Subject Matter Experts and Writers: What’s the Difference?
There’s a lot of bad content out there.
You know it. I know it. Customers definitely know it.
And, of course, content marketers are trying to fix it—at least in our own small portions of the web.
But before we can fix our content messes, we need to understand where they come from. Sometimes content is bad because we don’t understand who our customers are. Sometimes it’s way too salesy. And sometimes it’s written by the wrong people.
Because there are two people who need to be involved in creating a single piece of content—and usually we just use one.
So, who are these two people and what roles should they play in your content creation?
First, let’s talk about the subject matter expert.
Subject matter experts are people who know your topic inside and out. For a product page, your subject matter expert would be someone who knows your product intimately. For a blog post about real estate, your subject matter expert should know a heck of a lot about real estate. For a white paper for entrepreneurs, your subject matter expert should have in-depth knowledge of entrepreneurship and the topics that are important to those entrepreneurs.
Subject matter experts add authenticity and depth to your content. They create something that’s truly useful to users. And without them it’s easy to create the same boring, shallow content that the internet seems crammed with.
In other words, an article about the Top 10 Things to See In Paris, when written by a subject matter expert, would include hidden gems, useful tips, and little-known corners of the great city. The same article written by someone who doesn’t know Paris well would, like so many others, probably simply list the top tourist attractions that everyone already knows about.
Which brings me to the second person on our content crack team…
It’s time to talk about the writer.
If content without a subject matter expert is shallow and commonplace, content without a writer can be confusing, difficult to read, and easy to overlook.
Writers know how to tell a story. They understand grammar and structure. They know how to take complicated topics and make them simple and digestible. They understand how to talk directly to your target audience.
Without a writer, our Top 10 Things To Do In Paris could end up grammatically incorrect (which looks bad for your brand), inconsistently formatted (which makes it hard to read), or even just bland—without excitement or flavor.
Which is why I think content marketers need to make sure they have both: subject matter experts and writers. And that these two people work together to make content that has some real value.
Finally, let’s talk process.
So, how can we create a seamless process for our two (or more) content creators? Here are several process examples that I’ve seen work and work well:
1) Subject matter expert writes a draft > writer re-writes with audience and distribution channel in mind > both review for accuracy, grammar, and style > content gets published.
2) Writer uses notes, research, or past content to gather information and write a first draft > subject matter expert reviews for accuracy and usefulness > writer uses these comments to polish up a final draft > content gets published.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, your writer will be a subject matter expert (or will become one over time) or your subject matter experts will have some beautiful writing skills. But the point is to make sure you’re covering both bases—whether with the skills of one person or the expertise of two.