Be authoritative

Speak from expertise

Audiences in every niche are seeking content they can trust. To be worthy? Avoid the trap of false expertise.

February 26, 202213 min read

The creator space is inundated with pseudo-experts: individuals who act authoritative while sharing misinformation. This is a problem. As we've seen in the pandemic when misinformation finds an audience online, there are consequences.

While some pseudo-experts act maliciously (aiming to spread harm) most are merely misinformed, sharing misinformation (unwittingly). It’s the embodiment of the Dunning-Kruger effect: when we lack expertise we tend to over-estimate what we know (and under-estimate what we don't). A little knowledge is a dangerous thing (especially when shared ad infinitum on Facebook). On the other hand, true experts are often absent the conversation. Experts often under-estimate their expertise, and lacking the confidence to contribute many are dissuaded from sharing in online discourse. And so the discourse suffers — pseudo experts get all the attention.

"An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them." — Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Beyond (New York, 1971)

For authoritative creators overcoming imposter syndrome is essential. Expert voices are necessary and lacking. In every niche there are people seeking information and finding misinformation. The solution? Experts (confident and competent) to fill the gaps.

Authoritative creators can break-through. So how do we overcome the self-doubt and get to work? Dunning-Kruger suggests that as experts we'll tend to question our expertise. Can we leverage this self-awareness to our advantage? To avoid misinformation creators need guard rails — what to share, and where to steer clear. As experts, could we acknowledge our gaps (while building confidence in our expertise) to develop an authoritative content strategy?

💡 Welcome to Becomist. Through our quarterly issues, we explore creative goals for entrepreneurs.

This quarter we set out to Be Authoritative — to create content others can trust. In this article we'll explore how authoritative creators can refine content strategy by identifying expertise; taking inventory of what they know (and — what they don't).

What is an expert?

An expert is an authority on a subject. Expertise is gained from experience and not limited by education or profession. However — experience alone is not enough to claim expertise. Experience is context. Digging deeper into the roles and specialized skills we've gained through experience, we find our expertise.

Experts as creators

While many experts are focused on the application of expertise, as niche communities grow so does the demand for niche experts as creators. This offers opportunity for experts to serve an audience and capitalize as creative entrepreneurs.

In case there was ever doubt, expertise is valuable. For the uninformed — expertise offers information. For aspiring experts, expertise offers an example to aspire to (and follow). To an audience of their peers expert creators offer shared knowledge which bolsters a sense of community and identity. And for those with merely a passing interest, niche experts offer something interesting: a new rabbit hole or perspective to broaden one's awareness.

For such a broad audience expert creators also offer an essential counter to misinformation, as an authoritative voice to inform accurately; call out the misinformed; or dispell common myths, or biases. Expert creators set the standard for authoritative content, creating from expertise and encouraging others to pursue authoritative sources for information before sharing.

Who I am

So am I an expert? I'm confident in what I know, but ultimately leave it to you to judge. In this article, we will follow an exercise and I offer my own experience as an example throughout. I look forward to offering my expertise as qualification, and hope you find it helpful.


Sean Rioux, Becomist

Know what you know

Knowing something means we are certain in our knowledge — not just confident. To avoid Dunning-Krugar, it’s important we consider carefully: was our knowledge earned, or do we risk fooling ourselves and others, ignorant to our lack of expertise

A figure presents a template for how to qualify one's expertise — fill in the blanks: "In my experience, blank, in my role, blank, I specialize in, blank."

To be certain, we need to first take honest inventory of what we know and how that knowledge was gained (to qualify it). What experiences, roles, and specializations give us authority to speak as an expert? Having a clear model of expertise offers authoritative creators reason to share — confident in their content, and offering qualifications as context.

Speaking from experience

Work, education, upbringing  — all experiences are valid. However, experience alone does not presume expertise. Instead, it's best to think of experience as the context — where our expertise was gained.

Consider your experiences: where have you have worked? Where have you learned or studied? What have you experienced? Root your experiences in action and participation (i.e., what verb best describes how your were involved in the experience?) Map your experiences broadly over time, and where possible quantify them (i.e., how many years experience do you have?)

Figure demonstrating mapping of experience: complete the following statement: "In my experience...". Repeat the exercise to capture a range of experiences.

For example, in my experience: living in Toronto for 10 years, working at a digital agency for 7 years, making pizza, and being Canadian. Taken together (or individually) these experiences clarify my individual context. As a creator, it is this context I can speak from experience, and offer qualification for my audience to consider in assessing the expert content I share.

Note that experience is not limited to education or work. A wide range of experiences offer expertise. Consider environment, lifestyle, and culture; the places you've been, and the things you've seen, and done. Take special note of your formative experiences — those that have set your course, or shaped you. It's both in breadth and depth that we find our expertise so consider a cross section of experiences you feel best represent your range, but rooted in experiences that best offer context to your perspective.

Know your role

What roles did you play? A role might be a designated title or merely a position you assumed: senior marketing manager, an instagram influencer, a working parent — no matter how formal, any role you embody furthers the context of your experience, qualifying your individual perspective and offering inspiration for content as an expert creator.

Figure demonstrating mapping of roles from experience: for each experience, complete the following statement, "In my role as, blank". Repeat until you've captured a range of roles across experiences.

For example, in my experience at a digital agency, I played many roles: front-end developer, UX/UI designer, product manager, director of strategy.

Drawing from my role as a product manager or strategist, I might offer insight to others pursuing similar roles. As a creator, I offer this as qualification (e.g., "from my perspective as a product manager") to help my audience understand my point of view and assess my expertise. From there I can dig in to the details with the audience aware of where I'm coming from. Drawing from distinct but related roles, (e.g., "as a UX/UI designer and front-end web developer"), I might also offer unique insight for how these differing roles interact. Intersectional perspective can offer a excellent source of novel, niche content.

While we might first reference professional role, it's critically important to note roles we play in other contexts. Take a broad sampling and consider roles you play in relationships, family, and society. What is your perspective as parent, partner, or citizen? Consider the diversity and intersectionality of your roles — self-identify. Seeking your niche? There is tremendous opportunity serving under-represented segments online. If your find yourself an expert with an untapped perspective: represent.

Unfortunately, diverse perspectives tend to attract greater scrutiny online (if not outright hate). Regardless of where you're coming from as an aspiring expert creator you should expect to invite criticism, and it won't always be kind. Hold fast. When feedback is off-base (or off-side) merely remain confident in your qualifications. Or, when criticism is constructive, merely, correct course. Part of being an expert is knowing when to admit you’re wrong (and stand your ground when you know what’s right).


While context is key, at the level of content, experts draw on both breadth (experience in different roles), and depth. At depth we find knowledge, skills, the work. As an expert you specialize in something. What is your specialization?

Considering our range of experiences and roles: what specific areas of knowledge in those domains attract your focus? What knowledge do you draw from? What do you know? As an expert your specific niche knowledge is where you'll source niche content. Going deep in your niche is where you'll attract people (prospective customers) seeking (deep, niche) knowledge.

A figure mapping specializations across roles. Complete the statement: "I specialize in, blank". Create a list of specific specializations you offer in each role

For example, in my role as a digital strategist and entrepreneur — I've bootstrapped many information products, and offer specializations in: content strategy, content management systems, and MVP (Minimal Viable Product).

Note the use of acronyms and industry jargon. As an expert creator, jargon signals to others what we know. Jargon is the language of a niche. Leverage specialization to speak to your audience in shared terms: get specific, get niche, get technical. Take a microscope to your practice: technologies, techniques, methods, models, and frameworks — consider your content your résumé. Use specializations as reference and evidence of what you offer to potential consumers.

A figure demonstrates how our specializations are networked across roles. Many specializations are enhanced by cross-sectional experience, offering unique insight, even techniques which we bring to our expertise. For example: In my experience working at a digital agency, in my role as a director of strategy; and in my experience boostrapping as an entrepreneur, I specialize in building minimal viable products.

Coming up short

Here is the caveat: sometimes when we go looking for depth we come up short. Yes, as experts it's possible we may under-estimate our expertise. However, we may also find ourselves on the other side of the Dunning-Kruger effect — seeking specialization, and struggling? It’s possible you have over-estimated your expertise.

When identifying specializations, remain objective. Be humble. Are you truly a specialist? Look around you. How do you compare against others in your field? As an authoritative creator an audience of your peers may be evaluating your content. It should hold up to expert scrutiny. Does it?

Admitting what we don't know can be difficult — to gain expertise, it is also an essential first step. Don't take the things you don't know personally. You can learn. This is an opportunity, a teachable moment. Look to others who are experts and follow their learning path. Chart a course to expertise.

Know what you don’t

Since it's hard to be objective about what we know, we need to deepen our analysis. To avoid the trap of Dunning-Krugar we need to be aware of our gaps as well as the peaks and valleys in our qualifications, to have a clear picture of our specific expertise.

Mind the gap

Gaps are areas where we lack experience, role, or specialization. In these areas it is not possible for us to speak from expertise. As an expert creator identifying gaps places guardrails to keep us in our lane.

We all have gaps. Expertise is often narrow while existing in a broad context. Even with years experience, experts offering breadth and depth in their field may be ignorant to what's around them (other fields, or even their peers). It's a big world. There is no sense in taking note of all the things we don't know — so, then how can we best be mindful of our gaps?


First, consider your areas of experience. These are your guardrails. Outside of these boundaries, you lack experience. This is your greatest gap: everything else — all the areas you lack the experience necessary to claim expertise. While we can't be aware of everything we don't know, as expert creators we can keep experience top of mind as a primary filter: to mind the gap, merely, avoid veering off road — speak from experience (or don't speak at all).

A photo of cars on a road with a steep cliff-side. The guardrail protects drivers from veering off the cliff, while lane markings and the road determine a course. A driver must also keep their hands on the wheel — to mind the gap, we must be mindful on the road.

Roles and specialization

Of course, the devil is in the details. We might feel our experience gives us broad domain — authority over a subject. At the level of specialization, however, experts are often hyper-focused with blind spots in their peripheral. While speaking from experience keeps us with in our boundaries, to stay safely in our lane we must also gain awareness of who is around us.

Who are your peers and colleagues? They likely occupy a range of roles, each with distinction. Consider for example, medicine — no one expects an epidemiologist to be an expert on orthopaedics, and while an orthopaedic surgeon might perform surgery on your knee, a physiotherapist is better equipped to aid recovery. While experts may share common ground, and benefit from understanding each others’ roles, at some level our colleagues represent our gaps: areas of depth we are likely lacking.

Become more aware of the experts around you. Follow them, ask questions, learn what they know, that you do not know. Experts, differ to experts. As a creator, your peers might be your audience, if not your community, or network — respect and elevate their expertise wherever possible (they are likely to reciprocate). You might even collaborate as experts to fill a gap.

Speaking without expertise

Of course, there are a number of valid reasons expert creators might decide to post about a subject beyond their expertise: one might be reacting to a global events, participating in culture, or engaging in advocacy. In fact, depending on your niche, your audience may even expect it – people may "@" you for your take.

In any case, it's important we first qualify ourselves before offering our point of view. This includes being transparent about your gaps. Admit when you are not an expert, and consider the opportunity to differ to the expertise of others: your peers, colleagues, and expert network. Encourage others to listen to experts to fill gaps. Where you lack expertise, promote it.

Still, there is risk when we wander into areas outside of our expertise. Approach with caution and intent. To stay in your lane, keep your hands placed firmly on the wheel, in online discourse there are potholes and pitfalls. You will be wrong. Your qualifications and sources will be challenged. Be ready to admit fault and reverse course when you find yourself down roads you shouldn't go.

A figure illustrating gaps in our specialization. Taking previous examples, mapping specializations: what exists on the peripheral or in between what we've identified?

Mountain high, valley low

Minding our gaps gives us a map of where it’s safe to tread. The problem is, expertise is not flat ground. While we might avoid falling trap to spreading false expertise by sticking to what we know, it's possible we might still underestimate the degrees to which our knowledge varies, and trip up.

Mind the grade

Consider areas of specialization where your knowledge is more or less advanced. Are you junior or senior in your role? Are you the world’s most pre-eminent scholar in your area of experience, merely competent? It's unlikely you're truly advanced in all areas in which you claim specialization. Rank your areas of specialization and you'll find peaks and valleys:

Figure demonstrates a specialization chart: each specialization is ranked from beginner, intermediate, or advanced. The specializations and rankings are Javascript: intermediate, React.js: beginner, content strategy: intermediate, content management systems: advanced: MVP strategy: intermediate.

There are many scales by which you might rank your specializations and skills, novice to expert (the Dreyfus model), high to low, weak to strong, etc. What's essential is that you see the gradation. Experts leverage their strengths, and differ to others where they are weak. Don't "fake it until you make it". The goal is expertise and when we oversell specializations we under value expertise.

Of course, low ranking doesn't mean our contribution isn't valid. Beginner’s mind may offer perspective to your audience. Your audience likely includes beginners — contribute as a novice and serve a community of peers. It remains important, however, that we qualify ourselves ("as a beginner").

Screen shot: an article from the perspective of someone trying Next.js for the first time. The author has intermediate to advanced knowledge of Javascript, while experiencing, Next.js (a popular Javascript framework) as a novice. Where possible we always should draw from intermediate or advanced areas of specialization, to present expertise.

Take the high road

While we shouldn't write off any area of specialization as possible inspiration, to establish ourselves (as experts), it's important we prioritize. Focus first on your intermediate and advanced topics. These will be your most authoritative. From there, we can take the opportunity to explore less familiar terrain, with your audience along for the ride knowing we have a strong footing.

Level up, focus in

Evaluating our expertise can be humbling. Under the microscope, we might in-fact find we've overestimated. While it's difficult to be objective, if we can can take the candid assessment to heart it also gives us a model for improvement.

Use this gap analysis to plot next steps. Aim to grow your expertise in key areas: level up from the valleys, and fill the gaps. Seek out new experiences, roles, and specializations. Follow in the path of experts, to ascend and achieve expertise.

Learning in public

All the while, document your process. As you grow as a creator you may also grow a niche audience along for the ride. Building in public can be an effective strategy (and a great source of content). Get feedback from peers and those your senior to inform your trajectory, and share the journey as it unfolds. Emerging expert stories are aspirational and empowering.

What's essential, is that you stay humble: even as your expertise grows there is always more to learn, and you're certain to make mistakes. Admit when you do. Be confident in your qualifications, sure, but always be upfront about what do not know. Otherwise you risk the trust of your audience, or worse, spreading misinformation. Don’t be a pseudo expert, speak from expertise.

Article by Sean Rioux