Social Media Madness – Who’s the #1 Expert?

By Erik Qualman

There were a few grumblings this week that the session content at SXSW wasn’t amazing.  However, there were many more people that derived a ton of value outside of the sessions by having casual conversations with some of the thought leaders in the industry.

So it got me thinking.  Who are the top social media thought leaders?  Who should we be listening to?  Looking for guidance from?

Click image to fill out your bracket

I’m certainly not smart enough to figure it out, so I need your help.   For the second year I have put together Social Media March Madness.  Just like the basketball brackets you will be filling out in your office rather than working this week, I’ve set-up a Social Media March Madness bracket of the top 32 thought leaders.  Please fill out the Social Media Madness bracket by clicking here for the Facebook application.  If you think I seeded someone too low than click the upset in the match-up.

Below are the seeds and information on some (not all) of the players, and yes just like the basketball selection committee there is no doubt I left some deserving people off or made other mistakes (feel free to let me know!).

  • Dan Zarella: Often called a social media scientist Dan does a great job of collecting tons of data and making sense of it all by spotting trends.  He has interesting findings on which types of tweets have the best chance to be re-tweeted.  He is a Product Owner at Hubspot and is the author of The Social Media Marketing Book. @danzarella
  • Gary Vaynerchuk: Social media sommelier. Vaynerchuk may be the one who benefited the most from social media. Although his antics are somewhat controversial, he has proven that passion + effort + social media = a healthy return. He has helped grow his family wine business from $4 million to $50 million through the use of social media. He is best known for his Wine Library TV — a series of videos giving insights on wine. He is also author of “Crush It,” a short book detailing how he uses social media and that anyone can do this. @garyvee
  • Liz Strauss: Liz Strauss is an influential non-celebrity blogger helping people to learn. She’s been called an idea machine and is the CEO and founder of SOBCon, author of the popular  She likes to provide the human touch. @lizstrauss
  • Biz Stone: Co-Founder of Twitter.@bizstone
  • Brian Solis: Solis is principal of FutureWorks, an award-winning PR and new media agency in Silicon Valley. His new book “Engage” has a foreward from Ashton Kutcher. Solis is cofounder of the Social Media Club and is an original member of the Media 2.0 Workgroup. @briansolis
  • Jessica Smith: A Maryland Terrapin and VP at Fleishman-Hillard she recently entertained her client Chevrolet down at SXSW.  She developed her skills at Sapient back in the late 90’s.  @JessicaKnows
  • Mari Smith: Social media business coach. Fast Company called Smith the “Pied Piper of Online.” She has intimate insight on social media strategy for small business and is an expert on Facebook Fan Pages. Her smile, Canadian accent and ebullient personality have attracted many fans and followers — she is a great case study in developing ones own brand. Smith combines a good mix of energy and honesty. She is also well known for her fun hats in her Twitter profile photos. @MariSmith
  • Shiv Singh: Singh is Avenue A Razorfish VP & global social media lead. He is also the author of “Social Media for Dummies.” He is a regular author and contributor to numerous Avenue A Razorfish white papers and studies on social media. One such report that is worth a read is: “Fluent: Razorfish Social Media Influence Report.” @shivsingh
  • Clay Shirky: Shirky, an adjunct professor in NYU’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), is one of the world’s most requested speakers on social media. @cshirky
  • Peter Shankman: Shankman is perhaps best known for founding Help a Reporter Out (HARO). In addition to HARO, he is the founder and CEO of The Geek Factory, Inc., a boutique marketing and PR strategy firm located in New York City, with clients worldwide. @skydiver
  • Dharmesh Shah: Co-Founder of Hubspot, Dharmesh is a very entertaining and informative social media speaker.  He is co-Author of the best selling book “Inbound Marketing.”
  • David Meerman Scott: Marketing strategist and author. Scott was well ahead of the curve in 2007 with his best selling book, “The New Rules of Marketing & PR.” He appears to have another winner in the book, “Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs” — as a contributing author and editor. Scott is very generous with his time and is an active contributor across the Web and on the speaking circuit. @dmscott
  • Jeremiah Owyang: Partner, customer strategy, Altimeter Group. Owyang’s tremendous insight from his tweets is enough to make this list. Aside from his work at Altimeter he is also a columnist for Forbes CMO Network. He is also a great complement to Charlene Li at the Altimeter Group. He excels at interpreting news and, as an industry analyst, tells us “what it means” and is a great reference for the market. @jowyang
  • Lee Odden: Odden is one of 25 online marketing experts featured in “Online Marketing Heroes,” published by Wiley, and has been cited for his search and social media marketing expertise by The Economist, US News & World Report, and Fortune magazine. Odden is the CEO of TopRank Online Marketing. @LeeOdden
  • Amber Naslund: Director of Community for @Radian6. She loves to dissect the collision of community and business within social media. @AmberCadabra
  • Dave Morin: Former senior platform manager at Facebook. Morin was named as one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company in 2009. Rumor is he is doing some collaborative work with Sean Fannigan. @davemorin
  • Scott Monty: Digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford Motor Company. Monty practices what he preaches by having ongoing conversations with car buyers and influencers. While he is a marketer rather than an engineer, his new type of thinking and passion has changed the way Ford thinks about everything, and is why Ford is looking more like a Macintosh computer and less like a Model T. Some of Ford’s new cars will be enabled with Wi-Fi. Much can be learned from Monty’s intelligence, foresight, and fortitude. @scottmonty
  • Amy Jo Martin: Has over 1.3 million followers on Twitter, she works with Shaq and other professional athletes/franchises.  She recently hosted a few NFL teams at the Social Media Clubhouse during SXSW. @digtialroyalty
  • Valeria Maltoni: Her blog, ConversationAgent, is recognized among the world’s top online marketing blogs (among the top 25 on Advertising Age’s Power 150, as well as three categories in Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop). Maltoni was handpicked by Fast Company as an expert blogger to write about creating conversations between the marketer and customer. She built one of the first online communities affiliated with the magazine. @ConversationAge
  • Charlene Li: Founder of Altimeter Group and coauthor of “Groundswell” (along with Josh Bernoff), she is also a great public speaker and has presented frequently at top technology conferences such as Web 2.0 Expo, SXSW, Search Engine Strategies, and the American Society of Association Executives. Her next book is “Open: How Leaders Win By Letting Go.” @charleneli
  • Guy Kawasaki: Founding partner at Garage and cofounder of Alltop. Kawasaki describes Alltop as an “online magazine rack.” Kawasaki has written nine books and always seems to be one step ahead of the curve. I can personally thank him for turning me on to Twitter long before CNN started using it obsessively. If you have a chance to read Kawasaki’s bio it is well worth it — a very interesting background (Apple disciple) and an avid hockey fan. @GuyKawasaki
  • Mitch Joel: Marketing Magazine dubbed him the “Rock Star of Digital Marketing” and called him, “one of North America’s leading digital visionaries.” The author of the book, “Six Pixels of Separation,” he’s also a former board member of the Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada. @MitchJoel
  • Brian Halligan: Cofounder and CEO of HubSpot. Halligan is also coauthor of “Inbound Marketing,” which has been flying off the shelves since its Octoberrelease (coauthors are Dharmesh Shah and David Meerman Scott). Aside from being wicked smart (Sloan Fellow at MIT), he is a normal dude who enjoys playing guitar, tennis, and taking in a Red Sox game. @bhalligan
  • Paul Gillin: He was editor-in-chief and executive editor of the technology weekly, “Computerworld” for 15 years. His 2007 book, “The New Influencers” was awarded a silver medal in the business category by ForeWord magazine. @pgillin
  • Maggie Fox: Founder and CEO of Social Media, one of the world’s largest independent social media agencies. Ford’s social media agency since 2007. @maggiefox
  • Sarah Evans: A self-described “social media freak,” Sarah initiated and moderates #journchat, the weekly live chat between PR professionals, journalists and bloggers on Twitter. She is also guest writer for Mashable. @prsarahevans
  • Frank Eliason: He put customer service on the social media map by his pioneering on Twitter with Comcast.  Great guy and it is transparent in everything he does. @comcastcares
  • Sam Decker: Sam has been a thought leader in the space since his days at Dell.  As the CMO of Ausitn based BazaarVoice he is helping to lead the charge on Social Commerce and truly helping Socialnomics become a reality by among other things combing social data with rating data (what do my friends buy and like?). @samdecker
  • Pete Cashmore: Founder of Mashable and Brad Pitt of Social Media.  A true celebrity, but still a very nice guy with a Scottish accent.
  • Chris Brogan: President, New Marketing Labs. Brogan is recognized as one of the “World’s Top Bloggers” (Advertising Age Power 150 Top 10 Blog) and his book, “Trust Agents” (coauthor is Julien Smith) reached The New York Times Best Seller’s list in 2009. His new book Social Media 101 was recently released.  Chris is also the cofounder of the PodCamp new media conference series. Chris takes time to respond to almost everyone that reaches out to him. @chrisbrogan
  • Josh Bernoff: Coauthor of the BusinessWeek best-selling book, “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies,” Bernoff is senior vice president, idea development, at Forrester Research. @jbernoff
  • Jay Baer: Greetings. Jay has founded 5 companies, and spent 15 years running digital marketing agencies. He has worked with the biggest of the big brands. Founder of convince and convert. @jaybaer

Bubble Players (Just missed!)
Corey Perlman, Louis Gray, Richard Binhammer, Richard Binhammer, Robert Scoble, Lee Aase, Brian Reich, Eric Bradlow, Sally Falkow, Don Steele, Julien Smith, Michael Lazerow, Sarah Hofstetter, Mike Lewis, Mack Collier, Mike Barbeau, Todd Defren, Tom Gerace, Elizabeth Pigg, Richard MacManus, Jon Gibs, Chris Cunningham, Paul Beck, Matt Goddard, Chris Heuer, CC Chapman, Chris Penn, Shel Israel, Tamar Weinberg, Larry Weber, Morgan Johnston, Tim Washer, David Armano, Mark Cattini, Nick O’Neil, Mike Stelzner, Jason Falls, Dave Kerpen,  Sonia Simone,  Adam Singer, Michael Brito, Geoff Livingston, Wayne Sutton.

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15 responses to “Social Media Madness – Who’s the #1 Expert?

  1. Thanks so much for the direction. I am a PR consultant in the Atlanta area and am structuring a ~Free PR seminar on Social Media Leveraging and – I would be interested in inviting you as a keynote speaker. How exactly would I persaude you to partner with my company?

    Monica Hill

  2. Erik, great list (love your handle, btw.)

    I have to shout out @lisabarone from She provides amazing insight, particularly for small businesses. I look forward to reading her regular contributions to

  3. Lots of people on that list (with notable exceptions) are primarily really good networkers and prolific writers, and awesome people. That does not make them experts ON social media, it makes them experts and leveraging THEIR personal networks in social media.

  4. This is a great list, of course. Very influential folks who have contributed a lot to the field. But I also think we need to keep our eye on the niche-specific leaders in social media. People like Steve Woodruff @swoodruff are doing tremendous work bringing their deep understanding of specific industries (Steve works in pharmaceuticals) along with a knowledge of the specific parts of social media that work for that industry. No it’s not the generic social media that works for the masses. Rather, it’s how it works for individual industries. It’s not always the same thing. I think we’re going to see more and more niche-specific leaders emerging. It will be interesting to see how they influence the social media conversation as a whole.

    • Jennifer:

      I agree 100% with you that we will see more and more people like Steve as each industry has it’s own nuances and regulations. Thanks for the great comment!

  5. Love the idea Erik — despite your Spartans upsetting my Terrapins this year March Madness is still my favorite time of year.

    Are you considering expanding your field next year like the NCAAs? I’d love to see you take some folks off the bubble and get to an NCAA worthy 64/65.

    Loved the book – Keep up the great work!

    • Will:

      The Maryland vs. MSU game was incredible! Unfortunately without Allen and Lucas we are a different team. Maryland showed a ton of guts and moxy coming all the way back.

      Next year I hope to expand the filed to 64. It was limited as the Bracket Anything app only goes to 32. Please, please, I bet the NCAA not to expand beyond 64/65. It’s a good thing, I hope $ doesn’t make them ruin it.

      Thanks for the kind words on the book! Please fee free to review on Amazon if you have the time!

      Best, equalman

  6. One name is noticeably missing, Starr Hall. I am sure this was just an oversight as she is dynamic, in the mix, an author, speaker, and her stuff is actionable immediately, not just theory or followers, but stuff people can use.

    Her book is excellent as well.

  7. Honored to have been “on the bubble” even if it burst.

  8. I predict in less than six months this list will change. So many assumptions have been made in such a short period of time, when the noise dies down people will be thinking differently.

    • Stephanie:

      You are right in how dynamic this stuff is. So much has changed in 6 months – who would have thought that Facebook would ever have more traffic than Google in the U.S. – amazing. It will be great to see where we “land” in 6 months.

      Thanks for the comment!

  9. I have to say that while Guy, Peter and Chris are quietly adding to their already formidable social media profile it has to be Gary Vaynerchuk who takes out this years award for ‘Meteoric Rise to Fame’.

    He has certainly blasted himself into the stratosphere this year and like him or not, he is there for all the world to see.

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