What is your role online? Participant, Leader, Expert or Guru?

Participant, leader, expert or guru?Finding your voice online is a process that can take years. One question to consider when positioning yourself online is: Are you a participant, leader, expert, or guru? Determining your role will help define how you approach your market.

Let’s explore each role to help clarify which makes sense for you.


Participant is the most common role that people assume online.  At some level we are all participants.  Much like school, we join a club, an organization, or social network to participate and contribute to the community.

We find satisfaction being a part of the crowd and learn or grow as a result.  For some, participation is the end goal and rewarding in itself.

If you run a business or use Internet marketing to promote a business, I suggest that you move beyond simple participation to leadership.  If you’re not leading the discussion in your niche, someone else is!


Leadership is a quality we all demonstrate in some aspect of our lives.  Whether it’s leading by example with your children, leading a team through a project, or stretching your limits to break through old paradigms, we all have the leadership qualities necessary to impact others.

Online, this might mean being the first to try something new and innovative, connecting with and educating others on a given topic, or building an online community of people with whom which you share a respectable level of trust, credibility and rapport.

Some go to school to learn how to be leaders, others learn through practice, and the lucky ones are born with it.  At the end of the day, leadership is about influence and one’s ability to initiate change.


Have you worked in your field for at least 10 years?  Do you regularly consult others within your niche as a thought leader?  Have you authored a book, taught a class or been featured in the news as the authority within your niche?  Well, you may qualify as an expert, depending on whom our ask.

Wikipedia defines an an expert as “a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation and in a particular area of study.”

If you’re not an expert, there are many guides on how to become an expert, how to sound like an expert, and how to get expert status in just 4 weeks!  Take each of these with a grain of salt, of course.  Ultimately, you must feel comfortable and confident with your new “expert” status and many suggest that it could take a lifetime to achieve.

Of course, that was before the Internet and this is where things get interesting . . .


There is real debate about what defines a guru.  For me, a guru is a leader and an expert within their field – someone that not only gets their niche, but has also built a sizable and loyal community around themselves and their niche.  They continuously push the envelope to challenge status quo, are seemingly always the first to know, have a large following of people that listen closely, and have the ability to influence how others act on a mass scale.

There on many experts that don’t lead and probably more leaders that are not experts.  That’s not a bad thing, it’s just human nature.

Here’s a good way to differentiate Expert vs. Guru: “Expert knows his stuff, contributes to industry related publications, but may or may not have fans and followers. Expert becomes a guru when he/she has his own volunteer evangelists and fans who help spread his/her message.” – Varju Luceno

What do you think?  What is your role and where do you want to be?  How will this factor into your Internet marketing strategy?

Please leave a comment below or on Twitter @steinarknutsen.