Three Keys to Being a Subject Matter Expert on Twitter

by Mark Faggiano on August 17, 2010

not a perfect tweet

Status updates don't equal quality for SMEs

I’ve talked about my take on Twitter before. My biggest complaint/knock is that there are millions of people Tweeting but far less people listening. Bottom line: too much noise and not enough value compared to other ways to invest time and money in Internet Marketing.

That being said, I’m not totally against Twitter. I’ll agree that there are some ways to put Twitter to use effectively (more on this in a second), but just a very small percentage of Twitterers use the tool effectively.

Up to this point in time, one of the best uses of Twitter is to establish or enhance a brand’s perception by playing the role of a subject matter expert (SME). For example, a real estate broker in a crowded marketplace could differentiate him or herself by avoiding the temptation of tweeting endlessly about their own listings and instead offering helpful content to homebuyers and sellers. Twitter users in that marketplace who subscribe to the broker develop a sense of trust about the broker, making them more likely to be clients. That should result in more business for the broker (a nice ROI).

The benefits of being an SME depend on the specifics of the industry, but the universal benefit is differentiation. And differentiation usually equals more business. For example, it could mean more leads or the ability to charge a higher hourly rate for consulting, speaking, or training.

There are plenty of great examples of  SMEs out there in the Twitterverse, but the one that defines how to be an SME on Twitter is Darren Rovell (Klout score of 75). Darren’s area of expertise is the business of sports. The subject doesn’t really matter, so don’t stop reading because you hate sports. It’s the way Darren uses Twitter to compliment everything else he does (like blogging, for example) that makes him the expert in his field. That’s something we can all learn from.

Here are the keys to becoming an SME on Twitter:
NOTE: Remember, I’m talking only about subject matter experts here. I’m not talking about social media geeks like Robert Scoble (who I like reading and following), celebrities (pick any one of thousands on Twitter) or other personal uses of Twitter.

subject matter expert and twitter

An original, high-quality tweet from SME Darren Rovell.

1. Stay focused on building credibility.
If you’re goal is to be an SME, then you have to be ultra-focused. That means facing a reality that’s hard for a lot of people to swallow: little-to-no status updates. Listen to me carefully: no one cares what you’re doing or what you just did unless it has something to do with your area of expertise.

For example, let’s say my goal is to be an SME in financial planning. That means I shouldn’t be Tweeting about the tough workout I just had at the gym. Reason number one, no one really cares. Second, that doesn’t do anything to help position me as an SME. It tells people I take care of myself, but it doesn’t make me a better authority on financial planning. The alternative is tweeting tips for people so they can afford a monthly gym membership, or how staying in shape is a way of being fiscally responsible because it cuts down on future health costs.

Back to Darren. If he’s at an event that’s huge in sports business, like the Super Bowl for example, he’ll mention it because he’s probably meeting with a huge sponsor. But you’ll never read Tweets about the great meal he had or how mad he is because his flight is delayed. As a result, his body of work in Twitter has a very high usefulness ratio (meaning a low percentage of his Tweets are useless info like status updates).

2. Be original.
SMEs tweet original content. Period. That means limited retweets.

Why? Because at the end of the day at retweet is an acknowledgment that someone else had something valuable to say. If I am trying to be an SME in social media and 75% of my content are retweets from Mashable, then I’m not very original. And therefore I’m not an SME, I’m just a news channel. There’s a huge difference.

Contributing original content is where Darren is particularly effective. Here are some examples from his Twitter feed that illustrate how to be original:

twitter subject matter expertOriginal thoughts:
In case you couldn’t figure this one out: original thoughts are your own observations about your subject matter. Being proactive is key, as opposed to always reacting to what someone else in the industry tweeted or wrote in an article. The more original, the more potential value they contain because interested followers are more likely to be engaged in a conversation – critical for Twitter success. To the right is an example of original content from Darren. He observed a professional football player that is holding out for a better contract has been so quiet that he hasn’t even tweeted in a long time. Granted, that might not get you excited. But someone who is really into the subject matter of business and sports would read that and think that’s an interesting observation. And it’s powerful because it didn’t come from anywhere else. Darren thought of it himself and posted it.

college athletes twitterAuthoritative Opinions
Followers will look to SMEs to chime in with their opinions on things happening in that niche. An SME can’t be afraid to take a stand and stir the waters a bit. In the tweet to the right, Darren has sounded off about a recent trend in college football where teams have decided to ban their players from being able to use social media tools like Twitter during the season (mostly out of a fear that the players will say something that the other team will take offense to, thus additionally motivating the other team). No doubt this was a popular topic in his industry. Darren found a way to take a stand on the topic while trying to get reactions from readers. Again, increased engagement only makes him look better.

twitter expertise3. Plug your stuff, but don’t be a cheesy salesman. The whole point of being an SME is to build up credibility in the marketplace. The more credibility and the more the perceived level of expertise, the better it is for the brand.

In Darren’s case, he’s known as the guy to talk to in situations where sports and business collide. For example, when the whole Tiger Woods drama went down at the end of last year. Darren was the person every network wanted to talk to about how Tiger’s indiscretions were affecting his portfolio of high-paying sponsors. For Darren, the more her makes appearances and the more his opinion is in demand, the more he’s worth. All of that will really pay off the next time he’s up for a contract negotiation.

Back to my point…one of the keys to being an SME is to plug your other content (for example, your blog) without being a cheesy salesman. I never want to click a link when someone teases it with, “Read my blog post” or any other obvious line like that. I’m not saying you should be deceitful to try and get people to read your stuff, I’m just saying you don’t need to go so heavy on the plugging. If your content is good, people will read it. Darren does a good job in the example above.

What are some of the ways you effectively position yourself as an SME? Who are some of the SMEs you think do the best job using Twitter? Let’s discuss in the comment section below.

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This post was written by...

Website consultant who loves helping others build online companies. Sold @beelya & @filelater. Working on my next cash machine: @taxjar. Crazy about golf & sports. Connect with me on Google+

  • Jeff

    Nice Mark. This is a good one.

  • http://www.brand5.com Mark Faggiano

    Jeff –

    Thanks for reading. Appreciate it.

  • Paul_Bernardin

    Great Read Mark!!

  • http://www.brand5.com Mark Faggiano

    Paul-

    Thanks for reading! Glad you liked it.

  • http://twitter.com/ChiSportsGuy Evan Derman

    Nice read. Darren Rovell is the man!

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