KOLs VS Influencers

As our world becomes increasingly reliant on technology, our consumption habits are simultaneously tethered to the evolution of the Internet as a source of information. However, due to the varied sources and reviews, there is a lingering feeling of mistrust in the system of consumerism in general, which leads to consumers becoming increasingly desperate for information that is unbiased.

As such, the emergence of influencer marketing comes from our need for more reliable sources of information on the products we consume. Influencer marketing is not isolated to social media marketing strategies, but rather a form of marketing relationship and the strategy of using relationships for a value exchange.

The influencer partnerships that a marketer sets out to create are a set of key influencer categories. Brands can look for influencers and key opinion leaders (KOLs) and incorporate them into their influencer program and use them effectively. 

However, there are differences between an influencer and a KOL. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, they are not exactly the same. Today, we’re going to take a look at the difference between influencers and KOLs, and how each can factor into your overall marketing strategy. 

What Is An Influencer?

The term ‘Influencer’ first surfaced in the early 1600’s, being a term that describes someone or something with the power to alter the beliefs of individuals and impact the course of events. Compared to KOLs, the influencer is the broadest category of marketing relationships. The most effective influencers usually specialize in a certain kind of lifestyle, mood, or industry and have created a following and trust of their audience in that space. Influencers are mostly creative, ambitious, and authentic. Your best influencer partners are those that possess a significant amount of audience overlap with your brand. 

One of the more effective ways in approaching your influencer partnerships is to think about the kinds of people your online audience follows. It helps to identify which social media personalities will best cut through the noise and daily routine of your prospects, and then work with these influencers to create the campaigns that will attract the attention of your target audiences. 

Though some brands have found success with more universal influencers, best practice is to identify influencers that are product or industry-specific. It is also good to be able to find influencers who frequently collaborate with your brand for ingenious campaign ideas. If you struggle to come up with creative ideas, influencers can help you build a campaign that you can both be proud of.

What is a Key Opinion Leader (KOL)?

The idea of Key Opinion Leader (KOL) originated in 1940 by communications theorist Paul Lazarsfeld. The concept of KOLs is that certain groups of people could change their views and preferences more because trusted figures in their networks were doing the same. 

The definition of a KOL is an expert whose opinion is valued in a specific industry or area of knowledge, and is listened to by a broader audience. KOLs can consist of individuals, coalitions, companies or groups who lead ideas in their category and hold the trust of those that support them. KOLs can also be celebrities, business professionals, or thought leaders.

In short, KOLs are trusted and respected specifically for their knowledge in a particular topic. Because of this, their profiles can be very valuable for carrying out marketing actions, since they’ve already gained respect from their community and their opinions are always going to attract attention and be credible.

While the value exchange needed to work with KOLs is higher compared to working with influencers, the relationship, the management of that relationship, the value exchange, and the championing of your brand overall will tend to have longer lasting results. 

What Are The Differences Between Influencers and KOLs?

Both influencers and KOLs are able to influence a consumer’s opinion about a product or service. Therefore, it’s important to define on what occasions these two different profiles tend to be used.

Influencers are native to social media platforms, since that’s where the very concept of an influencer was developed. KOLs, on the other hand, have parallel professions, such as journalists, entrepreneurs, writers or politicians. Influencers can have a strong influence on an audience present on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. While KOLs may have a presence on social media, these platforms don’t have to serve as their main communication channel. 

Another thing to note is that an influencer’s credibility comes from their online persona, their content and their perceived authenticity. A KOL’s credibility comes from direct experience in an industry, professional qualifications or time spent engaged on a subject. In contrast, the trust of an influencer’s audience is based on identification and personal preference.

Economic compensation in exchange for product recommendations is also more frequent among influencers as compared to KOLs. KOLs don’t tend to recommend products related to their professions in exchange for economic compensation. However, there are examples of KOLs collaborating with brands in exchange for a service instead. Because of this, brands tend to have a much more hands on approach when it comes to the content being published by influencers as compared to a KOL’s content. 

Lastly, one of the fundamental differences between influencers and KOLs is the motivation which drives their audiences to follow them. For influencers, having a community of followers is the most important thing, and it’s for that very reason that they only recommend quality products and services to their followers. The originality and quality of the content they post directly determines their impact and number of followers, which their credibility and identity as an influencer depends on. On the flip side, KOLs do not rely on recommending products to their followers, but regard them rather as complementary to their day-to-day activities. 

What Are the Benefits of KOLs vs Influencers?

Compared to KOLs, influencers’ audiences are often unspecified. The only connection to an influencer’s followers is a shared interest in the influencer’s attitude, personality or lifestyle. People follow influencers because their content matches the follower’s interest, taste or opinion. Because of these similarities, the follower is more likely to identify with the influencer, but does not necessarily match the demographic of the brand marketed.

On the other hand, KOLs speak to a particular demographic. Their audience values the KOL’s opinion due to their expertise and experience in a certain industry. Followers turn to them for knowledge and advice and usually have a deeper understanding and knowledge of an industry themselves. Unlike influencers, followers aren’t necessarily fans of the KOL as a person but they respect the KOL’s expertise.

While the benefits of influencer marketing are undeniable, working with KOLs takes it a step further. Confidence and experience are decisive factors when considering a product recommendation. Since KOLs are mainly implicated in branding actions, all of the benefits are therefore associated with the brand and not a product. This provides a sturdier background and credibility to your brand, making it stand out among competitors. 

By identifying your brand with values such as solidarity, security, competency and confidence, it will be easier to market your brand and your product to audiences in a specific demographic or with interests in a specific topic. 

However, you may want to consider engaging KOLs who are working within your area of interest and expertise, rather than their follower count. Their pricing might be based on the reach they have within a certain topic area, and their influence will not be effective outside that area of expertise. If your goal is to reach out to as many people as possible, then engaging an influencer may be a better option for you. 


Whether your brand is using influencer or KOL marketing, the underlying strategy stays the same. The goal is to create meaningful relationships and offer a value exchange that is mutually beneficial for both sides.

Knowing the difference can help your brand leverage that marketing relationship into your influencer program appropriately. Understanding the differences can help you decide whether working with an influencer or a KOL is right for your brand or campaign. More importantly, an influencer or a KOL can each deliver a different result within a single marketing campaign.

Influencer Link is an influencer marketing platform in Malaysia. We can help you plan out your whole influencer marketing strategy; from Facebook Marketing, to influencers for hire. We also help to identify the right influencers for your marketing campaign, as well as plan out and strategize ideas and mechanics that define the results that you need. Our team will ensure that your influencer needs are met, with customisable solutions for campaigns of any size. 

Speak to us at +603 7932 1001.

Email us at info@influencer-link.com

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