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Thought Leader or Influencer: 4 Communication Differences

Initially, this article was going to be on 3 Must-Haves for Influential Thought Leadership. But in writing the article, I realized there is some confusion between Thought Leadership and Influencer Marketing. It’s understandable. The two models can overlap. But there are also distinct differences. 

Make sure you’re choosing the right message strategy for your brand. Mismatching the wrong one can seriously limit the effectiveness of your content, your impact, and your sales. 



Can I be upfront with you about something? 

I find the term “Influencer” annoying. My job is to teach influential communication to leaders – psychology and strategy for words. So, I feel it has to be said that “Influencer” and “influential” are not inherently synonymous. 

Being an Influencer is a job. Being influential is a character trait. 

Today’s article covers the Influencer business model.  If you’re interested in how to be an influential person, I suggest you check out these articles here

With that said, I’m happy the internet has created the Influencer industry. It’s given people around the world opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t have been available. And for some, it provides a staggering amount of income and success. Good on ’em!

Ok, now that we got that out of the way, let’s breakdown Influencer and Thought Leader communication strategies.



Broadly speaking, an Influencer’s revenue primarily comes from clicks, ads, sponsorships, donations, and/or merchandise sales.

Thought Leader

Again, broadly speaking, Thought Leaders serve a niche target market so they don’t need thousands of clicks and likes. Thought Leaders need qualified readers – those who can invest thousands (tens of thousands, etc) for expert services.




An Influencer creates an ecosystem of content for “rabbit hole falling.” The more you click, the more ad revenue they get, the more appealing they are to sponsors. The more you stay on the platform, the more the Influencer benefits. 

Thought Leader

A Thought Leader creates an ecosystem of content that serves the sales funnel process. A Thought Leader’s content establishes credibility, personality, and provides helpful knowledge – making them more appealing to potential customers. Integrated Content is key for Thought Leaders – content that seamlessly guides readers/viewers from online activities to offline/IRL interactions (a.k.a. sales conversations). 

For a Thought Leader, content serves the business.
For an Influencer, content is the business.



“Going viral,” hitting the front page, or to be trending are slam dunks for Influencers. To achieve that, Influencers have to stay on top of their algorithm game. Again, that’s why likes, comments, and engagement are so important. One algorithm change and boom!, your content doesn’t get seen – even by your followers and subscribers.

Thought Leader

Sure, Thought Leaders should be savvy about algorithms, too. You want to give your content to have the best chance for distribution. But, for Thought Leaders, slam dunks (sales) happen off the feed.



For the most part, Influencers have a rented audience. The platform (YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Twitch, etc.) owns the audience. The platform can pull the plug at any time for a wide variety of reasons.  

That’s why Influencers must create content across multiple platforms. Of course, that means more algorithms, more work, and more hustle. (Say hello to creator burnout.)

Some Influencers know that even being on multiple platforms isn’t enough. To have more ownership of their audience, they create email signups, accept donations, sell merchandise, or create paid meet-ups and events. This is when Influencers start to use more Thought Leadership strategies. 

Thought Leader

Thought Leaders seek to take ownership of their audience as soon as possible and build a CRM full of qualified prospects. Thought Leaders use other platforms to stay top-of-mind and create pathways for easier referrals and smoother sales.


There are plenty of things Thought Leaders can learn from Influencers and visa versa. Just make sure your communication strategies match your goals. Too often I see Thought Leaders get stuck because they don’t see how they’re using Influencer tactics. And Influencers can have more career longevity when they incorporate Thought Leadership strategies.

Be clear on if you’re communication model is Thought-Leader-dominant or Influencer-dominant. It can make all the difference to your bottom line and your impact. 

Ok, now I’ll get back to writing about those 3 Thought Leadership Must-Haves! 

Until then…

Happy Influencing!

Sharí Alexander - Influence Speaker & Coach - Headshot

Sharí Alexander

Influence Speaker & Coach

 P.S. Here are a few other ways I can help you increase your influence, whenever you’re ready.

1. I’m putting out a lot of great tips on LinkedIn and Instagram. Follow me for influential insights that help in business and life!

2. Grab a FREE copy of my Mindreader Blueprint. It’s the step by step guide for finding your influential message. Use this workbook to make your next pitch or presentation more persuasive!

3. Booking speakers for virtual events or post-COVID live events? Your audience will LOVE learning about how to be more persuasive! By understanding the influential process (Observe, Connect, Influence), your group will be more equipped to inspire minds and inspire action. You can find out more about my speeches and programs, here. 



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