — Full caveat: The blog post you’re reading doesn’t teach everything about choosing topics for a successful blog — that would also involve a content strategy, value proposition, analytics, storytelling, sourcing and reporting. The goal of this post is just to help you give your SMEs simple ideas to help you blog on a consistent schedule.

Once they can overcome this bias, they can write about the topics that matter to your ideal customer, the type of things SMEs are doing with them every day already.


Content is everywhere

This is also why “Seinfeld” was such a revolutionary and successful show. According to Wikipedia, it “broke several conventions of mainstream television.” It wasn’t really a “show about nothing.” It was only about nothing in the sense that it didn’t rely on narrative arcs that neatly resolved themselves in 22 minutes and felt contrived.

The “nothing” it was about revolved around the everyday reality of its target audience. As Jerry Seinfeld said, “The pitch for the show, the real pitch, when Larry and I went to NBC in 1988, was we want to show how a comedian gets his material. The show about nothing was just a joke in an episode many years later, and Larry and I to this day are surprised that it caught on as a way that people describe the show, because to us, it’s the opposite of that.”

In other words, what really mattered in the day-to-day lives of many people. That is sometimes some pretty small things. “Seinfeld” is a precursor to the organic, authentic, transparent movement that has risen with the growth of blogging and social media as a backlash against advertising that didn’t ring true to many customers.

In fact, this very blog post was inspired by my day-to-day activities. As director of editorial content at MarketingSherpa, I help host a monthly, internal Writer’s Workshop. Nothing fancy, just a chance to get MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute (parent research organization of MarketingSherpa) writers and SMEs who desire to write together in one room.

In our last Writer’s Workshop, I helped tackle the subject of blog topics by using this “Seinfeld” analogy (which was then dubbed The Seinfeld Method). Everyone in our group then thought of their daily activities, wrote the first paragraph of a blog topic on that subject, and shared with the group.

Because content is everywhere. SMEs are already creating content with their everyday activities; they’re just not describing it in a way that will leave the four walls of your company and reach the right audience.


Help your future self

Now, next time someone new faces a challenge coming up with a blog topic, I can just send them this blog post to help them get started.

This is part of the value prop for your SMEs as well. They’re not just doing their job by writing blog posts. Or building their brand in their industry. They’re also replicating a solution to the most frequent questions they receive from customers, partners and employees, and saving themselves time in the future.

So they’re doing the opposite of what Jerry Seinfeld talks about in one of his opening monologues on the show — “Night Guy wants to stay up late. ‘What about getting up after five hours sleep?’ Oh, that’s Morning Guy’s problem.” — they’re helping their future self out.


You can follow Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content, MarketingSherpa, @DanielBurstein.


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Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

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