Influencers vs. Thought Leaders: What’s The Difference?

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Influencers vs. Thought Leaders: What’s The Difference?

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The word “influencer” is a general term to describe people who have the skills and capabilities to change or influence the public’s purchasing decisions. The influencers that we’re mostly referring to when we use the word are influencers on social media who are often selling or promoting a product. 

However, “influencer” is such a broad term that can hardly encompass all the types of influencers. There is a branch of influencers which you might not be as aware of, and yet are and should be as equally recognised––thought leaders. 


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Thought leaders are basically influencers, but with more in depth knowledge about their craft.

They are people who have sufficient expertise in their respective fields, and are able to use their life experience to offer guidance to others. Thought leaders put in the effort to become experts in their chosen niche, informed about the industry around them and how it’s changing so that they can release valuable advice. 

They build up a reputation of being a trustworthy opinion leader, which might take years upon years of work. Their career is built on trust with their audience and credibility for what they say, because thought leaders don’t ask for anything in return but for people to take their words into account. Therefore, they have to spend more time communicating and engaging with their audience to keep them coming back for more.

Examples of successful thought leaders are people such as Gary Vaynerchuk, Jeff Bezos, Vishen Lakhiani, and Azran Osman Rani, who use social media extensively to channel their opinions and ideas to the world. 


1. How They Present Themselves

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Influencers take on a more casual persona. They invite their audience into their lives and share about things like what they’re doing, what type of products they like to use––information that’s private and intimate. Influencers don’t have to be the best at what they do, but they have to be genuine. 

Only then will people find themselves drawn to those influencers and start to trust them as they would trust a friend. That allows influencers to leverage that trust and subconsciously influence people’s decisions (usually when advocating for them to buy a product). This is one reason brands want to work with influencers for sponsorships and endorsements. 

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Compared to influencers, thought leaders present themselves much more professionally. They subtly prove that they’re the experts in their fields through their postings on social media, and the language they use with their audience. They’re less open about their private lives and use more formal language in their posts. 

This is what creates a barrier (in a good way) between thought leaders and their audience, which is also what sets them apart from influencers. Their expertise and experience puts them a level above others, and their followers respect them for that. People trust that they know what they’re doing, and therefore trust their opinions on issues. 

2. Their Purpose and Methods

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Influencers produce content about what they love, and aim to build a strong following of people who are loyal to their content across all social media platforms. Their main purpose is to increase their influence through engaging authentically with their audiences, enabling them to act as a channel between brands and consumers.

Brands want to increase brand awareness and sales, and influencers are the bridge to get them there. 

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Influencers operate more visually, often getting their message across quickly through a photo or a video. That is why influencers are often found on platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, which are optimised for the growth of influencers. 

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Thought leaders, on the other hand, focus more on sharing their knowledge and expertise with the world. Like influencers, they produce content too, but their purpose isn’t to appeal to people so that they can get more followers. Thought leaders want to educate their audience on a message that they’re passionate about.

This is why thought leaders can be valuable sources of information for brands and other like-minded individuals.

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Due to this, thought leaders operate more textually, communicating their opinions through writing. Most of them can be found more on professional platforms such as LinkedIn. A number of them are scattered on Twitter, finding the platform efficient to publish short and immediate thoughts they have. 


Success as a thought leader doesn’t come overnight. If you want to be a thought leader, you have to take the time to establish yourself as a relevant, friendly, and valued voice in the industry. Slowly build your reputation and experience while creating credibility for yourself. 

Thought leaders spread their message and opinions through one important medium: content creation. Generate content that stimulates meaningful conversations and discussions. Be unique. Take a different perspective when writing about issues that people before you have already covered. Research on what the current trends are and write about them before anyone else to stay ahead of the game. 

Don’t be impartial and stand firm on your opinions––only then can they be valuable to your audience. Educate them, answer their questions, and entertain them. That’s how you’ll motivate people to keep coming back for more. When you are successful in proving yourself to be a dependable presence in your industry, people will start following and supporting you. 

Be consistent in posting your content. Give your audience just enough to digest and be satisfied. An example of a thought leader who embodies these aspects is Richard Branson, who regularly posts on his blog about a variety of problems faced by humanity. 

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So if you’re a brand owner, why not try your hand at being a thought leader as well? Thought leadership can bring a multitude of benefits to your business, such as boosting brand value, increasing sales, and growing your customer base. It’s not difficult–– all you have to do is be willing to put in the time and effort. 

However, NEVER place business benefits in front of your original intentions of being a thought leader. Don’t start aimlessly promoting your brand on your social media platforms. That will turn people away and cause you to lose all that you worked hard for. Maintain authenticity and remain genuine with your audience. 

“Thought Leadership is not about being known. It’s about making a difference.” – Thought Leadership Lab

written by Ng Li Wei

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