Yesterday, this video, in which Martha Stewart says bloggers are not experts, sparked a big and totally fascinating conversation on Twitter, so I had to bring it over here to the blog. If you don’t want to watch the video, here’s the key quote from Martha:
Who are these bloggers? They’re not trained editors at Vogue Magazine. I mean, there are bloggers writing recipes that aren’t tested, that aren’t necessarily very good, or are copies of everything that really good editors have created and done. So, bloggers create kind of a popularity. But they are not the experts, and we have to understand that.
Granted, the video was edited, and we’re probably intentionally hearing the part that sparks the most discussion. But the question remains: are bloggers experts?
My initial reaction was that she makes a fair point, albeit a super generalized one — with the major exception that I don’t believe you have to be trained to be an expert on something (if you do something for five years, you’re going to know more than someone who’s been trained at it for one). I do think the blogging industry encourages people to see and label themselves as experts a bit early. You can’t write two posts on a subject and call yourself an expert. But where do you draw that line? Are you an expert after you’ve written 100 posts on a topic? 500? And how do you account for previous experience?
I think Maddy from Somewhere Splendid has the right idea:
Do you speak about your subject with authority? That to me is the important part. If you know your subject inside [and] out [without] relying on others for that authority, to me, you are [an expert]. If you’re searching for terms you should know or have no experience in the subject matter, you’re not… I can’t possibly know every trick every stylist has up their sleeve. But I know I have a HUGE foundational knowledge and beyond. So I teach what I know. I’m sure I’ll keep learning, too, but that shouldn’t disqualify me as an authority figure because I expect to keep expanding my knowledge.
In their ecourses, Braid Creative talks a lot about being a likeable expert who shares gifts of knowledge — a person who shares what they know in a personal, trustworthy, and consistent way. I think the key to being an expert is knowing more than your audience — but also recognizing that you don’t know everything, being upfront that you’re speaking from personal experience, and continually learning more about your area of expertise. You don’t have to know the answer to every question, but you should have an idea where to find the answer. And as Maddy says, you shouldn’t be calling yourself an expert if you’re still looking up basic terms in the industry. Build the foundation first.
I think it’s difficult for a lot of people to think of themselves as experts, and I’m still uncomfortable with the term, too. My inkling is that if you feel you have to call yourself an expert, you probably aren’t one. A true expert is aware of just how much they still have to learn about a subject, and I think that’s why so many true experts have a hard time calling themselves one. Kory brought up the good point that new bloggers are constantly being told to find a topic and become an expert on it. And that’s true — I think it’s much easier to build an audience when you provide valuable information on a particular subject. However, I don’t think you can start crying expert right out of the gate — it only comes with experience, mistakes, and a lot of doing. There is a huge difference between saying you’re an expert, and proving that you are one, and I think a lot of new bloggers focus more on the first to grow their readership. If you focus on the second, your readership will grow naturally over time, and so will your actual expertise.
So, yes, Martha, I agree that the bloggers who are reposting recipes from other sources should probably not be considered experts. But I know plenty of bloggers who do test recipes and create their own, with high quality photos and well-edited posts to rival a magazine. And I would consider them every bit an expert as an editor. (And if you really want to argue? Let’s say, for example, a blogger curates recipes that are quick and easy, adding her own personal tips, for readers who don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. As someone who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, I’d consider that blogger an expert. It’s all about the audience.)
What do you think? Are bloggers experts? Are we too quick to label ourselves experts?