Expertise and Authority 2.0

Jeff Atwood is a self-proclaimed amateur:

“It troubles me greatly to hear that people see me as an expert or an authority, and not a fellow amateur.”

“There is absolutely no reason any of you should listen to me.

But somehow, I have 75,000 RSS subscribers and over 50,000 page views/day.”

Assuming a moderate amount of overlap, there are probably 100,000 people reading and listening to Jeff every day. If you had 100,000 people listening to him speaking out a window, you’d call it a successful rally.

Blogger or Dictator?

I don’t really think Jeff Atwood is an Italian dictator.

Jeff is, however, an authority. When Jeff gives advice like “Don’t Go Dark,” thousands of people are likely to follow that advice.

Wikipedia has been the biggest source of contention on what makes an “expert” or “authority.” Does someone with 10,000 edits have more say than someone with a PhD? If the article is about medicine, probably not, but if it’s about social networking or wikis, experience and research can both bring value.

Technorati defines your “authority” as the number of blogs linking back to you in the past six months. Twitter proudly displays your number of followers. LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace all tell you how large your network is, and want you to make it bigger.

Do 9000 people follow @chrisbrogan because he’s an authority, or do people consider him an authority because he has 9000 followers?

My wishy-washy answer is, of course, “both.” Chris and Jeff Atwood both produce intelligent, well-written material and provide valuable perspectives. Chris is an experienced marketer and Jeff an experienced programmer. But consistently large audiences make both authoritative. After all, why would so many people listen if they didn’t know what they were talking about?

Humans are social animals. We’re not particularly strong, or fast, but we are very good at forming groups and working together. When we see something or someone that is valued by a large group, we attribute value to it.

Don’t believe me? Fine, then explain why Paris Hilton is famous.

**Authority does not make you an expert, but expertise can help you gain authority. **You get followers on Twitter by sharing good links and starting good discussions; you get readers and subscribers by producing quality content and offering something of value.

Then something happens: followers retweet you, readers send links, bloggers write about you, friends-of-friends friend you. Your audience reaches a point where it begins to grow by itself. That audience makes you more authoritative to new readers, new followers. They jump on your bandwagon. It’s the same reason you see “Best Seller” on book covers.

So is Jeff Atwood an expert? As much as anyone in his field. An authority? Definitely.