As an entrepreneur, there's a lot to love about the internet: potential accessibility to top-tier mentors from around the globe, the ability to consume content from thought leaders that will help you navigate the cutthroat business world and, let's not forget, an endless amount of cat and dog photos.
That being said, one of the double-edged swords the internet has created is lowering the barriers to entry of being a thought leader in any given industry. Today, practically any semi-persuasive person with a wifi connection can position themselves as an expert in a given field. Many entrepreneurs buy into the rhetoric of these so-called experts, which could cost them immense amounts of time and money.
Lucky for everyone though, there are ways to easily differentiate the experts from the phonies. Here are the questions to ask yourself to tell the difference.
1. Do they have proof to back up their claims?
When it comes to a business's or person's past performance and reputation, the online world has allowed for the veil to be lifted in a variety of ways. Be sure to conduct research to find proof of the thought leader's claims. Do they have reviews or testimonials on Google, Yelp, LinkedIn, Facebook or their website? Are they respected in the eyes of their industry peers? If the so-called expert claims to a top authority in their space, yet doesn't have any other thought leaders in the same industry engaging with them on social media and beyond, the person may not be as respected as they claim they are.
2. Do they actually have a business or business experience?
Far too many thought leaders online call themselves experts on a certain topic simply because they create content on that topic. While the craft of content creation is something to be respected in its own right, it's deceiving to call yourself an expert without having a large amount of tangible experience in a given area, either as an employee or by starting and running a business in that field.
If an influencer is secretive about how they get their money or about the product or service their business actually provides (Tai Lopez, I'm looking at you), it's valid to be skeptical about their credentials.
3. On social media specifically, are their followers real?
Never trust someone too insecure to be honest about their true number of followers. Chances are, if they're cutting corners in this area then they're cutting corners elsewhere.
There are a number of ways to tell if an influencer's followers are real or fake. One is using a tool like Social Blade (which allows you to see the ebb and flow of follower count for social media profiles) to check if there are any discrepancies in the number of followers on their social channels. For instance, if an account is averaging an increase of 50 followers per day, and all of a sudden it springs up by 5,000, you'll want to take a closer look to see whether or not those followers are bots.
4. How long have they been in business for?
Due to the sheer number of businesses popping up in today's marketplace and the short lifespan of most brands, longevity has become a value proposition in itself. If a thought leader has had a business for an extended period of time, more than likely, they're the real deal.
5. How old are they?
This one may rub people the wrong way, especially since I'm quite young myself (25 years old), but it needs to be said. If you're taking business advice from someone who can't even legally drive then it's time to go back to the drawing board. There are, of course, some exceptions to this rule depending on the topic you're diving into. For example, if you're a middle-aged business owner who still uses a flip phone, then it makes sense to take Instagram marketing advice from a fifteen-year-old. Advice on how how to properly budget for all your business expenses? Not so much.
The cold hard truth here is a huge part of business is the "street smarts" you acquire from business experience, something most teenagers and young adults don't yet have.
6. Do they stay in their lane?
This point is crucial. Be cautious of thought leaders who are either too delusional or prideful to admit their shortcomings as well as the reality of their situation (the size of their business, etc.) One of the main reasons guys like Gary Vee and Andy Frisella come off as so authentic and trustworthy is because they're humble enough to admit their flaws.
With the amount of content available online nowadays, it can be difficult to know who's being honest about their credentials and who isn't. Yet, if you follow the framework laid out in this article, you'll be a terrific position to differentiate between the two.