There is nothing wrong with someone referring to themselves as an expert. That is, of course, unless someone has no idea what the word means or are using it solely to manipulate. Unfortunately this is the case in most circumstances. Dustin Stout goes so far as to say, “When it comes to social media marketing, there’s a billion and a half people claiming to have a clue. About 1% of 1% may be telling the truth.”
Traditionally, an expert is someone who has a doctorate on a given subject and additionally has spent years of their career researching or working in that subject. It is someone who knows nearly every aspect of a given field.
The Weapon of Influence: The Principle of Authority (as Robert Cialdini aptly labels it) is an incredibly powerful one and most people recognize this. If someone can get others to view them as an expert or authority on a subject, their views, opinions, and services seem highly valuable.
This apparently even extends to pseudo authorities. On January 21, 2001, Brian Williams interviewed Martin Sheen on CNBC. Sheen played the role of the President of the United States on a television show called West Wing. Williams provided a serious line of questioning to Sheen regarding presidential proceedings. Sheen thoroughly and dutifully shared his opinions on the subject.
Martin Sheen’s expertise on presidential proceedings extended no farther than that people had seen him pretend to be the president in a television show. Yet, despite his clear lack of authority, the interview was taken entirely seriously and carried weight simply because he was associated in people’s minds as an authority (Cialdini, Rice, Sagarin, Sherman, 2002).
Since we don’t have the time or inclination to create algorithms or apply in-depth critical thinking and research on every subject we encounter, we tend to rely on heuristics, or rules of thumb. These do not guarantee a solution, but they often get us very close to one (Morris, Maisto, 2014). When someone considered to be an expert speaks on their expertise, we often simply trust that it is more true than if someone else were speaking on the subject. This is a rule of thumb. It’s a mental shortcut on the road to making a decision.
This mental shortcut is such a powerful trigger, that it literally pushes logic aside with its persuasive power. Technically speaking, an expert’s judgment does not actually prove anything that he says to be true or false. Experts often disagree. And even when they do agree, they may still be wrong. Expertise certainly does carry some weight, but ultimately even experts should be required to show empirical evidence and rational inference (Copi, Cohen, McMahon, 2011).
But in the online world, evidence and critical thinking are thrown to the wind when someone we view as an expert opens their mouth.
With this in mind, it becomes very easy to see why anyone would want to appear to be an authority. Unconsciously, the facts begin to fade away and our judgment of a person’s opinions and advice rest solely on the fact that we view them as an authority. No further research is needed. No critical thinking is needed. Someone is an authority so we simply skip those steps and take their advice to the bank or hire them straight away.
This then leads to my opinion that many who are self-labeled experts, are using the term solely to manipulate others. If I can get you to believe that I am an expert in underwater basket weaving, then every time you need advice or need to hire someone to weave a basket underwater for you, you’ll come to me. My words and ideas will be like rivers of honey to your ears even if everything that I say is drivel. I’m an expert so you’ll believe everything I say or just hire me to take care of everything for you.
SEO Experts. Social Media Experts. Google Plus Experts. Twitter Experts. Blogging Experts. Ninjas. Gurus. Everyone wants to be known as an expert. Everyone wants to be known as an authority. And as you can imagine from its power, people aren’t going to stop doing this anytime soon.
Self-proclaiming oneself as an expert is most often a manipulation tactic. But since expertise is such a powerful force, we still want to take advantage of its power. We want to be known as experts. So how do we do it? The answer is easy. The implementation, not so much.
You need to create a body of work that spews forth excellence. Then the world will do the labeling for you.
Perhaps the greatest advice on this entire subject comes from the lips of King Solomon, “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.” ~ Proverbs 27:2