How do you know when it is safe to call yourself an expert?

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expertIt is often tricky to know when it is safe to call yourself an expert in your field.   If you have done any research on marketing and PR, you know the benefits of “expert” designation:  free press and the trust and credibility of potential customers, which lead to more sales.

But it can feel presumptuous to call yourself an expert, right?

This week’s podcast episode (found here, just about 5 minutes long) explores questions you can ask yourself to test your expertise beyond the traditional formula of years of experience + number of academic degrees + number of books published = level of expertise.

Those of you familiar with my background know that I only have an undergraduate degree from a no-name school, so evaluate my perspective from that open bias!  I welcome challenge, as I think this is an issue that many businesspeople struggle with.

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6 Responses to “How do you know when it is safe to call yourself an expert?”

  1. Tim Ferriss defines is in practical terms: You’re an expert if you know more than your clients. Alan Kay was on the other end of the spectrum: 10,000 hours.

  2. Great question, Pam.

    I’ll give my one-sentence answer up front, and if anyone cares to read my bloviating after that, so be it.

    But in short, to me an expert is the person who knows the difference between “strategic” and simply “clever.”

    I may be in the minority on this one, but my honest opinion: about 90 percent of the people who call themselves “experts” in social media actually have no idea what they’re talking about.

    Sure, there are plenty of smart people, and there are even people who have worked well in the field. I’d like to think I’ve had some successes in social media, and you’ve been part of some of that.

    But the expertise I bring to the table is in communications strategy and in politics. I’ve been in these fields for about 20 years now. Which means I have a pretty good BS-o-meter.

    And I have to say that many if not most of the people in the PR biz who position themselves as thought leaders in social media are so full of crap I honestly laugh at some of the things they write.

    Having a bunch of letters after your name from an ivy league school just means you’re educated. Being the “it” girl at a big company doesn’t do much more as far as I’m concerned. In my book, you gotta show me what works and explain why.

    Most of the blogs that write about the practice of social media are fascinated by the latest gadget or want to talk about the fabulous awesomeness of facebook. They talk about tools like tools are all we need.

    I’ll consider you an expert when you talk about strategic applications of social media tools, not just how incredible the new iPhone is.

  3. When it comes right down to it, can anybody really call themselves and expert? As much as I know about a certain subject, I always learn something new or find new ways to apply my knowledge in an innovative fashion.

    I had a friend once tell me, the collective body of knowledge in the world has been discovered and is out there. It’s just a matter of us aggregating it and putting it to good use.

  4. Pamela:
    I left a comment on the podcast piece, but just wanted blog readers to hear that I think that the great experts have some sort of unique, memorable quality about them.

    It’s not always about HOW MUCH the expert knows, but how they present the information and how much of it WE REMEMBER. Experts are our teachers. In high school and college we had our favorite teachers who left an impact on us. For me, they were always funny and animated, the great storytellers who reenacted historical moments with gossipy fervor.

    Experts today need to have that sizzling memorability too. It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. You can be the smartest cookie on the block with the greatest ideas, but if you’re boring or stuffy or unapproachable, your expertise will not reach the people it needs to reach.

    BTW, I actually coach people on positioning themselves as experts. It’s an art and a science, a balance of humility and putting yourself out there.

    Nancy Marmolejo

    Thanks for weighing in Nancy! I love your work, and totally agree with you.


  5. Hi Pam,

    I would recommend that people wait until others start calling them an expert. However, I’d also recommend that they aggressively put their knowledge out there–in the form of articles, blogs, etc–to prove that they have expert-level knowledge. Some experts, usually academic ones, are given their status from their degrees, but most regular people have to show their expertise.

    And part of that is acting like the expert. If they know a lot about a subject and can speak authoritatively about it, I’d recommend going for it. People will call them an expert soon enough if they put themselves out there.

    And if experts can only come from brand-name schools, not many people would have that title.

  6. Hi Pam, just noticed a silly error in your post:

    “But it can feel presumptuous to call yourself AN expert, right?”

    I do that all the time and it drives me insane so I thought you’d want to know about it.

    Please feel free to delete my comment! 🙂


    I would never delete it! I love my anally retentive, oops, I mean “detail-oriented” readers! 🙂

    Honestly, I can use all the proofreading help I can get, so thanks!!! I fixed it.

    Have a great 4th.