Thought Leaders vs Influencers: What’s the Difference?

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There are a lot of talks lately about Thought Leaders and Influencers. But what's the difference between them? And, more importantly, which one should you be trying to become?

Thought Leaders and Influencers are often grouped together, and for good reason. Both are individuals who hold a great deal of influence over the opinions and behavior of others, acting as powerful models in their respective fields. Though some might consider them to be one and the same, there are actually some distinct differences between thought leaders and influencers.

Ultimately, while there may be some overlap between these two types of professionals, they differ quite significantly in terms of their goals, methods, and approaches.

In this episode, we'll explore the definitions of both Thought Leaders and Influencers and help you decide which path is best for you. By the end of this, you'll have a better understanding of what it takes to be either one – and why it's important to choose wisely.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Full Transcript

Atiba de Souza: You know, I had dinner the other night with a friend of mine and he asked the question and it's one that I hear a lot of people asking him. So I decided, let's go ahead and deal with this. People ask all the time, "What's the difference between a thought leader and a social influencer?" Because obviously we are living in the age of social influencers. 

We are living in the age of people who want to have all of these millions of followers on social platforms. In fact, this particular friend of mine is actually a school teacher and he said, "You know, you would do so well if you created a course and schools would buy this and they would want you to come in and speak and tell their kids, how can they become a YouTuber? 

What should they do to start their own YouTube channel and become a YouTube influencer." because more and more kids today, instead of putting down that they want to be a doctor or a lawyer or some other professional, they're saying to their guidance counselors, "When I grow up, I want to be a Social Influencer." 

So, we know we're living in the age of social influencers, but what really is a difference between a social influencer and a thought leader? Well, there's a lot. Let me just be blunt. There is a lot of difference. Okay, but where they really converge or diverge rather, where they really diverge is— a social influencer creates a platform to get a lot of people to like, and follow them with the hopes that someone else will see them, some brand will see them and say, "Hey, you've got a lot of people following you. Can you talk about my product or service? And if you talk about my product or service, I'll pay you for that." So in that sense, a social influencer is trying to convince people what to think. 

They're trying to convince you what to think. In other words, social influencers are great marketers and there's nothing wrong with that. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. They are fantastic marketers. Now, a thought leader on the other hand, a thought leader's job and the thought leader's role in society is number one, to be someone who's an expert already in the field that they're talking about. Someone who knows their stuff and is more concerned with educating you and helping you think and helping you create your own opinions. So that you, then, can accomplish something, then, convincing you that what you should do is what they say. A thought leader causes you to think. A thought leader causes you to think and consider. An influencer tells you what to think.  

That's the way they diverge. Now, once they diverged on that point, a lot of differences start to come into play. A lot of differences start to come into play because a thought leader as an expert in their field cares greatly about this "thing" that they're talking about whatever it is, whatever is inside of their business, whatever their product or services, whatever their industry is, they care a ton about that thing. 

An influencer cares a ton about you thinking the way they want you to so that they can make the money that they want to make. A thought leader wants to educate you so that you can make the decision. "Yes! What you're talking about is right for me or no, what you're talking about is not right for me."

A thought leader is concerned with talking to the right people.
A thought leader, wants to share their ideas and opinions with people who actually care about what it is they're talking about, even if they disagree with them. Even if they disagree. So it's not about reaching the masses, it's about reaching the correct group of people. An influencer cares about numbers, the bigger, the number, the better, the more followers, the more likes, the better. And so they do things to gain followers, to gain likes. A thought leader, does things to educate and share. 

So my friends, those are some of the major differences there between influencers. And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with influencers. Influencers are very important in our ecosystem. Listen, it goes all the way back. I mean, even further than this, but the one that most of us remember is "I want to be like Mike", that was an influencer way back in the eighties and the nineties. 

Right. And it went way further than that. Celebrities have been influencers forever. Right? Public figures have been influencers forever. So I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with being an influencer, but I am saying if you're a thought leader, if you want to be a thought leader, if your goal is to be a thought leader, stop looking at influence.

Because they're doing something completely different than what you're trying to accomplish. Stop looking at influencers— they're over there. Be a thought leader over here. Alright. Alright, everybody as always. I'd love your opinion on this. Hey, feel free to disagree with me. Put it down below. I want to hear from you.

I'll talk to you soon. Buh-bye.

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