What’s the difference between a thought leader and an influencer?

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Whether marketing yourself or your brand, you want to be known as someone ahead of the game, with brilliant, innovative ideas and an impactful presence. But, are you a thought leader or are you an influencer? There is a definite distinction between the two, of which we will explore below.

How are they alike?

Thought leaders and influencers do have a few shared qualities.

Thought leaders and influencers have large followings

Both parties must have large followings in order to earn their respective titles. They’ve managed to obtain the holy grail of reach, resonance and relevance.

Thought leaders and influencers have the ability to influence their follower’s decisions

Within their large audience, both parties are able to influence individual’s decisions. Whether through their blog content, social media or even just with their general presence, both thought leaders and influencers have the capacity to change people’s minds and behaviors. Usually this is in a consumer context, but can also be done in terms of activism, politics and education.

How do they differ?

There are a number of important ways that thought leaders and influences differ from each other.

Influencers may have few true redeeming aspects/Thought leaders have character, integrity and intelligence

Influencers don’t need to have any great, redeeming qualities that set them apart from the masses. The qualities for which they’ve used to amass their audience and their influence could be as simple as wealth, beauty or even scandal. Thought leaders, in contrast, are often recognized for their good character, as well as their integrity and the ability to craft innovative ideas.

Influencers can use their power for negative purposes/Thought leaders use their power to do good

Because many influencers aren’t well-known for their redeeming qualities, the power they wield can be somewhat dangerous. Consider the many celebrity influencers out there who impact the decisions of many young people in a not-so-savory way. Thought leaders, on the other hand, use their influence to guide and shape their audience for good. While no one is perfect, their overall mantra is to make the world a better place and strive to do so through their ideas and thoughts.

Influencers express others thoughts/Thought leaders deliver original thoughts

Influencers don’t need to be well-schooled or have extensive knowledge in any one aspect, whereas thought leaders are often considerably schooled in their specialty and have in-depth knowledge of their industry. With this great bank of knowledge, they are well able to deliver provoking, insightful and original thoughts. On the contrary, influencers often talk about other people and other people’s thoughts.

There is definitely room in the world for both thought leaders and influencers, but if you looking to gain a larger audience, have an effect on that audience and make positive changes, which one would you rather be?

If you found this article interesting, you may also find the other articles I’ve recently posted about Thought Leadership of interest.  Please feel free to share these articles with your network.

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