The 5 C’s of Expertise: And Why I Don’t Shy Away from the Term

There is a fierce debate going on right now. What makes an expert? to There are no experts.

While I have commented on these posts and many others like it, I thought it was time to explain my take on expertise.

I am an online marketing expert. Whew. There I said it. I wasn’t the first to choose that title for myself though. It was my clients. I’d refer to myself as a “business consultant” (blah!) and they would introduce me to others as their online marketing guru…the one who helped them grow their business by leaps and bounds. There was a disconnect!

At first the term “expert” made me uncomfortable. Sure, I could get results for my clients. Sure, I spoke on social media and online marketing around the country. Sure, I had colleagues who respected me. And yes-I was one of the first folks to have a real Facebook profile (they were only open to college students at the time!). AND yes, I even published a book on social media marketing. But- was that enough? What is the true measure of an expert? I played around with many terms: specialist (not a doctor!), consultant (but we also take over online marketing), strategist (but we also do marketing implementation), adviser (of course – but also so much more than that when we swoop in and start making things happen). None of these terms fit.

Then I started really looking at my background, my current work, and the time I was putting into all of this. I live and breathe online marketing. It is my passion. It may seem dull to some, but I do a happy dance when someone emails me that my book helped them finally “get” social media or my client tells me we have had 23 sales record setting months in row. This stuff makes me happy! Deliriously happy even.

But, the question remains. Where do you draw the line between expert and novice? Especially for a field as young as social media. And even more so, when everyone who enters the field comes into it with this title.

After much thought, I propose to you the 5 c’s of expertise. This is by no means a final definition of an expert, but my proposed definition.

1. Content: In the academic field, there is a famous saying: Publish or Perish. Those professors or academics who do not publish creative thought-ultimately perish. I think this is true of any industry. You either create or you copy. It can also be argued that every creation starts with some copying. This is called a literature review in academic terms. Sonia Simone, Robert Middleton, and Maria Reyes McDavis are three experts who are consistently coming up with great content. One of the top complaints is that most experts “rehash” what has already been said. This is some what true, but each provides their own viewpoint to the content and hence, we have the beginnings of something fresher. An expert creates content. Period.

2. Community: Where there are experts, there are fans. The beauty of this is that you can be a fan and an expert at the same time. I follow the works of many in my own field. I am always in awe of their work, but I also know for a fact that many of them seem to admire and respect my work. Ultimately, this breeds a community based on mutual respect and sharing. In any field, an expert is one who has a community. The more solid the community, the stronger the expertise. My good friend and pseudo-elder sister, Pam Slim, serves as an excellent example for this category.

3. Consistency: An expert is consistent in their work and message. They aren’t focused on the “next hottest thing” but have a true set of guiding principles in their work. The new tactic must first fit their strategy. This doesn’t mean that they don’t test and admit when something didn’t work. It means they tirelessly stand behind their brand and message. Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett are consistent in their message of content marketing. Chris Brogan and Jason Falls stick to their message on the importance of community. Dave Kaminski is tireless when it online video. Gary Vaynerchuck sticks to his message on the importance of passion and hustling. Nancy Marmolejo is all about online visibility. I am consistent in my belief that online marketing can be classy and comprehensive.

4. Commitment: An expert is committed to their work because they love it. This can also be bunched together with passion. When we are passionate about something, we commit to it. We find the time to do it. If someone is doing something because they think that’s where the money is-you can bet that at the end of the day-they will chase something else. Those whose commitment comes from the depth of their passion, that’s expertise. Dave Taylor, Jonathan Fields, and Sherman Hu are gleaming examples of this aspect of expertise.

5. Cutting Edge: No expert can be defined as someone who knows is all. Because…no one knows it all! Every field in the world today is evolving at a dramatic pace. It isn’t the person who has been in the field for 30 plus years, or was there at the start of the internet. It is the person who keeps up with the changes that is the expert. My friend and colleague, Suzanne Falter Barns, is always interviewing experts in other fields and learning from them. Her work continues to help thousands of people brand themselves online. Curiosity and keeping up is another hallmark of the expert. My friend, Vik Duggal, strikes me as an expert. He is like a sponge around people. His ability to keep up with a million different ideas is impressive. What now? is more important than How long?

I strive everyday to do a little of each: create content, honor my community, be consistent in my brand, let my passion propel my commitment, and continue to learn new things. And hence, I do not shy away from the term expert. When I see others do the same, I respect them as experts.

I look forward to your thoughts on this!

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  • Tim Andren

    Great post Shama. Expert status is earned by what you’ve done and what you’re committed to doing. It’s frustrating to see the term thrown around by many without the dedication to back it up. It’s as if they are hoping to trick somebody. Business owners need to make sure to do their homework.

  • Drew Skwarcan

    Thanks for your insight Shama. This is a touchy subject lately, isn’t it? Here are my thoughts.

    The term “expert” is naturally one of ambiguity because it expresses an opinion. It’s similar to calling someone a “gentleman.” The term “gentleman” used to refer to, way back in the day, a man who was also a land owner. Now it has been reduced to a matter of opinion that suggests a man is classy and has integrity.

    My point is, someone cannot be proved to be an expert. The goal is to be *regarded* as an expert by those that you care about – namely customers and peers.

    Thats my two cents! Again, thanks for the post, Shama.

  • Jeff F

    Shama, this is a great article and I really like your viewpoint on what makes an expert. I especially like the “What Now?” as opposed to the “how Long” approach.

    I never thought about the Publish or Perish idea as it relates to professors, but I really like it and that really made things stick for me!

    I better go work on some more content, talk to ya later!

  • CoCreatr

    My take: expertise boils down to having really “been there, done that”, and to be certain enough about your ability to perform when challenged.

  • Sonia Simone

    I like your take on this! I agree, we need to quit being wimpy about expertise. For every one person who grouses that the term is overused, there are 99 people who need an expert to help them solve their problem!

    (And thanks for the link love & kind words, as well!)

  • Matt Bovell

    Fantastic article. Two points:
    1. Your article is a confidence builder in that so many of us allow our humility get in the way of taking deserved credit. This is partially due to “expert” being an amorphous and intimidating term. You have provided a framework whereby the most humble person can measure him or herself on the five C’s and conclude “hey, I really am an expert!”

    2. Publish or perish: Any blogger who bothers to review his site statistics has learned this the hard way. Quite honestly, I don’t publish to my professional blog nearly as often as I should and the stats prove it. On the other hand, my social commentary blog to which I contribute two or three times every week, sees a better hit count. (No, I’m not the Huffington Post but it does get visitors. :-) ). Furthermore, if I look at the pattern of hits on the site, I notice a bump with each new article and then a taper-off after a few days go by without publishing.

    I’ll be tweeting this article for the benefit of all those who wish to become experts and for all those who already are and don’t know it!

  • Ann Levine

    Great post! You reinforced my confidence in naming my company Law School Expert. It’s been working beautifully since 2004!

  • Laura Roeder

    I love this, great post Shama!

    I don’t know why the social media community has that weird backlash against “experts”. But you ARE an expert and you shouldn’t be afraid to say it. Thanks for standing up to the nay-sayers, and giving useful guidelines while you do it.

  • LaTosha Johnson

    Great post! How can we expect others to have confidence in us if we don’t have confidence in ourselves? You have the skills and experience to support being labeled an expert so embrace it :)

  • Shama Hyder

    Hi Tim: A very fair observation. The 5 C’s I have proposed are good check points in my opinion.

    Jeff: Glad I got you thinking about it ; )

    Drew: Great point. It is much more important to be regarded as one, than it is to see yourself as one. yes?

    CoCreatr: Yes, sure. been there, done that. but, what about when your “been there” is more just your “got here.” : )

    Sonia: I love that! Just saying no to wimpy. : )

    Matt: Great points. Publishing doesn’t mean to your blog specifically-it can be just your contribution to other sites. Lots of experts submit their material to others, comment intelligently, etc. That’s all CONTENT!

    Laura: Why, thank you! : ) It’s true. Our community does have a weird thing with it don’t we? You, yourself, are very much an expert if this criteria holds true.

    LaTosha: Thanks. : ) All in the confidence, eh?

  • Kevin Saunders – KGS Bikes

    Hi Shama,

    I am learning that online expertise does in fact require your 5 C’s. I was advised to build my blog and attack social networking last fall and though it was, and is, tons of work, it is separating me from any competition and as predicted, the global following is happening!

    Well done.

  • Solomon

    Hi Shama,
    Great article on expertise. Yes, it’s often misunderstood and many cases wrongly quoted. You gave it a lot solid picture what an expert should be. I believe expertise is what is contributed as you said consistently for the betterment or to enhance the existing situation of the field.
    Thank you I would like to visit all the people you mentioned in your post.

  • Justin C.

    Shama, you are totally right. Thanks for sharing this valuable information.

  • Maria Reyes-McDavis

    Shama, I’m a little delayed in getting to my links list on my blog, but I totally appreciate your kind words about me :-) I consider it a definite honor, one expert to another!

    Great post!

  • Pam Perry

    Shama, you broke it down for me. I guess now I am an expert because I fall into all those categories.
    Never thought about it as such – because I thought of an expert as a PhD type. Thanks. This was enlighting. Now I can really know that I AM an Marketing & PR Expert in the African American Christian market. WOW.

  • Jim Smith

    Shama, I love this, and believe that Community is currently the most powerful (assuming you are doing a little in all five areas, of course). Community creates viral activity, community provides me with feedback, community gives me support and inspiration, and when in community I can let go of being competitive, and just be me… and that authenticity makes a difference.

  • Jimmy Roos

    Great article. I have learned a lot of things I didn’t know before including a lot of great links.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Dominic Masterton-Smith

    Hi Shama,

    First time commenter – really enjoying the blog!

    I think whatever business you’re in, if a potential client comes to you for help because they don’t know enough about that business, then in comparison you are definitely an expert, even if modesty prevents you labelling yourself as one (a particular problem for us Brits of course…).

    Similarly, you could fairly label that same client as an expert in their own field, if you were the one looking for help in that field.

    I might also propose another C for the list – confidence – as far as people having the confidence to label themselves experts in the first place. ‘Experts’ are always in demand to provide topical comment and insight, which may have hastened their spread, but as you say, it requires consistently great content and commitment to live up to that ‘expert’ status.

  • Sherman Hu

    Shama, U ROCK!! Thanks so much for sharing a well-written piece on the 5C’s of Expertise and I’m humbled to be featured in your ‘Commitment’ “C”. Thanks Shama, ROCK ON!! Catch ya on Twitter ;-)