What Is The Relationship Between Influence And Expertise?
“In a world where people are overwhelmingly seeking out high impact content to help them make purchase decisions, should brands be aligning with experts to serve the role of influencer?”
What is an expert anyway? By definition it is someone having comprehensive or authoritative knowledge in a particular area. In theory that sounds nice, but let me ask you a question:
How does that translate online?
In today’s content rich digital economy there are literally hundreds of thousands of pieces of user-generated content published every minute. With the evolution of social media that number continues to grow exponentially and this is precisely why 90% of the worlds data has been created in just the past 2 years.
With so much content being created in so little time how does the average reader determine whom is an expert versus who is just an online user creating content?
Does that get determined at the site level or is there some sort of advanced criteria that you can (should) run someone against to determine whether or not they are really credible in a particular area and moreover if they are an expert?
In the old days you could go into their office and look at the degrees on the wall like with a doctor or attorney by which you could deem expertise. But today even resumes are extremely hard to decipher and with so many rapidly proliferating roles in companies like social media manager and big data specialist, it begins to feel like finding someone that truly fits the term expert would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack?
Let’s take a quick look at what online sources people trust.
So while these experts in many areas may be hard to find, there is no doubt that people are seeking out the guidance of “Expert” content to help them make purchase decisions. In a recent article on Forbes I refer to a study performed by Nielsen that showed expert content was 88% more effective in creating brand lift than a brands’ own content. What gives?
Is Expertise Too Subjective?
The most obvious challenge as it pertains to expertise is it is far too subjective. As mentioned above there is just no real set criteria in the vast majority of fields as to what makes an expert.
In some industries like the Information Technology industry, brands have almost self regulated the role of the expert. While there are technical degrees available from colleges in the information technology trade, companies like Cisco Systems have created the “Expert” by developing training programs where you can attain actual “Expert” certifications such as their prestigious CCIE which means that you are a Cisco Certified Infrastructure Expert.
While I suppose in a fast changing world like I.T. the need for expertise and credentials may be important, the idea of a brand dictating who is an expert versus who is not is as interesting as it is further revelation of the subjective nature that is “Expertise.”
Another highly subjective area of “expertise” is relevant experience. In many industries there are not clear-cut degrees or certifications that deem one an expert, and furthermore relevant experience may make you an expert even if you didn’t study a field formally.
In many fields an expert may be someone who has done it for a long time. For instance if you have a favorite mechanic to work on foreign or classic cars, there is a chance that person studied how to be a mechanic, but there is a better chance they learned by spending a lot of time under the hood. Having said that, if I was considering the purchase of a car of similar type to what the mechanic works on, their opinion would carry a lot of weight.
Understanding The Role Of The Expert In Brand Influence
If expertise is in fact what people are looking for when they are seeking out content to support their buying decisions then perhaps the biggest gap in brands successfully deploying influence marketing is the gap between who sounds like an expert and who actually is an expert?
Considering the same study I mentioned above found that expert content was the most influential at every point in the new buyer’s journey (Awareness, Affinity, Purchase), the idea of ignoring the fact that not everyone that blogs or writes articles is an expert is just plain troublesome.
But this doesn’t necessarily make it easier to discern, it only magnifies the problem, which at the rate by which content is being generated will grow exponentially in the future.
So How Does One Discern Between Expert and Pundit?
While there is no 100% foolproof way to tell between an expert and their wanna-be counterpart, there are some things readers can do if they are seeking to assure that their “Expert” content really comes from an expert.
- Consider the source: There are many good blogs run by individuals, but in a world where self-publishing is extremely cheap you need to know that just because it is published on the internet doesn’t make it true. I always recommend reputable sites and sources for instance for Technology it may be a source like CIO or Information Week whereas for business it may be Forbes or The Wall Street Journal.
- Check the facts: Multiple layers of sourcing and fact checking always help. For instance, the stats given in this article came from Nielsen who is a reputable source, but sometimes people may claim stats from sources without documenting. Most well written pieces will link to the article where their primary or secondary research originated. If you cannot verify the source then it is warranted to question the author and their content.
- Search or Nimble the Author: In the age of Google there is so much to learn about just about anyone via search or using tools like Nimble (Learn what I mean by Nimble here). Generally, you can find out someone’s credentials and background by searching them and in the information age you can verify that their bio is indeed accurate.
If expertise is in fact what drives buyer behavior, then making sure the expert info we source to make decisions is legitimate may be more important than finding the information itself.
How are you separating the experts from everyone else?
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