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Whether you are concerned with your E-A-T score, the recent BERT update, real or imaginary “LSI keywords“, or, like me, you are just trying to publish the best damn content on the web, this blog post will teach you about using Slack as a tool to improve your online marketing through finding subject matter experts (SMEs).
Many of the ideas here apply equally well to online forums, IRC communities, and other types of online communities.
Successful non-branded SEO campaigns are often about creating amazingly useful, well-written educational content.
But creating great content is not easy.
Your content needs to be:
- Useful (often including illustrations or images).
- Formatted for easy consumption.
It should have the right tone and vocabulary level and must be titled and described in such a way that it is both findable and compelling to open.
These are the same sorts of traits that a publisher might’ve suggested for a book a century ago.
Table-stakes editorial and publishing is hard enough, but it is futile without having experts in the topical area to help author and advise on the content.
Unless you are doing SEO for yourself as a small business owner, you are almost certainly not an expert in the topical area you are trying to rank for.
Even if you learn what your audience is learning, and have the dedication to understand the world of the person you are hoping will find your content helpful, you are unlikely to have the sort of mastery that a topical expert who isn’t also an SEO, writer, or marketer will have.
Slack and other online communities are a great place to find experts in topical areas who may be new to creating content about their topical area but are true specialists in their arenas.
Slack is also a great place to find trending topics, interesting insights, and links to other content in the space – newsletters, podcasts, forums, influencers, conferences, and presentations.
Raising the Bar on SEO Author Expertise
There are certain types of SEO content that may not require true domain expertise.
For example, a fine roundup of the top 12 food trucks in Denver could probably be created by someone not from Denver and who happens to not care for food out of trucks using a ranking system based on aggregated Yelp + Google Reviews and Instagram Mentions in the past 12 months – or using some other heuristic. The expertise in this type of content is in research, data gathering, and analysis.
Other types of SEO content, though, requires primary knowledge of a topical area.
For example, despite the recent interest in AI/ML among SEO types, most marketers tasked with creating great content that would be of interest to the longstanding AI/ML community should seek out experts in the community to help create the content.
It is blatantly obvious when a non-expert tries to write something for an expert audience.
To succeed at SEO through non-branded educational content, brands and websites must attempt to raise their editorial standards to that of a magazine or newspaper.
This starts with developing relationships and making connections with experts in the community of people interested in the topic you are publishing about.
Not all experts are suited to be a byline author. It might be the case that you hire an expert to be an advisor on which topics to cover, to work as a fact-checker or specialized researcher, or for other behind-the-scenes work.
Simply hiring an expert and conducting an interview, then turning the answers into web content can be a step in the right direction.
The purpose here is to get the information from the expert rather than trying to use the expert’s credentials or name as a validation point on otherwise questionable content.
How to Get Started Using Slack to Find Subject Matter Experts
The most important thing to remember is not to spam.
Don’t be pushy, or aggressive, or dive right in.
Just find some communities, lurk and observe, slowly join conversations and contribute – become part of the community you seek to understand and engage with.
These tips generally apply to all web communities, from IRC to Slack to Reddit.
1. Find Communities
Find a couple of Slack communities related to the topical you are publishing about.
Slofile is a great tool for finding Slack communities. There are also many lists of communities such as this list of 2,000 Slack Chat Groups from Standuply.
Of course, it’s also great to just use Google with searches like “Slack Communities for [Topic/Location/Podcast/Reddit/Community] + [XYZ]”.
2. Lurk & Observe
Spend a few days or weeks just hanging out.
Read the conversations, check out what links are posted, look up the Twitter accounts of the influencers mentioned, try to figure out what websites are influential for the audience.
It’s important to get a sense of the community before interacting. Understand what type of content gets posted in which community.
3. Join Conversations
Try to be helpful.
If you see a question for which you can provide a link that answers it, do so.
Be friendly. Ask a question or two.
Engage authentically and with good intentions.
4. Use Hiring/Jobs Channels
Many Slack communities have a #hiring or #part-time-jobs channel or similar. Check that out and create a post for a part-time SME author.
Be clear that you aren’t necessarily looking for someone with writing experience – you are looking for someone who deeply understands a topical area.
If there isn’t a hiring area, consider direct messaging some of the more insightful community members about the opportunity.
Tips for Working with Subject Matter Experts
Here are some tips to help you work smoothly with subject matter experts:
- Make the terms of the agreement clear. What exactly do you expect them to deliver, and by when? What exactly you are going to do with the content. Is it OK if this content is published on some other website?
- Check for plagiarism for any author you don’t know and trust. I prefer Copyscape for plagiarism checking. Many SMEs who don’t come from a publishing background might not understand common journalistic standards around plagiarism.
- Use Upwork or a similar service to manage the relationship, especially at the beginning. This way you have the trust and protection of using escrow and other benefits.
- Edit the content your SMEs produce. They’re not professional writers! Add subheadings, bullet points, illustrations, improve the titles. Provide feedback so they see what changes you are making and what you want to see.
- Pay fairly. Great content shouldn’t be cheap. You aren’t paying for the SME’s time to write, you are paying for the time it took them to become an expert.
- Develop relationships with trust on both sides. You don’t want to be looking for a new expert every time you need a new blog post published in a topical area. Instead, you want to develop personal relationships with long-standing SME contributors.
- Help unknown experts become influencers. They know about a topical area, you know about online marketing, and working together you can help each other.
Other Places to Find Experts Online
HARO is still perhaps the single best tool for getting mentions and links in major media and print publications, especially for someone just starting out and without connections.
HARO can also be used to find experts in specific topical areas.
The problem – or in some cases the advantage – with using HARO, is that the people who respond are trying to be found.
This means the people who are overtly promotional, those who are trying to improve their own visibility because perhaps they’ve got a book in the works, are the ones you will find.
There may be a time and place for this, but the subject matter experts who are naïve to the world of media and publishing are more likely the better long-term partners for expert-written content about a subject.
Web forums remain a fantastic place to find experts. There is likely no better repository of general car maintenance information in the world than is found on web forums.
Reddit and other niche social media communities are also a great place to look for SMEs.
You probably need to start working with experts if you want to create the best damn content on the web.
A great way to find the experts you need is to become a part of their community and engage with them on their terms, on their platforms.
Instead of hiring a professional SEO or marketer to write content, seek to hire experts who can create truly valuable content.
While working with subject matter experts, don’t stop learning everything you can about the topical area.
After years of studying, reading, learning, editing, and writing you can eventually reach the expert level within an industry.