Today, it seems like everyone and her mother is a content creator. While that's great, it does come with its own set of challenges.

I've written before about content creation and distribution and how actually committing to content marketing makes a difference in your efforts. To that end, I'm excited to see so many people creating content. It demonstrates that they see the value in content marketing, and engaging, high-quality content benefits everyone.

But here's the other edge of that sword: More content can mean more opportunities for influence. Not all influence is created equal, though, and it can be hard for audiences to separate the perception of influence from actual influence.

With more content out there and more people becoming content creators, the line between true influence and looks-like-influence has been blurred. It's easy to believe that someone who's won a lot of awards, built a huge social following, and bylined a load of articles is someone with influence worthy of your trust, time, and budget.

These things are usually indicators of influence, but alone, they don't necessarily make anyone an "influencer." Other factors and elements play into that as well, and at a time when it seems like anyone with enough praise behind her is an influencer, it's time we talk about the difference between perception and reality. In my experience, leaders with true influence share the following qualities:

1. People are engaging with their content.

One great way to gauge true influence is to pay attention to how audiences engage with an influencer's content. Are people commenting on and sharing her articles? Is the influencer responding to and actively engaging with those audience members? Do you see this person's content shared by other trusted resources or cited in another reputable influencer's content?

The next time you assume that a long list of bylines translates to influence, take a few minutes to search that content for comments, shares, or links from other sources. A true influencer doesn't just put something out there and see what happens; she interacts with her audience and finds ways to use that content to build authentic connections.

2. They have built a network on trust and are likable.

This quality plays off the previous idea, taking it one step further. Someone who's publishing a lot of engaging content is able to build a network based on trust. Audiences can trust this influencer because she's proven that she won't abandon them after pushing a piece of content live; she interacts with her audience, positions herself as a resource, and actively helps others in her network. Then, when opportunity arises, this influencer is top of mind for those audience members, and she's increased the chances that opportunity will come to her.

When you think of the influencers you follow and really listen to, there's usually a strong foundation of likability. When I first got into this business, I was drawn to people like Joe Pulizzi, Jay Baer, Simon Sinek, and Adam Grant just because I liked their personalities. Luckily for me, they actually knew what they were talking about, but likability is an important factor in getting people to want to be influenced by you.

3. They make an effort to speak to the right groups.

A true influencer understands the value of sharing her expertise. Creating and distributing content is a simple way to scale that sharing of expertise, but it's not the only way. It's not just about speaking at the largest conferences out there. I've spoken at events with thousands of attendees and walked away feeling like I didn't build a lot of influence. It's about helping the people who matter to you. A small YPO forum of seven people could be most valuable for building your influence.

One caveat: A history of public speaking doesn't automatically make you a true influencer, just like the absence of a long track record of speaking at events doesn't mean you aren't an influencer. But speaking at in-person engagements and industry events can play a role in establishing influence.

"Speaking gives you a huge opportunity to connect and earn this real trust and influence. With speaking, you can connect with audiences and promote your presence, your brand, and your content," Keith Alper, founder and CEO of Geniecast, a curated marketplace of speakers, said.

"More and more people are going straight to thought leaders and experts as speakers," he said. "TED is a great example of this. TED doesn't really feature big-name speakers, but these people are truly influential. And being on the TED platform gives them even more influence."

4. They've written a book.

Some of the best examples of true influencers I know have written compelling, insightful, and valuable books -- and they inspired me to do the same with my business book, "Top of Mind." Investing time, money, and other resources toward writing a book shows your audience that you're the authority on a subject, and it lends added credibility to your other efforts -- like digital media relationship-building and speaking. I was turned down for several speaking engagements in the past, specifically because I didn't have a book.

Don't let the illusion of perceived influence fool you into trusting a leader who isn't exactly everything she claims to be, and don't fall into the same trap yourself. Remember the key differences between perceived and actual influence to ensure you've put your faith in the right influencers and become a trustworthy one yourself.

Published on: Mar 12, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.