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Expert Bloggers – Do You Know What You’re Blogging About?

I had an Instant messaging conversation yesterday that highlighted to me that some bloggers have very little idea when it comes to the topic that they’ve chosen to write about.

I won’t go into the details of who it was but the person was writing on a topic that had some overlap with a topic I write about and by the questions that they were asking me it became very evident that they had no real understanding of the topic.

However when I went to their blog they presented themselves as an expert in their chosen topic and even offered their services as a consultant in it.

Their archives were filled with a mixture of ‘free articles’ (written by others) and some bumbling original content.

As I read their blog and talked with them on IM I found myself getting quite frustrated and even angry.

After the conversation I cooled down a little and began to ask myself if I was being unfair and perhaps a little elitist or arrogant (and perhaps I am) – but came to the conclusion that what annoyed me most about this blogger was that in effect he was being deceptive.

Do You Need to Be an Expert to Blog?

I don’t believe people need to be experts in their topic – however if they are not I think some level of transparency is necessary.

I read quite a few quality blogs by people who are not experts in their field – in fact the fact that they are not experts makes their blog more accessible and easy to read.

They write in a style of ‘this is what I’m learning about….’ or ‘this is what I’m trying….’ or ‘does anyone know about….?’ or ‘this is a theory I’ve read – I’m going to try it….’

Fellow Travelers vs Experts

While readers do seek ‘experts’, they also respond well to ‘fellow travelers’. I’ve written about this before using the metaphors of ‘tour guide’ via ‘fellow traveler’:

“While tour guides know their stuff and bring expertise to your trip it’s the fellow traveler who has eaten at the restaurants, slept in the hotel beds, bargained for the souvenirs and who has seen the new culture from an outsider’s perspective (like you) – as a result of their experiences you learn where to go and what to see in a way a tour guide might never be able to share with you.”

If you are an ‘expert’ then there’s no problem in going with that and working from that position – but if you’re not it can be a risky thing to claim to be (blogging has a way of exposing frauds) and if you’re smart you can actually build a good readership by admitting your inexperience and using that as a strength rather than something to hide.

Blogging Helps Makes Experts

PS: The great thing about blogging is that as you blog about your experiences and interact with others on your topic who are also experimenting – you can actually move towards being a true expert in your field over time. Just remember that experts don’t just happen – they mature over time and its usually others who give them the label of expert rather than it being a label one gives themselves.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Glenn Wolsey says:

    This is so true. When I started out writing about the Mac + Apple around a year ago I admitted I didn’t know much, I constantly asked questions in order to learn more about the subject.

    These days I would call myself very knowledgeable on the topic, not an expert, far from it. But I could tell you pretty much anything about Apple these days, and I’m in constant contact with other writers/developers.

    I dont believe anyone can start a blog and be an expert right out of the block, it’s takes time, perseverance, and willingness to learn about your chosen field.

  2. Scriptor says:

    Hey, found you on Digg, I agree with what you say. I’m learning several programming technologies right now, and I’m hoping to soon start writing posts about things I’ve found. For example, a beginner will often talk about things that other beginners are familar with, things that won’t make them feel alienated. An expert on the other hand often has something about some really high-level abstract concept you’ve never heard of, and probably won’t get to for a while.

    The way I view it, it’s annoying for an expert to always write about elementary things, but for a beginner, what an expert might consider elemantary he might consider his best achievment so far, and so he’ll probably go post about, that post in turn won’t be too far ahead of other beginners.

  3. Florian says:

    Funny coincidence… I just wrote a short post about blogging as self-education. :)

    I think you got the point: Claiming to be an expert when you are not is just bad – and won’t work for long. I think most authors who have been blogging for some time have also been corrected by their readers several times. False experts will probably have a real lot of such corrections in their blogs… well, if they don’t delete them.

    Blogging can be a wonderful journey for both reader and author… just be honest about your journey so that everyone can enjoy it. :)

  4. That’s a great post and it really helps clarify things for me. I started my first blog on a blog network as an experts guide with a lot of original content. This can be difficult and demanding over time. I started a second blog just for fun on that same network about my experiences being on the network as a blogger and reader. Your description of fellow traveller really rung a bell with me and it is comforting to realise I can run a blog without ever having to come across as some type of expert!

  5. Transparency is incredibly important for building trust. People trust people who admit mistakes and/or weaknesses.

  6. jack dukun says:

    I am new blogger, I agree what darrent written but i have question;
    what is more important for new blogger?

  7. Doug Karr says:

    Ironically, I just blogged about this:

    * If you tell someone, they’ll forget it.
    * If you show somebody, they might remember.
    * But if you involve them, they will understand.

    http://www.douglaskarr.com/2006/08/15/telling-or-showing-versus-involving/

    I think you’ve hit upon the strength of blogging. I think of myself as an expert in some areas… but I’ve learned so much since blogging and seeing what folks have said in response to my entries, either in my comments or trackbacks. I don’t think of myself as an expert as much as a very knowledgeable observer nowadays.

  8. Glenn Wolsey says:

    @ Jack

    What do you mean is more important? Could you please explain with a little more detail ;-)

  9. Jonathan says:

    I’d have to agree with some great points you made. I run a gadget blog and I had to learn some things about the technology I was blogging about.

    As technology moves forward and new things come out I constantly need to keep up to date.

    But once I’ve blogger about certain gadgets for a while, I already know what to expect when I blog about a new one.

    Technology is very vast. It really is impossible to know everything about everything.

  10. Darren Rowse says:

    yeah – what do you mean? What’s more important between what and what?

  11. qwerty says:

    So to be an expert you have to write:

    Canon writes a wonderful article on Canon A123, and they write “srgsdhs;ajglkajhgl;adfsjdhflksjhflksjdfhslkdfjhsldkfja;gj;ha ;agj;alfgja;lfkg ajlfgj a;fgl ja;flja;flgja;lga”

    Then nothing else of value, quit scamming these people with your bullshit. You might as well go as far as sell the informercial now. Oh wait you do 6 figure blogging series.

    What a fraud you are!

  12. Darren Rowse says:

    thanks qwerty for your comment. There’s no need to use language or hide behind anonymity though – I’m more than willing to have the site you’re referring to critiqued.

    A couple of things I’d respond with:

    1. the site which I think you’re referring to is a hub style news site. Its for people wanting to keep up with the latest news on the industry and who don’t have time to go searching for information for themselves. I think the style of posting on it fits with it’s purpose and how it’s 10,000 daily readers use it.

    2. the ‘value’ is in the pages where reviews and news are collated on a single item and readers are sent to numerous pages on that item that give them the information they’re looking for.

    I’m regularly thanked for the site by readers who find quality information through it and by other sites who I send substantial traffic to (in fact they send me emails all day everyday asking me to link to them and use their quotes).

    I’m not sure this makes me a fraud – from what I can see it’s a site where everyone wins.

  13. Just another jealous website owner who hasn’t figured out how to market/monetize his website.

  14. Glenn Wolsey says:

    Spot on :D

  15. Blonde Jon says:

    Darren, I just started regularly reading your blog. I would like to thank you for your very informative posts. I will be one of your regular readers. Keep up the good work.

    Thanks,

    Jon

  16. jack dukun says:

    @Glen

    I mean for new blogger, what more important; blog design, seo or else

  17. Glenn Wolsey says:

    I would say first and foremost, good, original content is what will draw people into your site. Work on that first. Of course a nice design helps, but not as much asd content. Without the content the users would just have a pretty site to look at, but nothing to read.

    Work on the content, then design, then SEO. In my opinion..

  18. RJS says:

    Ah, the age-old question of “bloggers who are experts” versus “experts who are bloggers”

    There’s a big difference. The latter are the ones out there doing and moving and shaking things up. They tend to have large audiences and have interesting things to say about their field, no matter how saturated by secondary (the former category) seems to get.

    I’m somewhere in the middle. I know FAR more about medicine and pharmacy and healthcare policy than the average bloke. On the other hand I’m not exactly out there being involved.

    That said, I’ve been told that I could teach CEs for healthcare professionals by other healthcare professionals, so they may be onto something. Maybe I’m better than I think I am, but I doubt it…

    The one thing that I’ve really noticed is that those experts who are bloggers are often very narrow in their focus. They don’t do a good job of tying things outside their field together in a way that is meaningful. That remains for the secondary types to do — and some of them do it admirably. I like to think I’m one of those.

    Narrow and deep vs broad and shallow.

    I think it’s probably best to have a bit of both.

  19. Dave Starr says:

    Excellent point Darren, and some good commentary as well …I’ve been reading ProBlogger and a couple other very useful help site for some months now … I’m impressed and greatful for the infomation that the community has freely shared.

    My view is, you shouldn’t write about somehting

  20. Mike says:

    I had started a draft on this very topic. I think you need to be up front and honest about who you are, what your background is and why you are writing about the topic. I don’t think you can blog successfully without providing this information.

    I don’t believe you need to be an expert, just honest. It is actually refreshing reading about someone talks about the mistakes they have made and what they learnt from the experience.

  21. prlinkbiz says:

    Wow- I see a lot of know-it-alls with very little knowledge or experience to back it up in the personal finance arena. You can tell fairly quickly who is generating their own content and who is repeating themselves, or others as is often the case! (Disclaimer: I am not a financial expert!)

  22. I think this problem exists in all sorts of “unregulated” work environments. Consultants face the same problems. The way to win is to do the best work you can. In time, the market will expose and punish the miscreants.

  23. Halfdeck says:

    I had a bout a week ago on a forum regarding something I posted, which made me realize I should always frame ideas in a way that’s digestible for the uninitiated. A fact might be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt in my own mind, but that process hasn’t necessarily taken place in the mind of my readers. Linking to previous articles where an idea is fully explained is one way to shorten the time spent on re-explaining controversial ideas instead of having readers doubt what I write every step of the way.

    I also always consider myself a novice in any topic. The feeling of “know-it-all” is only a sign that I’ve hit a roadblock somewhere, and usually only a few days pass before I realize I’ve just scratched the surface.

    I also think not knowing is part of what keeps me blogging. If I did know it all, I’d stop posting and keep everything to myself.

  24. I am a consultant and started blogging to share my experience and techniques. As a consultant I know what I work on but before this blog it used to be just me and my work but now it is “You”, me and my work.
    So in essence I am getting audited for my work by my audience. Now when I work I make sure to document each and everything as if I am preparing a user documentation. Sure it is lot of work but it helps me do my work to the perfection and in return I get to use my work to share it with you. So this blog is a win-win situation, don’t you think?

    -Nilesh
    http://www.AppsBI.com

  25. blogger says:

    I think blog have many not fix anything

  26. Good luck to the people blogging long term and have no idea what they are blogging about. It will be hard to fake it and have a successful blog.

  27. Ray Dotson says:

    This is something I’ve pondered as well. I’m thinking of starting a new blog, but not about topics I’m an ‘expert’ in (some of which tend to bore me to death). I’m glad to get others views on the value of blogging by a ‘fellow traveler.’ Thanks!

  28. Chris says:

    This is why I picked the type of direction my blog was going to take, I wanted to blog, but what about so I picked something that I knew a lot about, i.e Computers, Technology and the internet, I figured that it would be better if I knew what I was talking about, rather than rambling on about stuff I didn’t fully understand.

    Thats why I think its important to know your subject well enough, sure there are things I don’t understand, but I have no problem admitting it either and I think thats just as important, to admit ones own flaws.

  29. wangarific says:

    I think your analogy of the expert vs. fellow traveler is very appropriate, I blog from the fellow traveler perspective and I definitely have learned a lot about personal finance as a result of blogging. However, I believe that when you are selling a service and claim to be an expert, you can’t be a fellow traveler. In fact, I’ve started blogs becuase I’ve wanted to learn more about the topic (I have a grilling blog so I can learn how to grill and smoke better).

    I believe transparency is required is you’re selling services since now we’re talking money changing hands but if you were able to glean that they weren’t up to snuff, it’s likely any sort of due diligence would’ve picked up on that as well.

  30. tanya says:

    But what makes someone an expert? Who decides how much experience or academic qualification (if any) is necessary. Who decides whether someone is an “expert” or “fellow traveler?” The beauty (and curse) of blogging is that anybody can say and portray themselves in any way they wish. On the flip side, other people can discredit them, call them out or just move on. It all balances out in the end.

  31. Funny you bring this up. I was just talking to Christina at ebeautydaily about this today. I was relaying that what makes me different in the beauty blogging world is that I am NOT an expert. In fact, I am the target market talking and testing out products as other women would do. Not with any beauty school diploma or training…just an “average” consumer.

    If anything, this helps my readers relate with me instead of feeling like I am “part” of the industry. While I completely look up to trained professionals in the industry who write fabulous blogs, I am pretty proud to stand out the way I do. :)

    ~Shannon

  32. Fard Johnmar says:

    Great post Darren. I’m disturbed that you have encountered bloggers who really don’t have a good grasp of what they are writing about. One of the funny things about writing on any subject is that people perceive you to be an “authority” just because you are writing about something. However, as others have noted, one can spot a fraud pretty quickly.

    I think that I — like many other people — am learning all of the time. There have been numerous times when I have written posts on my blog providing my thoughts on new concepts I’ve learned about current events and other topics. I try to digest what I learn about and provide my perspective based on my experience via my blogs.

    The question remains: do I consider myself to be an “expert”? So, the answer is this: I consider myself experienced because I have worked in my industry for about a decade. If being considered an expert means that people think you have nothing new to learn, then I’m not an expert. I’m just another person trying to make sense of the world.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] I found a very useful article over at ProBlogger.net about the posts expert bloggers are currently blogging. [...]

  2. [...] A few weeks ago Problogger, Darren Rowse, wrote about the writing style of bloggers. He made the distinction between writing as an expert and writing as someone who is learning with the reader. [...]