Through marketing with tips and tip inventory creation I came to think of tips as the smallest expressible unit of expertise. From a research query perspective, tips are quite easy to extract from a market’s community of practice.

But what about larger and more complex units of expertise?

For example, where do methodologies fit? How about guidelines, principles and techniques? Further, what does the presence – or absence – of a given unit of expertise indicate about your market? This article proposes that there are (at least) five distinct units of expertise and attempts to illustrate each one primarily for content marketing researchers. If you’re even vaguely geeked at this point I’d ask you to check out Towards a Methodology for Classifying and Collating Market Research Queries.

Why Bother?

First, why analyze units of expertise within a market’s community of practice? So glad you asked! Here’s why content marketers will want to get familiar with these units of expertise:

  1. Systematically identify content gaps (aka content marketing opportunities).
  2. Identify content surplus areas (where you must work harder to differentiate)
  3. Thoroughly research and classify expertise within a market
  4. Identify and classify distinct market terms corresponding with units of expertise
  5. Identify expertise gaps (eg: some experts can write tips but not articulate methodology creation)
  6. Rate key contributing experts based on ability to express different units of expertise

Defining Expertise

Second, how exactly are you using the term expertise here? Expertise is what you get from your practice. Your practice is your trade or occupation or passion. When you run into a knowledge gap (ingorance) as it relates to your practice you go to Google and search. This is often how we discover our community of practice. This community publishes its distilled expertise in at least five key structures, or “units of expertise.”

5 Key Units of Expertise

Here are my working units of expertise. There will probably be more as I test and mold this model – and of course I’d love your input on this too. For example, where does this article fit in terms of its unit of expertise? It’s not a method or a guide or a how to. Obviously I haven’t documented all the units at this point. Anyhow, here’s what I’ve got so far.

1) position | belief | values | ethics

The first unit of expertise deals in the highest, most nebulous areas of expertise. These are typically gained through years and years of practice, and often these are unwritten, unspoken or even unconscious. This unit of expertise essentially seeks to answer “why I do this” with honesty and dignity. In some cases – musicians or artists for example – this kind of writing can be common. It will only be interesting or useful to the community when it’s from long standing and respected practitioners. Content marketers must take special notice of tactics for expressing and shifting belief… For example Seth Godin, in LinchPin, sought nobly and mightily to shift people into believing in their capacity to be awesome.

2) methodology creation | construction of effective principles

The next unit of expertise deals in ways to determine “what to do.” Typically these are guided by the first unit of expertise. This unit is not map making, but guidance on effective and efficient map making. Methodologists and strategists – those capable of creating this unit of expertise – teach others to ask the right questions, and how to become sensitive to productive lines of inquiry and hypothesis testing. I believe Ash Maurya’s book Running Lean is an example of a methodologist at his best, showing people how to make effective maps for themselves.

3) methods | principles | approach | guidelines | school of thought

The third unit of expertise gets us into a bit more solid ground – these are the higher level guidelines, principles and approaches (maps) hammered out by methodology-minded practitioners. These are typically known and recognizeable schools of thought within a given practice area. If this unit of expertise is missing it’s fairly easy to speak towards, even if you’re not a subject matter expert – you just have to gather all the 4th and 5th units of expertise (below) and look for their natural groupings. In my space – link building – it’s common to see practioners write how-to’s and tips without really recognizing the principles or schools of practice they’re writing within (eg: link buying, broken link building, link bait, community participation, content-based link building, etc…).

4) how to | steps | process | procedures | tactics | checklist

The fourth unit of expertise begins to provide immediately actionable advice. This is where knowledge seekers typically start their search, often in Google. Content marketers, seos, link strategists and content farmers often specialize in creating this unit of expertise, and your favorite industry trade publication probably publishes the crap out of it. These units of expertise typically concentrate on helping knowledge seekers accomplishing a specific task or goal.

5) tips | advice | best practices

The fifth and smallest unit of expertise are tips. Typically these provide guidance on executing steps or how to’s relating to a particular task. Tips – especially in prosumer forums – are often followed by the acronym DAMHIKT, which is an indication that the tip was painful to learn. Tips – as they originate in the daily lives of practitoners – are often passed on in an effort to spare pain in others. As they age they are often researched, rehashed and aggregated in the content across most verticals.

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