How to Test an SOP Before Rolling It Out

If you’ve recently completed a Standard Operating Procedures document (SOP), you may be tempted to roll it out without testing it. After all, you put a lot of hard work into it, right? And there’s no way you made a mistake by failing to recognize a skipped step or issuing unclear instructions.

But the truth is, it happens all the time. You see, when we get too close to something, we oftentimes see what we want to see instead of what’s actually there.

Before you release your new SOP, take a look at why and how you should test it. It just may be the difference between having a project that is a complete success and one that was just almost right.

Why Test an SOP?

No matter how much work goes into the creation of an SOP, it’s a sure bet that it contains errors. And if you created a large document, it probably has a few. But even if you somehow managed to pull off the miraculous and produced an SOP with no errors, you can still benefit from SOP testing.

Here are some great reasons why you should always test an SOP.

Catch Those Errors

Chances are, the SOP contains errors, and testing it is a great way to catch them. And that’s important. Just think, if the SOP contains an error in the customer service processes, and it’s not recognized before rollout, how many customers will be affected by it?

Ensure the Instructions are Clear

People can’t follow a new process unless the instructions are crystal clear.

For example, imagine that the instructions tell the user to enter a customer name and then their address. New employees may not realize that you have to hit “proceed to next screen” before entering the address if the button is located too far down the page. In that instance, you should spell it out, even if the current employees already understand it.

Eliminate Waste and Duplication

Even if the SOP is error-free, you can still benefit from testing it. That’s because the end user who already has experience with the processes may provide some insight you hadn’t thought of. And that could save the company money by reducing things like waste and duplication.

For example, imagine that the SOP called for a customer service representative to print out a copy of the order. But when the SOP was tested, the representative pointed out that the order is printed in the step immediately following theirs.

How to Test an SOP

Before we get into the process of testing an SOP, let’s get something out of the way: no software can do this job for you.

I know, it’s not fair, is it?

But testing an SOP is a hands-on, unique operation that you will need to oversee.

However, once your SOP is up and running, you can use software like Tallyfy and Process Street to monitor things like issue tracking and task consolidation to improve your SOP even more.

But for now, you need humans to tell you if you got it right.

Now that you understand the importance of testing an SOP let’s talk about the process of doing it. Here is a four-step plan you can follow to test your SOP.

Step One: Identify the Testing Parties

Your first step is to identify the testing parties — but that may not be as simple as it sounds. Here are some guidelines for who you should use to test the SOP.

Don’t Allow the SOP Developers to Test It

Do you remember at the beginning of this article when I talked about how being too close to the SOP makes you see things that aren’t there? That’s why you should never allow the developers to test the SOP.

For instance, imagine that the SOP states that the user should assign a customer to a category and then move on to the next step. The developer knows that the user must hit the “save” button, or the information will be lost. But will a new employee know that?

In this instance, the developer was just too close to the process to test the SOP. But, these two people are perfect for the job:

  • Departmental Testers: Identify testers in each department who are affected by the SOP. For example, if the SOP contains new guidelines for the customer service department, you should get people from that department to test the processes that affect them. The people who work the processes every day know them, and they will easily be able to spot an error or an incomplete action.
  • Unfamiliar Testers: In addition to departmental testers, you should assign testers who don’t understand the departmental processes. These people will rely only on the information listed in the SOP, and you will quickly be able to identify any flaws or weaknesses in the instructions. New employees or people from a different department are ideal candidates for this role.


Step Two: Test Each Process

Now that you know who will be testing the SOP, it’s time to run the tests. To get the best results, when possible, you should do it a couple of ways.

Test it Live

The best way to ensure the SOP instructions are clear is to test it in a live environment. For example, if there are new SOP guidelines for sales representatives, have them test their processes while they’re with the customer and submitting an order or inquiry.

Test it As a Whole

After you’ve run through the SOP department-by-department, it’s time to test the entire SOP as a whole. Assign one group of testers to use the old SOP and perform the processes that way. Then have another group use the new SOP. Keep careful records and after the testing is complete, compare the results. If the new guidelines don’t improve the functionality of the department or make the process easier, you’re not finished. If they do, you’re ready for the next step.

Step Three: Ask for Feedback

At this point, you probably feel ready to roll out the SOP, but doing so will cause you to miss out on a valuable opportunity.

Just because the testers completed the processes without any problems, that doesn’t mean the procedures were perfect. Now is the time to ask the testers for their feedback. Doing so may give you insight into how you can improve the SOP even more.

If you use Sharepoint, make use of DocSurvey to send surveys to each tester and ask them if there is anything you can do to improve the instructions or processes.

Step Four: Make Adjustments and Test Again

Now that you’ve received feedback from the testers, you will need to analyze it to determine whether it can truly improve the processes. And here’s where it gets tricky: you probably don’t want to make any more adjustments to the SOP. You just want to release it so you can move on to the next project.

But you also want it to be as good as it can be — the first time.

So analyze the data, but be sure to give more weight to the recommendations than you do to your desire to move on.

Testing the SOP wasn’t so bad, was it? This extra step could save you a lot of pain in the future, and that’s why it’s so important.

Now, celebrate your accomplishment by releasing and implementing the SOP!

                                             

How to Effectively Roll Out an SOP

Rolling out a new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a big deal. You are, after all, changing the way employees handle the processes in your company.

A successful SOP rollout includes testing the SOP and troubleshooting it, training your employees, and updating it as needed.

As complicated as the process can be, nearly every growing company occasionally has to create a new or updated SOP.  

But did you know that if you roll out your SOP the right way, you may get less resistance from your staff?

Let’s take a look at an ideal rollout plan. Then think about using it to implement your new SOP.

Test It Before the Official Rollout

You’ve worked on your new SOP for a long time, and all you want to do is roll it out and be done with it. But it would be counterproductive to roll out the plan unless you first test it to ensure that all the procedures are correct.

We’ll get into the specifics of an effective test program for SOPs in another post, but if you’re about to roll out your new SOP, make sure you’ve done the following at a minimum:

  • Have someone from each department perform a live test for their segment of the SOP. When you test the SOP department-by-department, you will get usable and reliable test results.
  • Don’t allow the SOP writers to test the processes because they may do what they meant to say instead of reading the actual instructions. Instead, ask people who perform the tasks in their daily jobs to do the tests.
  • Ask for feedback and adjust the SOP if necessary. If the testing exposed any weaknesses or inconsistencies in the plan, you can make changes before the official rollout.

You may have to go through the testing process several times, but once you’ve arrived at a point where the employee can perform the actions perfectly using the SOP instructions, it’s time to roll it out.

Step One: Use the Right Platform

Using project management software is an excellent way to park an SOP library.

Many corporations use SharePoint because it was the first on the scene and is widely recognized.

But others use different software for various reasons. For example, many smaller companies want a more streamlined and easy-to-use tool. If that’s what you need, take a look at Google Drive, Workzone, or Box.  

Most of the programs are customizable, so you can only add the features you need. And each one has its benefits and limitations so you will need to determine the right program for you.

Once you’ve uploaded your SOP to the platform, it’s time to get your department heads on board.

Step Two: Train Your Department Heads

Before you disseminate the SOP throughout all the layers of your organization, you should ensure that the department heads understand it. If you train them now, they will be able to answer any questions their team has.

You can do this in several ways. For example, hold workshops for department heads that teach them the basics of the SOP. If you can predict and anticipate the most common staff questions, you will save a lot of time by addressing them with the department heads. Then instruct the department staff to go to the department head if they have any questions.

You can also train your department heads one-on-one. This method is more time-consuming, but it allows you to address specific compliance issues for each department during the training.

Step Three: Ask Department Heads to Inform the Staff

Now that the department heads understand the new SOP, it’s time to inform the staff about its existence. When you use your newly trained department heads to spread the word, it will allow them to address any department-specific questions the staff may have.

Department heads can inform their staff about the new SOP in a number of ways. When do doing so, they should explain the reasons for the new SOP, what it means for them, how to access it, and when that access will be available to them.

To get the word out, department heads can:

  • Hold a department-wide meeting
  • Use department emails to inform their staff of the new SOP
  • Issue a memo to the entire department

Now that your department heads are equipped to answer staff questions, it’s time to distribute the SOP.

Step Four: Make the SOP Available to Staff

The department heads have already informed the staff that a new SOP is coming, and now all that’s left to do is make it accessible to them.

Instruct your department heads to point staff toward whatever platform you’ve chosen and ask them to read the SOP. With some programs, your staff will have to log on to the program while others will allow you to distribute it to everyone at once via email.

You will need to ensure that all staff members read the SOP. But instead of tracking their compliance the old fashioned way via emails and phone calls, why not automate the process? It will make it easier for you and less of a hassle for your staff.

If you use SharePoint, you can enable DocRead to distribute the SOP to your staff easily and then receive a confirmation for every employee who reads it.

Screenshot from Collaboris.com

But when you distribute the SOP, don’t assume that all your employees learn the same way. The truth is that we all have different learning styles, and some of us absorb information better by reading it, while others learn more by watching videos.

To ensure that your staff learns the new SOP, offer them the chance to read it or watch a video.

Step Five: Test Their Understanding

It’s too easy for staff to glance over the SOP because they’re having a hectic day. But that won’t do anyone any good, and it certainly won’t ensure SOP compliance.

To ensure your staff has read and understood the SOP, you should test them on the knowledge. SharePoint’s DocSurvey allows you to create and attach quizzes to the SOP document or video. The quizzes can be made up of multiple-choice questions or open-ended questions. After you’ve created the quiz, you upload it to SharePoint.

Then, you can require your employees to complete the quiz before the SOP is marked as read. Doing this ensures that the staff takes time to absorb the information.

You can also assign a passing grade.  If an employee reads the SOP, takes the quiz and doesn’t pass it, you can require them to take the quiz again.

And remember, the department heads have been trained on the SOP, so if a staff member has questions, they will have been instructed to reach out to them for answers.

Step Six: Track the Results

Now that you’ve distributed the SOP, all staff has read it and passed the quiz; you would think your job is complete, right?

Not so fast.

Just because your employees read the SOP, that doesn’t mean things are flowing smoothly in every department.

You will need to follow up with staff and ask how the changes are affecting their workflow. Do this by assigning ownership for each process of the SOP. You can organize this by department or however it makes sense for your organization.

For instance, if customer service processes have changed, assign ownership to that department head. That person will be responsible for tracking the SOP’s effects on procedures. They should document every incidence of non-compliance as well as any issues that arise from the new procedures. To streamline the process, you can use issue tracker software like Zoho or Incident Monitor.

You can also ask the owners to use DocSurvey, or whatever project management tool they use, to send periodic surveys to employees asking for feedback about the SOP. If the same issue is brought up more than once, you should take a look at it. Chances are, it’s an opportunity to improve the system even more.

To ensure that the reviews are done in a timely manner, you can build expiration dates into the program.

That’s the end of the SOP process. While it took a lot of work to implement, you now have a structure that will keep staff on track and in compliance.

That is, until your procedures change again.

You have: a complex procedure for handling a certain aspect of your business.

You want: a clear, concise description of the process.

You need: a team to pull it all together and outline the steps in a way that makes sense to anyone involved in the activity.

At The Writers For Hire, we understand the importance of clearly outlined instructions. We can take even the most complicated, technical process and translate it into a system that all your employees can follow. We will help you create your Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to ensure consistency across your business that your clients will notice.

We Love Good Instructions!

The Writers For Hire helps many clients from vastly different industries create operational standards that serve as instructions for all employees to follow without deviation. We help organize all those random notes – and, yes, even handwritten calculations on scraps of paper – that the key stakeholders have individually accumulated over the years of working on a specific project, process, or position.

Whether you’re looking standardized description of a complete system, an exhaustive explanation of a particular role within your company, a process for maintaining Quality Assurance, a uniform way to handle complaints, a detailed outline of your shop’s safety precautions, or something else, we’ve got you covered.

We Put Our Capabilities to Work for You

Your team at The Writers For Hire will work with you to boost your reputation with clients by establishing consistency in all your operations. Of course, no one knows your company – or the ins and outs of your regular procedures – like you and your employees do. But we understand that your subject matter experts (SMEs) who know the technical side might not be the best at explaining their step-by-step process in writing. We’ll boil down your complex processes into manageable instructions to create an SOP that all your employees can follow.

TWFH has the capability to perform the complex elements of your SOP:

We help clients by:

  • Gathering the data. We will interview the SME or other employees directly involved in the process at hand.
  • Standardizing data. We translate all the various information from all key stakeholders into uniform language.
  • Writing instructions. We break down the processes for complex systems into workable pieces that all employees understand.
  • Performing a readability check. We ensure that your document speaks to your audience.
  • Anticipating the questions. We will be sure that the document provides the answers.
  • Creating dynamic templates. We will help simplify and standardize your data compilation, from spreadsheets to worksheets.
  • Testing the procedure. We walk through a “test run” with key employees to make sure the steps are correct.
  • Collecting feedback. We work with the SME or Quality Assurance team to collect feedback on the process and adjust as necessary.
  • Formatting the final presentation. We help design a layout that includes visuals to graphically explain systems.
  • Matching Human Resources collateral. We can integrate your SOP into a larger corporate training manual.
  • Presenting the final process. We can hold special training seminars to educate your employees on the standards.

Types of SOPs

  • Operational SOPs outline the standard accepted procedures for operating standard equipment or performing a repetitive technical activity.
  • Administrative SOPs explain the typical functional or programmatic responsibilities within a specific job.
  • Analytical SOPs document the exact steps and method in performing a recurring process.
  • Methodic SOPs describe a complete testing system or method of investigation.
  • Safety SOPs detail all the precautions that ensure a safe working environment.
  • Infection Control SOPs dictate the precise protocol to ensure devices, equipment, and facilities are cleaned according to best practices.
  • Change Control SOPs provide guidance on implementing and ensuring required organizational changes.
  • Quality Assurance SOPs detail the steps to maintain and control quality.
  • Complaint Management SOPs explain how to deal with complaints, from receiving to addressing to archiving.

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The 1,000+ Page Website Overhaul…How to Undertake a Massive Website Rewrite

Much has been written about crumbling infrastructure throughout the United States.

If it’s not roads and bridges, then it’s internet networks and dated telecommunications infrastructure.

But not so much has been written on the effects of aging on internet content.

The internet has been around long enough that many sites have compiled years of content and supplemental pages.

How do companies and universities manage updating and creating content for huge, often unwieldy sites?

A large content production or migration project can appear daunting at first.

Anyone who’s worked on one of these projects for the first time inevitably has come out the other side with a laundry list of learnings.

From architecting new structures to staffing a writing team large enough to complete the project in a timely fashion to hand-holding subject matter experts and ensuring an efficient workflow, large content project managers will have had to work through the bottlenecks common to such large-scale projects.

Preparation

A proverbial analogy for today’s large-scale content production projects might be different takes on “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

If we consider the content as the “baby” and the platform as the “bathwater,” you can see how the various iterations of these projects might look:

  • If you chuck the baby, then the scope of the project involves producing all new content to populate your current platform.
  • If you chuck the bathwater, then you’re looking at a content migration project where the biggest challenges become identifying content you want migrated to a new platform and new content you want produced (an example being your company’s desire to migrate your content and data to the cloud).
  • If you’ve chucked it all, or perhaps have no baby or bathwater to begin with, then your challenges multiply.

Obviously, there are subtle variations to each of these scenarios.

And while there are plenty of marketing firms that can handle large-scale content management, when it comes to actually producing the living, breathing content that your users will consume, the task of creating compelling and cohesive content on a large scale can prove challenging without a well-honed writing team in place.

Assembling Your Team

Even if your company employs a third-party marketing firm to handle content production and management, many marketing firms don’t staff a large enough writing team for such large-scale projects.

So, the first issue that needs tackling is ensuring coverage of the sheer manhours required to produce large amounts of high-quality content while maintaining an attentive focus on cohesion.

It’s not enough to simply hire 10 or 15 writers and divide up the work.

Those writers need to form a fluid team that works well together, understands the broad scope of the project, and can converge to meet a common goal.

Project managers will be the critical hub for these types of large-scale projects.

Not only will they be involved with staffing a cohesive writing team, but they will also be instrumental in attaining consensus for the style guides that need to be produced, in drafting training materials and process documentation, and in assisting through the decision on what to repurpose and what to scrap.

Project managers are also key to keeping a project on budget and on schedule.

Wintress Odom, Owner of Houston-based The Writers for Hire, says “To ensure the project stays within scope, each individual writer needs to understand how much time they have allotted per writing task, else ‘small’ overages on individual tasks can add up to hundreds of extra work hours.”

Extra works hours can equate to budget overruns and missed deadlines.

Oh. And, of course, you need an editor.

At the risk of going over the top with the proverbs, when it comes to editors, you might consider that too many cooks spoil the soup.

Odom says, “For large projects with multiple writers on a team, it’s important to have a single editor.”

She qualifies this by explaining that a single editor will have the entire vision of the project within their scope, and by introducing multiple editors, there’s a good chance the rate of inconsistencies in tone, content, and style grows exponentially.

Together, the project manager and editor will oversee the writing team and ensure stuff gets done on time.

Ramp Up

At project inception, one essential key Odom identifies is in ensuring the initial architecture takes into account not only the form the project is to take, but also in preemptively constructing a chain of command that will streamline the decision-making process and save time and headaches down the road.

For such a large-scale project, everyone involved has to be on the same page.

This is done by documenting workflow and review processes before a single word gets written.

Process documentation can range from the bare minimum to quite extensive.

On a large project, you might find the need for some or all of the following:

  • Project workflow guides
  • Content guide
  • Chain of review roadmap
  • Stakeholder responsibility definitions
  • Writer and stakeholder training on project-specific software

Odom stresses the need to have most of this in place before starting a project. “You are bound to tweak processes as you go along, but starting a major website overhaul without key procedural documents is a costly mistake.”

The one exception?  Surprisingly, the style guide.

“If a company doesn’t already have one,” says Odom, “trying to create one before the project is somewhat ridiculous.  You can’t possibly anticipate all of the nuances you’ll run into, from capitalization preferences on company trademarks to oxford commas.”

Odom suggests recording preferences – building a living style guide – as the project progresses.  Then, completing a front-to-back edit just to implement style guide decisions right before launch.

One last invaluable tool for allowing the writing process to flow much smoother is the key messaging platform.

Most larger companies have this valuable marketing tool already.

It’s a master marketing message document, covering the company’s branding as a whole as well as each individual product and service the company offers.

The key messaging platform provides cohesion across all marketing mediums and ensures not only consistency in branding and style, but also a roadmap to avoid multiple content producers from having to reinvent the wheel.

Thankfully, the internet makes available a wealth of prompts and tools for creating effective key messaging.

Workflow

Throughout her career, Erin Hanson, Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk in Northern California, has had to learn many lessons through trial and error.

Earlier in her career, Hanson was charged with the daunting task of overhauling content for the entire University of California at Berkeley extension course catalog, a project which ended up taking over two years.

To give you a sense of what one of these large-scale projects looks like, consider just a handful of the tasks Hanson had to manage for the university’s site overhaul:

  • Drafting and distributing requests for proposal for third-parties
  • Gap analysis for requirement gathering from student information and records
  • Gathering information on each field of study’s course descriptions and certificate programs
  • Creating and managing content hubs for each of those fields of study
  • Conducting student interviews—one in each field

“The bottlenecks,” Hanson describes, “were everywhere. To begin with, there was a lot of data, old systems that needed to be shut down, migration to plan out and the need to get sign off from academic stakeholders.”

For Hanson, now at Autodesk, the reliance upon technology to manage large scale content cannot be understated.

She uses a wealth of technological trappings such as digital asset management software and other browser-based search tools to manage an immense workflow.

Odom agrees on the use of technology in workflow management and recommends using a task-based workflow process to track the current status of each website page.

This type of system means that a stakeholder can see any page’s progress at-a-glance.

The system also makes it easy to see where pages might be held up – scheduled for a subject matter expert interview, waiting on technical content review, or stalled due to an unanswered question.

A proper workflow management system will also allow for per-task conversations, feedback, and communication.

The alternative is corresponding and trading files through email or a less sophisticated file-sharing system which Odom dismisses as “a total mess.”

Working With Subject Matter Experts

Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

High-level subject matter experts aren’t always in great supply.

Realistically, the ones in your company likely have some of the best and most relevant insight into the content you’re producing.

However, relying on in-house subject matter experts to produce content may represent a general misalignment of goals.

Consider:

  • SMEs don’t have time. A subject matter expert is likely fully immersed in their job responsibilities and may not prioritize their assigned content production duty.
  • SMEs are not always good writers. These folks may be the best at what they do, but when it comes to articulating that for the rest of us, they may not be good enough writers.
  • SMEs have different goals. Marketing department and corporate bonuses are often built on key performance indicators, many of which are deadline driven. SMEs, on the other hand, may have an entirely different set of KPIs, in which case they’re not incentivized to work within the timeframes your content production project demands.

As an alternative to relying upon in-house subject matter experts to produce well-written content, try using those SMEs as mini-editors.

It takes far less time for an SME to make themselves available for a brief interview, and to review and comment on content created by someone else than it would take for them to sit down and craft new content from scratch.

When interviewing SMEs, Odom recommends modifying communication styles and setting clear expectations.

The discourse style of an enterprise developer is bound to be markedly different than a financial advisor, for example.

When working with SMEs, Odom has found that “Some people just don’t do well with pre-call preparation. They need to react to your questions off-the-cuff.  Others want prep questions and campaign briefs to feel comfortable.”

Finally, one of the most important elements of creating large amounts of content quickly lies in being able to shepherd those SMEs through the writing and editing process.

Relationship building becomes paramount as there will inevitably be the occasions when a SME is dragging his feet in getting back to you.

Conclusion

Whether you’re migrating and repurposing large amounts of content or you’re charged with scaling a new project which might feature tens of thousands of pages, you’ll want a clearly defined plan of attack and a staff of qualified writers. Tweet this

But perhaps the greatest dividend to having completed a large-scale project is that you now have a team in place that’s fluent in your culture, your subject matter, and your goals.

Odom agrees.

After working on a large project, “We now know how all those departments work, we know all their key messaging. We just happen to be offsite.”

Writing with SMEs

As a marketing specialist, you recognize that SMEs (subject matter experts) are critical to effective content marketing. They’re authorities on your company’s products and services. Without them, your company couldn’t run—and it would be nearly impossible to create detailed content that showcases your company’s expertise.

But if you’ve ever had to collaborate with one of these experts to produce a piece of thought leadership content, you might know that convincing them to share their knowledge—especially in writing—can be challenging at times.

Whether you are planning a new marketing campaign, seeking to raise your company’s digital profile, or venturing out on your own as a thought leader, you need SMEs on your team. Developing a strong partnership with your SMEs can help you write valuable content that benefits both you and your customers.

There is a wealth of online information about working with subject matter experts. Here is a compilation of some best practices that have helped other marketers, and may help you, generate more SME and SME-enabled content.

Photo by fauxels from Pexels

Meet them where they are—literally and figuratively.

You may be familiar already with SMEs who are very active communicators within your company and on social media. Seek them out! You’ll already have insights on their interests and areas of expertise, and they might be more receptive to a writing project than other SMEs.

For the less active, you will need to exert a bit more effort to get a feel for their comfort level with writing and their preferences for working collaboratively.

Before starting, or deepening, your efforts to partner with SMEs to write, you might want to seek out other teams in your company—sales, public relations, training—who have experience working with SMEs. Some members of these teams no doubt will have tips that might prove useful to you.

A guide to working with SMEs to develop e-learning materials, for example, notes that a SME could be heavily vested in content that already exists. They may resist new ideas about how to present information, a possibility you’ll need to address before launching a project with them.

Get to know your SMEs and the issues that matter to them.

This will help you target topics that they can elaborate on for your customers.

Ask to be copied on the SMEs’ emails and collect other examples of their writing, such as documentation related to their work, their LinkedIn profiles, and any formal presentations they’ve given recently. Attend their working meetings, or just hang out in their spaces to get a sense of their immediate priorities and what they see coming in their field and for the company.

From there, you’ll need to communicate directly with the SMEs to explore those topics in more detail.

Daniel Burstein of MarketingSherpa suggests five questions that content marketers can ask SMEs to get the ball rolling, with the goal of gathering information your customers will want to consume and share:

  • How will the [a new product or service] help [target audience]?
  • What challenges have you helped customers overcome recently?
  • How have [industry developments] affected [target audience], and what should they do about it?
  • A [job title] in our LinkedIn Group wanted to know [question?].
  • I’ve heard a lot of people in the industry talking about [target keyword]. For example, [other thought leaders in the industry] said [something you’ve read while doing industry research]. What is your take on this?

These kinds of questions can form the basis of impromptu chats or informal idea-sharing sessions. Providing brief written summaries of these encounters for your SMEs to review might relieve some of their writing burden while engaging them in the creation of useful content. Asking SMEs to react to and edit your own high-level attempt to explain your company’s product or service could be another form of burden sharing.

Conduct formal interviews.

Be sure you to do your homework and prepare thoroughly for interviews so that you do not waste your SME’s time. Preparation should include conducting keyword searches on the SME’s area of expertise, gathering information on the SME’s professional background and experience, and sending out the interview questions ahead of time. Brendan Cottam, writing for B2B marketers, provides a good example of keyword research and questions aimed at making the most efficient use of your expert’s time.

Maximize, Maximize, Maximize!

Once your expert has provided writing, or data, start maximizing their contributions to create content that your target audience will want to read and share.

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as:

“A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

To this end, be creative in finding ways to convert your experts’ contributions into useful information for your customers.

Identify the superstars.

In cases where your SMEs already are competent communicators, convert their written products into formats that you can promote inside and outside the company:

  • Share slides from their conference presentations.
  • Edit their oral presentations into short online videos.
  • Post the executive summary and excerpts from their white papers.

Give the less confident a gentle nudge.

Some SMEs may just as soon let you do the heavy lifting. These less enthusiastic writers may be willing to provide content—qualitative or quantitative—that you can then edit, reformat, and post. For the poorest writers, you might consider using the editing process as an informal tutorial or providing more formal tutorials, taking care to focus on the mechanics of communicating the message while respecting them as substantive experts.

The concept of prewriting—the thinking and planning that precede drafting a written product—can help overcome anxieties about writing and boost reluctant writers’ confidence.

You can draw upon the wealth of online college-level instructional material available today, material that walks you through pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.

Resources such as Duke University’s Writing Studio and MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing will help you tailor your tutorial to the needs and preferences of your SMEs. For example, outgoing, talkative types might enjoy brainstorming sessions, while the more quietly cerebral SMEs might enjoy a hands-on mapping exercise. Check out images of pre-writing for inspiration.

In partnering with SMEs, especially reluctant writers, it will be especially important to mine your conversations and interviews for nuggets of valuable content. In her article on working with SMEs, Jessica Miller of PR 20/20 lists “20 marketing opportunities from 20 minutes with a SME,” including:

  • Sharing key points from interviews with your company’s blog authors, customer service representatives, and sales teams.
  • Recording podcasts featuring SMEs’ answers to interview questions.
  • Using content from interviews to draft high level one pagers, including infographics and tip sheets to share across marketing, sales, and service teams.

Measure and Reward

Before launching any major initiative to get your in-house SMEs to write more, think about how you will measure your efforts. You also might want to consider how, within your company’s culture, you will recognize outstanding contributions from these experts. Once you’ve uploaded content that your SMEs have authored or inspired, Gillin recommends:

  • Putting tools in place to measure views, shares, comments, likes, downloads, and other metrics of engagement.
  • Making sure everyone on your team is actively upvoting, sharing, commenting, and retweeting.
  • Featuring SMEs’ writing in company blogs and company publications.

Whether you’re starting fresh or building upon existing strategies, coaxing your SMEs to write more, giving them a shout-out when they do, and putting in some additional effort yourself could well produce results that both you and your customers will value.