If you want to be perceived as an expert, act like the true experts act.

One of the essential strategies of new media marketing is to position yourself as an expert on your topic. You can do this via a variety of methods: publishing articles, blogging, creating and posting video tutorials, podcasts or talk radio, webinars and so on.

But one of the easiest and still most effective is by participating in a group. This can be a group within a modern social networking site like Facebook or MySpace, or it can be a community built on technologies that have been around for years, like Yahoo! Groups, Google Groups (the modern incarnation of Usenet), discussion forums or e-mail discussion lists. Let’s be perfectly clear that “new media” strategies can be applied to media that is “old”, at least in internet time.

One of the things that I’ve been studying closely over the past five years is how exactly “real” experts behave in these settings. And when I say “real” experts, I mean the ones who have published books, speak at conferences, have peer-reviewed papers in trade journals, and so on. Are they necessarily the most knowledgeable on the topic? No. But they have the best reputations and are generally far more financially successful than the “wanna-be” experts.

You know the wanna-be expert… you’ve seen them. They always have an opinion about everything posted in the group. They’ll ramble on for paragraph after paragraph, making their case ad nauseam. And it seems that whenever there’s a flame war, they’re right in the middle of it, even if it doesn’t look like they started it.

If you want to be perceived as a real expert, not a wanna-be, you need to act like a real expert, not a wanna-be.

So how do real experts act?

In order to understand how real experts act, let’s look first at two key attributes of experts:

  1. They’re busy. They’re working — writing, traveling, speaking, consulting for a client, whatever… Point is, they have better things to do with their time than spend all day in a discussion forum.

  2. They’re extremely careful about what they say. They know that people are paying attention to them, and that has two consequences. First of all, they know that their reputation is on the line every time they open their mouth — that everything they say will be subject to scrutiny. Secondly, they also know that people will put a lot of weight into what they say and probably act upon it, so they feel a strong sense of responsibility to provide good information.

When you understand those things, it’s easy to see why experts behave as they do in this context:

  • Experts post less frequently. They aren’t usually heavily, heavily engaged in the group unless it’s their own group or they have some kind of leadership role. Depending on the overall posting volume, anywhere from a couple of posts a week to just a couple per month is sufficient to keep their name out there.

  • Experts aren’t quick to reply. They usually aren’t the first ones to join in the conversation. Remember, they’re not sitting there watching for posts as they come in — they may only even read the group posts once or twice a week. Also, they read and reflect on the reactions of others before posting their own thoughts.
  • Experts consolidate the conversation, not fragment it. There’s a tendency in active groups for conversations to “fragment”, i.e., multiple people reply to the original post, then people create replies to the replies, and so on. Experts don’t typically reply to people individually, but rather create a single, longer post that addresses what several people have said all at once.
  • Experts substantiate what they say. Experts are researchers. Sure, they have opinions, but most of them didn’t earn their reputations based purely on their opinions. So when they make statements in these groups, they often back it up by citing sources, whether it’s something they’ve written themselves or that someone else wrote. It’s especially helpful if you link to the sources you’re citing. And if it’s yourself, that’s a great promotional tool at the same time.
  • Experts keep it professional. They certainly don’t participate in flame wars, and they rarely bring their personal issues into the group.

    Contrary to popular opinion, effective marketing in forums and discussion lists is not about volume, it’s about presence and positioning. Act like a real expert, not a wanna-be, and you will attract more business.

Scott Allen helps people turn virtual relationships into real business. He is coauthor of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online, an A-list blogger as the Entrepreneurs Guide for About.com, and a monthly columnist for FastCompany.com. He runs his latest project, Revenue River, on the BLOG i360 New Media Marketing system.
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