Thought Leaders vs Influencers in Asset Management – What’s the Difference?

In the asset management industry, you’ve probably heard that becoming a thought leader may help raise your personal and professional stature within the industry. It’s important because you become the go-to person on a topic.  Thought leaders are traditionally recognized experts and an authority on a particular subject matter—and therefore have a large loyal following.

What About Being an “Influencer” in the Asset Management Industry?

You are probably familiar with the social media term “influencer.” In the early 2010s, we began to see the rise of social media influencer marketing. Influencers are personalities with many social media followers. Instagram is currently a popular platform for personalities to endorse brands they liked to their millions of followers. You may think of celebrities like Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylie Jenner.

What’s the difference between thought leaders and influencers?  There actually isn’t a difference between the two.

Everyone wants to be an influencer on social media, and they believe that having the most followers is the primary goal. The term is used so broadly today that it has skewed the real meaning of the term.

Let’s take for example a female fitness personality with over a million Instagram followers. In most photos, she’s typically posing in the gym or somewhere with their fitness gear. Occasionally offering a nutrition tip, but for the most part she offers no tangible advice which will be helpful for her followers. This is our typical image of an influencer.

Now take a physical therapist with a Doctoral in Physical Therapy. Her Instagram feed is full of fitness and rehabilitation tips. She has a deep understanding of their audience and offers valuable advice to their following. Doesn’t she also sound like an influencer? She most certainly is—and is also an example of what a true thought leader actually is.

Cathie Wood, founder and Chief Investment Officer of ARK Invest, is undoubtedly one of the most influential female figures in the world of investing. She has over 1.3 million Twitter followers. Do you think she would promote or recommend something she didn’t believe in or not know much about? She wouldn’t because she is a true thought leader and influencer in asset management. She feels strongly about the ideas she shares, and promotes recommendations that she truly believes in. She also understands the potential outcomes and consequences of what she shares.

Another great example of a financial influencer is Josh Brown, CEO of Ritholtz Wealth Management.  Brown is an established financial advisor who shares his insights about markets, politics, economics, media, culture, and finance. He has a widely read financial website called The Reformed Broker and has a YouTube Channel called The Compound, which has over 100k subscribers. He is also an on-air contributor to CNBC’s The Halftime Report show.

Why Many of Today’s “Influencers” Don’t Always Influence

Examples of personalities with thousands, even millions, of followers who have failed to promote brands abound.

Many corporate brands come to these personalities to promote their product strictly because of their number of followers. This is purely a “vanity metric.” If you look closely at these personalities, you need to ask yourself:

  • Who are they really influencing, if anyone?
  • What value are they providing?
  • What kind of credibility are they establishing for themselves and their industry?
  • Is it any of the points above?

Thought leaders are influencers. Not all influencers are thought leaders. Asset managers need to be thought leaders who become true influencers to their following.

For steps on how to become a thought leader, please refer to our article – 5 Things You Should Do to Become a Thought Leader in Your Industry

Milin Iyer is the Public Relations Director of Sondhelm Partners, a firm that helps asset managers, mutual funds, ETFs, wealth managers and fintech companies grow through marketing, public relations and sales programs. Click to read our latest Insight articles or to schedule a complimentary consultation.