There are a lot of bloggers out there trying to establish themselves as authority figures in their niches.
It’s what you do, when you have a background or hobby you really want other people to learn about in blog form.
Unfortunately, whether it happens inside the blogging network or somewhere else on or offline, many aspiring “experts” don’t actually know how to give their readers advice.
Most of them don’t know any better — I’m not pointing fingers, saying it’s their fault. But there’s a reason advice on the internet is so risky.
You literally are not capable of giving advice to every single individual who seeks out your wisdom.
If you’re going off personal experience alone, you’re digging yourself into an even deeper hole.
Before you start giving advice, take a moment to realize one very important thing …
Not everyone is like you. The way you think and the way you act aren’t necessarily how your audience processes information or behaves.
You can say, “This is what has worked for me.”
You can say, “I’ve seen some people benefit from this thing.”
And of course, you can say, “Science/Research says …”
But you cannot say, “This is what always works, and you cannot do it any other way.”
“My way” mentality isn’t smart, attractive, or helpful. There are a few ways you can rationalize this. The most down-to-earth point of view is that you may be an expert, or you may have had a personal experience with something, but no two people are exactly alike. No one’s circumstances perfectly mirror yours, or your friend’s cousin’s girlfriend’s hairdresser’s.
You might know a lot about this thing you’re writing about. But if your only message to your audience is “I am the king, bow down to me and my advice,” well … good luck, I guess?
But you can also think of it this way: what if someone takes your advice, the advice you’ve promised works for everyone, and it doesn’t work for them? Out of frustration and disappointment, they might lose all faith in you as the authority you’re clearly trying to be.
Don’t let your audience think they’re not good enough for your advice, or that you don’t know what you’re talking about because your “surefire” tips didn’t work for them.
NOW, BEFORE YOU START GETTING WORRIED: This doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to talk about your personal experiences. Storytelling is an extremely powerful strategy for guiding others through figuring out their own stuff. If you’ve gone through something, and your story adds value to your audience, of COURSE you should share it!
Just be aware that when you do talk about the things that have helped you and what you have learned, you can’t assume your advice is one-size-fits-all. Advice doesn’t work like that. (We’d all have it a lot easier if it did … this is coming from someone who tries to give casual health advice on the internet, sometimes.)
How do you give generic advice to a whole bunch of people who need advice? You give a lot of advice. You offer a handful of different strategies instead of just one. Or you ask your audience to share their experiences after discussing yours.
It’s hard. That’s why you really need to know what you’re getting into before you dive in headfirst.
Unless you like reading comments from annoyed people telling you you’re wrong because “that’s not what worked for them.” I mean … that’s still going to happen. But we’re trying to prevent this kind of stuff here. There is no real cure for “my story is the most important one, I must dominate the conversation and not listen to anyone else” (the reason I am trying to detox from Facebook comments).
Advice is advice. Some people take it too literally. Just be as clear as you can that you’re offering suggestions, not guaranteed solutions. The best you can do is communicate as honestly and clearly as possible. Then, it’s up to your readers to interpret your suggestions how they see fit.
Your most important job is to provide the credible info, give your input, and act with professionalism.
Testimonials, anecdotes — they’re great. But never forget who your audience members are — people who are going through things you don’t know about. Only assume you’re an expert in fixing your own problems, and do the best you can to help others find the paths that will help them fix theirs.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.