The 5 C’s of Expertise: And Why I Don’t Shy Away from the Term



There is a fierce debate going on right now. What makes an expert? to There are no experts.

While I have commented on these posts and many others like it, I thought it was time to explain my take on expertise.

I am an online marketing expert. Whew. There I said it. I wasn’t the first to choose that title for myself though. It was my clients. I’d refer to myself as a “business consultant” (blah!) and they would introduce me to others as their online marketing guru…the one who helped them grow their business by leaps and bounds. There was a disconnect!

At first the term “expert” made me uncomfortable. Sure, I could get results for my clients. Sure, I spoke on social media and online marketing around the country. Sure, I had colleagues who respected me. And yes-I was one of the first folks to have a real Facebook profile (they were only open to college students at the time!). AND yes, I even published a book on social media marketing. But- was that enough? What is the true measure of an expert? I played around with many terms: specialist (not a doctor!), consultant (but we also take over online marketing), strategist (but we also do marketing implementation), adviser (of course – but also so much more than that when we swoop in and start making things happen). None of these terms fit.

Then I started really looking at my background, my current work, and the time I was putting into all of this. I live and breathe online marketing. It is my passion. It may seem dull to some, but I do a happy dance when someone emails me that my book helped them finally “get” social media or my client tells me we have had 23 sales record setting months in row. This stuff makes me happy! Deliriously happy even.

But, the question remains. Where do you draw the line between expert and novice? Especially for a field as young as social media. And even more so, when everyone who enters the field comes into it with this title.

After much thought, I propose to you the 5 c’s of expertise. This is by no means a final definition of an expert, but my proposed definition.

1. Content: In the academic field, there is a famous saying: Publish or Perish. Those professors or academics who do not publish creative thought-ultimately perish. I think this is true of any industry. You either create or you copy. It can also be argued that every creation starts with some copying. This is called a literature review in academic terms. Sonia Simone, Robert Middleton, and Maria Reyes McDavis are three experts who are consistently coming up with great content. One of the top complaints is that most experts “rehash” what has already been said. This is some what true, but each provides their own viewpoint to the content and hence, we have the beginnings of something fresher. An expert creates content. Period.

2. Community: Where there are experts, there are fans. The beauty of this is that you can be a fan and an expert at the same time. I follow the works of many in my own field. I am always in awe of their work, but I also know for a fact that many of them seem to admire and respect my work. Ultimately, this breeds a community based on mutual respect and sharing. In any field, an expert is one who has a community. The more solid the community, the stronger the expertise. My good friend and pseudo-elder sister, Pam Slim, serves as an excellent example for this category.

3. Consistency: An expert is consistent in their work and message. They aren’t focused on the “next hottest thing” but have a true set of guiding principles in their work. The new tactic must first fit their strategy. This doesn’t mean that they don’t test and admit when something didn’t work. It means they tirelessly stand behind their brand and message. Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett are consistent in their message of content marketing. Chris Brogan and Jason Falls stick to their message on the importance of community. Dave Kaminski is tireless when it online video. Gary Vaynerchuck sticks to his message on the importance of passion and hustling. Nancy Marmolejo is all about online visibility. I am consistent in my belief that online marketing can be classy and comprehensive.

4. Commitment: An expert is committed to their work because they love it. This can also be bunched together with passion. When we are passionate about something, we commit to it. We find the time to do it. If someone is doing something because they think that’s where the money is-you can bet that at the end of the day-they will chase something else. Those whose commitment comes from the depth of their passion, that’s expertise. Dave Taylor, Jonathan Fields, and Sherman Hu are gleaming examples of this aspect of expertise.

5. Cutting Edge: No expert can be defined as someone who knows is all. Because…no one knows it all! Every field in the world today is evolving at a dramatic pace. It isn’t the person who has been in the field for 30 plus years, or was there at the start of the internet. It is the person who keeps up with the changes that is the expert. My friend and colleague, Suzanne Falter Barns, is always interviewing experts in other fields and learning from them. Her work continues to help thousands of people brand themselves online. Curiosity and keeping up is another hallmark of the expert. My friend, Vik Duggal, strikes me as an expert. He is like a sponge around people. His ability to keep up with a million different ideas is impressive. What now? is more important than How long?

I strive everyday to do a little of each: create content, honor my community, be consistent in my brand, let my passion propel my commitment, and continue to learn new things. And hence, I do not shy away from the term expert. When I see others do the same, I respect them as experts.

I look forward to your thoughts on this!

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