Influence vs. Expertise – What Actually Matters?

As I’ve shared before, research from Nielsen confirms that consumers rely on content from trusted, third-party experts more than branded content and user reviews when learning about new products and making purchase decisions.

Notice that the Nielsen study specifically calls out the value of experts, not influencers. And why is that? Because Nielsen wanted to focus on what actually moves the needle with consumers (what gets them to act), and influencers – despite the hype around influencer marketing – do not drive action.

Let’s break down the different between influence and expertise for a moment.


When services like Klout measure influence, they are primarily concerned with the social interactions that a person has. To achieve a high score on Klout, all you need to do is connect as many social networks as you can, and then post on those social networks in a way that “inspires action” such as getting people to like, comment, share, re-tweet and more.

The issue with influence measurement is that it is extremely easy to game, which drastically reduces the value of these influencer rankings for businesses. For proof, see this brilliant post from Harmit Kamboe, which clearly illustrates how easy it is to pull a fast one on Klout.

The argument is that influencers on Klout are technically able to inspire someone to act, but how on earth does liking a post or sharing someone’s photo provide value to a brand looking to engage in influencer marketing? It doesn’t mean the influencer in question has any ability to get people to consider another brand; it simply shows that they’re good at posting cute photos.


Measuring expertise, on the other hand, is less about social interaction and more about tracking actual subject matter knowledge. I believe that in order to truly measure expertise, you need to look at what people are publishing online, and how the content they are publishing is impacting the marketplace. I would also argue that once someone has established true expertise on a topic, that is what makes them truly influential in a way that actually has an impact for brands.

I propose the following as the standard for measuring expertise, based on someone’s content:

  • Consistency – In order to be considered a true subject-matter expert, you have to cover that subject regularly.
  • Depth – Experts don’t just re-write press releases or newsjack trending topics. They write with depth and add their opinions and insight to the topics they cover.
  • Validation – When content is truly expert, people will want to share it consistently.

Think about it. In a world with so many sources of content, how does today’s consumer know who to trust? How can they concentrate on the content that they should be paying attention to when researching any brand, product or topic of interest to them?

Ultimately, I think it comes down to this: influence is how someone reacts to your status. Expertise is how someone reacts to your knowledge.

People don’t trust in someone based solely on their social status. They trust in someone based on clearly demonstrated subject matter expertise. They want to know who has the most knowledge on a topic so that they can pare down how much they need to read in order to focus on the most credible sources. That is what impacts customers.

Do potential customers really care about an arbitrary score based on someone’s social media activity? Or do prospects want to know what level of expertise someone has with the topic so that they can determine whether they are qualified to inform others on the subject?

So rather than focusing on amorphous influence, I think it’s time we all focus on what really moves the needle: expertise. That means identifying your industry’s experts so that you know who you need to be educating and informing on a regular basis. Moreover, building your own internal expertise within the brand through earned, owned, and shared media is equally important. That combination of establishing credibility via third-party experts and supporting the customer with your own internal expertise is a winning combination for reaching and adding value for the customer.