Scott H Young

People Don’t Want Experts


CampfireStory

They want stories they can connect with.

I wish someone had told me that when I started blogging. It would have saved me a lot of energy and internal doubt.

You see, I’m definitely not an expert. I love writing and I’m incredibly opinionated. But when it comes to giving life advice, I’m just another 21-year old kid.

I was 17 when I started this blog, and my deepest fear was being rejected on the basis that I was too inexperienced. I knew I wasn’t an expert of any sorts, so starting a website around getting more from life seemed a tad arrogant.

It took me a few years, but eventually I realized that my fears were completely unwarranted. Not because I was actually an expert (I’m not entirely sure what that word means anymore). But because I realized people don’t actually want experts.

How a 17-Year Old Can Create a Top 5000 Blog

There was a point where this blog was briefly in the top 5000 list of blogs on the internet. Of course, this blog has continued to grow, but as more blogs enter the scene maintaining that position gets harder and harder. I think I’m around 14,000 according to Technorati’s ranking algorithm, but that’s besides the point.

This success defied my “expert hypothesis”. I clearly wasn’t an expert, yet I was actually getting a decent volume of traffic to my website. What was up with that?

I had two theories:

  1. Either I had confused people into believing I was a guru, when I was not.
  2. Or people didn’t actually care that I wasn’t an expert.

Considering the emails I occasionally get, I don’t doubt that I did the former in a few cases. That’s a big part of the reason in my shift of writing style to acknowledge my weaknesses as much as possible, to avoid a distorted representation of myself.

But, for the most part I don’t believe readers here have any delusions of who I am.

The truth, I later discovered, is that people didn’t care that I wasn’t an expert. It wasn’t my expertise they were linking and visiting this blog for. It was the story. The enthusiasm of someone sharing something they are deeply interested in, and spending a lot of time thinking about.

What People Actually
Care About

I recently ran a reader survey where I asked them what the major advantage this blog has, over other blogs in the lifestyle design, self-improvement, productivity niches. The main answer, surprisingly enough was: me.

It wasn’t that my advice was always better. Instead, it was that I was like many of my readers. I was a student, pursuing self-improvement in an often cynical world, and trying to cross the chasm between university and full-time entrepreneurship.

It was the story, not the ideas themselves, that people wanted to hear.

I believe the expertise-wave of information is dying. Newspapers are being replaced by amateur reporters. YouTube is toppling regular television. Blogging is replacing traditional published books as a source of non-fiction.

I’m only a minor example of the storyteller model of information. Some other great bloggers that have won, in my opinion, more because of the stories they create than the expertise they offer:

  • Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Nonconformity – Most of Chris’s posts aren’t educating the masses, they are just cohering a story. One where people can escape the 9-5, travel to every country on earth and reject conformity.
  • Leo Babauta of Zen Habits – Being a humble, genuine guy, I doubt Leo would consider himself the model of expertise. I believe the real reason Zen Habits grew is it connected readers with a story: one of ignoring the complexities of modern life in favor of calmness and simplicity.
  • Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project – Maybe the best example here, Gretchen writes in an honest style that doesn’t propose to have all the answers. Instead, she’s managed to collect readers who share her goal of finding more happiness in life.

A lot of would-be bloggers are intensely passionate about their subject, but hold off on writing because, “they aren’t experts.”

They forget that I’m not an expert, nor are half the successful writers online today. We’re storytellers, collecting people who share the same enthusiasm.


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18 Responses to “People Don’t Want Experts”

  1. Teddy says:

    Nice thoughts, Scott. I like the idea – sharing the same enthusiasm with others. Some people may feel that there is no one they can share with, be it their interests, views of this life, etc. in their circle of friends in the real world (I do, sometimes). Perhaps, that’s why some really can’t separate with internet as it provides the bridge to go somewhere they can relate to, such as certain blogs and forums.

  2. I can attest to this, even though my latest blog is only a few months old. I’m very clear that I’m “just some kid writing about some stuff” and readers do seem to like that. It’s so much easier not pretending to be some guru.

  3. Hey Scott.

    Our stories and personality sure are a huge force. The fact that we release them publicly, to different degrees, is also what makes the material from each source more or less fitting.

    This message does a lot to help folks who are holding off on putting out their ideas because they think their level of expertise will be called into question.

  4. Scott,

    You’re right, if people could learn to overcome their fears- in this case, not being an expert, what might they achieve? I really appreciate a piece that provokes thinking, self-reflection and of course, action. Knowing that one doesn’t have to be an expert, how does the game change here on out? Thanks for sharing,

    -Miguel

  5. Brett Houle says:

    Scott – stumbled across your blog. Great reads. Really enjoy your perspective and ability to think/articulate from many angles. Very satisfying to hear someone in the self-improvement field offer a fresh way of thinking/talking things through. Keep it up!

  6. Vikash Shah says:

    Great post! I can definitely relate to this idea as many of the blogs I read are from individuals who have actually done what they have said and incorporate it in their writing.

    Below is a quote that reminded me of your blog post.
    “I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”
    Joseph Campbell

  7. Thanks for including me, Scott. I’m honored (or honoured, I should say) to be on any list with Leo, Gretchen, and yourself.

  8. Dave says:

    Even though I believe that part of your appeal is that you are easy to relate to, I would not continue to read your blog if you didn’t provide some sort of value.
    You may not consider yourself an expert, but you are more of an expert at certain things than me. That is why I read your blog.
    That being said, I have always debated whether I should start blogging or not. My main concern is that I am not knowledgeable enough in any one subject to provide enough value to attract readers. Now, I might reconsider blogging.

  9. An says:

    I’m glad you brought this up. I read your blog because of your story, your experiences, and things provoking your thoughts, help provoke my thoughts too. I can relate to you, but not necessarily the expert.
    Each of us has a story to tell, a story to write. It’s called “My life”. Sharing it just makes it a little richer and flavoursome.

  10. John M says:

    Scott, I’ll echo the earlier commenter in praise of your perspective and original thinking. If not for that I might not concern myself with the story of a 21 year old student. For me the quality of your ideas are what have qualified you as a trusted source of content. The fact that your site apparently receives less exposure than many of the bloggers you look up to is a mystery to me.

  11. This is good to hear! In my blog, I’ve been trying to share my experiences with my journey to being a photographer. I am most definitely NOT an expert, but I think that makes me far more accessible to people. You’ve been at this for a long time, and it’s quite an inspiration!

  12. Scott Young says:

    Dave and John,

    Obviously you need to have interesting, useful ideas. But those ideas come from actually living the story you write about on your blog. They don’t come (at least for me) from years of expertise.

    -Scott

  13. [...] Bonus read: People Don’t Want Experts [...]

  14. I totally agree. Nobody wants too much detail. Stories have a mesmerizing appeal to them and keep people engaged. It was one of my major sticking points when I start my blog but I tried this and the post was so much better.

  15. shreevidya says:

    I agree with you. I one thing that connects to me and make me to visit your site is that you link each aspect to the daily life of common people, not with is hyper but which is sensible.

  16. AH says:

    Quote : The fact that your site apparently receives less exposure than many of the bloggers you look up to is a mystery to me.

    I also think this blog is very useful to people who want more from life!!!

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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