I have a problem with 'Authority'

by simon on February 4, 2010

One of the cardinal rules for writing a successful blog is to write with ‘authority.’

Brian Clark of Copyblogger, who himself is without doubt one of the leading authorities on successful blog writing and internet marketing, makes it one of the cornerstones of his advice.

He has released a free e-book on the subject, one I can recommend, and which makes a powerful case for why one should always use an authoritative tone of voice on a blog.

Is it morally right to pretend you are an ‘authority’ on a subject just so you can build a blog?

Brian is by no means alone in offering this advice. The message is the same everywhere you turn. Darren Rowse of Problogger says the same, as do scores of other bloggers. Now, I’m in no position to argue with these folks. They know far more about how to build a successful blog than I do. (Hey, they even post regularly, which is more than I can claim).

I have little doubt that they are correct. If you want a successful blog, if you want to make money and sell e-books and the rest, then you should follow their advice.

They are right.

Up to a point.

Because there is a wider question. Is it always honest to do this? Is it morally right to pretend you are an ‘authority’ on a subject just so you can build a blog?

You can end up with the absurd situation where someone’s first blog is a blog about how to blog. You can see why. Blogging is a subject they are researching, so they blog about it as way of learning. That’s cool. But why the authoritative tone of voice?

We have the situation now, online, where people can establish themselves as an authority on a subject thanks to their ability to launch a successful blog.

Is that a good thing? At least it’s a powerful testament to the importance of knowing how to write well – so maybe I shouldn’t be complaining.

A twenty year old offering life wisdom runs the risk of sounding like a complete bl**dy idiot.

However, what about – and I’m going to show my age here – what about when you come across some blog where someone is solemnly offering you the benefits of their wisdom, their insights into life and how it should be lived, and you go to the ‘about’ page and discover they are aged 22 or something.

I’m not making this up. The internet seems to be full of people in their early twenties who think they have life sussed.

I’m sorry if this is offensive to anyone in their early twenties, but the older you get, the more you realise how little you really know.

You see, there is a danger to always writing with ‘Authority’. Sometimes it comes across as dishonest, or pompous, or foolish, or comical. A twenty year old offering life wisdom runs the risk of sounding like a complete bl**dy idiot. Especially when you realise that the sum of their wisdom comes down to chat up lines and how to pick up girls while making easy money on the internet.

I have links I could be using here, evidence and examples. But I’ve decided not to use them. I don’t want to attack anyone personally, or even to discourage anyone from writing their thing, or doing things their own way.

But I do want to sound a note of caution about the overuse of the authoritative tone of voice.

For one thing, since everyone else is doing it, all those blogs end up sounding a bit the same.

And there has to be room for a little humility here and there. There have to be times when, even if we’re writing about subjects we know well, we have to admit we’re not world-leading experts, gurus or philosophers.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’ve become a little jaded and tired of the authoritative blog voice. I’ve become suspicious of it.

I tend to assume that people who write this way are trying to sell me something. And that’s not good, because then they start to lose my trust.

I guess when that happens, then something has gone wrong, and it just needs to be fixed. So, I suppose what I’m struggling to say here is… write with authority by all means (especially when you have some), but please… remember to give it a sanity check once in a while.

‘Cos you know what? No one likes a know-it-all.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

fairyhedgehog February 5, 2010 at 8:25 am

I think what works best for me is people writing with authority about what they know about.

I’ve read a blog by a youngster about personal development that worked wonderfully well all the time he presented his ideas as “hey, look what I just found out! And it worked for me!” I was less impressed when he began to offer advice generally, and I think that fits in with what you’re saying.

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Simon February 16, 2010 at 6:21 pm

It is a very fine line to tread, I wouldn’t knock anyone for straying across the line. But I think it’s an issue blog writers need to be aware of – because all the advice is ‘be an authority, all the time’ and that is hard to keep up. It needs a lot of thought before you even start a blog really.

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seo packages February 11, 2010 at 8:43 am

BECOMING AN AUTHORITY IS SOMETHING YOU CAN GROW INTO. THE MORE YOU READ AND WRITE, THE MORE YOU LEARN AND THE MORE OF AN AUTHORITY YOU BECOME.
LYNDON

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Simon February 16, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Yes, I agree Lyndon. I’m just urging a little bit of caution, that’s all.

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