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How to Become a Subject Matter Expert (It’s More than What You Know)

Jun 12, 2017

In competitive fields like IT and healthcare, expert knowledge is a commodity that earns compensation well beyond the norm. Companies want to hire a subject matter expert and leverage that expertise to increase their market reputation. However, job seekers using only their technical skills, certifications, and work history to establish that authority at times fall short. The way to become a subject matter expert (SME) depends on more than niche knowledge and practical experience; it requires savvy branding to convey that your skills far surpass the crowd.

Which branding strategies work the best? Successful subject matter experts use a variety of online and offline strategies to gain attention in their space. By using their additional strengths to expand the reach of their reputation, they simplify the effort needed in their next job search.

Maximize Social Media

Not every branding strategy requires grand gestures. Social posts expose your brand to decision makers and recruiters without a lot of exertion. By routinely sharing informative and thoughtful content, you draw parallels between your brand and other thought leaders.

The trick is to determine the right social media formula. The social media platforms you use, the time you post, and even the message across platforms influences your overall reach.

  • Which platforms work best? – LinkedIn and Twitter deliver the best SME results. LinkedIn posts have the potential to reach second/third connections and provide data on your views. The ability to search trending hashtags and mention subject matter experts in Twitter posts gives it incredible reach. Both are conducive to others discovering your budding subject matter expertise.
  • When is the best time to post? – Social media posts perform best at peak usage times. Twitter reaches the most influencers Monday through Friday in the early morning (8am) or late afternoon (5pm to 6pm). LinkedIn posts do best on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 10am, 12pm, and 5pm. If you are busy then to post, use Hootsuite or other tools to schedule your social posts in advance.
  • How do you boost your authority? Subject matter experts speak with authority because their message is consistent. Their social posts align with their overall views and are chosen carefully. Any contradiction in the message hurts the overall brand. It is important that all professional social media profiles send a cohesive message that conveys undeniable thought leadership.

Get Noticed for Your Own Knowledge

What about your own unique ideas? Widely known subject matter experts get to that point by exploring ways to share their knowledge with a larger audience. More than social media posts, this type of branding gives direct authenticity. SMEs do more than share informative content and eye-opening pieces – they generate that work on their own.

Not every strategy is going to be right for every SME. Play to your strengths. Strong writers put out thought pieces on LinkedIn Publishing, popular industry websites, or their own blog. Effective public speakers reach out to industry associations to get included on upcoming panels. Others use webinars or slide decks to demonstrate their knowledge and experience.

Regardless of method, the subject matter itself needs to be value-driven. Identify your target audience and their pain points early. Do you want to engage decision makers or your peers? Both approaches build messaging to influence hiring, but the technical depth will always vary.

IT decision makers want to know the ROI of new tech and strategies while peer audiences crave more hands-on content. Fellow nurses want advice for thriving in their unit or advancing their careers while decision makers are more interested in nurse retention strategies and leadership pieces.

Above all else, the individuality of your voice and expertise needs to be apparent. If your content sounds just like anyone else, what will compel your audience to choose you over the competition? Put trends and pressing issues in a different light. Include examples and stories from your unique experience. Most importantly, be yourself – it’s who companies want to hire.

Associate with Industry Experts

Advertising guru David Ogilvy has just the right advice that’s applicable to budding subject matter experts. He said, “First, make yourself a reputation for being a creative genius. Second, surround yourself with partners who are better than you are. Third, leave them to get on with it.” His words outline the start-to-finish steps of a SME’s journey, though the impact of others is particularly noteworthy.

Surrounding yourself with fellow subject matter experts is beneficial for two reasons. The first reason is that connecting with recognized SMEs expands your knowledge and insight through regular interaction. The second reason is that making that association between you and an established expert builds your industry credit. When companies can draw parallels between you and other known commodities, your reputation will receive a boost from their insight, abilities, and performance.

The Final Step to Become a Subject Matter Expert

Let’s come back to the David Ogilvy quote. Subject matter expertise involves you making an independent reputation for yourself. It combines a strong social media presence, effective content distribution, and eventually, building enough of a buzz to get future subject matter experts seeking you. In the end, it’s the perception from people that give you the authority to become a subject matter expert, so maximize every interaction to the fullest.

Want to build up some easy industry credit? Refer one of your peers. By recommending trustworthy industry experts you know for a job opening, you create trust for your own brand. Plus, you can earn up to $1,200.
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