I remember Tom's insight 2+years ago during a small breakfast meeting at La Peeps Restaurant in Overland Park, KS. Our discussion centered around the burgeoning cottage industry of books and seminars touted by self-proclaimed social media experts, gurus, ninjas, and evangelists.
More importantly, his statement summarized both the opportunity and barrier to entry for people pursuing social media as a profession or as a credible vehicle for personal reinventions beyond a current job description.
I remember asking if he copyrighted this wisdom. He said no. But, he smiled and said if I ever use his quote, I should assign him credit and attribution (which I hope I did here).
Because I knew I'd reference his statement in a blog post someday. That day arrived.
The Inspiration for This Post
On January 20th, I read this Forbes.com article, Want to Become Known as an Industry Expert? 3 Tips to Get You Started. Here's screen shot of one part of the article:
First, This IS NOT a Bash-the-Author Piece. It's quite the opposite. Please read the entire Forbes article because Cari Sommer (the author) offers valid advice on building one's online credibility, reputation, and visibility the right way.
Second, This Post Describes Why Cari Sommer Is a Great Example of Personal and Professional Reinvention. Cari Sommer transformed her professional career and trajectory by reinventing herself into a bona fide communications expert and entrepreneur. A major portion of this post explains why I believe she's a credible and successful expert in her field.
Third, It's About My Cynicism Towards The Great Pretenders and Their Self-Proclaimed Expertise. I respectfully take issue with the literal interpretation of "calling yourself an expert." Why? There are hundreds of thousands to millions of self-proclaimed experts with no content or experience to substantiate their claims.
Check out these Google results on these infamous keyword phrases:
- "Social Media Guru" = 2,160,000 results
- "Social Media Evangelist" = 1,090,000 results
- "Social Media Expert" = 1,060,000 results
- "Social Media Ninja" = 281,000 results
Based on this quick analysis, I wonder if:
- There really are that many people who can credibly make those self-proclamations?
- "Ninjas" have a better long-tail chance of being found via search than "Gurus"?
- "Evangelists" and "Experts" are interchangeable titles (give or take wading through 30,000 results)?
Expertise Is Earned, Not Self-Proclaimed
Ms. Sommer's Provides and Shares Credible, First-Hand Expertise Earned From Her Personal Experiences. I buy-in to Ms. Sommer's generously shared advice on building a solid online reputation and positioning oneself as a social media expert (or an industry expert). It's credible and emphasizes a learn-by-doing attitude:
- Self-publishing content on social media channels (i.e., a blog, LinkedIn industry groups, etc.)
- Attending and speaking at industry conferences
- Identifying and building relationships with industry bloggers and journalists
- Pitching one's expertise to the industry influencers
But, The 3.5 Million Self-Proclaimers Haven't Practiced or Applied Any of Ms. Sommer's Advice The sad fact is so few have consistently performed (or even attempted) any of her recommendations over the long haul. Why? Because, the advice she imparts requires major time investments in:
- Hard Work (aka Malcom Gladwell's Rule of 10,000 Hours)
Want to Be Really Good at Something? Invest 10,000 Hours.
Malcolm Gladwell on 10,000 Hours. Here's Malcolm Gladwell in a CNN interview describing the significance of the 10,000 Hours Rule (timestamp 2:30 to 4:00):
Ms. Sommer Earned Her Expertise -- She Didn't Just Proclaim It. An influential, global media organization like Forbes didn't just hand her an outstanding personal branding opportunity because she proclaimed her industry expertise.
Unlike the aforementioned millions of great pretenders, she:
- Earned this gig by executing her own advice
- Earned her position as a communications expert through professional experience
- Earned her expertise by being relentless (e.g., she wasn't afraid to fail)
And, if she hasn't already invested 10,000 hours to achieve her current success, I bet she's committed thousands of hours just to reach this point in her career. Why? Because at some point in her 10,000 hours, she confronted and fought through The Dip.
See these excerpts from her Forbes Contributor bio and her communications consultancy homepage. She made it happen. She didn't just proclaim expertise.
A Case Study in Personal and Professional Reinvention
Ms. Sommer Reinvented and Transformed Herself Into a Communications and Public Relations Expert. Look further down her Forbes Contributor biography. She professionally reinvented herself from being a former litigator at an international law firm to becoming an entrepreneur and CEO of her own communications consultancy:
I wish more people like Cari Sommers had the substance and experience to back up the "I'm An Expert" claim. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't be so cynical.
I look forward to her future contributor articles in Forbes and other media sites. Until then, I've started following her on Twitter because I want to continue learning from a bona fide expert.