What Gives You The Right To Tell Me?

Filed as Editorial, Features on March 31, 2008 1:06 pm

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What gives you the right to tell me how to do something? Why should I trust what you have to say about blogging? About politics? About money? About making money with my blog? About fixing cars? About anything? What gives you the right?

As I prepare for the “Biz School of Blogging” program in May at SOBCon, the terms authority blog and authority blogger keeps popping up in the program discussions. Chris Garrett has even helped create the Authority Blogger blog.

The term, authority blogger, was coined a little over a year ago labeling a blogger and their blog as the “authority” on their blog subject, thus making the blogger an expert in their field. Blog branding is the marketing effort to turn your blog into an authority blog through visual and content connections, establishing proof over time of expertise.

Yet, every day I run across bloggers claiming expertise and spewing nonsense – and no one challenges them.

Should they? Should we?

What Gives You the Right to Call Yourself an Expert?

Authority Blog Expert badge - graphic copyright Lorelle VanFossenI’ve asked before what defines an expert, and people still flounder over the definition.

Liz Galloway of Planet Spa writes on “When the ‘Expert’ Needs an Expert saying:

I’ve been prompted to post this in response to finding several so called “experts” who have claimed to know something but have merely regurgitated old information. I’m not sure if this is in part from laziness, or fear of stepping out the box, and actually stating an original opinion. I’ve also found others who have used this title as an ego boost and solicitation of business almost to a level of unethical behavior. We don’t need to get into the psychology here of borderline personalities, just the fact there are many.

…Experts are meant to provide something others can’t. To manage and create dream teams, design and follow through on a project in ways most can’t, share and mentor you with experience gained through time or hands on experience, and to create that perfect mix of business and personality that creates a win- win benefit. That’s a lot to manage. So just how do we know who an expert is, and when the experts, need an expert?

When an employer considers an employee, for the most part they have a set of criteria to evaluate the “expertise” and value of hiring that employee such as education, work history, work experience, and recommendations by others. Yet, when facing a web page filled with self-promotional claims of expertise, do you take them at face value?

Liz Galloway goes on to define the criteria of how to define an expert, which lines up with an article on Inside CSULB featuring Philosophy’s Charles Wallis of the University of British Columbia in British Columbia and the University of Waterloo. He is asked what makes an expert:

“Know-how,” the essence of expertise, is the latest research topic for Wallis, himself an expert on cognitive science…“The biggest difference between experts and non-experts is the way they go about solving a problem,” said Wallis, a Venice resident, who joined the university in 2000. “Experts don’t have to pull out a rulebook. They have a natural, intuitive way of working. Novices check rulebooks. The expert will go to the heart of the matter. They have an intuitive interaction with it.”

“Conscious learning of rules is one approach to expertise, but the ultimate goal is to operate by the rules without thinking about them. When you learn a piano concerto, at first, you think about where your fingers are going, but the goal is to move the fingers without thinking about where or how. The same is true for higher cognitive functions. There is also ‘implicit learning,’ or the figuring out of a field’s dimensions by interacting with it. For instance, you can teach people how to sex chickens in eggs just by giving them feedback about their performance. They may get quite good without being able to articulate their methodology. The goal of the mind is consolidate this unconscious process.”

What you know is important, but how you use what you know, and plowing the path rather than following behind, makes the difference in defining an expert.

Dawud Miracle tackled the issue of how not knowing something can make you more of an expert, taking a more philosophical approach to the definition:

Does being an expert mean you have to know more than everyone else?

Not according to Confucius. He once advised, “When you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it-this is knowledge.” In other words, we should not only know what we know, but also what we don’t know. Hence, it’s in knowing what we don’t know that we find our expertise.

As Wallis said, being an expert is about learning, but there is so much more. The path to problem solving is an important part of the journey towards expertise.

In an interesting twist on the conversation, Dawud and his readers debated about whether or not you are an expert if you can’t share what you know.

But does any of that matter of you can’t communicate it?

Which brings me back to an important point Liz Galloway made as she struggled to clearly define an expert, adding:

Today’s online experts are often experts because we made them that way. They said things we liked and needed to know, and we told our friends, who told more friends, and all come to pay homage to the blogger who keeps handing them what they like and need to hear.

I believe that the community you build with your blog plays a very important role in defining who you are as a blogger and as an expert.

The Blogging Expert Litmus Test

As more and more bloggers claim expertise, whether or not they’ve passed any tests to determine their expertise level, as with all snake oil salesmen, it’s up to the reader to develop their own litmus test. As my mother said, the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the blog content.

Here are a few of my litmus test criteria for determining if a blogger is really an expert or not.

  • Sincerity. As I look over the web design and the words on the page, I want to be kicked in the head with sincerity and honest writing, not hyperbole. I want to feel like this person has the potential to be a friend not a sales person.
  • Clarity of purpose. Visually, if the design, blog title, post titles, categories, Page titles, and content match, I know that this person knows that which they blog about. Everything matches. It lines up. It connects. It defines itself on the first impression, and the last. Focused content. Focused purpose.
  • Talking to me. Many of these so-called “expert” blogs are talking to the masses, trying to encompass everyone into their greedy arms. I don’t want to work with corporations. I want to work with a human. Don’t you?
  • Pushy pushy pushy push. Buy! Buy! Buy! Gimme! Gimme! I’m the best! Don’t go anywhere else! I know it all! Combine that with large type, their about or landing page static on the front page, overuse of bold and red fonts, over-sized fonts screaming at me, the content centered on the page…we’ve all seen it and none of it impresses us any more. Pushy doesn’t work. Pully does. Pull me into the content. Make me feel included. Help me trust you. Allow me to interact and feel in control of learning about you and your expertise naturally rather than having it shoved in my face.
  • Advertising. Advertising on your blog speaks loudly. It says, “I’m greedy!” “I’m in it for the money!” “I don’t care about you unless you click my ads.” It also says, “What I have to offer is good, but what someone has to offer is better and pays my bills.” This tells me that you don’t believe enough in your own expertise to make you money. You want to hedge your bets with ads that may or may not be related to your blog’s content. Ads distract me from you, the expert. They pull me away from your blog and expertise. Not all blogs need ads, especially if what you are selling is you.
  • Community. Without a doubt, your expertise is represented by your participation in the community around your blog and with your competitors, making them team players not fighters, as well as the community you build with your blog. With all the talk of social networking, the biggest capital is your blog. It is the showcase of your talents. Your blog is your resume. It sets the example of your expertise by being a part of a community, not a lone figure.
  • No words necessary. The strongest test for me in deciding who is and isn’t an expert is that they don’t have to tell me. I know without them writing it out for me. It’s obvious.

What is your litmus test when you stumble upon a new blog that proclaims itself “expert” of their blogging world?

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  1. By Joanna Young posted on March 31, 2008 at 1:46 pm
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    The litmus test for readers is great Lorelle, and my main take away from this piece. Thank you for sharing it.

    I enjoyed the review of what it means to be an expert or authority – I think they have slightly different meanings, esp online where as you say the level of community suggests or demonstrates authority because other people have come to understand, recognise and trust what that person is saying (and can take their readership and loyalty away with one simple click)

    Joanna

    It’s a shame that those horrible blog herald link ads flashed up a red link just by your point on red fonts… undermined your point slightly…

    Reply

  2. By goinglikesixty posted on March 31, 2008 at 2:00 pm
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    X is an unknown quantity in Math. Spurt is a drip under pressure
    Xspurt is an unknown drip under pressure!

    Reply

  3. By Bob Younce at the Writing Journey posted on March 31, 2008 at 3:04 pm
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    Excellent piece, Lorelle, and thanks to Joanna for tweeting it.

    Can we add a potential criteria to the mix? I think that a verifiable record of success is an integral part of the authority blog. For example, I can’t blog authoritatively about Google Page rank (yet) because I don’t have any. But I can blog about making a living writing online because I’ve done it for half a decade.

    Good form!

    Reply

  4. By Dale posted on March 31, 2008 at 3:15 pm
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    Good topic, and related to the near-obsessive concern over credibility of sources that academics volleyball about with their students. How do we know what we are being told is accurate? How skeptical is too skeptical?
    In olden days we trusted in established publishing houses and the value of peer-reviewed articles, and still today we try to sniff out the same sort of odor: explanations of how writers know, validity of research techniques, documentation of sources — as in this admittedly old article on the credibility of Wikipedia.
    So if I want a hard core expert, I’m likely to bloodhound around a bit for these traits. But we generally live (and read) in a more casual world, and I like your litmus test for that place.

    Reply

  5. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on March 31, 2008 at 6:59 pm
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    @Bob Younce at the Writing Journey:

    You can add anything to the list. This list is just a few of the things on my mental check off list for judging the “expertise” of a blogger, so I’m eager to hear your list.

    Reply

  6. By David LaFerney posted on March 31, 2008 at 10:00 pm
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    You paint with a pretty broad brush when you include advertising and community in your litmus test for expertise.

    What do those things have to do with knowledge about a subject or ability to perform a task? If an artist works in seclusion (isolated from any community) does that compromise their expertise? When Attorneys advertise does that make them less expert? How about Dentists? Physicians?

    Perhaps advertising diminishes the dignity of their professions, but does it really have anything to do with expertise?

    Reply

  7. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on April 1, 2008 at 12:09 am
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    @David LaFerney:

    If a physician is a success in their practice, as an example, making money hand over fist, then what good does putting ads on their blog bring them? $200 a month? Is that why they are blogging? For $200 a month of Adsense ad income? If a doctor paid $200,000 to $750,000 a year blogs as an expert in their field, and their blog features viagra, casino, and other totally unrelated Adsense ads in the sidebar, header, and in between the posts, I think “cheap” and “tacky” don’t you? That doesn’t feel right to me, no matter what kind of expert they are. It doesn’t make them less an expert, but it does make me question their blogging motives. For me, it’s a point against them, but not a reason to totally dismiss them. If there is other evidence that meets my criteria for “faking it” and insincere in their expertise, then I’m gone, usually not to return and definitely not to recommend them. So they lose because their blog doesn’t speak well for their expertise.

    Did I say these are hard and fast rules? No. I said that these were some of the things I think about, but not all of them, when judging a blogger as an expert through their blog’s evidence. Like any surface, first impression-based judgment, it’s based on insufficient evidence. However, articles like these get bloggers to think about how others judge them through the evidence on their blogs.

    If a medical student, stuffed with expertise from years of training but still not making the big bucks blogs with those same ads, I think she’s adding some extra income in a creative way, though I’d love to see her make wiser choices.

    It’s all about the presentation being in balance with the blogger’s purpose and goals.

    As for community, as said in the article, some of the best “experts” are made by the community around them, whether or not they are really qualified by certification and training. If they continue to supply us with the information we need consistently, over time we label them our experts and experts they become as a source and resource. This kind of expert requires a community.

    There are no rules here, only examples and questions. And my question is: David, what is your litmus test to determine what defines an expert blogger?

    Reply

  8. By Chris Garrett posted on April 1, 2008 at 3:45 am
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    Excellent post Lorelle. We should definitely talk this over in Chicago over a beverage or 3, you have great ideas about this stuff (and dare I say, Authority? Heh).

    We respect you because you have been in the blogging trenches for as long as there have been blogs (or longer?), and have become through your own hard work the go-to person about WordPress (without having to translate page after page of geekology to understand it, heh). But also, we like reading your stuff :)

    So there are logical factors and then there are instinctive and emotional elements.

    I heard a phrase that I think helps me understand how to perceive who has credibility; “Lions don’t need to roar”. I think the more people have to tell you to listen, the less real authority they have. It’s that “show, don’t tell” thing.

    Demonstrate authority, provide real value, give people something that will not necessarily improve their lives but maybe give them some inspiration or make their day a little better.

    Reply

  9. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on April 1, 2008 at 6:51 am
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    @Chris Garrett:

    You are so right. I think your work in promoting authority bloggers is excellent. It’s a way to educate and set examples, as well as mentor others, helping all of us understand the importance of identifying the real experts from the ones who tell you they are experts.

    As the article states, what gives anyone the right to tell another how to do something is a mixed bag that brings up trust, emotional, and historical issues. There is no right or wrong, but a quality that makes or breaks an expert. Unfortunately, so many are still swayed by snail oil salesmen, which is why splogs, spam, and the other evils on the web continue to proliferate. They will always have customers.

    I look forward to watching your work with Authority Blogger grow, helping so many understand that you can make even more money with integrity and honesty – and transparency – in yourself as well as your product.

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  10. By David LaFerney posted on April 1, 2008 at 7:33 am
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    And my question is: David, what is your litmus test to determine what defines an expert blogger?

    I don’t know Lorrelle, I tend to question authority no matter how established – sorry about that. I guess, it’s kind of like that Judge’s explanation of obscenity – I know it when I see it.

    I think most of us have sufficient BS detection abilities to sort the wheat from the chaff. Perhaps I overestimate.

    BTW, Despite my previous comment I largely agree with you.

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  11. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on April 1, 2008 at 8:34 am
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    @David LaFerney:

    Good for you. You are one of the proud and few. Many take for granted what is found in print, even when they know they shouldn’t.

    Still, my point is for bloggers who want to claim they are experts. If you are a blogging expert, then you better understand what people are looking to judge you as an expert. It often isn’t your expertise but the presentation of your blog persona via the look, ads, content, history, and surface stuff.

    For example, if someone proclaims themselves an expert in something and they have made the mistake of displaying their Archives showing only 3 posts, I don’t trust them. Sure, they may be the leading expert in the world on their expertise, but they have nothing to prove to me that they are, just their word.

    I understand new to blogging. It takes time to build content, but this is one of the little things that makes me doubt them, especially when they shout from the roof tops that they are experts. Boils down to show me the money. :D

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  12. By Richard davies posted on April 10, 2008 at 2:59 pm
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    Expert.. humm

    Ex meaning ‘has been’

    xpurt or spurt meaning ‘a drip under great pressure’

    quid pro quo
    a has been drip under great pressure

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  13. By Richard davies posted on April 10, 2008 at 3:01 pm
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    yes i know , don’t you have anything better to do than flame ?

    you don’t ?

    well how perfect your life must be ?

    Reply

  14. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on April 10, 2008 at 5:31 pm
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    @Richard davies:

    Am I missing something here? The discussion is on determining expertise, and what defines expert for you. Do you have a definition?

    Reply

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