‘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.

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