BUILDING CREDIBILITY has been on my mind for a long time. With several hours of time to write as I travel, it seemed a good time to capture and share my thoughts after some reflection.
One of the things I've been fascinated about in design and social media circles I frequent is the subject of credibility. How does one develop credibility and gain authority? Can it be done quickly, or is it a long term practice that demands stamina and discipline?
While I'm far from an expert in this area, I have had years of experience building my own credibility and I'd like to share what I know. Hopefully these thoughts will help others and start an interesting discussion.
Spray-On Credibility vs. Investment in Credibility
There seems to be an idea floating about that says credibility can be gained quickly. You know, 157 crazy stunts to gain followers, bombarding social media streams with promotional items or launching hit and run business card raids at attendee-rich events.
This stuff may appear to work — briefly bumping your analytics numbers. Ultimately, many of these tactics serve to form a brittle structure that resembles an organic network, but really consists of followers who mostly tune out your constant stream of SEO-optimized personal press releases.
It's Spray-on credibility.
In my experience, the best, most lasting, and deeply satisfying way to gain credibility in any community is to approach it with the respect and discipline of a long-term investment. Every tweet, blog post or face to face meeting should be seen as an opportunity to invest by giving and sharing things of value with people who choose to follow you.
This includes lots of listening, sharing resources and information, answering questions, helping solve problems and giving away your wisdom to those who can benefit from it.
At the heart of this approach are people — those you admire and genuinely want to interact with. Take away the technology to focus on listening to people experiencing good days and bad days. Share their excitement, promote their wins and sympathize with their losses. It's a community, not direct marketing.
My ultimate goal is to meet every person I interact with online — in a face to face meeting if at all possible. I may never meet every person, but by maintaining this people-centric mindset, I'm reminded of the human reasons I choose to spend time listening and sharing in a community.
The REWORK Experience
It all began with taking a chance: sketchnoting a 37signals SEED conference in Chicago, meeting some good friends in person at the event and then sharing my sketchnotes with the world.
My shared efforts got the attention of the 37signals community and ultimately, the attention of Jason and David, who featured my work on their Signal vs. Noise blog. That first set of sketchnotes started reaching thousands of SEED attendees and 37signals fans.
My efforts at SEED 1 led to sketchnoting SEED 3 one year later, but this time as as an invited guest of the presenters. This opened the door to being hired by SXSW Leadercast and An Event Apart to sketchnote their events, build credibility and invest in more communities.
Eventually, after continual efforts sharing my sketchnotes, I was to hired to illustrate REWORK, which has become a runaway bestseller. In each case there was investment and sharing that ultimately led to the big project, but without that investment, the big illustration gig probably never happens. I couldn't have imagined doing REWORK on that first sketchnote assignment — I simply had to invest and trust that my efforts would bear fruit in the future. They did.
The Long Haul
This approach will not build your follower count overnight. But I believe this slow, long-term approach to investing in your communities — online and off — creates a richer, more valuable and more human credibility for those who are willing to invest.
This also means forgoing anything that feels icky or cheesy. Once you flirt with get-famous-quick schemes there's a real chance of instantly damaging your credibility. Trust your gut to determine if what you're about to broadcast to the world benefits your long-term vision and credibility.
And if you screw up, admit to it immediately. I've stated opinions that have turned out to be wrong or mis-informed. Once I realize an error, I immediately own up to it.
Ultimately it's your character at stake. I highly respect those who know how to own up to mistakes and are open to considering other, often contrary ideas without flipping out or starting a flame war.
I think this whole topic can be summed up as just being a good human. Listen, share, provide value to others, be open, admit mistakes and know that by building great character, you're also building great credibility.