There were a few grumblings this week that the session content at SXSW Interactive wasn't amazing. However, many people derived a ton of value outside of the sessions by having casual conversations with industry thought leaders.
So it got me thinking. Who are the top social media thought leaders? Who should we be listening to and looking for guidance from?
In honor of the I'm certainly not smart enough to figure it out, so I need your help. In honor of the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, I've come up with a social media competition. Just like the basketball brackets you will be filling out in your office rather than working this week, I've set up a bracket system showing the top 32 social media thought leaders. Before April 14, 2010, please fill out the social media madness bracket by clicking here for the Facebook application. If you think I seeded someone too low, then 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). Descriptions of the players are listed in reverse chronological order by last name.
David Meerman Scott
Amy Jo Martin
Dan Zarrella: Often called a social media scientist, Zarrella 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 retweeted. He is a product owner at HubSpot and is the author of "The Social Media Marketing Book." @danzarrella
Gary Vaynerchuk: A 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: 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 and author of the popular Successful-Blog.com. She likes to provide the human touch. @lizstrauss
Biz Stone: Stone is the cofounder of Twitter. @biz
Brian Solis: Solis is principal of FutureWorks, an award-winning PR and new media agency in Silicon Valley. His new book "Engage" has a foreword 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, Smith recently entertained her client Chevrolet down at SXSW. She has invaluable experience from her time at Sapient in the late '90s. @JessicaKnows
Mari Smith: Smith is a social media business coach. Fast Company magazine called her 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 one's 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 and global social media lead. He is also the author of "Social Media Marketing 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: Cofounder of HubSpot, Shah is a very entertaining and informative social media speaker. He is coauthor of the best selling book "Inbound Marketing." @dharmesh
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: Owyang is partner, customer strategy at 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: Naslund is director of community for Radian6. She loves to dissect the collision of community and business within social media. @AmberCadabra
Dave Morin: Morin is a 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 Shawn Fanning. @davemorin
Scott Monty: Monty is the digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford Motor Company. He 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: Martin has over 1.3 million followers on Twitter. She works with Shaquille O'Neal and other professional athletes/franchises. She recently hosted a few NFL teams at the Social Media Clubhouse during SXSW. @digitalroyalty
Valeria Maltoni: Maltoni's blog, Conversation Agent, 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: Li is the 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: Kawasaki is a founding partner at Garage and cofounder of Alltop. Kawasaki describes Alltop as an "online magazine rack." He 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 Joel 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: Halligan is cofounder and CEO of HubSpot. He is also coauthor of "Inbound Marketing," which has been flying off the shelves since its October release (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: Gillin 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: Fox is founder and CEO of Social Media Group.com, one of the world's largest independent social media agencies. It has been Ford's social media agency since 2007. @maggiefox
Sarah Evans: A self-described "social media freak," Evans initiated and moderates #journchat, the weekly live chat between PR professionals, journalists, and bloggers on Twitter. She is also a guest writer for Mashable. @prsarahevans
Frank Eliason: Eliason 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: Decker has been a thought leader in the space since his days at Dell. As the CMO of Austin-based Bazaarvoice, he is helping to lead the charge on social commerce and truly helping Socialnomics become a reality, by among other things, combining social data with rating data (what do my friends buy and like?). @samdecker
Pete Cashmore: Cashmore is founder of Mashable and the Brad Pitt of social media. He is a true celebrity, but still a very nice guy with a Scottish accent. @mashable
Chris Brogan: Brogan is president at New Marketing Labs. He 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. He is also the cofounder of the PodCamp new media conference series. He 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: Baer has founded five companies, and spent 15 years running digital marketing agencies. He has worked with the biggest of the big brands. He is the founder of Convince and Convert. @jaybaer
Bubble Players (Just Missed!)
Corey Perlman, Louis Gray, Richard Binhammer, Robert Scoble, Lee Aase, 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, and Wayne Sutton.
Called a Digital Dale Carnegie, Erik Qualman is the author of best sellers Socialnomics (2009) and Digital Leader (2011). Socialnomics made the #1 Best Sellers List in seven countries and was a finalist for "Book of the Year." Fast Company Magazine lists Qualman as a Top 100 Digital Influencer. He is a frequently requested international speaker and has visited 42 countries. He produced the world's most viewed social media video series and it has been used by NASA to the National Guard.
He has been fortunate to share the stage with Julie Andrews, Al Gore, Tony Hawk, Sarah Palin, Jose Socrates (Prime Minister of Portugal), Alan Mulally, and many others. For the past 17 years Qualman has helped grow the digital capabilities of many companies including Cadillac, EarthLink, EF Education, Yahoo, Travelzoo, and AT&T. He is also an MBA Professor at the Hult International Business School. Qualman holds a BA from Michigan State University and an MBA from The University of Texas. He was Academic All-Big Ten in basketball at Michigan State University and recently gave the commencement address at the University of Texas. He lives in Boston with his wife and daughter.