There is nothing wrong with someone referring to themselves as an expert. That is, of course, unless someone has no idea what the word means or are using it solely to manipulate. Unfortunately this is the case in most circumstances. Dustin Stout goes so far as to say, “When it comes to social media marketing, there’s a billion and a half people claiming to have a clue. About 1% of 1% may be telling the truth.”

Traditionally, an expert is someone who has a doctorate on a given subject and additionally has spent years of their career researching or working in that subject. It is someone who knows nearly every aspect of a given field.

The Weapon of Influence: The Principle of Authority (as Robert Cialdini aptly labels it) is an incredibly powerful one and most people recognize this. If someone can get others to view them as an expert or authority on a subject, their views, opinions, and services seem highly valuable.

This apparently even extends to pseudo authorities. On January 21, 2001, Brian Williams interviewed Martin Sheen on CNBC. Sheen played the role of the President of the United States on a television show called West Wing. Williams provided a serious line of questioning to Sheen regarding presidential proceedings. Sheen thoroughly and dutifully shared his opinions on the subject.

social media gurus Martin Sheen’s expertise on presidential proceedings extended no farther than that people had seen him pretend to be the president in a television show. Yet, despite his clear lack of authority, the interview was taken entirely seriously and carried weight simply because he was associated in people’s minds as an authority [zotpressInText item=”{Q36BZWJT}”].

Since we don’t have the time or inclination to create algorithms or apply in-depth critical thinking and research on every subject we encounter, we tend to rely on heuristics, or rules of thumb. These do not guarantee a solution, but they often get us very close to one [zotpressInText item=”{CXV947DJ}”]. When someone considered to be an expert speaks on their expertise, we often simply trust that it is more true than if someone else were speaking on the subject. This is a rule of thumb. It’s a mental shortcut on the road to making a decision.

This mental shortcut is such a powerful trigger, that it literally pushes logic aside with its persuasive power. Technically speaking, an expert’s judgment does not actually prove anything that he says to be true or false. Experts often disagree. And even when they do agree, they may still be wrong. Expertise certainly does carry some weight, but ultimately even experts should be required to show empirical evidence and rational inference [zotpressInText item=”{DAI95UZ3}”].

But in the online world, evidence and critical thinking are thrown to the wind when someone we view as an expert opens their mouth.

With this in mind, it becomes very easy to see why anyone would want to appear to be an authority. Unconsciously, the facts begin to fade away and our judgment of a person’s opinions and advice rest solely on the fact that we view them as an authority. No further research is needed. No critical thinking is needed. Someone is an authority so we simply skip those steps and take their advice to the bank or hire them straight away.

This then leads to my opinion that many who are self-labeled experts, are using the term solely to manipulate others. If I can get you to believe that I am an expert in underwater basket weaving, then every time you need advice or need to hire someone to weave a basket underwater for you, you’ll come to me. My words and ideas will be like rivers of honey to your ears even if everything that I say is drivel. I’m an expert so you’ll believe everything I say or just hire me to take care of everything for you.

SEO Experts. Social Media Experts. Google Plus Experts. Twitter Experts. Blogging Experts. Ninjas. Gurus. Everyone wants to be known as an expert. Everyone wants to be known as an authority. And as you can imagine from its power, people aren’t going to stop doing this anytime soon.

Self-proclaiming oneself as an expert is most often a manipulation tactic. But since expertise is such a powerful force, we still want to take advantage of its power. We want to be known as experts. So how do we do it? The answer is easy. The implementation, not so much.

You need to create a body of work that spews forth excellence. Then the world will do the labeling for you.

Perhaps the greatest advice on this entire subject comes from the lips of King Solomon, “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.” ~ Proverbs 27:2

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Nicholas Cardot

About Nicholas Cardot

It's my personal quest to enable every person that I can to unlock that dormant potential concerning their online influence. Also, I'm a geek.


  • Shelah says:

    I agree that this is becoming prominent these days. The verse you quoted also reminded me of what Jesus said in Matthew 23:12: For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Thank you for a refreshing piece and thank you for your service to our country..

  • Wade Harman says:

    I saw that conversation that Dustin started and to be honest, I think he is wrong. I can understand what he meant by the principle and what you’re saying is the principle…I get it. However, there are experts in one area that don’t necessarily cover the whole area. Dustin said, I’m an expert at pressing the gas pedal, but I don’t know how to fix the engine so I’m not really an expert.

    There ARE experts at pressing gas pedals.. NASCAR and other motorsports that have admitted to not knowing how the engine works. You can be an expert at one area of the car and not have to know the whole area. That’s like calling yourself an expert on Google Plus notifications. You are not expressing that you’re an expert on all of Google Plus, but what Dustin’s approach was, you better be if you’re going to call yourself an expert.

    That is expertise, and not so much as being an expert on the whole topic.

    • Wade, you are grossly misrepresenting and misinterpreting what I said. I did say it was like someone who only knows how to push a gas pedal– I didn’t say anything about fixing an engine. If someone only knows how to press a has pedal but doesn’t know how to brake or steer, then that is a disaster waiting to happen.

      Are niche experts valuable– yes, incredibly valuable! But where do you draw the line?

      Okay, I’m an expert at uploading videos to Facebook, I don’t know much more about Facebook, but I can upload a video. Want me to speak at your conference?

      Or how about this one– “I’m a WordPress post expert. And by that I mean I know how to log in to wordpress write a new blog post, publish it, and then embed it on typepad. I’m not a WordPress expert, don’t know much about it, but I am an expert at creating new blog posts and embedding them on Typepad.”

      This was my context. Hard to understand how you came to the assumptions you made when looking at my original post.

      • In logic, that is what we call the fallacy of the Straw Man. Basically he explains your side of the argument in a way that both misrepresents it and also allows for a much easier refutation. The best way to clear it up, which you’ve done, is to explain your position more thoroughly using clear examples.

    • I think the two of you are speaking to two separate aspects of the topic and thinking that you’re talking about the same thing. I believe that in some instances, you clearly can be an expert of specific aspect of a topic without being an expert on the whole. It all depends on context and the purpose of the label.

      Let’s look at the gas pedal example to make my point. The man with an engineering degree who designed a particular gas pedal would certainly be considered an expert on it. He probably knows the pounds/inch that it takes to create certain levels of acceleration. Assume he knows the fuel ratios, the physics, the material composition, and the schematics for assembling, maintaining, or altering it. In the context of engineering, this man is certainly without question and expert at understanding the gas pedal of our fictitious racecar.

      However, were he to use that expertise to lay claim that he is more of an expert at racing than Dale Earnhart Jr., that would be a monumental car accident waiting to happen. We would all laugh him out of town.

      This is why I think that it’s all about context. Even with the facebook videos example, the programmer who created would probably be considered an expert at uploading videos. He knows the size limitation, the speed of the server, the distribution of the databases, effective user interface strategies, and much more. But again, that’s a completely different context than using that type of expertise to claim some sort of Social Media expertise.

      • To summarize what I was trying to say here, I think that both of you are correct, but it depends on the context to determine which of your points of view should be used in a given situation.

        • Wade Harman says:

          I think that you’re right. I was thinking about this last night from Dustin’s perspective to see why he was saying what he was and I kinda came to this same conclusion. I don’t think Dustin is wrong, I just don’t think that he’s looking at it from my perspective. I agree with his points. You need to know everything that you claim to be an expert on, whether its the whole thing or a targeted aspect of the thing.

  • I have had an epiphany of dealing with someone that saw herself as an expert and really acted as though she was the only one who had any business doing the work she was doing. People are attracted to her at first, and then they get rubbed the wrong way. It is in part HOW experts carry themselves.

    When I needed help with a technological issue, someone who was helping me reminded me of another great point…. one way you know you’re dealing with an expert is that when you pose a question they are not afraid to say “I don’t know, let’s research it.”

    And in the world of technology or social media where the beast is growing rapidly, an expert is one who bothers to continue learning and realizes they can’t recall everything at a moments notice, but they do know how to go about finding the answer.

    So this sort of leaves me in a conundrum on the whole topic, seeing both sides really well…. as Wade said, experts in the same field disagree all the time… and in a field where the knowledge base grows and new niches pop up it can be pretty impossible to stay up to date on the very latest research.

    And what about the researchers, are they quantified as experts? What if they research but never apply to real life outside of their research? This is a worthy conversation to keep going as there are so many facets. Cheers to you Nicholas for sharing this insight and the quotes that make us pause to think.

    • You brought up a really good point about this subject. You mentioned that this woman who saw herself as an expert was liked and respected at first, but only for a short time. That’s where we begin to discover that using psychological triggers are only useful if the claim they are making is backed up by fact. If I use an emotional appeal to get you to purchase my product, it’s going to create a distaste in your mouth when you get the product and it’s worthless.

      The same goes with expertise. If you have it, flaunt it, I suppose. But you sure as well better have it if you’re flaunting it.

  • Doolittle says:

    I don’t have much to say, other than this: The last I heard, an expert is someone who has 10,000 hours of experience. Even if someone knows how to run the whole ship, expertise comes from experience. Hmm, it even looks like those 2 words come from the same root. Hours and hours of experience in all areas of a niche is what makes one an expert.

    I’m starting to think that “experiment” is also a requirement as well. 10,000 hours of driving doesn’t necessarily make you an expert if you don’t know what that one knob does on your dashboard. You have to know what all the bells & whistles do.

    • Based on your comment, I just looked up the etymology of the word and this is what I discovered, “Late 14c., from Old French expert and directly from Latin expertus, past participle of experiri “to try, test” (see experience). The noun sense of “person wise through experience” existed 15c., reappeared 1825. Related: Expertly.”

      It seems as though you were right on the money with your assessment. I don’t know if it takes 10,000 hours or not, but that certainly is a good rule of thumb and at least in the right ballpark.

  • James Fierce says:


    Great discussion among 3 people I admire for, ironically, their level of expertise and success (Nick, Dustin, and Wade).

    Excuse me as I take this discussion off on a tangent for a moment. Earlier in the week I had coffee with a man I met recently named John Perry. John is a former NASA engineer who had risen through the ranks until he decided to go off on his own after achieving the position of CFO.

    His passion now is inspiring disadvantaged youth, veterans, and nonviolent prisoners with hope for a better life. (John has expertise in many different areas)

    He has developed an evaluation program that helps people to determine the things that they are passionate about. He uses the program to help them figure out career options with the premise that if they can focus their efforts on those things they are passionate about they will be more inclined to acquire the skills necessary to be successful.

    He has piloted the program for several years and is now ready to turn it into a business. He can tell many stories about students who sucked at a given subject like math. But when the student decided to pursue a specific career path they would begin to excel in areas of math that they needed to use as a direct result of their career choice because they now had the motivation to learn to apply it.

    He told me acstory of a student who initially wanted to be an airplane mechanic with no desire of a college degree. However, after several years as a mechanic he became inspired to go to the next level and learn about design. At that point he pursued his education and became an accomplished aeronautical design engineer.

    Ok so to finally bring the story home and this comment to a close I’d like to say the following.

    Those people who pursue their passion with an intensity that drives them to a high level of expertise become, in my opinion qualified to share their expertise with others.

    For sure it’s subjective the point at which they become qualified as an expert and undoubtably there is a chance that they could pass on bad advice. It also may be presumptuous for anyone to proclaim themselves as experts. Who gets to decide who is an expert and is now qualified to do what experts do ( whatever that is).

    Most people probably have enough experience in some subject that they would be considered experts even if they don’t think they are.

    Bottom line… I believe that Nick, Dustin, and Wade qualify as experts in their given fields and can thus offer advice. As for everyone else…????

    Is my opinion here considered an expert opinion? Hmmmmm

  • Alex says:

    Hi Nicholas. I left this comment on your Linkedin but I like it so much that I feel I gotta repost it here: “Lots of truth in that article Nicholas. Superb. Thanks. I love the last paragraph re: one’s body of work as well as the Bible verse. I would’ve liked a point made about helpfulness, in that someone could be a wannabe or less than a quasi-expert, but if the early interaction with others is helpful, then those others will undoubtedly regard the person as an expert – forever. If you notice, in lots of online discussions about authority, the theme of helping is always mentioned. It could be a two-fold reason. An uber expert who doesn’t “truly help” stands to lose fans to an up and comer determined to give real help, etc.”

  • Avinash says:

    Yeah, I agree with Wade. You should need to know everything that you claim to be an expert on, whether it’s the whole thing or a targeted aspect of the thing.

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