Do you have a problem with authority? (If you’re struggling to find your voice online, you just might).

I asked the members of our local networking group to complete the following question:

“The thing that keeps me from being more visible online is: ____________”

The answers had a few commonalities, but frustration was a common theme.

  • “The ever changing rules that I need to keep up with. Just when I think I understand what I need to be doing, it changes.”
  • “Knowing where to spend my time. Different sites work for different people. Ex: Pinterest appeals to females. Reddit appeals to programmers. How do I know which sites have my audience and will help convert them to customers?”
  • “Not knowing where to start- so perhaps fear! Or not knowing what would be most appropriate for my field (counseling practice).”
  • “Not always having the “in” to be heard.”
  • “The sheer volume – I’m am but a drop in the firehose.”
  • “Being small, doing what I can myself with limited tech knowledge ( & interest) but probably need to keep doing…”
  • “The product I have cannot be touched and a reluctance to call and find out what I know.”

When you’re trying to figure out how to get your message out there, the array of options and seemingly different sets of rules and cultures can be daunting. However, with a deceptively simple shift in focus, the right tools, and a little old fashioned moxie, you can cut out all of the wasted energy spent on your various “social marketing” efforts, and concentrate your energy on the kind of content creation that pays dividends both in revenue, and in opportunity.

You, my friend, have a problem with authority: you don’t have any.

Your visibility on the web is related mostly to either personal or promotional content, little of it provides any form of lasting value to the reader, and barely any at all makes a significant positional statement about your industry.

Think about that. Really look back at your presence online, and ask yourself some questions:

  • Do I have a blog on my website that is reasonably frequently updated?
  • Between my social media and my blog, after filtering out all personal posts and posts specifically marketing my business, is there anything left?
  • Are my readers better informed? Specifically educated? Did they find answers to their questions, or solutions to their problems?
  • Do my posts demonstrate that I’m interested in and engaged with my industry?

The more no’s you have in that list, the less likely you’re going to show up in that search, and the less likely your audience in social media is going to be engaged enough to actually comment and share, no matter how much you ask them to. When you instead provide something of take away value, they go and spread it for you. It’s the simplest formula in the world: give away something that people want or need, and they’ll take it. Best of all, frequently what you give away may be no more than something that is a common sense solution to you, or a studied opinion. In the case of the latter, it doesn’t even matter in the end whether that opinion (or other analysis) was right or wrong; a good debate is entertaining, and as long as you treat valid corrections as a learning experience, you’ll still build your authority.

When you shift your focus to translating your individual skills and knowledge into quality actionable information other people can use, you completely remove the pressure of trying to shove it in everyone’s face. You only have to pay attention to two things: making sure your content is high quality, and using the tools available to you to measure which topics you post about that gain the most traction overall. And that bring us to the phrase “Online Authority”:

Online Authority is a measure of how influential and valuable your online content is. Simple as that. If you could take all of your Blog Posts, Likes, Plusses, Comments, Shares, Followers, Search Results,  and Instagram photos and roll them up in a ball, Online Authority is the size and weight of that ball. Think of the size of the ball as the size of your total audience, and the weight of the ball as how much your content impacts people as measured by engagement (another fancy term that just means “how many people like, comment on, or share your stuff”). Here, let’s illustrate that with a visual:

 

You're a ball, basically.

 

Right now, you don’t have much of an audience or much engagement with that audience. People who buy Facebook page Likes or Twitter followers have a big audience, but little engagement. And Miley Cyrus, well, she probably got another ten million views, shares, comments, and dollars in the time it’s taken you to get to this part in the post.

But, just because you’re not going to be a wrecking ball doesn’t mean you can’t be a bowling ball. In fact, when you start establishing your authority online, your focus should be entirely on the value being provided. Your audience growth should be a RESULT of your content, NOT the goal. When you grow your audience over time by consistently answering questions, providing solutions, and/or entertaining/opining, your engagement grows at the same pace as your audience.

And at the end of the day, which is more valuable: 10,000 followers you bought on Twitter who never respond to you, or 1000 followers you earned by learning and engaging with the conversation, who interact with you regularly, and value your input? The ROI for the time you spend on social media varies from person to person, but for everyone, a silent audience means absolutely zilch, while an engaged audience is spreading your message.

We’ve spent a lot of time here already, so next week, I’ll dig more into the specific types of online authority, figuring out which approaches are best for your goals, and answering your questions (so be sure to leave them in the comments below). In the mean time, here are your takeaways:

1. If you’re not blogging, you’re not aggregating your content in any meaningful way towards your online authority.

Share your content on your blog first, then post to your preferred social media sources, and answer questions/reply to comments. Yep, I said “your preferred social media sources”. I know, you expected me to tell you to share it on Google+, right? Nope. I don’t want you thinking about juggling 90 different social media platforms. I want you focusing on content quality. If you do a good enough job creating value, someone else will share it in all the networks you’re not on.

2. It is OK to mess up. It is OK to be wrong. The only way to fail is to not say anything at all.

Don’t let fear hold you back from showing off your strengths and finding your voice. Yes, it takes courage to put yourself out there. It also happens to be the only way to get out there.

3. Authority doesn’t mean beating people over the head; it means having relevant and valuable information on the topic.

EVERYONE is an authority in a few areas, even if they don’t recognize it. The only thing standing between you being recognized for it is the fact that you haven’t demonstrated it. Right now, someone online is asking a question you know the answer to. Go answer it.


Appendix 2B

My good friend Jonathan Malkin helped kickstart this conversation initially, and asked “What are your preferred apps for tracking the success of your social media?”

First and foremost, Google Analytics provides an amazing amount of data these days on not just traffic across your site, but also social media statistics.

Second, if you’re using Google Authorship (and you should be), Virante Search Marketing has a really cool beta tool called Author Rank that measures the cumulative diversity and quality of your blog posts on all of the sites you contribute to with verified authorship.

Third, for a high level view of how loud my overall social media volume is, along with free stuff, I like Klout. It’s crude, and disproportionately favors Facebook, but it’s still a good quick snapshot to compare yourself to other people in similar areas of topical authority. LinkedIn’s McEndorsement model (“Does Chris Jenkins know about…”) is also starting to become a metric for measuring that influence, as they’re really opinions of your public perception as opposed to experience based decisions.

Specific to my social network of choice, CircleCount.com is really awesome for measuring both growth and influence on Google+, and their authoritative presence on Plus actually drives growth in response to quality posts that get engagement.

Finally, my favorite gamification of social influence is Empire Avenue, which lets others invest in your social media presence, which grows or shrinks based on your engagement. I like anything that turns mundane tasks into games, and it’s cool logging back in and seeing that a recent popular post or social media action drove my “stock” up a few more points.