4031-4683365102_06af733c19_m.jpgI was having lunch with someone the other day who was asking about becoming an Active Authority – someone who uses social media to actively engage people in a particular subject by demonstrating their expertise and authority in said subject.

Think Olivier Blanchard. When Olivier talks about brand management and social media management, people stop talking and listen. When he’s finished talking, people start repeating adapting what he’e said. Why? Because he’s the authority on it.

Now I wrote sometime ago on 5 ways to use Twitter as an Active Authority, but a comment on Wednesday made me see this in a new light, and I’d like to open up the discussion.

On the discussion about the myth of the personal brand, Codi Spodnik commented:

I am re-entering this space after a 5 – 6 year stint as a stay-at-home-mom in a small metro area. I do want to start my own consultancy, sharing the experience I gained before motherhood, helping clients find the right fit for executing their products, helping them articulate their needs and strategize solutions….. still working on the details.

But I have found this space to be cluttered with this talk of “personal branding.” To me, it has the appearance of a cult of Self. After perusing my local “experts” and similar consultants all over the web, I am finding the same talk and catch phrases, regardless of their level of actual experience or competence. I was really struggling with finding a way to create my own genuine identity without engaging in this practice or having that appearance.

I totally feel where Codi is coming from, and so I wanted to get your feedback for her so that she can glean insights from the wealth.

What I want to know is this: If you had to start again, what would you do?

I know what I’d do: I’d create content on a focussed subject that provides people with very clear and practical takeaways, and then engage with anyone who interacted with me or the content at any level, and do my best to help them make the content work for them.

Your Leading Thoughts

  • How about you? If you had to start again, what would you do?

Photo courtesy of Emiliantha

Archived Comments

  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    Short answer is I don’t really know. Too much of a generalist to focus on any one subject area long enough to become an active authority in it. Work better behind the scenes curating things for the up front types ;)

  • http://www.stuartwitts.com/ Stuart Witts

    Codi talks about creating her own genuine identity, but a GENUINE identity isn’t created.

    Whatever my ‘social’ identity is, is what my ‘real’ identity’ is and the personal brand of which everyone speaks is simply a by-product of this. By taking a traditional business approach to creating a personal brand aren’t you missing the point?

    As for what I would do if I had to start again, I’d do exactly the same things. Only MORE so :)

  • http://twitter.com/danieleagee Daniel Agee

    I can only talk from my experience.

    Personal branding is real and it’s the internet’s fault. When everyone suddenly became available to us by a simple Google search, being the best in your town didn’t matter anymore. You had to be the best, plain and simple. But there’s only room for one “best”, and so it became about who you are and what you personally bring to the table.

    There’s a lot of BS out there because of it, and more often then not, people fall for it. The only thing you can do it just do it. Start. You don’t need permission, training, past experience or funding. Just start going forward. Get in the car and go. Hop on the plane; you can always buy a nicer shirt when you get there.

    If you don’t have the experience, don’t say that you do or make excuses for not having it. If what you are saying makes sense and is applicable, someone will listen. And when someone does listen to you, give them the respect of listening to them. Two ears, one mouth.

    I spent two years of my life at a dead end job because I didn’t have the courage to just go. I used to think that my thoughts didn’t warrant worth, so I didn’t share them. I wouldn’t make that mistake.

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    This is such an important question, Scott. One that I will keep top-of-mind. It’s the mind-set of freshness and innovation. I’m seeing increasing numbers of fellow travellers becoming cynical bored and even ‘dream-fatigued’ online. Keeping a child-like curiosity and freshness heightens our senses to the extraordinary dimensions of the opportunities in front of us.

    Best, Robin :)

  • http://www.rosagarriga.net Rosa Garriga

    Really interesting post Scott. Here I totally agree with Daniel Agee.
    In an era with the number of available jobs is scarce (and I think I’m just being realistic when I say it’s not going to improve dramatically in the next few years) I think it can help you a lot to have a social media presence. I do agree that SM are cluttered and it’s up to any of us to listen to these people that talk using the same catch phrases.
    But personally, I’ve found writing in my blog an enjoyable activity and most of all I’m learning a lot every time I look for sources. I know I’m not an expert at all and I do not have much experience yet, but my main aim is first to learn, and second to be more employable when companies look up my name on Google. I do not see what’s the harm in that. It just shows I’m genuinely interested in my job, I know what I want and have ‘some’ knowledge. Only that I wish it didn’t take so much time to ‘build my personal brand’ !!!

    Answering to Scott’s question, if I had to start again, I’d take more care of the consistency and the quality of everything I write online, you never know who’s going to read that!

  • http://twitter.com/98rosjon Jonny Rose

    I’ve barely ‘started’ but already I’m seeing the deficiencies in my skill-set…

    I should have listened to my parents and learnt a modern language (Google translate will only get you so far!) and I REALLY should have either learnt computer programming and design skills.

    Upside: Like I said before, I’ve “barely started” so I’ve got lots of time and opportunity to acquire these skills!

  • / Scott Gould

    LOL – Sy, you pretend to not know, but you know very well!

    Tell me, *how* would you work better behind the scenes?

  • / Scott Gould

    Agreed Stuart – you *have* an identity and it will shine through, no matter what you do. The trick is to make sure that what you has authenticity to who you are – because when it lines up, it maximises.

    What same things would you do if you started again? Come on – get specific with me!

  • / Scott Gould


    Thanks for these comments and for sharing your experience.

    Tell me – out of all of this – what is the most important thing that you did and would do again?


  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Robin

    It does sharpen you, doesn’t it. Keeps me focussed to know what the MAIN THING is that I should be doing.

    This also helps me know what to say NO to!


  • / Scott Gould


    Interesting to read these comments, because you’ve focussed totally on content, and not on community or connections.

    Whilst this says a lot about your strengths and focus, I must say, I’m a bit concerned because perhaps you aren’t building relationships like you could be because you are so focussed on content?

    What say you?

    Scott :-)

  • / Scott Gould

    Interesting words mate!

    What about strategically? What would you do that you did do right?

  • http://www.rosagarriga.net Rosa Garriga

    You’re totally right Scott! In fact after having written this comment I have asked myself the same question.
    However, I already knew the answer… to be honest I think that to focus on relationships it takes so much time and effort that currently I do not have. Ok well I could if I wanted to, but it’s not on top of my list.
    I’m aware that I’m missing opportunities by not engaging more with people or by trying to build a community, but at this point it’s just not my priority… Actually you’re one of the few with whom I talk to regularly but have never met in person, and this is the only blog I’m subscribed to!

  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    I’d copy that #likeminds fella. He seems to be doing alright with his Wolverine ways…

  • http://twitter.com/98rosjon Jonny Rose

    What I DID right:
    – Isolated my strengths and played to them (love writing > English degree > freelance journalism)
    – Went onto Higher Education. Not the be-all and end-all, but still instrumental in meeting educated people with similar interests, goals and abilities
    – Realised what I wanted to achieve in life and started to methodically go about engaging in relationships and connections that would make it happen (NB: Not in an opportunistic or exploitative fashion)

    It’s all about planning and FOCUS.

    What I AM doing right:
    – Acknowledging weaknesses rather than denying them
    – Amassing a team of [trusted] people to support me in my areas of weaknesses (i.e. computer programming)
    – CONTINUALLY LEARNING from others wiser than myself in areas I wish to excel at (e.g. You, Andrew Davies, Johnny Laird, SM Gurus etc)
    – Fostering helpful (and genuine) relationships with others who are ahead of the game(e.g. You, Andrew Davies etc)

    What I WILL do right:
    – Systematically improve my weakness e.g. Take the time to learn French in the near future, learn to drive

  • / Scott Gould


    I hear what you’re saying – it does take time to build relationship, and certainly if you don’t need to build relationship in order to live (like I do – my work depends on it), there might not be motivation to do so.

    What I do suggest you do is build relationship with people that you connect with here or on Twitter. Don’t build lots – but do learn that you need to scatter and gather. Some relationships that look prosperous won’t be, and others that don’t look like much can become very fruitful.

    For a start – the people commenting here are great guys. I also am building a community section on our Like Minds website which will aid people in creating valuable relationships, without creating lots of volume.

    And also, thanks for both subscribing and also being open enough to discuss!


  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Jonny

    Love this break down – it creates diamond focus!

    – Isolation of your strengths – Id’ agree – very well done.
    – Love how you have step by step added skills and experience to yourself with an end in mind
    – Love also how you’re building relationship with people now

    I would say that there’s more to the future than French ;-)

  • / Scott Gould

    ha, lol!

  • http://www.rosagarriga.net Rosa Garriga

    Thanks for your advice Scott! Well, I’m a really extrovert person and I do spend a lot of my time building and nurturing my face-to-face relationships. In my work relationships are very important too, that’s why I joined a professional association, I’m involved in a committee and attend an event at least every week, plus lots of trade shows, conferences, workshops, etc.
    That’s why I don’t have any time left…lol

    Looking forward to seeing your new section!

    Have a great weekend,


  • http://www.stuartwitts.com/ Stuart Witts

    Perhaps the single most important decision that has been critical to everything that has happened to me in the last year and a half was to TAKE MORE RISKS! Unfortunately I didn’t realise this early enough and had to be forcibly pushed, via redundancy, into making it.

    If I was starting again, that is what I would do much more of.

  • / Scott Gould


    Looking forward to seeing you soon at Like Minds! :-)

  • / Scott Gould

    Thanks for that – that’s more like it :-)

    Risks are a thing I only learnt to take more recently too. Some paid off, some didn’t – but it’s what has pushed me into where I’m now going for sure

  • http://www.stuartwitts.com/ Stuart Witts

    And one more thing…

    I’d believe in myself more :)

  • http://twitter.com/Malcolm12boxes Malcolm Sleath

    I resonate with what Codi Spodnik says, but for reasons that are not particularly about personal branding and all that stuff. While developing my particular piece of intellectual property, I used to feel that I was in a never-ending cycle of ‘starting over’. It would get to the point where I thought I had the final piece slotted into place, and then the next week there would another ‘final revelation’ and I would be starting over again. The result was that I could never really take my offering to market with conviction.

    I knew my offering was flawed because when I read other people’s articles and websites it was quite clear that they had it all sussed and I didn’t. Admittedly, some of the things they were saying seemed a bit hackneyed, but I reasoned that this was because they knew their market well and understood what would resonate with their potential customers.

    I, on the other hand, was ‘still working on the details’ as Codi puts it, and couldn’t expect to compete with them. It felt uncomfortable. Sometimes this would approach panic, and I would seek to distract myself in some way, simply to avoid the discomfort. Needless to say, these distractions took me even further off my intended path and even more discomfort would ensue.

    I now see things rather differently. The revelation is best summed up in a short article: “Why Good Business Owners Live Disoriented” written by @ChuckBlakeman (http://bit.ly/cdjmfb). Chuck points out that disorientation is necessary for learning. But this is not a testimonial where I say that I read Chuck’s article and now I feel different. I feel exactly the same: disoriented and sometimes panicky. What has changed is what I do about it. What I do is absolutely nothing. In the words of the poster I “keep calm and carry on”.

    Now, to your question Scott: if I was starting over, what would I do? I would keep calm and carry on and do exactly what I have done, only faster, because I would realise that the three things I have done independently of one another can really be done simultaneously, or rather in a tight little sequence that runs: think about what you just did, work out what you learned, decide what you will do next, do it, and then think about it – and so on. It’s called the learning cycle. One irony is that I have been teaching it to people for years.

    Here are the three things I did. First: I tried to understand what I was talking about: my content. As Olivier @thebrandbuilder elegantly put it, you have to know your sh*t. Some of that was about reading and listening to others working in the same field, and making clear to myself why I agreed with some of the things they said and why I disagreed with other things. It was all good solid stuff, but my progress to understanding might well have speeded up if I had gone to market earlier. I didn’t do that because I was afraid to show my ignorance because I thought it would prejudice future work.

    The second task was to work out how I could get other people to understand what I was talking about. To be truthful I made very, very slow progress on this until someone asked me to do something slightly outside my comfort zone (back to Chuck Blakeman’s piece again) and I stopped giving information and started asking them questions so they did all the thinking. Then they got it. (You have no idea of the deep, deep irony in this. Asking questions is what my IP is all about. As the philosopher puts it: “Doh!”)

    Mind you, I fought hard against taking this learning on board. At first, I told myself that when I asked people questions instead of telling them things it was really ‘cheating’ because they went and applied it so quickly and didn’t talk about my IP in the way that I did. What I didn’t realise was they applied it quickly because they had absorbed it like learning to ride a bike, and even when they didn’t do it perfectly it made a significant difference to the outcome. It took a while before I stopped putting the results they achieved down to ‘luck’.

    OK. So now I knew my sh*t, and I could get people to understand it, which brings us to the third and final element of the sequence. While I was busy procrastinating, I had managed to overlook a couple of rather important questions: Why would people bother? Why would they be interested?

    You might think it was a bit short-sighted of me not to have asked these questions earlier. Perhaps I was afraid to ask them, but in any case I had the perfect answer. It was: ‘People won’t understand why they need to learn my IP, until they understand my IP.’ Now, while it is true that education is the best form of marketing, it is not surprising that my hanging on to this belief slowed progress.

    So what changed? What changed – and I am not saying this because it is Scott’s blog – was relationships. I joined a networking group and, being the kind of person who isn’t all that good at socialising and prefers structured situations, I decided to ease the painful process of getting to know people by doing some research. This amounted to asking people questions and listening to the answers, and not saying very much about what it was I had to offer, although it did slip out sometimes.

    Because I asked questions and listened to what people said, they seemed to get the impression that I was genuinely interested in them. Well, I was. Structured situations make it much easier for me to like people because I stop being afraid of them. And, if you have read your Cialdini you will know that people find it easier to like people who seem to like them. And if you have picked up on what @unmarketing is saying, you understand that ‘know, like, trust’ is an important sequence you have to go through before you can expect anything you say to be properly heard. (It works. After a relatively short time, I became trusted by this network to be one of the people who introduce new members to existing members.)

    But back to the research. When I began, the people I focused on were the group I was most afraid of – lawyers. They were right out of my comfort zone. (At an earlier time, I had actually had one laugh in my face when I told him what I proposed to offer.) But because I knew my sh*t I was comfortable asking them about how they communicated value to their clients. Because I was not selling them anything they started to tell me what was really bugging them. Even better, some of the lawyers were clients of other lawyers, so I got both sides of the story from people who really knew what they were talking about.

    The other thing that happened was that in addition to the lawyers, other members of the group were kind enough to ask what I did. So I levelled with them about my problem – how can I get people interested in what I do? Immediately they started to make suggestions, and literally, within a few weeks, I had gone from having a clever piece of intellectual property without a real market, to having a solution to a recognised problem. Nothing about the IP had changed.

    It’s important to note that to make this journey I didn’t subscribe to paid webinars. I didn’t consult experts in marketing. I didn’t buy a set of CDs to play in my car. I didn’t hire an NLP expert to analyse my ‘patterns’ and decide what was wrong with my life. I didn’t go on a course in a foreign country to ‘learn how to think like a billionaire’. (Don’t you think it kind of billionaires to give of their time to run such courses? I mean they do run them, right?)

    I just put myself in a position where I asked real people to tell me what they thought. And they helped me.

    I did the work in putting what they told me together with what I knew, and the result was unique to me. But it was founded on genuine information from a difficult to crack target market and help from other people who didn’t do it for the money. All of them just wanted to help.

    So, what is the result? Well, it’s early days, but I now have a business. I have started working with someone who knows one of my target markets much better than I do and was looking for new things to offer them. As soon as I started to tell her about my research, the effect was electric. First she started to generate a list of people she wanted to talk to about it, and then she went and talked to them. The other day she wrote that ‘firms resonated’ when she introduced the subject. I know the signs. This is going to take off.

    So, how do I feel? Well you already know the answer to that. I feel disoriented, a bit afraid and sometimes panicky. But it’s OK. I’ll just keep calm and carry on.

    If you’ve got this far, you may be wondering why have I taken so much space on Scott’s blog to say all this? Why didn’t I write it on my own? Well, I wouldn’t want my readers to think I was such an idiot for taking so long to get to this point would I. So this is our secret. OK?

  • Johnny Laird

    You’re making me blush again, Jonny!

  • / Scott Gould

    Malcolm – what a comment!

    I read this through on Saturday and don’t really know how to respond – other than point people to it as an incredibly reassuring read and example of the power of people.

    Working in a silo, it is so easy to abnormally focus on our little projects, yet never look up and consider the feedback of others.

    What I especially like is your understanding that we need to be reviewing and pushing at the same time.

    I will forever be pointing people to this!!!


  • / Scott Gould

    blush blush! :-)