by DREW KELLER - StoryGuide

March 28, 2015

It is hard to miss the constant drumbeat espousing the value of videos featuring Subject Matter Experts They build credibility, create loyalty, even flatten internal silos in corporations. The SME acronym gets thrown around in the trade press, hallway conversations and conference keynotes. But what is a Subject Matter Expert video?


Defining the SME video category is somewhat nuanced. There are a lot of people standing under the umbrella and the work does not look the same.


For me, I think a SME video should feel like a one-to-one conversation between an expert and a viewer, where the outcome is insight and empowerment. Most SME videos, in some way, shape or fashion, are focused on direct education and e-learning.


In an SME video the expert addresses the camera directly, looking straight into the lens. Contrast this with an on-camera interview  from an event or as part of a video profile or discussion. In an interview the person on camera is talking with a reporter or producer, keeping eye contact with them, angled slightly away from the camera The viewer (the camera) observes the conversation.


A better way to understand this is to watch a subject matter expert define SMEs. Anna Sabramowicz produces a weekly series on e-learning and instructional design. The first 3rd of this video does a good job of defining the concept.


Here, Eric Enge helps you understand the value of using SMEs in marketing.


Now that you have a better understanding of the concept, how do you create effective and engaging videos?


You can dramatically improve your likelihood of success through good time and personnel management. Here Anna shares 5 tips for working with an SME when you are the producer, not the talent.


You've probably noticed that these first three videos are all staged in front of a whiteboard. Personally I am not a huge fan of whiteboard videos. They feel a bit like a "meh" PowerPoint presentation. I have found there are better ways to illustrate concepts, even abstract ones, with some thought and imagination.


Early in production ask yourself, is there is a metaphor that lends itself to creating a better understanding with your viewer? Can you demonstrate your idea on location? What sort of iconography or graphics can you create and animate to reinforce a point? Brainstorm, doodle and storyboard before you start shooting to ensure you have an effective video. Don't bore the audience because they will click away.


It is highly likely you are looking to create something with more production value than a talking head. Hopefully you are thinking about showing your story, rather than simply telling it. Let's look at a broad range of examples from the tens of thousands of SME videos on the web so you can find a production style that best meets your needs.


A classic SME-type video is This Old House. This example is about plumbing repairs, but really any of their episodes would work. They stage their shoots a little differently from a typical SME video. TOH has their expert demonstrate a remodeling or construction technique to a homeowner on location. In the example the expert does not address the viewer directly. In other words, they don't talk to the camera. It is staged so the homeowner acts like a proxy for the audience.


Zappos consistently delivers very effective SME videos. Zappos? Really? You won't necessarily find the these SME videos on the Zappos landing page, but many of the shoes they offer include a brief product review by a Zappos employee. These videos follow a common structure making them easy to mass produce and the consistent format makes them predictable (in a positive way) for potential customers. They can examine the shoe from all angles, see what it looks like on a foot, and watch a review from an expert. I've repeatedly used Zappos as a great example for my clients to emulate.


Stepping in a completely different direction,  here is a video that shows you how to cook pot roast. The producers have chosen to construct it with voice-over descriptions of the cooking demonstration, weaving a little whimsy into the copy. Very little. We never see the expert on camera but he presents with authority and he feels genuine and authoritative.


Ever wondered how to prune a grape vine? OK, probably not. This video is a straightforward tutorial on pruning from a team that needed to get their microphones out of a prairie wind. While the wind noise makes the video somewhat less effective, and it is nearly 10 minutes long, a viewer who wants to understand how to trim back their grapes without killing the vine is likely to stay engaged. I did, and my grape vines will be thankful that I invested the time.


As the name implies, Howcast distributes a lot of SME content. They create videos on everything from choosing baseball gloves to hairstyles, dancing to card tricks. This is one place where you can see a broad range of styles and approaches to creating effective SME content.


Now that you have a better idea of content types and production approaches, one important question to ask yourself is "how does this fit into my video channel?"


That question can be difficult to answer. It depends on your demographics, content focus and brand voice. Your video channel's point of view may be more expository than experiential. One size does not fit all, so you may have to test different approaches to see what resonates with your audience.


The value of having Subject Matter Experts as a part of your content mix is how your audience identifies with your message. Your experts create a connection with viewers as trusted advisors, building relationships and reinforcing your credibility. When done well, these videos are inherently human. When someone tells their story, shares their passion, imparts what they have learned through experience your audience pays attention.


Granted, this is a lot of theory. Perhaps a hypothetical scenario will help bring it all into focus.


Let's say your channel is focused on your city's cultural diversity. There are a variety of story approaches to consider.


A cooking demonstration is a relatively easy SME video type to produce. If your focus is on a neighborhood with a concentration of folks from a specific region or culture then video a resident preparing a dish that represents his or her community. For example, if it is Latino, find someone who can demonstrate the family tamale recipe. If they are Eritrean have them make Amharic. Soul food is a personal favorite in my neighborhood. These videos afford you the opportunity to teach a specific process while exploring why the meal is significant to the expert.


Another approach would be to have a local give you a tour of neighborhood hot-spots and community landmarks, sharing the personal significance of each. Or a group can lead the tour. This video is an approach where four guys explore neighborhood restaurants and Filipino food.


I've given you many examples of possible content styles, well this last video is an example of what not to do. No one, except perhaps her mom, will watch this bike tour of Seattle. OK, that is harsh. But the video has no focus, structure or purpose. Perhaps it was a camera test. Perhaps it was an accident. Perhaps they should have thought twice before posting it. To create an effective and engaging story you still need a clear beginning, middle and end.


Let's wrap this up by discussing the one choice that will determine your success or failure: your expert. To craft an engaging SME video the person on camera must actively drive the content, they can not be a passive respondent to questions. Think of them as a teacher. The criteria for choosing your expert has to be more than 1) they are breathing and 2) said yes to your request. Your expert must have a passion for the topic and speak with authority. Using someone like a chamber of commerce flak, public relations spokesperson, or corporate executive often makes a video feel dull and lifeless. I have found that official spokespeople don't have enough personally invested in a topic to make the viewer care or trust them. An SME video is most effective when a viewer connects with someone who is speaking from first-hand experience.


The examples I have listed above cover a broad range of production styles and quality. From rudimentary camera work to broadcast television shows. But the approach to informing and inspiring a viewer is consistent in all of them.


Great expert videos are personal stories where the viewer feels empowered and enlightened. Now its your turn. Go create a great SME video.