Four concrete strategies to become a trusted expert & influencer
If I were to say “expert in civil rights law”—would someone pop in your mind? What if I said, “women’s leadership expert”?
Chances are that a specific person, or two, came to your mind as emblematic of those topics. Sometimes these people are experts; sometimes they’re just personalities.
The truth is: there are four things any professional who wants to be a media expert and influencer can start doing today to make that happen. Over the years, I’ve helped entrepreneurs, professionals, writers and academics become trusted and sought-after experts.
The four strategies below will allow you to carve out a space in our noisy world and get heard.
1. Don’t waste your time on social media; use it strategically
Social media is a great avenue to share your expertise, to build trust with your constituents and to create reciprocal relationships. But if you’re not using it strategically, it’s purely serving an entertainment purpose.
Is your goal to confer with like-minded individuals? To brainstorm with them and build a reputation amongst colleagues? Or is your goal to promote your work to a general audience? These types of distinctions matter because they should drive your strategy.
If you are a historian, for example, you might invest in Twitter as your predominant social media outreach tool. Twitter is filled with historians and lends itself to community discussions with the use of hashtags. Amongst historians, the most popular hashtag is #Twitterstorians. Not sure if a niche hashtag would be a worthy investment of your time in the space? Consider that in a 7-hour timespan, #Twitterstorians generates nearly 205k impressions, according to Tweetreach.
Whether you like it or not—when journalists are learning about you and deciding whether you’re the right expert for their story (or when consumers are doing their due diligence), your social media presence matters. If you claim to be an expert in social media strategy but have three followers on Twitter, your credibility goes out the window. If you’re selling soy candles and your Facebook page looks unprofessional and doesn’t have compatibility with e-commerce sites to make selling easier, you’re missing out on sales.
Not sure where to start? Look to your role models and competitors. Where are they spending their time on social media and what are they doing on there? This leads me to…
2. Get to know the influencers in your space
An influencer is someone whose voice and opinions are trusted amongst a community of followers. With influence, you can activate people to listen, to care and to take action.
Let’s take a look at a few influencers and see if we can gain insight into what they’re doing right:
Roxane Gay, award-winning author and pop culture commentator: she live-tweets TV shows and events (like Donald Trump’s recent SNL gig); she shares her opinions unabashedly; she writes commentary for publications like The New Yorks Times and the Los Angeles Times. She expends most of her energy on Twitter, where she has 92.3k followers. She has little influence on Facebook, where she has 6k fans, and no presence on LinkedIn.
Ryan Holmes, CEO of the social media management software Hootsuite: frequently writes for Fast Company and LinkedIn Pulse; shares his opinions on Twitter; and participates in live chats. Bottom line: he is actively producing and sharing knowledge—and this knowledge is always strategic in that it has a call to action driving readers back to Hootsuite. Additionally, when there is something topical and relevant to his field occurring—like Twitter’s recent shift from a “Favorite” button to a “Like” button—he shares his opinion on the matter. He has 54.5k followers on Twitter; he doesn’t have a personal fan page on Facebook, but his company does; and he shares his thoughts through LinkedIn’s publishing platform to 1.2M followers.
Ellen Lupton, designer, writer, and curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City: frequently hosts free Skillshare classes on design elements; participates in AMAs (Ask Me Anything); attends events relevant to her field/expertise and Tweets about them (using event hashtags to boot); and authors books on her expertise. She has 29.4k followers on Twitter and 20k followers on Skillshare. She does not have a fan page on Facebook and she doesn’t publish on LinkedIn.
You’ll see that these influencers are not thriving—or even active—on every social media outlet. The point is: they know what’s working, they’re putting themselves out there frequently and with intention; and they’re generous with their knowledge on the outlets where people want to hear from them. The reason this matters—aside from the intrinsic value of knowledge-sharing—is that when Gay publishes a new book, she has access to her loyal audience to promote it. With Holmes consistently writing about social media issues, he’s become trusted in the field and, by extension, his product is a household name amongst social media professionals. When Lupton promotes a new exhibition at Cooper-Hewitt, people will show up. Influence yields results in real-time.
3. When pitching: sometimes niche trumps mainstream
Just as with social media, if you want to be considered a subject-matter expert, you’re going to want to think strategically about where your expertise would have the most impact. Are you an entrepreneur or the CEO of a small business or start-up? Entrepreneur, Fast Company and Forbes would be great avenues for your writing. Are you an academic? Writing for Inside Higher Ed or The Conversation would be strategic thought-leadership goals.
And, be sure to think about your intended outcomes as this may allow you to have an impact—and generate influence—in nontraditional outlets. Is your intended audience a significant portion of the readership of wherever you’re getting published? Is your audience potential consumers or is it your colleagues? Are you publishing a book on early American history and want to be read by your colleagues across the nation? Consider a niche podcast like Elizabeth Covart’s “Ben Franklin’s World.” The point is—think about why you’re doing something and what your end goal is. Then, work backwards. Reaching a mainstream audience isn’t always the most attainable or strategic goal.
4. Communicate your relevance to Ashley Madison (and other topical issues)
Is there an issue being discussed or debated in the media that would benefit from your expertise? Sometimes called “news jacking,” leveraging a historical moment to add your voice to a conversation is an incredibly impactful strategy. Whether it’s writing an op-ed to add historical context to an issue being debated in the national media or analyzing a specific component of a larger issue to help people understand its importance, start thinking about how your knowledge can provoke meaningful discussion about current news.
Think about how experts are found, too. Consider a journalist is writing a story on sports and the media, which is your area of expertise. How do you think they’ll find you? They’re going to Google something akin to “sports media expert.” Does your name come up in the first search results for that phrase? If not, start adding your voice to conversations on that topic and promote those conversations. If you’re putting your voice out there but no one can hear it, you might as well stop talking.
Annabel Adams is a public relations strategist and ghostwriter. She manages communications for UC Irvine’s School of Humanities and owns Madcap PR. Her e-book, "Guerrilla PR: 7 Strategies for Getting Kick-Ass PR on a Budget," will help you take the strategies above and put them into practice.
Photo: Ask an expert via Shutterstock