How to Become an Authority: Admit 'I Don't Know'
There's no point in authoring blog posts or engaging on social media if you have nothing of value to share. As my Inc. colleague Jeff Haden has written, "The best content marketing will let people learn from your knowledge, your experience, and even your mistakes."
So how on earth, if you're looking to build an audience, can it benefit you to advertise your lack of knowledge?
There are few things more common and readily available in this world than ignorance, but according to a fascinating post on the highly trafficked Buffer blog, it's far rarer and more valuable for people to actually admit their lack of knowledge and do something substantive about ameliorating it. Being one of those people who admits what they don't know and goes searching for authoritative answers can seriously set you apart and earn you rabid fans, asserts a recent post by Kevan Lee.
"Instead of being authorities on social media, we can be authorities on thorough research, fascinating statistics, and personal experience. In other words, there is more than one way to cement yourself in the minds of your followers beyond traditional authority," Lee writes of Buffer's approach. "If we can earn a reputation as a go-to source for social media content by embracing what we don't know, then the opportunity's there for you to do the same."
The tribe of the ignorant (and hiding it) is vast.
Why does this strategy of touting your lack of knowledge work? Among other reasons, because your candor is likely to resonate with lots and lots of folks. Despite all the noise and bluster we're surrounded with, most folks out there (one study says up to 70 percent) worry about not knowing enough or feeling like an imposter. Most of us, at some point, have experienced feeling ashamed of our ignorance.
Admit your own blind spots and celebrate the process of acquiring the knowledge needed to fill them, and you're bound to ease people's minds and win serious supporters. "There is power in the individual assertion that you don't have to know it all," insists Lee.
Modesty as the ultimate differentiator
In a world of energetic self-promotion of all types, humility may also be the ultimate differentiator. Lee quotes Jason Freedman of 42 Floors on the instant, credibility-boosting power of admitting the limits of your expertise. "When people say, 'I don't know,' it lends credibility to everything else that they've said," he believes.
Of course, the strategy of admitting your ignorance has a couple of commonsense caveats. No one is impressed by highly trained professionals with a lack of expertise in their core competencies. You'd only be alarmed if your doctor wrote a post about brushing up on Anatomy 101, though you might be charmed by one in which she detailed coming up with a more humane waiting room or a faster billing system. Also, admitting ignorance works only if it's followed up with the effort to search out and share the information needed to remedy it. But within these bounds, maybe it's time to give "I don't know" a try.