Anonymity, Notoriety, Credibility and Authority

The Beginning

Elias carefully tucked his spiral notebook into his backpack, ensured he had a handful of extra pens and pencils and dutifully wrapped his Android tablet, first in its padded sleeve, then a sweater. Even though he still hadn’t gotten accustomed to using it, he certainly didn’t want anything to happen to it. After his girlfriend had saved for 6 months to buy it for him, he’d sooner die than have that happen.

The truth was, though, that he didn’t really care to be drug into the digital age. He’d heard enough horror stories about people whose identity had been stolen or their account hacked that he had no desire to change the way he’d always done things. Every time he typed his password when logging into that Facebook thing, he felt like he’d walked into a crowded room butt-naked.

Ever since his birthday, Ana had been badgering him about starting a blog and putting his marketing degree to good use. What in the world made her think he’d be willing to share what basically amounted to a diary with anyone that felt like reading it? What made her think he wanted to share his thoughts with anyone? For that matter, what made her think he had anything to say?

Hell, he’d be willing to bet that if he ever gave in and did start a blog, even Ana wouldn’t read it.

We didn’t all grow up with the Internet all around us. For the younger generation, being online is just a part of the world around them… right up there with electricity and indoor plumbing. If you don’t have Internet access… well, you might as well not exist!

Those of us that remember the days before DVDs, CDs, VHS and even cassettes (33-1/3 rpm LP records are just about the same age as me) might have struggled a little more with the idea of getting online. I had to use computers in my work before the Internet existed, and I still was hesitant to connect my PC to the world.

Year One – Anonymity

anonymityElias had finally decided that the only way he’d ever get Ana off his back was to start a blog, so a year ago, he’d kicked off Elias’ Lies. It hadn’t taken him long to find out that typing anything more than Hi or I’m on my way on a tablet was about as frustrating as trying to separate egg yolks – there’s always a better way.

His better way ended up being a second-hand PC he picked up at a swap meet for $75. The monitor was huge and heavy and the computer itself was slow as molasses. But the keyboard! After a month fighting with that infernal tablet, this keyboard was like heaven!

To be fair, the blog didn’t take a lot of his time. He spent more time browsing around for interesting ideas than he did writing. Unfortunately, he often had more eggs in the fridge than his blog saw visitors in a month.

Elias was actually proud of himself. A year ago, he preferred jotting his notes in a notebook with a pencil, while watching re-runs on TV. Now he used his tablet for watching movies or checking his Facebook and Twitter accounts. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d turned on his TV set.

Still, while he had come to enjoy posting to his blog each week, it was obviously just a pastime. Even his friends had dropped in to see his site only at the beginning. He could count the comments he’d gotten since that first week on one hand. Nope! There were no crowds blazing a path to Elias’ Lies.

Once a person makes the leap and spends that first hour surfing the ‘net, addiction can follow shortly thereafter. The amount of information that’s available, the relative ease of finding virtually anything is staggering, especially for someone that grew up having to spend hours in a stuffy library, and even then might not find what they were looking for.

For those that decide to get into blogging, the hoped-for flood of readers, eager to engage in conversations about your most recent post, usually doesn’t materialise. If it does, it takes considerable time and effort to generate the visibility and interest to support it. Discouraged and frustrated, most bloggers neglect or abandon their blogs within months.

Year Three – Notoriety

notorietyIt was hard to believe that just two years ago, he’d been thinking of just calling Elias’ Lies a bad idea and letting the domain expire. If his buddy, Mark, hadn’t taken him under his wing and taught him how to use social media to promote his blog posts, he’d still be spinning his wheels with no audience to speak of.

Winning second place in that blogging contest hadn’t hurt either. In fact, just participating in the contest, he’d gotten to know a lot of other bloggers that hadn’t been at it much longer than he had. Quick to offer advice, they’d given him some great ideas for making his blog more interesting. Admittedly, some of the advice wasn’t so great. He’d gotten penalised for spammy link practices by Google last year, thanks to WeSellLinksCheap. How he’d ever thought that guy on Fiverr was anything but trouble…

He was active on a couple of forums now, and learning the basics of how to promote his site properly. He’d had no idea how complicated it could be, especially if a person decided to tempt fate and bend the rules. But he’d learned that lesson the hard way… no more gaming the search engines for him!

After he’d bought a brand new computer right before he and Ana got married, he’d started contributing some articles to a couple of online magazines. One of his articles had even won an award (okay, he’d never heard of the award before, but apparently, others had). He started accumulating friends and followers that he recognized from his online wandering.

For those that stay the course and learn how to provide the sort of content that will hold their readers’ interest and find the ways to gain visibility, there may be hope. If they do everything right, they have a chance of building enough traffic to actually generate some income. They may decide to pursue paid ads, get into some affiliate programs or market their own products or services. If their luck holds and the skills grow, their monetising may turn into a career, even developing into a new skill that they can offer as a service to others.

Year Six – Credibility

CredibilityWOOT! Elias nearly tumbled his 3 year old daughter off his lap when he got the email that he’d been accepted as a speaker at PubCon next year. Vickie giggled and scolded him, while trying to peek at his iPhone to see what had Daddy so interested. Elias hardly noticed – his mind was elsewhere.

Three times, he’d talked himself out of pitching a presentation at PubCon, before he’d finally decided that he may as well try. After all, he did know something about running successful PPC campaigns – he’d been doing it for his clients for a couple of years now. But he honestly hadn’t expected to be given a shot. He could only assume that the great reviews his e-book had gotten had something to do with it.

His weekly hangouts on Google+ probably helped, too. They often had a hundred-plus live viewers and he was often surprised at some of the names that appeared. He’d resisted that when Mark first suggested it, only because he felt it would take too much of the little time he seemed to have these days. But he had no problem admitting now that it was one of the best moves he’d made for his consulting business.

Wow! PubCon! Elias grabbed his laptop – no sense in waiting until the last minute to start polishing his deck.

After a person has been around long enough to be considered to have “paid his dues” and has earned the respect of some subset of his industry, it’s possible to start building credibility. That means being knowledgeable, knowing how to say ‘I don’t know’ and being able to admit being mistaken. It also involves being accurate with one’s statements and being clear on what is stated as fact and what is just opinion or conjecture.

After establishing a reputation for clarity, accuracy and objectivity, a person gains credibility with his peers, gaining more visibility. In the long term, this can help in the transition to becoming an authority on a particular topic.

Year Nine – Authority

AuthorityElias leaned back in his chair, relaxing for a minute before the panel began its discussion. Seated between two people that he had long considered to be Internet icons, he wondered how he’d come to be here. Who was he, anyway? Less than 10 years ago, he’d been arguing with his fiancée, adamantly refusing to venture online. When she’d given him a tablet as a birthday gift, he’d very nearly told her to take it back, he wasn’t interested.

Now he had a successful consulting agency with several employees, a bevy of clients that would make most of his competitors green with envy and at the end of the day, a very respectable income. With a dozen e-books and nearly as many hard-copy books to his credit, as well as an average of 3 or 4 interview or speaking requests per month, Elias still felt a bit overwhelmed by his success.

That writer from the NY Times had called him an “authority” in the search engine marketing industry. Was he? He wasn’t sure. He’d certainly never thought of himself as an authority. He did, however, feel very competent in his field. He also felt very fortunate. By design or by accident, he’d made some good decisions – often with some significant nudging from others.

Elias had never dreamed of becoming an “authority” on anything. As he slowly embraced the idea of putting himself out there, online, he’d just naturally transitioned from hobbyist to dabbler to professional. Any credibility he’d established along the way wasn’t the result of a conscious branding effort… it was simply a reflection of the way he approached business and life in general.

Elias’ Story in Review

Some aspects of this fictional tale probably fit many people that work online. In reality, the concepts are no different than those encountered in “real-life” circumstances… but the exposure and velocity of the online world accelerate the process tremendously. Successes and missteps are amplified across a wider audience, as are their consequences.

It shouldn’t be considered to be a road map for anyone that wants to become an authority in their field – it’s more of a guideline. Whether working in an office with 4 or 5 colleagues or online with thousands, the same basic guidelines will apply. But each person might have a different path, depending upon a variety of circumstances.

The timeline is obviously fictional, as well. The process may last 2 or 3 years for one individual and 15 years for another. You may never win an award or be referenced by a NYT columnist. You may never have your pitch accepted for a major conference. You may even never arrive at that “authority” level.

But credibility is certainly attainable by anyone that’s willing to put forth the effort. And that’s worth a lot, isn’t it?

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