In Defense of the ‘Silent’ Experts…

by Mack Collier

I wanted to go slightly off-topic today to discuss ‘experts’.  For the last several years in the social media space there’s been constant hand-wringing over how we vet who the ‘real’ experts are.  One of the common themes is that when people claim to be experts that really aren’t, it makes it more difficult to find and value the true experts.  The ‘fake’ experts are drowning out the voices of the ‘real’ experts, as it were.

Honestly, this is a problem.  And it does dilute the value (or at least the perceived value) of ‘real’ experts.  But it also creates another problem that I don’t feel we spend enough time talking about.

In order to deal with this idea of people promoting themselves as experts when they really aren’t, we’ve come up with a qualifier:  The larger group has to identify you as an expert, you can’t promote yourself as such.  The logic is that the true experts don’t need to promote themselves as being experts, because the larger group recognizes their expertise, and promotes them accordingly.

So by extension, if the group doesn’t call you an expert, then you aren’t one.  This addresses the ‘fake’ experts that promote themselves as being experts while the larger group does not.

But what about the ‘silent’ experts?  The people that have a level of expertise, and aren’t aware of it, or they are, but don’t feel comfortable promoting themselves as being experts?  I see this constantly in the social media space.  Often, these people are smart enough to qualify as being experts on some subject, but don’t feel comfortable speaking out as such or speaking out period, because the ‘group’ has told them that if they aren’t identifying them as experts, then they aren’t.  This leads to some people that truly are experts not voicing and sharing their expertise, because they don’t have the confidence in their own abilities.

A few years ago I was talking to someone in this space about #Blogchat on the phone.  She was telling me how much she loved the chat and I realized that she would make the perfect co-host for #Blogchat.  She was an expert in a certain area of blogging, so it made perfect sense to have her co-host on that particular topic.  She was delighted and we started talking about what her topic could be and how the #Blogchat she would co-host would be structured.  She just kept thanking me for the chance to co-host, and I tried to thank her for agreeing.  She then paused and I’ll never forget what she did next.

She started crying.  She started crying because she was so grateful to be put in a position of being acknowledged as an expert.  She felt this was truly an honor that she didn’t deserve.  But she did.

This period was an expert.  The ‘group’ wasn’t identifying her as such, but it was obvious to anyone that knew her and what she had accomplished, that she was an expert.  But because the ‘group’ didn’t feel she was, by extension she didn’t feel as if she had the ‘right’ to be treated as an expert.  She felt I was doing her a huge favor that she didn’t deserve by letting her co-host #Blogchat, when in fact she absolutely deserved to co-host, and I was thrilled that she would.  She was actually doing the #Blogchat community a big favor by agreeing to share her expertise with us.

It worries me that there are so many people out there, so many smart voices like my friend, that are afraid to share what they know, because we are telling them that their voice is not worth sharing.

Here’s some of the rules we are creating:

There’s a problem with ‘fake’ experts.  You can’t promote yourself as an expert, so if the group doesn’t tell you that you are an expert, then you aren’t.

There’s too much content out there.  So you should ONLY create new content that is original and that creates value for others.  Never never NEVER create content just to be creating content.  If your content isn’t epic, don’t share it.  IOW, don’t share your content unless you are an expert…..but remember that you aren’t an expert unless ‘we’ tell you that you are.

 

I say this is bullshit.  Instead of being worried about how many ‘experts’ are out there (real or claimed), instead we need to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their voice.  Where no one feels that they need permission to share their thoughts and ideas.  No one should feel like their ideas aren’t ‘good enough’ or don’t pass muster with someone that others have identified as being smarter than they are.  There’s no one arbiter of what ideas are and are not worth sharing.

Yes, that means there will be more ‘clutter’ and there will also be more ‘experts’.  There will also be more content and more distractions.

This is ultimately about what we value.  If we push for less ‘clutter’ and less content, by extension we will also get less expertise and less thought leadership.  Less means less of everything.

I say we should strive for a space where everyone feel comfortable sharing their voice and ideas.  When we start to throw up rules and boundaries to idea and information-sharing, then we all lose.

What do you think?

{ 14 comments }

Jerome Pineau January 29, 2014 at 8:44 am

I like the way you think and concur with your observations :) What i’ve noticed is that there are sometimes official “experts” out there who happen to be empty suits — but they’re billed as such either based on past history or just because they have the right networking connections and feed off one another.

This is also very true in business – so called “leaders” sometimes turn out to be real duds but you don’t and can’t know this until you start doing business with them or working closely with them. Then you know. And these folks _always_ land on their feet :)

Net-net: perception is reality – sad but true. Caveat emptor is what I say.

John J. Wall January 29, 2014 at 9:43 am

Well said Mac, I’ve said the same thing about marketing, there are some great professionals out there but it’s hard to stay out of the snake oil.

Jerome Pineau January 29, 2014 at 10:06 am

Don’t get me started :P

Mack Collier January 29, 2014 at 10:44 am

John it’s sometimes hard to tell the real experts from the snake oil, especially if you are new to the space. But I also think this is part of the problem, we are constantly harping on outting the ‘snakeoil salesmen’ that I fear we also scare off some people that have valid ideas to share, but they see how we rail about being a ‘validated’ expert, that they just skip the drama.

Ultimately, I think this whole back and forth about who is and who is not an expert is mostly a fishbowl obsession. There will always be people proclaiming to have skills and expertise that they do not, the social media industry certainly didn’t invent this phenomenon.

I just think that sometimes we invest too much time in conversations that are more important to ourselves and other consultants and agencies than they are to our clients.

Bonnie Richards January 29, 2014 at 11:05 am

I couldn’t agree with you more. I think there are so many people out there focused on carrying their programs, initiatives, and organizations to the next level(I work in large enterprise high-tech B2B). They plug their headphones in, create the “social voice” in their internal sphere of influence inside companies big and small, and while focusing on strategy they also get back to tactics pulling and aggregating from other internal experts across their business to collaborate and figure the course to take. I subscribe to this practice myself. I try to publish what I have experienced and what I am thinking about or seen happening. All the while developing my own voice and trying to elevate myself probably like so many other’s. This happens while so many so called “experts” and other’s are out their just publishing away making claims, self promoting and I feel only scraping the surface conceptually without really understanding what reality is and how to make it work for your Company, with the tools and people you have to make it happen. I’ve found “listening” and following the former practitioners who have grown and evolved to the group supported expert level are the one’s who have gained my trust and who I look too for real information, ideas, examples. Information I can use and not just theory or someone else’s content they decided to claim as their own without even crediting the creator of the content. These are typically the same folks focused on volume and not quality. They are the one’s that if you aggregate their content and really look at it, they show no voice or common topic at all….just a whole lot of publsihing about the flavor of the day. It’s rampant actually and if I sound jaded, I am a little I guess. At least enough to feel motivated to step forward a bit more deliberately and thank you as well as comment on your great post today!

Jerome Pineau January 29, 2014 at 11:07 am

amen

Mack Collier January 29, 2014 at 11:15 am

Bonnie there are SO many people that are so busy with their heads down DOING WORK that they don’t have time to make sure the rest of the world understands their expertise :)

All the time.

Frank Strong January 29, 2014 at 7:50 pm

While I agree with the spirit of what you are saying, I think the issue is more complex than that.

Particularly in a marketing world, you have to write and share to gain experience. Being told “don’t share your content unless you are an expert” is like telling people their opinion is worthless until they reach some magic pinnacle. It’s that sort of view point I think has given the traditional media so much trouble, they have struggled coming to grips with the idea that no, people don’t necessarily want an editor to pick and choose what content they consume, so they’ve gone elsewhere.

I realize that’s not the spirit of your post, and this isn’t an effort to cause and argument, I’m just trying to point out another perspective.

To that end, on the topic experts, I typically find experts that lead with their credentials are less valuable than those that lead with their ideas. I’d rather hear what they have to say, rather than listen to a laundry list of accolades.

Mack Collier January 29, 2014 at 8:19 pm

“Particularly in a marketing world, you have to write and share to gain experience. Being told “don’t share your content unless you are an expert” is like telling people their opinion is worthless until they reach some magic pinnacle. It’s that sort of view point I think has given the traditional media so much trouble, they have struggled coming to grips with the idea that no, people don’t necessarily want an editor to pick and choose what content they consume, so they’ve gone elsewhere.

I realize that’s not the spirit of your post, and this isn’t an effort to cause and argument, I’m just trying to point out another perspective.”

Frank that’s actually my exact point, we should never create an environment where ANYONE feels their opinion is worthless. Who has the right to subject the worthiness of what I think?

Frank Strong January 29, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Ah, I see. I misunderstood. Too many beeps and pings going off I guess. Maybe I need to listen better. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mack.

Todd Hornsby January 29, 2014 at 10:45 pm

I’m certainly no expert in self-promotion. I guess I don’t care to be. I want to let my work stand on its own like the old days. It’s not a lack of confidence. It’s just that I don’t know that I want to broadcast what I know to the whole world. The variety of experts that I’ve come in contact with through my projects, and that I respect, are all humble people. They don’t lack confidence or the need to have an expert monicker. All they do is take their career seriously and do the best job they can every step of the way. Perhaps your blog chat friend was more humble than less confident. I’m always flattered and gracious when I’m consulted or someone treats me like an expert, but the truth is no one person is ever truly an expert since our learning is never complete.

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