COVID-19 isn’t the only pandemic that’s created chaos for healthcare and biotechnology organizations in America. The industry is also plagued by mistrust. 

According to a 2018 article in The New York Times, only 33 percent of Americans have great confidence in the medical profession, a decline from 75 percent of the population in 1966. In many ways, this set the stage for the misinformation and conspiracy theories that went viral throughout 2020, highlighting how important it is for the healthcare industry to restore faith and credibility. 

As of June 2020, more than 70 percent of Americans had heard at least one conspiracy theory about COVID-19, and at least 20 percent of survey respondents believed them to be true. Around that same time, polls showed only 50 percent of Americans were willing to get a vaccine once it was available. Research also highlights greater distrust among BIPOC patients as a result of racially biased treatments and historic misconduct, such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiment

The erosion of trust has had an impact on medical personnel, too.  In 2020, only half of Americans were vaccinated for the flu or see measles vaccines as an important preventative measure. Plus, data from the Centers For Disease Control shows that only 38 percent of nursing home workers accepted their COVID-19 vaccines as of February 2021.

Biotechnology and healthcare firms have a very powerful advantage in this landscape: They employ passionate experts with specialized knowledge of complex subject matters, otherwise known as Subject Matter Experts, or SMEs. And their presence in the media is needed more than ever — to combat misinformation and mistrust, biotechnology and healthcare companies can leverage their SMEs to build thought leadership and offer unique insights, which can forge connections with the public, grow credibility, repair reputations, and rehabilitate consumer trust.

These are challenges biotech and life science companies can solve through leveraging internal and external SMEs and key opinion leaders into effective thought leadership campaigns. 

Creating an SME Infrastructure 

Before any of this, it’s important to establish the organizational processes that will make it easier to gather critical information and expertise to be packaged into brand content. Identify a point of contact within the marketing team who will be in charge of wrangling subject matter experts and coordinating the approval process. 

Next, it’s time to create a content approval process to help minimize bottlenecks as content is created and reviewed before publishing. Most healthcare and biotech companies require content to be reviewed by marketing, legal, and compliance, in addition to being reviewed by the SME. Documenting this process and adding these steps into an editorial calendar can make it much easier to manage multiple thought leadership content drafts as content creation scales up.

Once a plan is in place, SMEs need to be an ongoing part of the content creation and review process. Building thought leadership requires a continuous stream of relevant content and messaging that solves patient pain points and shares important industry insight and expertise.

Leveraging Expert Knowledge

However, identifying and engaging with SMEs are two different challenges. Leveraging an SME’s wealth of knowledge can be a time-intensive process and take away from their regular responsibilities. So remember: They don’t have to be the front-and-center protagonists in your content marketing campaign. To borrow a gaming term, think of them as your Champion, a paladin who charges in to lead the ranks for a while before withdrawing to recharge.

In other words, when it comes to SMEs, focus on quality, not quantity. Your content team shouldn’t need to take up much of an SME’s time. A 20-minute sit-down or phone call every month or two can provide enough insight and expertise to support content efforts.

To make the process even more efficient, have content outlines ready and questions prepared to send ahead of time. Then while on the call, streamline the meeting by setting and sticking to an agenda. It should include time for your questions to get answered, as well as time for the SME to talk about issues or trends they are seeing in their industry that might make for good future content.  

Creating Good Thought Leadership

Once your blog articles, videos, and white papers are published on your content hub, it’s important to make them easy to find. Amplify your content through the appropriate channels. Tag the SME on social media whenever new content gets posted — especially where they’re actually quoted or appear on video. Encourage SMEs to share with their network as well. This can be an opportunity for them to build their personal brand.    

Thought leadership requires ongoing effort, so it’s important for SME contributions to be a recurring process — not “one and done.” The real power of SMEs is that they can comment on pressing current issues and challenges affecting the healthcare industry, whether that’s bringing new drugs to market or safety concerns regarding the COVID-19 vaccines. This approach to content can help keep your company relevant and in the news. 

Another benefit of leveraging internal SMEs is that it humanizes your brand.  Showing a relatable human side can do a lot to counter disinformation and distrust. In fact, that kind of human capital is required to build confidence in medicine again

Leveraging your internal SMEs is a multi-tiered process that involves making thought leadership part of the culture of your organization. It can’t be a flash in the pan; it’s got to be a commitment requiring management, multiple departments, SMEs, and team members operating on the same page. Once that’s done, however, SME-led content can bridge gaps between healthcare organizations and patients — and build much-needed trust again.

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