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What is Authority?

You might have seen already that I encourage people to be Authority Bloggers. To demonstrate your expertise and knowledge, build profile, credibility, and trust. A question that comes up a lot is how do you know when you get there? What tells you that you have achieved Authority status?

I see authority as a journey, a continuous process. There is no end point. In fact, if you stop working towards it, or feel like you have “done enough”, that is when you are most likely to lose it.

Authority for me is a combination of the following three factors. Please do supply your own definition, I am interested in hearing your point of view.
Authority Factors

  1. Personality – This is probably the most controversial factor so I put it first. I believe personality is an important component because to gain authority you need to be able to communicate, network and encourage a loyal audience. Yes, if you can prove a massive amount of expertise despite a lousy personality you might still succeed, but I think people with open and friendly personalities have an easier time.
  2. Expertise – With the other two traits you will have the capacity to succeed, you only have to look at television personalities and the celebrities that are hounded by paparazzi. With expertise, experience, knowledge or talent though you have the capability to go beyond “famous for being famous”. Expertise is a draw, it pulls people in. Expertise serves a need. Combined with personality so you can explain things in an entertaining, beneficial way, you are golden.
  3. Visibility – With the other two factors in your favor you should be well placed to develop visibility. By visibility I just mean getting noticed and building an audience. Probably the main difference between success and failure is the amount of attention you get. Of course, attention without substance is no use, so you must have the other two factors to back it up.

All three factors are used in combination.

For example to succeed in networking you need to have a friendly personality, be interesting to talk to (expertise?) and it always helps if people have heard of you.

Especially when starting out you have to build each:

  • Work on developing your “voice”, your writing and communication style.
  • Blog, comment, link, guest post, contribute to forums, Twitter, network, IM, and any other way you can think of to get known.
  • Of course always make sure you are up on the news and techniques of your niche.

Do you think this definition of authority works for you? Let me know your thoughts on authority in the comments …

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Comments

  1. Something that “expertise” covers but you haven’t explicitly stated is “proven credibility”, and that’s a big one for me. You can tell the difference between people who might sound like they know what they’re banging on about and sometimes you have to listen for a while … but eventually you realise they’re just making it up as they go; they contradict themselves, they’re offering opinions that differ from the majority and lack a solid argument. If you don’t have credibility you don’t have authority (IMHO).

  2. Something that “expertise” covers but you haven’t explicitly stated is “proven credibility”, and that’s a big one for me. You can tell the difference between people who might sound like they know what they’re banging on about and sometimes you have to listen for a while … but eventually you realise they’re just making it up as they go; they contradict themselves, they’re offering opinions that differ from the majority and lack a solid argument. If you don’t have credibility you don’t have authority (IMHO).

  3. Agreed but I think credibility has to be gained over time. As you say, people can make snap judgments to determine credibility but you have to put time in to gain credibility and the other factors work towards that.

    The opinions that differ example is an interesting one, sometimes by going against the “accepted wisdom” you can show greater credibility, providing, as you said, you have a solid argument.

  4. Agreed but I think credibility has to be gained over time. As you say, people can make snap judgments to determine credibility but you have to put time in to gain credibility and the other factors work towards that.

    The opinions that differ example is an interesting one, sometimes by going against the “accepted wisdom” you can show greater credibility, providing, as you said, you have a solid argument.

  5. Yes but you would need a more “solid” argument (evidence-based?) if you choose to go against the accepted paradigm on a topic .. but yes credibility is earned, just like in my book respect must be earned otherwise you’re just assigning it to someone without cause or reason and the value of it is then diminished.

    If you want to talk to me about hiking, I’m going to really listen to you if you’ve been to the South Pole and back.

    If you want to talk to me about successful business then you better have been significantly involved in a successful business.

    If you want to talk to me about cooking, show me the cookies!

  6. Yes but you would need a more “solid” argument (evidence-based?) if you choose to go against the accepted paradigm on a topic .. but yes credibility is earned, just like in my book respect must be earned otherwise you’re just assigning it to someone without cause or reason and the value of it is then diminished.

    If you want to talk to me about hiking, I’m going to really listen to you if you’ve been to the South Pole and back.

    If you want to talk to me about successful business then you better have been significantly involved in a successful business.

    If you want to talk to me about cooking, show me the cookies!

  7. I agree with your choice to put personality first. I consistently find myself returning to blogs whose authors seem to be engaging, funny people who I’d enjoy having a drink with.

    There are other bloggers — of undoubted expertise — who I don’t read often, simply because their personality doesn’t appeal.

    One other thing I’d add; the ability to write clearly and accurately, with a certain flair, is a big factor in my choice of blogs to read.

  8. I agree with your choice to put personality first. I consistently find myself returning to blogs whose authors seem to be engaging, funny people who I’d enjoy having a drink with.

    There are other bloggers — of undoubted expertise — who I don’t read often, simply because their personality doesn’t appeal.

    One other thing I’d add; the ability to write clearly and accurately, with a certain flair, is a big factor in my choice of blogs to read.

  9. Are you talking about Technorati Authority? It looks very similar to their term…

  10. Are you talking about Technorati Authority? It looks very similar to their term…

  11. @NathanaelB – Agreed, credibility and respect are earned slowly, shouldn’t just be assigned without reason, and can be lost in a blink of an eye.

    @Tuppy – Writing and communicating I put under personality but they are critical. You could have the best ideas in the world but if you can’t communicate you will have a hard time convincing anyone.

    @Michael – No, not Technoratis metric, but authority in a deeper sense.

  12. @NathanaelB – Agreed, credibility and respect are earned slowly, shouldn’t just be assigned without reason, and can be lost in a blink of an eye.

    @Tuppy – Writing and communicating I put under personality but they are critical. You could have the best ideas in the world but if you can’t communicate you will have a hard time convincing anyone.

    @Michael – No, not Technoratis metric, but authority in a deeper sense.

  13. A very thought provoking post Chis. Authority is power… and power – if we want to get philosophical power is money, time and energy…

    Visibility, expertise and personality all increase with money, time and energy so I give your theory the thumbs up.

    I was about get into a very confusing loop there!

  14. A very thought provoking post Chis. Authority is power… and power – if we want to get philosophical power is money, time and energy…

    Visibility, expertise and personality all increase with money, time and energy so I give your theory the thumbs up.

    I was about get into a very confusing loop there!

  15. one thing that has always come to my mind when working on building an authority is experience..

    in one way it can be merged with expertise… but don’t most people cast doubtful eyes if you happen to be inexperienced in the field even if your knowledge is let’s say above par…

  16. one thing that has always come to my mind when working on building an authority is experience..

    in one way it can be merged with expertise… but don’t most people cast doubtful eyes if you happen to be inexperienced in the field even if your knowledge is let’s say above par…

  17. This is a great post. I think we live in a society that values visibility and personality over expertise. In my opinion, this explains the tabloid-ization of our news cycle. Really, who cares what Ms. Hilton thinks says or does? But she is ubiquitous. She has nothing valuable to contribute, but she does have visibility and personality.

  18. This is a great post. I think we live in a society that values visibility and personality over expertise. In my opinion, this explains the tabloid-ization of our news cycle. Really, who cares what Ms. Hilton thinks says or does? But she is ubiquitous. She has nothing valuable to contribute, but she does have visibility and personality.

  19. What’s also important to me, within the Personality sphere, is Authenticity. By that I mean the willingness to put being human right up there with your expertise. It might mean saying “I just don’t know” (and of course “I’ll go find out and get back to you”), it might mean disclosing “my parent just died, I’m taking a grieving break and not posting this week” or it might mean admitting “I’m an expert in the work/life balance arena but I too am continuing to work on mastering it.” I keep returning to blogs, sites, businesses (no matter how technical) where I see evidence of authenticity…like I see here.

  20. What’s also important to me, within the Personality sphere, is Authenticity. By that I mean the willingness to put being human right up there with your expertise. It might mean saying “I just don’t know” (and of course “I’ll go find out and get back to you”), it might mean disclosing “my parent just died, I’m taking a grieving break and not posting this week” or it might mean admitting “I’m an expert in the work/life balance arena but I too am continuing to work on mastering it.” I keep returning to blogs, sites, businesses (no matter how technical) where I see evidence of authenticity…like I see here.

  21. @Maneesh You’re talking about Academic vs Practical expertise? Yes, I rate practical over academic any day. I know this is a little OT, but I’d recruit someone who’s been working in web development for a year over someone who’s studied computer science and programming at uni for 4 years. Real-world expertise.

  22. @Maneesh You’re talking about Academic vs Practical expertise? Yes, I rate practical over academic any day. I know this is a little OT, but I’d recruit someone who’s been working in web development for a year over someone who’s studied computer science and programming at uni for 4 years. Real-world expertise.

  23. Wow, this is a great discussion. I think that ideally a combination of expertise, personality and the ability to teach in an easy to understand way would be some of the most important factors. However, I have seen plenty of people gain a huge following (seemingly a sign of authority) who have little to zero experience in the field they write about. I think the key reason that they succeed is their confidence. They come across so confidently that people run to them for advice. When people see confidence we tend to think, “Wow, he/she is so sure of himself/herself that they most know what they are talking about.” Some people have built big followings this way and even when someone calls them out as a fraud their “fans” won’t believe it. They became an authority by saying they are an authority and doing so with confidence. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. That’s why I think confidence has to play a role.

  24. Wow, this is a great discussion. I think that ideally a combination of expertise, personality and the ability to teach in an easy to understand way would be some of the most important factors. However, I have seen plenty of people gain a huge following (seemingly a sign of authority) who have little to zero experience in the field they write about. I think the key reason that they succeed is their confidence. They come across so confidently that people run to them for advice. When people see confidence we tend to think, “Wow, he/she is so sure of himself/herself that they most know what they are talking about.” Some people have built big followings this way and even when someone calls them out as a fraud their “fans” won’t believe it. They became an authority by saying they are an authority and doing so with confidence. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. That’s why I think confidence has to play a role.

  25. Another good post. This blog has given me great tips to help my company set up a blog, and more importantly, by into the concept of blogging.

    Personality (or writing style) is the most important concept for me. Most people don’t like to be preached to or have the author talk down to them. I think people will subscribe to a blog if they feel comfortable with that author’s style (personality).

    The other nice benefit of having a nice personality is that your audience will forgive and educate you if you miss the point of a topic or don’t fully understand it. If you talk down to your audience, they’ll attack you when you make a mistake.

    Reading a blog is like attending a class. If you feel comfortable with the teacher’s style and you are learning, you will attend that class. You are willing to comment and share your ideas.

    If the teacher has no personality, you’ll attend that class if it is required but I doubt class participation will be as free and open as other classes. If the class is an elective, I’m sure you’ll drop that class quickly.

    Another important concept – always respect your audience.

  26. Another good post. This blog has given me great tips to help my company set up a blog, and more importantly, by into the concept of blogging.

    Personality (or writing style) is the most important concept for me. Most people don’t like to be preached to or have the author talk down to them. I think people will subscribe to a blog if they feel comfortable with that author’s style (personality).

    The other nice benefit of having a nice personality is that your audience will forgive and educate you if you miss the point of a topic or don’t fully understand it. If you talk down to your audience, they’ll attack you when you make a mistake.

    Reading a blog is like attending a class. If you feel comfortable with the teacher’s style and you are learning, you will attend that class. You are willing to comment and share your ideas.

    If the teacher has no personality, you’ll attend that class if it is required but I doubt class participation will be as free and open as other classes. If the class is an elective, I’m sure you’ll drop that class quickly.

    Another important concept – always respect your audience.

  27. Aurelius Tjin says:

    I agree with you.

    If you want to maintain an active network be engaged. Don’t be passive, try to be as interactive as possible. And you shall see the results. :)

  28. I agree with you.

    If you want to maintain an active network be engaged. Don’t be passive, try to be as interactive as possible. And you shall see the results. :)

  29. I have to agree with George concerning confidence but it falls under personality. In a perfect scenario it is built through expertise. The more deeply you know and understand your topic the more confidence you have in discussing it.

    great post Chris, again.

  30. I have to agree with George concerning confidence but it falls under personality. In a perfect scenario it is built through expertise. The more deeply you know and understand your topic the more confidence you have in discussing it.

    great post Chris, again.

  31. There are frauds and there are “frauds” (good people whom critics make out to be evil). Sometimes the effect is of greater value than fact :) Especially people who are trailblazing into unknown territories in science and discovery have to go out on a limb, and they can’t inspire confidence if they’re constantly saying “Well to be honest, I really have no idea what I’m doing”. I don’t condone outright lying, but I’m just saying that there are different factors to take into account when we’re talking about confidence and trust-inspiring authority.

  32. There are frauds and there are “frauds” (good people whom critics make out to be evil). Sometimes the effect is of greater value than fact :) Especially people who are trailblazing into unknown territories in science and discovery have to go out on a limb, and they can’t inspire confidence if they’re constantly saying “Well to be honest, I really have no idea what I’m doing”. I don’t condone outright lying, but I’m just saying that there are different factors to take into account when we’re talking about confidence and trust-inspiring authority.

  33. Hello Chris:

    Christine and George’s comments suggest that expertise has both an external aspect (being respected by others as an expert) and an internal aspect (knowing that you have a body of knowledge). The internal aspect is more than simply being confident. Self knowledge has to be rooted in facts. I for one would never allow a super confident person who had never flown a plane before to take me for a flight :) .

  34. Hello Chris:

    Christine and George’s comments suggest that expertise has both an external aspect (being respected by others as an expert) and an internal aspect (knowing that you have a body of knowledge). The internal aspect is more than simply being confident. Self knowledge has to be rooted in facts. I for one would never allow a super confident person who had never flown a plane before to take me for a flight :) .

  35. @Matt – It is funny how each element compliments and builds the others isn’t it?

    @maneesh – Yes, it is often the case that talented young people can be overlooked because the perception is they have insufficient experience. The thing to do is to gain and demonstrate experience up to the level of your expertise I guess.

    @Advice Network – We seem to live in a tabloid culture now. Often it is the loudest amongst us who get noticed rather than those with the best ideas!

    @Erica – Authenticity is definitely a good trait, because as you say, regardless of technology, it is the connections we make with people that have the deepest impact. Much as there will always be people who twist your words or misrepresent, I think if you speak from the heart then most people will respond to that.

    @NathanaelB – Practical experience tends to trump theoretical knowledge, I always recommend anyone following an academic route to make sure they gain as much genuine hands on experience as possible to match what they are learning.

    @George – Indeed, I guess it comes down to the source of their confidence? In most cases we can tell when someone is sure, or if they are faking. I used to have a boss that would repeat verbatim what I had said at previous meetings on similar topics, the only problem came when he had to expand on the anecdotes he would bluster. My Dad taught me that people leak details when they talk, they either leak the truth or leak that they are faking, and we can usually tell which given time :)

    @alan – Absolutely, especially your last point of respecting your audience. In many cases there will be people in your audience that know so much that could help everyone involved it is so worth listening. It’s a shame when people close off to the comments or ignore feedback, we can all learn from each other.

    @Aurelius – Oh yes, networking means actually growing with your network and staying connected. It’s so easy to think that it’s just collecting addresses :)

    @Christine – I agree, while there are people who will talk about stuff without having a clue, I think most of us like to be sure first :)

    @NathanaelB – Yeah, you can still write about something you don’t know and not be a fraud. I think it is good when people are honest that they are not fully confident but say “I am learning this and this is what I understand” and are open to feedback :)

    @Galba – I guess with your pilot example there is also external verification as well as external respect. They are either qualified or not. Most cases though we have to base on instinct, for example there is no government accredited blogger qualification :)

  36. @Matt – It is funny how each element compliments and builds the others isn’t it?

    @maneesh – Yes, it is often the case that talented young people can be overlooked because the perception is they have insufficient experience. The thing to do is to gain and demonstrate experience up to the level of your expertise I guess.

    @Advice Network – We seem to live in a tabloid culture now. Often it is the loudest amongst us who get noticed rather than those with the best ideas!

    @Erica – Authenticity is definitely a good trait, because as you say, regardless of technology, it is the connections we make with people that have the deepest impact. Much as there will always be people who twist your words or misrepresent, I think if you speak from the heart then most people will respond to that.

    @NathanaelB – Practical experience tends to trump theoretical knowledge, I always recommend anyone following an academic route to make sure they gain as much genuine hands on experience as possible to match what they are learning.

    @George – Indeed, I guess it comes down to the source of their confidence? In most cases we can tell when someone is sure, or if they are faking. I used to have a boss that would repeat verbatim what I had said at previous meetings on similar topics, the only problem came when he had to expand on the anecdotes he would bluster. My Dad taught me that people leak details when they talk, they either leak the truth or leak that they are faking, and we can usually tell which given time :)

    @alan – Absolutely, especially your last point of respecting your audience. In many cases there will be people in your audience that know so much that could help everyone involved it is so worth listening. It’s a shame when people close off to the comments or ignore feedback, we can all learn from each other.

    @Aurelius – Oh yes, networking means actually growing with your network and staying connected. It’s so easy to think that it’s just collecting addresses :)

    @Christine – I agree, while there are people who will talk about stuff without having a clue, I think most of us like to be sure first :)

    @NathanaelB – Yeah, you can still write about something you don’t know and not be a fraud. I think it is good when people are honest that they are not fully confident but say “I am learning this and this is what I understand” and are open to feedback :)

    @Galba – I guess with your pilot example there is also external verification as well as external respect. They are either qualified or not. Most cases though we have to base on instinct, for example there is no government accredited blogger qualification :)

  37. How you go about asking a blogger to let you guest post? Do you just flat out ask them out of the blue?

  38. How you go about asking a blogger to let you guest post? Do you just flat out ask them out of the blue?

  39. Thanks Chris:

    Yours is a fair comment.

  40. Thanks Chris:

    Yours is a fair comment.

  41. @Mosley – Let people on your own blog know you are available for guest posting, find bloggers who put calls out for guest posters or as you say, ask them.

    @Galba – Thanks :)

  42. @Mosley – Let people on your own blog know you are available for guest posting, find bloggers who put calls out for guest posters or as you say, ask them.

    @Galba – Thanks :)

  43. It is interesting you posted what you considered the three factors for authority. I liked your diagram. I don’t know so much about it because I only have a Technorati authority of 25. LOL

    Neverless, it is a good question. Consider Yaro Stark or Darren Rowse, both well respective names in the problogger field but do I even care to visit them anymore. Not really. I actually have broaden my horizon and found so much more information than the “leading experts” who seems to be claimed as an authority on blogging have provided.

    I think Authority is just another term for saying you have an ego.

  44. It is interesting you posted what you considered the three factors for authority. I liked your diagram. I don’t know so much about it because I only have a Technorati authority of 25. LOL

    Neverless, it is a good question. Consider Yaro Stark or Darren Rowse, both well respective names in the problogger field but do I even care to visit them anymore. Not really. I actually have broaden my horizon and found so much more information than the “leading experts” who seems to be claimed as an authority on blogging have provided.

    I think Authority is just another term for saying you have an ego.

  45. @Mark – I wouldn’t say ego; but certainly one has to have *confidence* in their abilities and knowledge in order to gain and maintain a status of authority in their field. Perhaps it’s something they actively seek either driven by their ego or for the betterment of their field or industry and sometimes they’re put there by others … but I don’t agree that authority==ego.

  46. @Mark – I wouldn’t say ego; but certainly one has to have *confidence* in their abilities and knowledge in order to gain and maintain a status of authority in their field. Perhaps it’s something they actively seek either driven by their ego or for the betterment of their field or industry and sometimes they’re put there by others … but I don’t agree that authority==ego.

  47. This is a great post. I came across this from some Copyblogger link love. This fits my niche in real estate perfectly. It is exactly what I am striving for. But I never really thought about it in a structured fashion. Having your article in my mind helps me with each post I write remember that I need to have those 3 qualities in each post to gain the authority I want. Thanks for helping my mind work better on this concept.

  48. This is a great post. I came across this from some Copyblogger link love. This fits my niche in real estate perfectly. It is exactly what I am striving for. But I never really thought about it in a structured fashion. Having your article in my mind helps me with each post I write remember that I need to have those 3 qualities in each post to gain the authority I want. Thanks for helping my mind work better on this concept.

  49. Sonny Lykos says:

    I’ve been a salesman all my life, first as a salesman for a retail store of a chain, then as it’s manager, and for 35 years as a business owner – remodeling. Now I’m semiretired specializing part-time in small remodeling/repair projects and doing some consulting, plus am preparing to launch another business.

    Regardless of what I was doing as an adult, my “close ratio” was always well over 80%. As a remodeler, and semiretired remodeler, it went up to 90% +. I attribute that sales success to “personality” first. I say that because I’ve learned that one’s appearance and what comes out of his/her mouth during the first few minutes, determines if the audience has his/her attention, will listen, or turn you off. And let’s face it, regardless of our position, we are all sales people first, whether it’s selling ourselves, and idea, a product, or service.

    So for me, personality is first, followed by credibility, which is the result of “expertise.” “Visibility” becomes an opportunity, given permission, to demonstrate one’s personality and credibility.

    And as Mr. Garrett states, once personality, expertise, and visibility are combined properly, authority is the natural result. How that authority is used is another discussion

    Excellent discussion because it brings the importance of the contents to mind.

  50. Sonny Lykos says:

    I’ve been a salesman all my life, first as a salesman for a retail store of a chain, then as it’s manager, and for 35 years as a business owner – remodeling. Now I’m semiretired specializing part-time in small remodeling/repair projects and doing some consulting, plus am preparing to launch another business.

    Regardless of what I was doing as an adult, my “close ratio” was always well over 80%. As a remodeler, and semiretired remodeler, it went up to 90% +. I attribute that sales success to “personality” first. I say that because I’ve learned that one’s appearance and what comes out of his/her mouth during the first few minutes, determines if the audience has his/her attention, will listen, or turn you off. And let’s face it, regardless of our position, we are all sales people first, whether it’s selling ourselves, and idea, a product, or service.

    So for me, personality is first, followed by credibility, which is the result of “expertise.” “Visibility” becomes an opportunity, given permission, to demonstrate one’s personality and credibility.

    And as Mr. Garrett states, once personality, expertise, and visibility are combined properly, authority is the natural result. How that authority is used is another discussion

    Excellent discussion because it brings the importance of the contents to mind.