How to Identify an Expert on the Internet
“You can be anybody on the Internet!”
We’ve talked about this before on a previous blog post, about how the Internet is growing all kinds of experts. I’ve worked online since 2004 and have witnessed a number of great people gradually become the true experts in their field. I’ve also watched a few people try to become experts and, if they are good salespeople, they can trick people into thinking that they are indeed an expert.
You see, it is really a lot of hard work to become an expert, as Malcom Gladwell states in his bestselling book, The Outliers. Malcolm has calculated that it takes at least 10,000 hours devoted to one topic to become an expert. To put this in perspective, if you worked 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for 50 weeks per year, that’s only 2,000 hours. So, at best, if you really crammed and worked overtime, you might be able to crank-out 3000 hours per year. You still need at least 3 years of overtime, nights and weekends, to achieve the expert level of experience.
But, if you ask the Internet, apparently there are now quicker ways to become the expert, or at least appear to. Anyone can write their own blog and get a book published these days – anyone. (Always wanted to publish a book? Do it. There are publishers for everything and every level if you keep looking. Heck, you don’t even need to know how to write.) But, honestly and realistically, there is no quick way to dive deeply and thoroughly into any topic to become that expert overnight or within a month – experience just can’t be rushed.
There is SO much information out there on the interwebs these days, especially with the “real” fake-news sites, that you need to, you must, take the time to figure out if that blog/website/person that your looking at is authentic and has the right answers to your questions. Especially with gardening, doing the wrong thing in your garden can sometimes do lasting damage and ruin your outlook on gardening forever.
So, here is how you identify an expert, I’ve included some questions that you can ask yourself before you consider if the person is authentic. I don’t imagine this list isn’t complete at all, if you have another way to ID an expert, leave it below.
The definition of “authenticity” from Wikipedia:
Authenticity – of undisputed origin; genuine.
Synonyms – genuine, real, bona fide, true, veritable; legitimate, lawful, legal, valid
How to Recognize an Expert
You can’t fake passion – If she is coming out of the blue with a completely new topic all the time then she is just jumping on the next trend, and the next, and the next. Look to see if her blog/books/portfolio jump around too much and feel unfocused.
Does she stay within her area of expertise (subject-wise AND geographically?) – Does she have a number of different books published on different topics? Is she writing about gardening in different regions but has lived all her life in one state or area of the country?
Is she collecting credentials? – Look to see if she is a member of every group in the industry. No one can join every organization and still get practical work done – unless you join in name only – but I do believe organizations frown on that.
Does she jump around a lot with her job history while still claiming to be the expert? – Does she stay with one or two roles or are there a list of different jobs from different organizations but she only looks to be 30 years old? Does she specialize in chickens, grafting tomatoes, canning, year-round vegetable gardening and open, own and manage a full garden center and landscape business – and all within a couple of years? There is no time to learn anything thoroughly if you can’t stay put and learn the ropes.
Does she jump around a lot with her offers? – Does she promise to solve all your problems and plan your wedding too? You’re looking for an expert, remember.
Does she have any past work of her own to show? – If she is a gardener, does she have her own garden’s photos up on her website or blog? If she writes about miniature gardening, does she share any of her miniature gardens on her social media?
Listen to her talk. – Does she sound like she knows what she is doing or is she just filling the airwaves with the obvious? Does she sound confident? Can she articulate what you need to know? Does she explain things well? This is especially important if you are paying for services. I hired an editor through email to help me edit my first manuscript for Gardening in Miniature. When I spoke to her on the phone after the contract was signed, I was extremely disappointed in her lack of expertise and confidence. Needless to say she couldn’t complete the job and passed it back to me after sitting on it for 6 months (then she went and published her own book on miniature gardens a couple of years later, believe it or not.)
Does she change business names a lot? And have more than several business names that she uses? I understand the need to reinvent oneself, but to have a long list of business names to hide under, you know she is not authentic and looking for that shiny bullet for her success.
And the kicker: she could just be a good salesperson and she knows which buttons to push to get you to buy into her game. Marketing and selling is actually a formula that has phycological triggers that can be used to lure you into buying if you aren’t careful.
UPDATE: An insightful example: My cousin has worked for the Yamaha Corporation in their drum department for over 26 years now. He has the constant challenge of getting celebrity drummers to endorse drums for Yamaha and he has noticed that the most talented drummers are not interested in marketing themselves – they just want to play drums. It’s the less-talented drummers that shine at the marketing themselves and thus get all the attention. After hearing this, I’ve noticed it across many industries – the most creative people are busy claiming their gifts and creating original work.
So next time you are in need of some expert information, use your intuition and do some quick Googling around with the above list to see if they have any experience logged anywhere to back up who she claims to be.
Then, if you’ve figured out that they are genuine and you like them – bookmark them in your browser as one to go to for the right answers. Maybe if we keep patronizing the real experts, the fake ones will move along and go after the next “shiny thing.”
End of rant. Stay real.