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McLellan: Could you be an authority?


For the last two decades, the global PR agency Edelman has conducted research that examines who and what consumers trust and how that trust influences their buying behaviors. 

The results of the 2019 Trust Barometer are incredibly telling about who consumers trust today and who we see as a credible authority. 

One of the biggest takeaways from this year’s study is that consumers assign a high level of trust to people who they believe “are just like me.” When you think about the influence that ratings and reviews have, you begin to see the power of that belief.

This study is documenting the rise of the opinion of the common man influencer. It’s noteworthy because it gives statistical validity to the idea of “real people” as influencers and the impact they can have on behalf of a brand.

The research asked participants to rank what attributes made an influencer believable and trustworthy. The relatability of the influencer was nearly twice as important as the influencer’s popularity. In other words, when consumers can see themselves in an influencer, they are far more likely to follow and trust that influencer.

Want to know what made an influencer even more compelling to the research participants than relatability? The one attribute that ranked higher than the trust we have in “people like me” is the trust we have in highly-educated experts. The only two groups of people we trust more than people like ourselves are company or industry experts and academic experts.

I want to make sure you saw that sentence: The only people we trust more than ourselves are experts. Experts are afforded the highest level of confidence and trust because they have a depth of knowledge in a specific industry or niche. Why in the world wouldn’t we capitalize on that by truly establishing our expertise and authority position?

If you were asked to think of an authority on any subject, who comes to mind? What about them designates them as an authority? What’s true about them? And what does someone have to do to earn and keep the title of authority?

They have a focus area or subject-matter expertise.

They don’t just repeat what everyone else is saying.

They have a public presence where they share their expertise.

They don’t stray from their area of expertise — think (specialist versus a generalist.)

They’re not equally attractive to everyone. (In fact, they probably bore most to tears.)

They’re significant (which is different from prolific) in terms of content creation.

They don’t create any generic content that someone with far less knowledge or experience could have just as easily written.

They’re perceived as an educator in some way.

They have a passion for their subject matter.

They have a strong point of view, which is the foundation of all of their content.

A true authority has something specific to teach us, and they want to be helpful or illuminating. 

They’re eager to share what they know because they have a genuine passion for it, and they don’t fear giving away the recipe to their secret sauce. That confidence and generosity is contagious. Their expertise is something specific groups of people (their sweet-spot prospects) are hungry to access. 

Call them an expert, a thought leader, an authority, a sought-after pundit, adviser or specialist. They’re all words for the same thing — a trusted resource who has earned that trust by demonstrating and generously sharing the depth of their specialized knowledge over and over again. 

In next week’s column, we’ll look at the first element that is necessary to create an authority position.

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