A few years ago, I knew nothing about football. I would watch the Super Bowl for the ads and the halftime show.
But as my friends grew more invested in the Seahawks (my hometown team), I felt the need to fit in. So I made it my mission to learn as much about the Seahawks and football as possible. Today, I can comfortably say that I know more about football than many of my friends.
That experience has helped me in my role as a content marketer, where I often have to educate myself on subjects more complex than football in a short amount of time.
This piece is for those who’ve been hired to create and write content in an industry they have little to no exposure to. You need to become familiar with new subjects quickly so you can write compelling content that...
- Drives traffic to your website.
- Pushes leads through the sales funnel.
- Establishes your company as a credible thought leader in your industry.
Here’s a four-step process you can follow to become an expert at anything – or at least know enough to write like one.
Step 1: Consume as Much Relevant Content as Possible
I didn’t begin my football journey by meticulously studying every team, player, or football rule.
Instead, I focused on the Seahawks. I watched all their games even though I didn’t understand everything. I browsed the Seahawks subreddit and listened to podcasts to see what stories and opinions were out there regarding the team’s performance.
The idea was to inhabit the mindset of a football fan and experience how people talked about the sport in general.
Of course, I didn’t have deadlines or expectations around my football expertise. When you’re in a content role at a company, you’ll likely be expected to write authoritatively about your industry from day one.
To get comfortable with that, start by focusing on your company’s niche. You’ll have a much easier time becoming an expert on the industry as a whole when you understand your company’s unique position within it.
Say your company makes cybersecurity software for companies that primarily operate in the macOS and iOS environments. Rather than consuming every story on cybersecurity, find news around the latest Apple security and privacy trends.
Google Alerts is a tool you can use to stay updated on the most relevant posts in your niche. Below is an alert you might create to get the latest news and articles on “Apple cybersecurity updates” once a week.
Google Alert for “Apple cybersecurity updates”
In addition, subscribe to any Apple industry blogs and newsletters that you find helpful during your search or through Google Alerts.
Step 2: Identify the Most Valuable Recurring Concepts
During my Seahawks content dive, I noticed certain football concepts appearing frequently in articles and conversations with friends:
- The zone defense vs. man-to-man coverage
- The NFL salary cap
- A quarterback’s passer rating
I recognized that these were important ideas I needed to know if I wanted to continue following and analyzing football.
As you research your company’s niche, look up definitions for recurring phrases and make sure you understand relevant industry jargon. The goal of this preliminary research is to familiarize yourself with the ideas that you’ll eventually have to write about.
For instance, to write for a company in mortgage servicing, you should know what mortgage servicing rights (MSRs) are.
Start by searching “What are MSRs,” then ask broader questions based on your findings, like “How do lenders and servicers purchase and sell MSRs?” or “How will the pandemic affect MSR values?”
Keep your findings in a document with links and set Google Alerts for these phrases as well so that they don’t fall off your radar.
Step 3: Generate Content Ideas and Get Feedback
Once I had a better grasp of football, I fielded my own opinions on the Seahawks to friends.
Not all of them were good. In 2017, I suggested we trade for a better wide receiver to fix our lack of offense. My friends countered that our real problem was the poor offensive line.
By coming up with these opinions and getting feedback on them, I learned how to analyze a team or player’s performance more accurately in the future.
Your first few writing tasks will likely be assigned to you without your input. But during that period, start preparing your own content ideas to propose later on.
Keep a running document with all your takes and ideas. You may not use all of them, but the goal is to get in the habit of thinking like an expert and offering nuanced commentary on industry trends and stories.
When it’s time to scope new content, pitch pieces based on these ideas. Whatever feedback you get in this stage will be critical for the way you scope new content moving forward.
Let’s say you work for a homeowners’ insurance company and find a stat from a recent study that 36 percent of the costs of flood damage in the U.S. from 1988 through 2017 were caused by intensifying rainfall.
This finding may inspire a blog idea that explores why more homeowners should have flood insurance. Your manager, knowing that your client’s customers tend to be inland, may then suggest an even more specific angle on why even homeowners living away from the coasts should have flood insurance.
Step 4: Refine Your Knowledge by Speaking with Experts
Even as my football knowledge grew, I continued to rely on friends for input around the game. I was beyond knowing the rules and wanted to expand my understanding of in-game decisions by coaches and players.
I remember being confused one time when a team went for fourth down instead of securing points with a field goal. My friends explained that because there was little time left and the team was losing, it was actually okay to try to continue a drive at the risk of a turnover on downs.
I wouldn’t have thought to ask about the situation if I didn’t know what was happening on the field to begin with.
After you develop a baseline comprehension of the industry and your company’s role in it, you can seek more specific insights from SMEs at your company. Hearing their perspectives on things in their own words will be especially helpful.
Be mindful of the fact that these are busy people and content likely won’t be their top priority. You don’t want to waste their time with questions you could Google. That’s what Steps 1, 2, and 3 are for.
Tap into SMEs when you’re ready to approach more nuanced topics like…
- Real-life examples of strategies they used to solve problems for clients.
- The ramifications of a recent government policy or competitor news.
- Industry predictions or trends they foresee.
Whenever you schedule time to speak with an expert, come prepared with questions to get the specific insights you know you’ll need. These conversations can also be a valuable opportunity to get confirmation on whether you’ve parsed a topic correctly or not.
Over time, you may see that you need these conversations less and less. Congratulations – you’re achieving your goal of becoming an expert.
You Don’t Have to Be an Expert to Write like One
I’m at the point today where I can talk and analyze football with anyone. I will probably never coach a team in the NFL, but I don’t have to in order to follow and analyze football at a high level.
As content marketers, we know that insurance policy limits and workflow automation are complex topics to digest, let alone write about. But we’re able to do it because we know where to find the right information and ask the right questions.
By following these steps, you too can think and write on important subjects in your industry like an expert and deliver the caliber of content that educates prospects, converts leads, and accomplishes other essential marketing goals for your company.
Alternatively, you can always reach out to us if you ever need more support.