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?
I’ve asked before what defines an expert, and people still flounder over the definition.
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?
The author of Lorelle on WordPress and the fast-selling book, Blogging Tips: What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging, as well as several other blogs, Lorelle VanFossen has been blogging for over 15 years, covering blogging, WordPress, travel, nature and travel photography, web design, web theory and development extensively as web technologies developed.