21 Tactics to Position Yourself as a Subject-Matter Expert [SME]
You’ve done the deep work to understand and master your chosen niche. Now it’s time to showcase your expertise so others can call upon your knowledge and skills when it matters most.
Becoming a go-to expert in any field requires strategic brand positioning. There are certain characteristics we all expect from subject-matter experts (SMEs). If you want to position yourself as an authority in your field, you must publish ideas, share resources, and make it look like the whole world is talking about you or your services.
Even if you have the best knowledge in the world, if you don’t market yourself, no one is going to notice.
Becoming an SME is about getting yourself noticed.
When it comes to authoritative positioning, each new media hit, published article, or speaking engagement makes it easier to get the next. Subject authority snowballs as more people recognize your brand.
This requires a lot of initial investment. Put in the effort upfront so that things get simpler and simpler for the future.
Here are 21 tactics to help you generate good publicity for your personal brand:
1. Subscribe to HARO or Muck Rack
There are several websites that specialize in connecting subject-matter experts with journalists looking for expert opinions. These services tend to cost money — but with the right pitch, you can get your name published in some of the top trade and consumer publications in the world.
2. Begin writing for publications in your industry
Getting quoted in articles is one thing. Authoring the article is even better. If you’re an adept communicator, many trade magazines and blogs may be interested to hear your opinion or story.
Case in point: Leon Brown is a developer and the founder of Nextpoint. He used his personal story to get featured in one of the top publications in the world. He says, “Be genuine and make sure to communicate your story. People like to hear the story behind the person. This worked well for me when it was picked up by the Guardian for one of their features.”
The key is formulating the right pitch, which we’ll discuss in point 17.
3. Show-off media exposure on your website
“As Featured In” pages or website sections are incredibly common among startups and personal brands. Showing your website visitors that major news outlets and publications have talked about, quoted, or published your name or brand in some way communicates a sense of authority.
It’s not easy to get featured in top tier media. When it happens, tell your customers! As a bonus, this communicates to other major media stations that you’re someone they can trust for a good interview or quote.
4. Follow the right personalities and hashtags on Twitter
Twitter has been one of my best tools for media exposure. First, follow as many journalists and bloggers writing about your field as you can. This is about being in the right place at the right time.
By following Hubspot bloggers, I was able to immediately respond when one writer asked for quotes from full-time freelancers for Hubspot’s Ultimate Guide to Freelancing.
5. Hire a ghostwriter
Publishing your ideas in a blog, book, or magazine can be a powerful means to building authority in your subject matter.
But not everyone has the kind of time or skill necessary to see all their ideas published. In that case, you can hire a skilled ghostwriter to take the labor off your hands.
6. Start blogging
Having a regular blogging presence online communicates to your followers and customers that you’re on top of the latest ideas in your field. A blog is a body of work attributed to your brand — in a place where the whole internet can see what you’re all about.
In addition, blogging can improve your SEO, making it easier for people interested in your ideas to find you.
From a publicity standpoint, helpful articles are easily shared or linked back to by other bloggers and sometimes journalists. You never know who may find your material helpful and worth spreading.
7. Find speaking engagements
This doesn’t have to be as hard as it initially sounds. Getting booked to speak at events is one of those ventures that is best started small. Use websites like Eventbrite to find out about free workshops or conferences happening in your city. Attend a few.
As you connect with others and they learn about your expertise, just be straightforward about the fact that you’d love to lead a workshop to teach people about what you do. It won’t take long for event organizers to consider you as a contributor or panelist for their next event.
I also recommend contacting local colleges. Mention that you have certain expertise and would love to lead a free workshop for students to learn about your career.
PR expert Lisa Simone Richards says, “Making a few bucks to talk for an hour is not the M.O. The actual purpose, point, and pleasure in public speaking is having an opportunity to connect with your target client.”
8. Write a book in your subject matter
When it comes to measuring one’s clout, being introduced with “they wrote the book on the subject” is basically impossible to top. Books are challenging to write. They require research and a lot of industry knowledge. Writing a book in your field communicates that you have deep knowledge about that given subject.
Not to mention, getting published by a traditional publisher shows that other professionals believe you’re the one to speak on your topic.
As a bonus, successful books can become a good passive income stream, especially if you choose to do a lot of public speaking.
9. Begin posting on social media
This goes hand in hand with the benefits of Twitter and blogging combined, especially if you’re using LinkedIn and connecting with other professionals instead of just friends and family. As you begin to put your work out there, you never know who may share your ideas or quote you in their own work.
10. Think critically about your professional title
I have been a full-time freelance copywriter for almost three years. Even in that short amount of time, I’ve changed my title countless times on my resume, gmail signature, Twitter bio, and LinkedIn headline.
The more I learn about my customers, the more I like to tweak how I talk about what I do. Consider looking at others in your field who share a similar role to you. What title do they go by? It’s good to know what your colleagues and competitors use.
11. Ask and answer industry questions online
An SME should be engaged with the pressing questions in their field. When you post on social media, ask your followers interesting questions.
12. Be available to friends and colleagues
As Sarabeth and I have grown our copywriting business, a lot of friends and prior coworkers have contacted us with questions. These questions range everywhere from “How do I get started copywriting?” to “What do you do exactly?” It’s a lot of fun to discuss what we’ve learned. But perhaps more than that, it lets us practice talking about our expertise and craft.
You don’t want a NYTimes interview to be the first time you ever explain what you do for a living. By breaking down the jargon and practices for friends, you can learn to distill the information in a way that’s easy to understand.
13. Give to receive
Sometimes the best way to get featured in articles is to pass that same opportunity onto others. If you have a blog or social media channel, consider quoting people you know and celebrating their professional accomplishments. You never know when someone might return the favor by talking about you as well.
14. Develop shareable content and offer it to big publishers
I first heard this idea from Brandon Gaille, The Blog Millionaire. In his podcast, Brandon describes creating graphics in Canva that feature interesting statistics from his industry. He then uses those graphics to cold email top bloggers and journalists in his industry, offering the graphic for free (with a link back to Brandon’s website).
Every time one of these top writers republishes Brandon’s graphic, they link to his website, giving him new traffic and some publicity.
15. Pay attention and respond to hot-button topics in your industry
Most entrepreneurs, freelancers, and small business owners I’ve known are a little obsessed with learning the latest techniques and best practices in their field. This makes many of us voracious readers. While reading in and of itself is a worthwhile habit, communicating what you’ve learned after finishing a book may be just as helpful.
Stay up to date on the latest news, tips, and changes happening in your industry. Publish those changes on your blog or social media. If something major happens in your field, you can reach out to media and offer your expert opinion.
When industry controversy strikes, everybody wants the nitty-gritty details. If you think your expertise can offer special insight into breaking news, start contacting local journalists and industry bloggers. Many publications have a process for submitting a lead or idea online. Send a link or reference the hot-button topic in your pitch, then offer to provide your interesting perspective on the subject.
16. Do something newsworthy
Journalists are always in search of the next interesting topic or story to share with their viewers, listeners, or readers. With some creativity, you can position your business to be covered by the news by doing something worth talking about.
Unless you’re Apple or Tesla, the general public probably doesn’t care about your general business changes and press releases. You have to think outside the box. What can you do in your local community that will garner the attention of news outlets?
17. Pitch strategically to journalists
Along the same lines as the previous point, pitching cold to journalists takes some creative thinking. If you want to pitch a story, it can’t just be a boring press release about the latest change your business has made. Your colleagues may enjoy reading that, but not the readership at your typical blog or magazine.
It helps if you form a relationship with the journalist first. Following and interacting with journalists on Twitter is a great way to begin. Comment on their articles. Retweet their ideas. Most journalists will notice you. One day when you have a pertinent story idea for their publication, reach out directly to your Twitter contact.
18. Look within your network
Sometimes the easiest media appearances are right under your nose. Before you begin reaching out to complete strangers, ask your network! Posting on Facebook or LinkedIn to ask for opportunities or suggestions can be a great way to get your friends involved on your behalf.
19. Have a media page on your website
A media page involves more than just posting the logos of media outlets that have featured you or your business. The goal is to make the journalist’s job so easy that they turn to you every time, instead of your competitors, even if they are equally or even more qualified to share their ideas.
A media page — also called a press kit — is created specifically for journalists who wish to quote or contact you. These tend to include multiple bios (one short, one long), a good headshot of you that’s available for download, and information about how to contact you about media appearances.
Helen Campbell, a UK-based business coach adds, "If they're looking to raise their profile, it can help for the expert to be available at short notice. If they're genuinely knowledgeable on their subject, agreeing to a media interview on a tight deadline will make media love them. Getting media-trained can really help."
20. Join the media
I mentioned earlier about cold-pitching journalists to write one-off articles for their websites. If you want to go one step up, you can become a regular contributor. Joining the media as a regular writer suddenly puts you in an enviable position.
You become the person others want to contact and get attention from. The power moves into your hands. Plus, saying “I am a regular contributor to _____ magazine” is an awesome addition to any professional bio.
21. Write an Op-Ed
If you can’t get traction contacting journalists about contributing an article, start paying attention to the latest articles being published at big newspapers. When something in your field gets discussed, send a message to the Op-Ed editor for that publication.
Tell them you’re interested in offering a divergent opinion about the subject matter of the article they published. Make sure to link the article in your pitch so the editor knows which piece you’re referencing. This can be a slightly lower barrier of entry to get published at otherwise competitive newspapers.