Fortunately, as we consider the potential shortages that could develop in the digital age, information is not at risk. On the other hand, reliable information from authoritative sources may be endangered. When everyone has a platform to share their opinion, how do you know who to listen to?
Expertise is generally considered to be solid if it is credentialed, gained through experience, or a combination of both; yet anyone can create a compelling YouTube video, fire off a social media post, or write a blog while lacking the background to be reliable. While some consumers of digital media are less interested in qualifications, there are more discerning and information literate readers who will want to know why you’re an opinion leader they should respect on a given subject.
Establish Your Credentials
First things first- make it clear to your readers that you’re someone who knows what they’re talking about. This can be a delicate balance of establishing credibility without beating your chest or sounding arrogant. Unfortunately, a decent writer can spin content that sounds reasonably authoritative, but may be in danger of unintentionally spreading misinformation, so consider how to establish your trustworthiness with your audience early.
For example, this article’s subject is about establishing oneself as a credible authority on one’s subject. My industry background centralizes around helping professionals reach their audience as a voice of authority on their subject. I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree from the University of Michigan-Flint in 2005; my major was English. I then worked as a contract public health communications specialist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases from 2005 until 2016. While on assignment, I launched the Institute’s social media efforts and became NIAID’s social media strategist. Since then, I’ve worked at other Institutes as a public health communications official, before returning to the private sector where I consulted for a global technology firm and a major bank as their communications lead.
My education and years of experience, including spearheading NIAID’s social media efforts, provide me with the opportunity to say that I do know what I’m talking about. Although typically you won’t present those credentials in the body of the article itself, you can provide abbreviated details in an author byline link or establish a landing page for yourself on a website. Developing your own blog can also establish your position as a thought leader and provide content for others to quote and link back to.
How Much Technical Knowledge Do You Need to Blog?
That’s going to depend on the platform you choose to blog on. If you or your organization already has a platform in place, you may simply need to write the article and provide it to your digital communications team to post. If you’re doing things on your own, you may want to find WordPress hosting which provides a stable back end for your content. Although the platform is fairly intuitive, you should have some basic familiarity with WordPress to get started; the service was originally a blog-publishing system, but has grown to support other web content over the years.
Speak on Timely Issues
As events occur in the world that coincide with your expertise, this provides an opportunity to be heard. For example, if you’re a cyber security expert and a government agency has been hacked, it’d be a good time for you to speak on the subject, provided you know the facts and understand the situation. To the extent that you know something, speak in that area. Avoid speculation, but a well-informed opinion could be of value. Make sure that you cite other website’s for statistics, quotes, and specific information to further establish credibility.
Speaking on timely issues may be blogging on your own site, making guest contributions to other pages, or providing expert testimony to local media. Although the latter can be a challenge, there are services such as HARO that make it a bit easier to connect with journalists who may value your expertise.
Stay Mostly in Your Lane
People want to hear what you have to say when you’re a respected source of information, however, too often educated professionals believe that they’re qualified to speak outside of their area of expertise. If you have some background that justifies your input, it may be okay to stray away from your primary subject from time to time. It’s also occasionally okay to share personal stories and experiences that could perhaps indirectly connect to your subject, if what you’re sharing helps you to connect with your audience.
However, generally speaking, it can be a tricky thing to opine beyond too often and too far from your expertise. Doing so can cause you to share unintentional misinformation and reduce your credibility with your readers and within your industry.
Find Your Voice
Know your audience as you write, blog, and provide sound bytes. If you’re an authority on a subject and you’re blogging primarily for a professional audience, try to keep your tone professional in nature. If you’re sharing information for the general public, you may wish to soften your writing and be a bit more casual. In general and professional settings, it can be okay to provide a mixture of casual and professional, once more depending on your audience. Tools like Grammarly can be handy, not only for proofing your material, but also evaluating the tone and intent of your article.
Not sure what the right balance is? Try reading other blogs in your industry and trade. Focus on those voices that you yourself respect. When you find a voice that you think suits your needs, I wouldn’t say adopt it wholesale. As a writer, you’ll need to find what works best for you. But reading other blogs can help you determine an appropriate baseline for how to communicate with this particular blog you’re setting up for yourself.
Remember: a blog is neither a medical journal nor a diary. Striking the proper balance can be difficult, but will ultimately help you accomplish your goal. Once you’ve established your audience, you can even make money with your blog.
Always be Factual
It should go without saying that being factual is vitally important. The quickest way to lose your audience is to make them feel that you’re unreliable, or worse, that they’ve been conned. Yet, there are professionals, celebrities, and politicians who brainstorm in front of the public and, while speaking off the cuff, share ill-informed information. Sometimes doing so is amusing; other times, it can be dangerous, especially in the areas of public health and safety.
If you don’t know something for certain, there’s no reason to make a claim in a blog, especially since most facts and data of that nature can be easily researched. If you do make a claim that could be questioned, it’s always in your best interest to cite your sources and be sure those sources provide evidence-based data and information.
Shawn Humphrey is the former social media manager for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a technical writer for banks and tech firms, and part of the content team at Magnus Opus. He’s currently working on his second novel and enjoys singing soul music and visiting his son.