‘Influence’ vs. ‘Expertise’: Which Is More Valuable?


Everyone in contemporary PR knows that online “influencers” can, in some cases, be more powerful than any journalist or pop star in terms of delivering a client’s message — especially if the audience that client wants to reach is between 13 and 25 years of age.

While this fact has been obvious to some for quite a while, the recent lawsuit filed against beauty influencer Michelle Phan and a Variety survey which found that the five best-known celebs among American teens happen to be YouTube stars confirmed it for everyone else.

Yet, as we move forward, we will pay more attention to the difference between two words in the brand advocacy space: influence and expertise.

How are these terms different in meaning and application? We talked to Robb Henshaw, headof comms at content platform provider inPowered, for more insights.

How does expertise vary from influence? Are the two mutually exclusive?

Expertise is how someone reacts to your knowledge, whereas influence is how someone reacts to your status. When you take a look at tools like Klout which measure “influence”, they face a lot of scrutiny because they base their measurement on things like how many people interact with your social posts, etc.

But there’s a major problem with that formula. For example, every time I post a photo of my adorable niece and nephew, tons of people Like and comment on those posts – and then my Klout score goes up. But how does that make me more “influential” in any way that is meaningful to a brand? It simply doesn’t. Those systems are very easy to game.

Here at inPowered, we believe that a new definition is needed to focus on what is actually impactful for brands. So-called “influence” measurement, in most cases, just doesn’t hit the mark. So we decided to focus on measuring individuals’ expertise instead of just their levels of interaction on social channels.

Regarding whether or not expertise and influence are exclusive – we don’t believe that they are. We believe that people who have true expertise are inherently more influential, based on the power of that expertise.

What power does the knowledge of that difference grant to those in PR/marketing?

Knowing the difference between expertise and influence – as defined by today’s measurement platforms – empowers PR and marketing pros to focus on the people who can truly move the needle with their target audiences. Recent research from Nielsen shows that content from credible experts is far more effective at increasing brand awareness, brand affinity and purchase consideration with consumers. Put simply, experts are more influential with consumers.

By identifying and focusing on the people who are experts in your industry, you can then discover what those experts are saying about your brand or products and then promote that expert opinion or, alternately, identify who you need to reach out to in order to establish a relationship and secure coverage.

How does one distinguish between the two in the interest of better serving the audience?

If you simply want to know how a person interacts with others on social media (how many followers they have, how many people Like/Share/Re-Tweet/Favorite their content, etc.), then using the existing influence measurement platforms will work for you. If you want to determine someone’s level of knowledge on a particular topic – their true subject matter expertise – then you need to utilize an expert discovery tool.

And if your aim is to truly serve your audience (and build brand trust in the process), providing them with credible content from verified experts is far more effective than just having someone with a lot of followers Tweet about you.

If I target an “influencer” who has a million followers on Twitter, but that person is not an expert in the topics relevant to my brand, then how many of that person’s followers will really care about my brand or products? But if I target an expert who has 25,000 followers, most of whom follow that expert because of their expertise in topics relevant to my brand, that expert’s audience will likely be more interested in my brand.


As a makeup artist and YouTube star, Phan is both an influencer and an expert in the beauty space.

How can you quantify one person’s expertise on a given topic?

Here at inPowered, our new Expert Ranking platform takes all of the historical data we’ve gathered over the past two years and determines an author’s expertise based on the following criteria:

1. Depth – inPowered first looks for people that write in-depth articles on the few topics that they have the most knowledge on, rather than people who write basic articles on a lot of topics.

2. Consistency – Then inPowered looks for people who actively and consistently share their knowledge in a given topic. Someone writing several articles per week about a particular topic is deemed more knowledgeable than someone that writes only one story per month on that topic, even if more people read that one story than any single story from the person who writes consistently.

3. Validation – Finally, we look for people that have loyal followers who consistently share their content. For example, if someone consistently has 100 people sharing her content on a particular topic, that person is deemed more knowledgeable than a person who has one article that was shared by 1,000 people.

So our proxy for determining someone’s expertise is based purely on the content that they have published online, and how that content stacks up to these three criteria.

If a given person is an expert but not an influencer, how can one create value for a client by way of his/her knowledge?

By the virtue of what it takes to be ranked as an expert, most experts are already influencers. Granted, our measurement of experts is not based solely on their social influence (like the influence measurement tools), but their ability to create quality content that is consistently liked, shared, commented on, etc. is one of the key criteria.

And as we’ve seen from recent studies (like the Neilsen study mentioned above), content from credible experts is the most effective content when it comes to increasing brand awareness, brand affinity, and increasing purchase consideration.

This goes to show that experts truly are the most influential.

How will the relationship between people who use the service and the experts it identifies differ from, say, a blogger who one is pitching to mention and/or promote a product?

The two relationships are very similar — one is just more informed.

Our users often start by using our platform to identify all the top experts in their industry, the top experts covering their competitors, etc. inPowered doesn’t just show them who the experts are, we also show them what those experts are writing that is relevant to their brand, how many people are reading/sharing their stories, and all the other topics in which that person is an expert.

We’d all like to hope that people aren’t just reaching out blindly to reporters/bloggers without doing their research, but we know that this is something that still happens far too often.

What do we think? How do you distinguish between those who have lots of followers and those who have lots of knowledge?