Thursday, May 12, 2011

Expertise & Ethics - Where Do We Draw The Line?

Yesterday a fellow colleague shared an enlightening story with me about a consultant who touts herself as a social media 'expert'. The reason this person uses the word 'expert' when describing herself is that a national media publication bestowed her the title of social media 'expert'. Ok, I can buy that...until I read her articles touting her social media knowledge. She got her facts wrong - glaringly wrong.

I don't claim expertise or perfection as an Internet marketing consultant and copywriter, but I can admit when I make a mistake. Last week I was called on the carpet about misinformation I posted on my blog, which I immediately followed up with a correction. I do my best to present correct facts so I dug around and conducted further research. This was a good lesson for me, and reminded me that business professionals actually READ my words (which is a good thing). 

In the case of this social media expert, she presented confusing and misleading social media information that was way off base. She was steering business professionals down the wrong path which could negatively impact their marketing strategies - and ultimately, their bottom line (not good). 

Where does that leave you, the reader, when shifting and sorting out information? Reader beware? I'm not downplaying the ethical industry professionals out there. There are amazing consultants who write stellar industry articles packed with meaty information. However, slapping on the title of 'expert' next to your name doesn't make it so. 

The Internet has blurred the ethical lines of fact versus fiction. Expert is an overused word in the professional world and people have grown wary of the 'e' word. By the valuable information you present, you set yourself up for success. As a result, your industry knowledge speaks volumes about your brand. You want people to trust and respect you, but you don't earn that trust by screaming to the world that you're an expert. You have to earn that trust, and you have a responsibility to your readers to present well-researched, factual information (as I was reminded last week by my blog readers).

If you have an online business presence, your reputation management needs to be a top priority and word-of-mouth travels fast! Before you add the word 'expert' to your LinkedIn profile or business card, you might want to think twice and consider a different word. 


  1. Hey Therese-

    You're talking about Kristina Jaramillo and her husband, Eric Gruber, no doubt? Yeah this bugs me too. Kristina has taken to the extreme the maxim, "You're more of an expert when someone else says so". I don't want to slam her in this forum, as I know she is committed to what she does, but...people! None of us are really experts. Just because you might study rock formations ad nauseum, and you know more about it than anyone else in your social circle, does not an expert make.

    According to WIkipedia an expert is "widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or skill" and has a "faculty for judging or deciding rightly, justly, or wisely" as accorded by "the authority and status of their peers or the public in a specific well-distinguished domain." An expert is also some with "extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation and in a particular area of study." Experts become so by "virtue of credential, training, education, profession, publication or experience, believed to have special knowledge of a subject beyond that of the average person, sufficient that others may officially (and legally) rely upon the individual's opinion." Finally, "Experts have a prolonged or intense experience through practice and education in a particular field. In this respect, a shepherd with 50 years of experience tending flocks would be widely recognized as having complete expertise in the use and training of sheep dogs and the care of sheep. Another example from computer science is that an expert system may be taught by a human and thereafter considered an expert, often outperforming human beings at particular tasks."

    Sorry, may be dedicated to your craft, but you're not an expert any more than I am or Therese is, even if some yutz from the NYT called you an expert simply because he hasn't completed proper fact checking.

  2. Thanks for your feedback, Victoria. I think it's dangerous to use the word 'expert' as loosely as most people do. Also, it's easy to throw the word 'expert' at the media to get them to bite. As I pointed out in my post, just because someone says you're an expert it doesn't make it true. It is unethical to post information that is clearly false (without doing further research). I've been called on the carpet as I should have been. People need to be more responsible for the information they post online - the main point behind my post.

    Thanks for sharing, Victoria!


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