What Makes an SME?

SMEs give your marketing materials the authenticity and “coder cred” needed to reach the dev audience.

We’ve written at length about developers’ skepticism of marketing tactics and advertising in general. SMEs, or subject matter experts, can give your marketing materials the authenticity and “coder cred” needed to reach this difficult audience. These individuals understand the ins and outs of software development and can “talk the talk” when it comes to the technical aspects of your product or solution.

As a marketer, you’ll want to tap into the knowledge and skills of your organization’s SMEs. You’ll likely be working with them to create content, such as blog posts, videos, podcasts, or white papers, that will be of interest to your target market. When seeking out SMEs for your brand, look for people with the following traits.

Real-World Experience

The best SMEs are technical experts who spend their day-to-day developing software. SMEs with practical experience:

  • Have been “in the trenches” of software development
  • “Tell and don’t sell”
  • Are willing to share what did and didn’t work from them and/or their company
  • Are confident in sharing their opinions
  • Provide information of value

Your organization’s engineering team is a good place to find SMEs with this type of experience. These individuals know the nuts and bolts of your product, right down to the code, and can speak to it in greater detail than even the most tech-savvy marketer. The best SME candidates are those who’ve dealt with client challenges and obstacles as well as success stories. These use cases and examples of problem-solving often make for compelling content.

An Open-Source Mentality

This phrase was coined by a member of the DZone editorial team and means that an individual is open-minded, receptive to feedback, and willing to take part in community conversations. Those with an “open source mentality” are:

  • Respectful of differing opinions
  • Aware of their strengths and weaknesses
  • Willing to respond to comments on their articles
  • Active community members
  • Eager to share their knowledge and experiences
  • Ready to teach and educate others

If your company has a developer training or advocacy program, you might look there for SMEs.

Excellent Communication Skills

SMEs need to be good communicators, especially using the written word. Can your potential SME organize his or her thoughts clearly when writing? Does he or she have a personal writing style that can make your brand stand out?

If you’d like to the SME to take part in audio or video interviews, you’ll need them to be comfortable being recorded and/or filmed as well. Ask your potential SME what types of content he or she is most passionate about and most interested in creating.

Time and Dedication

Being an external-facing SME can be time-consuming and sometimes even challenging. Developers often have a lot on their plate just with their “regular” jobs. How much time does a potential SME have for additional commitments? Are they able to go that extra mile, and are they willing to?

The most successful SMEs take great pride in sharing their knowledge and helping other devs solve problems and reach goals. These people often stand out within an organization as the “go-to” for technical questions. If you ask nicely, they might be ready to assist a marketer in need!

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