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Understanding and Articulating Your Expertise
Many subject-matter experts are now expected to share their expertise and opinions with their audience via social media. This is done with a view to building a relationship with people, and eventually being able to influence or persuade them. This relationship-building through sharing ideas is known as thought leadership and is a form of content marketing.
However, many subject-matter experts find it hard to identify where they can add value. We often tend to undervalue our own expertise and experience, or we take it for granted. This makes it harder to see what we know that others do not. This page explains how you can use social media to understand where you can add value, or where your expertise makes you stand out.
The first step in the process is to define your area of expertise as specifically as possible.
You may, for example, be a software engineer or a doctor. However, these are very broad descriptions. There are many, many types of software engineer, working on a huge range of software, and in different roles. Doctors also work in a wide range of specialties, and some work beyond medicine using their medical knowledge to support their ‘day job ’.
You therefore need to narrow it down.
The key is to ask a series of fairly general questions:
What is your broad job description or area of expertise? For example, software engineer, doctor.
What type of company or organisation do you work for? For example, start-up, big established company, public sector.
What is your area of specialism? For example, a particular programming language, a medical specialism, a particular type of law.
What sort of work do you do? For example, software testing, work on patient safety, general practice, or company law.
This enables you to define yourself more clearly and set out your ‘unique selling point ’.
Remember that it is hard, if not impossible, to be an expert on something that you are not working on every day.
You cannot simply ‘wish’ to be an expert on that subject: you have to be living and breathing it every day.
Case study: The Wrong Topic
Juana was a doctor, and co-founder of a small medical technology start-up. Wishing to be seen as a thought leader, she decided that her areas of expertise were entrepreneurship, technology, and how they applied in medicine. She also realised, however, that she needed help writing her articles.
Working with a freelance writer, it was agreed that her first article should be on technology adoption in medicine.
When she came to review the first draft of the article, however, Juana wasn ’t so sure.
“I like the article,” she told the writer. “It’s really interesting. I’m just not sure it’s me. I mean, I can’t exactly discuss this with authority. I just don’t know anything about it. I know about psychiatry, and medical ethics, and running this business.”
It was the wrong topic. Juana was interested in the subject and liked reading about it—but she wasn’t an expert in it.
Understanding Your Chosen Channels
Your next step is to understand your chosen channels: the ways in which you plan to engage with your audience. These are likely to be social media channels.
The best way to understand what is ‘normal’ on each channel is to follow other people who are considered experts.
If you are already on social media, you are probably already doing this. You probably follow a number of general influencers and experts in your field, simply because you are interested in what they have to say. If not, it’s time to get started.
Open an account, find experts in your field using search, and then start following them.
Remember that those that you follow don’t necessarily all have to be in your field. You can get a good feel for the social media platform by following experts or thought leaders in any field. However, to help you identify where you can add value, you should include at least some, and preferably all of those recognised as leaders in your field.
The Importance of Listening
In a conversation, we know that we have to listen as much as we speak—and preferably more.
It is the same on social media. Spending time ‘listening ’ to what others are saying is the best way to find out more about what is current in your topic. It is also a very good way to find out what is ‘normal’ and ‘good practice’ on your chosen channels.
Just stay quiet, watch and listen—at least half the time, and preferably two-thirds or more.
There is more about the importance of listening in our pages on Listening Skills.
Make a conscious effort to monitor what your experts and influencers do on social media. Consider in particular:
How often do they engage with their audience?
What type of things do they do and say, and how do other people respond?
What is the balance between proactive (new posts or sharing content) and reactive (comments or reactions to comments) engagement?
Which posts, comments and content generally get the most interaction? Can you see any pattern to this?
Who else do your experts engage with?
By the time that you have spent a few weeks doing this, you will have a very good idea of what is normal on that platform, and what constitutes best practice.
At the same time, you should also have a much better feel for the topics being discussed in your broad field of expertise. This will show you where your expertise may make a difference.
For more about this, you may want to read our page on Gathering Information for Competitive Intelligence.
Deciding Whether and How to Engage
You should, by now, be clear that you have expertise that others might find interesting and useful. You have also listened to the market, and you should therefore understand where your expertise makes a difference.
The final step is to decide if you want to be visible—and therefore start to engage with your chosen audience—or just build this knowledge into your personal development plan.
This is very much a personal decision, and it may also change over time. Many people find that they start by reading other people’s posts, then want to respond and comment, then move on to sharing interesting content, and finally, to creating their own. There is, after all, no rush. You want to be sure that you are an expert on the platform as well as the topic before you launch in.
About the Author
Puni Rajah, Managing Partner at Six Revolutions
Puni Rajah is a researcher, analyst, consultant and coach. Markets are moving fast. Conventional approaches to intelligence, strategy, planning and enablement cannot keep pace. High performance teams shorten cycle times by using digital channels and social skills. They listen to customers more effectively, and engage more meaningfully.
Puniuses her expertise and experience to coach individuals and teams. Her clients are typically leaders in their industries, and early to transform. Her coaching candidates aspire to improve their understanding of customer priorities, anticipate needs and wants and tell better stories.