The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer shows public trust is lower than ever. With politicians, brands and media organizations being accused of spreading ‘fake news’, and ever present stories of ‘catfishing’ and online scams, consumers are becoming increasingly wary about who and what to believe in. This poses a complex conundrum for people whose livelihood depends on their personal brand online, such as academics, authors, experts or ‘thought leaders’ in a specific field.
In recent years, we have seen the rise of the ‘online expert’ as education and mentorship has moved online thanks to a rapidly expanding share economy marketplace. In the past, people who wanted to learn a new skill, or learn from a mentor or expert in their field of interest, needed to sign up to a class. However now online expert marketplaces are putting people directly in touch with mentors, and allowing users to learn from the brightest minds in the world about any topic under the sun remotely, by paying for private mentoring and training sessions.
The online landscape offers great opportunities for real experts to earn through private mentoring, and corporate training, however, unfortunately it also opens the door for unqualified fraudsters to masquerade as experts. So how can true experts prove they are the real deal in the modern online landscape?
Thanks to the democratic nature of the internet, billions of people can now use a mouthpiece capable to amplify their thoughts across the globe. While this offers access to a wide range of opinions, it also reduces consumer trust in the unverified content which they are reading, due to the terms “ thought leader” and expert getting bandied about so freely nowadays.
While many ‘old school’ academics, experts or business leaders, who had long careers in the post-internet dark ages may underestimate the importance of being present on social media platforms, and publishing work digitally, if the modern consumer cannot find multiple hits on a Google search of their name; they cease to be important. As such, it is vital that real experts maintain an easily trackable online presence known as ‘social proof’.
For online experts, who sell their wares teaching and mentoring on specific topics and themes, it makes sense that they should have published content on said themes too. If they haven’t, consumer’s eyebrows will quite rightfully be raised in suspicion.
Social proof can be developed in many ways, from publishing work online on a blog, contributing to academic or professional publications, being included in speaker line ups for events, making podcasts or creating short videos on Youtube. The more Google hits a name receives on reputable sites, publications and organizations online, the stronger the person’s social proof becomes.
For experts who aren’t sure about where they should start publishing content, Klout has created a platform that helps people raise their profiles by suggesting content they can publish, and the best places to do so. It is also a good idea to check out leading publications, and blogs with large followings that are connected to your sphere of expertise, and reach out to them to offer contributions. While most sites don’t pay contributors, the social proof which comes with publishing under their own name is invaluable for online experts.
The double edged sword of the share economy is the huge range of options it offers users. Regardless of whether a true expert has a long career offline, if people searching for a tutor or mentor cannot verify an expert’s expertise online, they will quickly move onto a potentially less qualified, but more verified candidate.
Professional background online
Professional business network Linkedin, has become the online one-stop-shop for checking out potential new hires and partners online. On top of Linkedin, it is also important for experts to have a social media presence on other social channels like Twitter and Facebook too.
The reason for having an online presence on more than one platform, is due to the huge amount of fake profiles floating about the web today. A recent study estimates 81 million of Facebook’s 1.7 billion user base are fake, so if users can only find profiles on Facebook, and nowhere else, something is likely to smell fishy.
Most leading social channels allow you to link your profiles to other platforms, and include links to professional websites, blogs, review sites etc. This means that with just one click, people can be easily directed to multiple sources which back up who someone says they are.
Professional networks like Linkedin also allow users to post recommendations and testimonials from previous employers, colleagues or in this case students. In the modern age of business transparency is one of the main selling points for consumers, so offering public recommendations could improve an expert’s flow of clients.
Nielsen reports that the most effective form of advertising is recommendations, with 83% of consumers in 60 countries reporting that they trust recommendations over any other form of advertising.
It is also important to update profiles regularly with any new positions, achievements, awards, or any content published, as if users note that sites have not been updated for years, they may move onto to searching for another more relevant expert to hire.
Put a face to a name
When we think of Facebook, we think of Mark Zuckerberg, when we think of Microsoft we think of Bill Gates. Who do we think of when we are searching for an online expert in sociology ?
Regardless of how niche your field of expertise is, it is always better to let consumers put a face to a name, and with the added visibility offered by the internet, now this is easier than ever.
Aside from posting real photos of yourself on Linkedin and other social media channels, it is a great idea to create video presentations, conduct live webinars, but also to show your face in the real world too, by speaking at conferences, events, or workshops. Recordings of this content can then be shared across your social media channels too.
Recent studies have found that consumer empathy is lost without face-to-face communication and as empathy wanes, so does trust. When people can see the speaker’s face, expressions, gestures and posture, they tend to be much more connected to the content they are sharing, than if the same content was shared via text or audio.
While showing face will increase consumer trust, and thus the probability of them hiring you as an expert, this rule is something which should be continued for the entirety of your arrangement. With communication tools like Skype so readily available today, there is no reason why teaching or mentorship should not be conducted in real time, with video and audio every session. This will motivate students, build confidence, and also develop relationships over time.
With billions of internet users battling for the spotlight online, it is becoming increasingly important for experts, thought leaders and mentors from all industries to put in the homework to make sure they stay visible and relevant online. While improving your social proof, and consistently adding new content, references and recommendations may be time consuming, the results will be 100x worth the hard work.