Expertise in the creative industries and reputation

Since the last post I’ve been focusing much more on literature on expertise in the creative industries. Before I proceed with that however I should restate why I am looking at expertise.

One of the main research questions for my PhD is How is expertise performed on social media? Expertise, as I will demonstrate in my discussion in this blog post, is essential in order to progress and develop a career in the creative industries. Reputations are built on the expertise one has (or appears to have) and it is reputation that leads to more work. On social media, there are multiple opportunities for self-branding and self-promotion, and expertise, and the performance of expertise on social media, is yet to be explored among creative industries workers. What insights can this bring about social media in the life of the creative worker? What new insights can this bring about creative work?

Social network markets, expertise in the creative industries and reputation

In reading more around expertise in the creative industries, I’ve been led to the concept of social network markets, which I think could be a useful way of conceptualising the ideas of reputation and expertise and relating them to the wider context of the creative industries. According to Potts (2011):

“A social network market emerges when consumer choice shifts attention away from price information and toward observations of other agents’ choices as a rational reaction to uncertainties about product quality arising from novelty or complexity” (p.80).

The concept of social network markets has been used to look at the creative industries from a market-based perspective (Potts et al, 2008) and user co-creation online (Hartley, 2007; Banks 2009).

Banks (2009) looked at co creative expertise and the complexity of interrelations between “traditional expertise and emergent community knowledge structures” (p. 13). He proposes the analytical framework of social network markets to try and work through this complexity:

“This model of social network markets is based on the notion that this problem of co-creative expertise is neither an economic nor a cultural phenomenon in itself, but rather the outcome of a co-evolutionary dynamic between both economic and cultural considerations.” (p.13)

The framework of social network markets picks up on the economic and social aspects of the creative industries, which is useful for looking at ideas of reputation and expertise and relating it to the wider context of the creative industries. In Art Worlds, Becker (2008) articulates this social aspect in more depth in relation to the value of reputation in the creative industries.  According to Becker, the term ‘Art World’ is used:

“To denote the network of people whose cooperative activity, organized via their joint knowledge of conventional means of doing things, produces the kind of art works that art world is noted for.” (xxiv).

Becker claims that reputation as a social process, and argues against the common tendency in policy discourse to emphasise the genius individual with a unique and rare talent (Bilton, 2010). Other people have as much to do with the value and reputation of a person or work of art, and it is this idea which is the base argument of Art Worlds. Becker emphasises the importance of consensus among peers and consumers, as well as the role of production and distribution systems, in forging a reputation. Becker’s account was written before social media and the internet, and so some of what he talks about with regards to distribution systems could be problematised in this context, for example:

“That writers do not achieve major reputations does not mean that no one is doing work that would, by the standards of those worlds, deserve such reputations, only that the world’s distribution system does not let participants know what they need to to make the comparisons that would allow credible judgments.” (p.363).

The internet and social media have made production and distribution of creative work much easier to do. Though it is still very difficult to gain the mass exposure that the larger media companies can generate, it is slightly easier to gain at least some form of exposure on sites such as YouTube. One also still has to rely on social networks (and a form of consensus) in order for their work to reach many people, and this aspect remains the same from Becker’s original account.

So even though anyone can now create something and publish it online, people still need to see it. This is where the importance of signalling expertise comes in, for getting one’s work noticed.

Expertise and signalling 

Signalling is a way of communicating one’s expertise and building reputation, which leads to other forms of value, as Potts (2011) outlines:

“Credible signalling builds reputation, and reputation is social capital; a capital that is then fungible over future market and non-market contexts. Creative production occurs in a social context that gives rise to arbitrage opportunities over market and non-market spaces. The currency through which these transactions occur is not always monetary; indeed as often it is reputational, in the sense of being an investment in the wealth of a credible signal” (p.81).

Again, the internet and social media are worth considering in this context. How does the performance of expertise on social media play out here? Social media appears to be a ‘social context’ in which opportunities for creative production and distribution occur. What form does ‘signalling’ take here?

Candace Jones (2002) talks about signalling of expertise in the creative industries, utilising the work of Goffman to put together a theoretical framework to conceptualise signalling strategies. Again, there are ideas here which could be worth further exploration in a social media context. Jones talks about signalling content which consists of knowing why (identity), knowing how (performance) and knowing whom (relationships) (p.213) all of which are aspects of the online presence which I aim to explore in my own work (particularly performance).

She then talks about signalling strategies which are vitally important for reputation building. Reputation building strategies involve the types of relations someone pursues, and Jones talks about this using some of the terminology from Mark Granovetter’s strong and weak ties, claiming that strong ties dampen negative and amplify positive signals (and weak ties are more likely to invert that, i.e. amplifying negative signals). She also talks about reputation and self-presentation in terms of the audience and picking up ‘clues’ (using Goffman’s terminology) to best manage an impression. Again, these are ideas which are worth looking at on social media. A lot of work has been done on self-presentation online using Goffman’s framework, but not in terms of signalling of expertise.

Another interesting aspect which Jones mentions signalling as expertise – i.e. being an expert in signalling. Again, this is an idea which is worth exploring for my research in terms of social media usage. If you are highly competent, or expert, at using social media, does that make you appear more of an ‘expert’ in your creative field, because you are able to communicate it effectively online? What does this mean for peers who may not be so ‘expert’ at using social media? Jones claims that this practice of signalling as expertise involves analysis and intuition; intuition in particular is honed through experience. This idea of intuition has paralells with the ‘everydayness’ of expertise as talked about in my previous post.

If performance of expertise on social media becomes intuitive and natural for a practitioner, does that mean they are experts at social media, or experts in their field? What bearing does one have on the other in terms of time and effort invested into it?

Jones could have unpacked this idea of signalling as expertise further, however this is where I could pick up and explore in the context of social media use, particularly in treating it as a medium for communication and a part of creative workers’ everyday practice.


Banks, J. (2009). Co-creative expertise: Auran Games and Fury – A case study. Media International Australia, 130(February), pp. 77–89.

Becker, H. (2008) Art Worlds: 25th Anniversary Edition, updated and expanded. University of California Press.

Hartley, J. (2007). The evolution of the creative industries – Creative clusters , creative citizens and social network markets. Keynote address to Creative Industries Conference, Asia-Pacific Weeks, Berlin, September 2007.

Jones, C (2002) ‘Signaling expertise: how signals shape careers in the creative industries’ in M. Peiperl, M. Arthur and N. Anand, Eds Creativity: Explorations in the remaking of work. Oxford University Press, pp. 209-228.

Potts, J (2011) Creative industries and economic evolution. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Potts, J., Cunningham, S., Hartley, J., & Ormerod, P. (2008). Social network markets: a new definition of the creative industries. Journal of Cultural Economics, 32(3), pp. 167–18


About Karen Patel

PhD candidate in social media and cultural work at Birmingham City University.
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