I have over 100,000 followers on social media, have blue checkmarks on Facebook and Twitter, write for AdWeek, have published a book, speak at major conferences worldwide, and am often on these pesky lists of influencers.

But I am not an ‘influencer‘.

I am a doer who teaches by example, a checklist follower, a mentor, and an avid learner in several subject areas. I am not a celebrity, a ‘famous‘ person who deserves the red carpet wherever I go, or a motivational speaker. Though the other ‘social media gurus will disagree, I see influence as being in certain areas. You might as well go around saying that you’re “authoritative” or that you’re “awesome”.

So when you see these lists of the top “influencers”, substitute these more accurate words to see how silly they sound:

  • Forbes Top 100 list of the most awesome people.
  • Social Media Examiner’s list of the people trying the hardest to appear famous.
  • 50 people that are hoping to sell books and consulting, but don’t actually have specific things they can teach or implement.

I might be influential in the world of digital analytics since I’ve been doing it 20 years—and have proof in published articles, work experience, and a network of analytics professionals. So I have good reason to collaborate with others who are experts in digital analytics. We band together to share what we know. But if you’re an influencer, are you supposed to hang out with other influencers and talk about how to become more influential?

Perhaps you share tactics on how to promote yourself, sell more copies of your book, or get clients to hire you to talk about influencer marketing? I have a confession to make. Last year, I spoke at three conferences on ‘influencer marketing.’ The other panelists, who were self-described influencers, spoke about how brands should be stepping up their influencer marketing efforts and paying them handsomely for them to just show up.

Free hotels, flights, meals, and a fee, in exchange for a few tweets and Facebook posts—a paid vacation, really. And I must also confess that I am not one to turn down these things when offered, though I never actively seek these things. Sometimes this works when the brand is actively courting celebrities in their niche who can drive traffic and where there is clear measurement. But usually, there is spurious ROI, swept under the vast rug of social media initiatives.

If you had a particular urgent medical condition, would you trust your life to a self-proclaimed doctor of influence? Or would you seek out a doctor who has done that particular procedure thousands of times as their specialty?

What Does It Mean to Be an Influencer?

Most say it’s a certain number of social media followers or visibility in high profile publications. Or that they have a strong personal brand—which means they are a motivational speaker, trying to get famous, or have depth in a particular subject matter. Definitely seek out the true influencers—people who actually have influence in the crowd you care about.

But know that just because someone is well-known doesn’t mean they are the most competent. The last few years, I’ve spent time with a performance marketing company in L.A. that spends almost a million dollars a day of their own money in Google AdWords. They are the smartest people I know in lead gen—and I know many.

But they have such low profile that almost nobody has ever heard of them, and I’m not about to out them here.

Who are the people in your life that have the deepest expertise in areas that matter to you? Who are the loudest chest-beaters in those same areas?

Are they the same people?

How to Detect a Real Influencer

  • Is their shtick more about their personality or an actual sharing of expertise in a particular area?
  • Do they have years of experience achieving a particular result—evidence of practicing what they preach?
  • Are they actively publishing their knowledge—sharing openly, instead of trying to just get your money?
  • Is their network made of practitioners or other “influencers” that cross-promote each other’s courses?

Mark Lack is the young Tony Robbins and has the years of hard-won experience in the topic of personal branding.

He’s done over 500 interviews with people such as Daymond John, Tai Lopez, Tilman Fertitta, and the likes– so he has credibility.

“I see two types of ‘influencers’ in the marketplace today. The one’s who have large followings purely because they boast about themselves and people want to live vicariously through the people they follow. Then there’s the influencers I actually respect, because they’ve built large followings because they provide value in virtually everything they post and usually have a real business. People follow these influencers because they know they receive real value that benefits them consistently. For these ‘influencers’, it’s not about them, it’s about serving.”

If you’re truly an influencer, your focus is on helping others instead of promoting yourself.Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.

Dennis Yu is the Chief Technology Officer of BlitzMetrics, a digital marketing company which partners with schools to train young adults. Dennis’s program centers around mentorship, helping students grow their expertise to manage social campaigns for enterprise clients like the Golden State Warriors, Nike, and Rosetta Stone.

He has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, LA Times, National Public Radio, TechCrunch, Fox News, CBS Evening News and is co-author of Facebook Nation – a textbook taught in over 700 colleges and universities. Besides being a Facebook data and ad geek, you can find him eating chicken wings or playing Ultimate Frisbee in a city near you.