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Social Influencers or Thought Leaders? And What is The Difference?

Alistair Smith Alistair, All Authors 1 Comment

A large portion of my passion for wildlife photography, and for my adventures to some of the most spectacular places on earth, is my ability to share this passion and adventure with others. My job as a photographic guide and wildlife photographer wouldn’t be anywhere near as interesting if I didn’t have people to share in the adventure with.

Popular social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook have thus become the norm among professionals like myself, who want to share their work and their passions with others.

But, as positive as each of these platforms can be, it brings me to the concepts of Social Influencers and Thought Leaders.

I was recently forwarded an article written by Elinor Cohen, a community driven social media and online marketing expert and founder of The Engagement Strategy Group.

Elinor’s article resonated with me in ways that I found difficult to describe at first, it simply was astounding. The article very cleverly unpacks the fundamental differences between social influencers and thought leaders, and the results are perhaps more prevalent in a saturated market of so-called wildlife photographers and safari operators than ever before.

Lets dive straight in…

The Influencer

In the modern world, the concept of being a ‘social influencer’ should come as no surprise, and the concept is rather simple in its nature. As Elinor describes, an influencer is someone who, through various social media platforms of communication, is able to influence others to either like or dislike, adopt or disregard, buy or not to buy certain products and or related services.

By definition, the more people an influencer is able to reach, the greater the extent of his/her influence. But how is this influence even measured? For that question to be answered, Elinor unpacks a key concept:

What do numbers of followers actually mean?

To put it bluntly, numbers of followers mean NOTHING! In a modern society where buying thousands of likes and followers is as simple as ever, there is no way of determining whether the 100,000 followers of a particular influencer are real, or in fact computer generated bots, fake following accounts, or rather only a small handful of people that follow an influencers account for reasons other than what the influencer is trying to promote.

Furthermore, as with any promotional activities or advertising campaigns, people tend to pay little attention to content that is labelled as “sponsored”, or “in collaboration with…” as it makes people doubt the authenticity of a brand, product or service offering, and is thus perhaps more harmful to an influencer in the long term than anything else.

Elinor goes on to describe that there is no accurate way of proving, that influencers do in fact, influence – “neither in quantity, nor in quality”.

Take ‘professional travelers’ for instance. People pack up their daily lives, and label themselves to be professional travelers. They share thousands of pictures, videos and stories with a seemingly endless amount of followers. But are these people actually adding any VALUE at all? Or are people just following their accounts because they like to look at pictures of beautiful places around the world, with little to no interest of ever traveling to these remote destinations?

Do these travel bloggers include destination specific travel tips, luggage requirements, travel documentation and visa information, flight details, accommodation information and true costs of these trips? The answer is only a very select few. The rest, get away with sharing their seemingly luxuriously free lifestyles, without adding any value whatsoever to their ‘followers’. Its no wonder that Elinor describes the concept of being a social influencer as something appealing to young job seekers, who simply don’t have many other options.

However, its not all doom and gloom. There is an alternative…

The Thought Leader

Elinor describes the concept of thought leadership to be entirely different from that of influencing anybody, or anything. In fact, she describes the concept as “the exact opposite”. Why? Because while influencers are concerned only with the amount of likes and followers, thought leaders are concerned with the sharing of knowledge and expertise – in other words, genuine VALUE ADD.

Thought leaders are people who are dedicated to their line of work, and who truly care about their industry. Thought leaders invest both time and money to become experts in their respective fields and are focused on sharing quality and authentic content with the aim of adding real value. Thought leaders are not necessarily profit driven but passion driven instead, and exist to fulfill the purpose of educating others through their passion.

So I’ll leave you with the following thought… Would you rather have 50 000 followers with little to no genuine engagement with those ‘followers’ whatsoever, or 500 REAL followers, most of which enjoy engaging with you on a personal level because you add true value to their lives?

I know which one I’d choose!

You can find Elinor’s full blog post by clicking here:

Until next time, keep it real, and keep it authentic.


About the Author

Alistair Smith

I left a corporate career in pursuit of a burning passion for the great outdoors and all things wilderness. Following a relatively short professional guiding career, I arrived at the realisation that my true passion was for adventure and wildlife photography. It is in this pursuit of adventure, that I would like to continue to share my passion for photography with others. I look forward to changing the way you see the world!

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