Would it benefit you and your career to be recognized as a thought leader or topical expert? Turning yourself into one of those can take years, and putting in the time is no guarantee of success. But, author Dorie Clark outlines an approach that can move you down that path in weeks instead of years.
In her new book, Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It, Clark points out that the key to being recognized as an expert is to choose the right niche.
Trying to muscle your way to the top of the food chain for big topics like “marketing” or “technology” would be incredibly time consuming and, for most of us, impossible.
But, Clark says, by looking at the intersection of larger fields you may find a niche that’s far less competitive.
For example, “marketing technology” is still not a tiny field, but it’s not overpopulated with names like Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell. There are no doubt smaller subsets of marketing technology that have little or no major competition for expert status.
Small size combined with novelty presents another powerful opportunity for niche selection. Choose something that hasn’t received a lot of attention, particularly if it’s new, and you could become a near-instant expert.
I spoke with Clark not long after we met at SXSW. She brought up the most-talked about new app at that conference, video-streaming platform Meerkat. Clark described how a would-be expert could leverage a hot new app:
The big thing everybody was having fun with over those few days was Meerkat, the live streaming app. If you decide to hop on the bandwagon, don’t start out as a tech expert, start out as a Meerkat expert. You create a blog about Meerkat. You write a new blog post every day about things you can do with Meerkat or who’s using Meerkat in an interesting way
I guarantee you within a month you’re going to be one of the world’s Meerkat experts, because you now have 30 pieces of content about it. When reporters are Googling you or looking for Meerkat, all your stuff is going to be coming up.
Once they start building a connection with you, they call you about Meerkat, you’re smart, you’re interesting, you know them, well guess what? Then they want to talk to you because, since you know about Meerkat, you probably know about Periscope. And, Periscope has been acquired by Twitter. Maybe they start to talk to you about Twitter. Before long, your range of perceived expertise grows because people are steadily imputing more knowledge to you.
Clark’s advice for a fast path to recognized expert status can be summarized simply:
- Choose a niche in your space that is small but getting some attention.
- Become the “category killer” of content relevant to that topic – create blog posts, social content, plus audio and/or video if that’s feasible.
- Demonstrate your expertise at every opportunity in interviews, guest posts, etc.
- Prepare to extend your expertise to related/larger categories
A key point that Clark makes is that you don’t want to be pigeonholed as knowing only about your original topic. Using her example, if Meerkat flames out in a few months there won’t be ongoing interest in Meerkat experts.
But, if you became the go-to expert on Meerkat and spoke intelligently about their competitor Periscope, about the challenges from Twitter owning Periscope, and about the risks of depending on someone else’s platform for growing a business, you may continue to get contacts about these broader topics.
In fact, to demonstrate your broader knowledge, you should proactively include related topics in your content blitz. So, in addition to articles like 5 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with Meerkat, you should also include things like Meerkat vs Periscope: A Detailed Comparison and Twitter + Meerkat: Frenemies or Risky Business?.
These related articles won’t diminish you as a Meerkat expert, but will show you can see the bigger picture. Plus, these articles will make it easier for reporters and others to find you when they are researching those topics.
Connecting With Other Experts
Once you have made some progress in your own content creation process, you’ll have the credibility to talk to other experts. Perhaps a Meerkat executive will do an interview that you can publish. Or, you could solicit opinions from some tech industry experts on Meerkat’s chances of success.
The more you can engage people who are established experts, the better chance you have of increasing your own stature in your niche and overall visibility.
Beyond 30 Days
While the initial 30 day content barrage may increase your visibility, cementing your position will take a sustained effort over time. The more others are aware of you, the more chances you’ll have to do that – interviews, guest articles, speaking opportunities, and so on.
You should avail yourself of these and ensure that you use them to demonstrate expertise beyond your initial tiny niche.
Risks and Rewards
This strategy isn’t without risk. You may choose a niche and find that nobody really cares about it. If you choose to focus on a particular product, it might fail to get traction and disappear. (Some predicted that’s what would happen with Meerkat, but so far they seem to be surviving despite the lack of love from Twitter.)
On the other hand, if you choose a niche that is actually starting to catch fire, you might find bigger names than you piling in and all but obscuring your own efforts.
Despite the many ways it might not work, I think Clark’s strategy is sound.
In 30 days, or even a year, you won’t become the new Tom Peters or Jack Welch. You won’t score a seven-figure book contract from a major publisher.
But, you will be more recognized inside your company and within the general area of your expertise. You’ll be on the radar of reporters and bloggers. And, if the niche that you chose takes off, the opportunities you’ll see will multiply – job offers, consulting gigs, speaking opportunities, and perhaps even that elusive book deal.
Even if you don’t achieve visibility on a national or global level, simply being the recognized expert in your own organization can pay dividends. Say your focus is Google… You’ll find it hard to compete with experts like Danny Sullivan, Rand Fishkin, and many others, but you can become the go-to Google person within your organization.
If you follow this strategy, you will, as the title of Clark’s book suggests, stand out.Become a near-instant expert by finding (or inventing) a niche. Click To Tweet