Monday, October 26, 2009

Social media needs fewer rockstars, and more rockstar ideas

Last week at the Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Mixer, I was struck at how many amazingly deep and brilliant conversations I had with so many people. Well this is to be expected, you might say, when you spend a few days in the company of such social media smarties as Ann Handley, Beth Harte, David Armano, Jay Baer and Amber Naslund.

But here's the thing; most of those great conversations didn't happen with these people. In fact, they were with people that most of you probably haven't heard of. Heck I hadn't heard of many of them till I was introduced to them at the event.

And that's been gnawing at me for days. To be fair, this isn't unique to the Mixer, I noticed the same thing a couple of months ago at Social South, meeting and talking with people that have a 'low profile' in the social media space, yet being blown away by how smart they were. I kept asking myself 'why have I not heard of this person before now?'

I think/fear that the answer lies in how we determine the value of ideas in the social media space. I'm afraid that too many people are determining who is 'influential' based on how many followers/friends/readers they have. Which is a contributing factor, to be sure, but it's not the end-all-be-all for defining and recognizing people that put forth thoughtful ideas.

And what's worse, I think too many people are thinking if THEY don't have X number of readers/followers/friends, then they don't have the 'right' to share their ideas. That their ideas aren't worth sharing. I think when we call Chris Brogan a 'rockstar', I think some people will look at his 30K blog readers and 100K Twitter followers and think that means they must NOT be a rockstar, since they only have 500 readers and 200 Twitter followers.

If so, that's damn tragic. I've always said that the greatest thing about social media is that it gives everyone a voice. And I've always thought we do ourselves a disservice if we don't have the chance to hear as many voices as possible. This was a big reason why I started The Z-List three years ago, to help give deserving bloggers more exposure.

So how do we change this and bring more voices into the mix? I have some ideas, but definitely want to hear yours as well:

1 - Spend less time identifying the 'rockstars' and more time focusing on the great ideas. I am as guilty of this as anyone. I want to make sure that everyone knows how smart my friends are, but by labeling them 'rockstars', we are unintentionally ranking people. If David is a rockstar with 20K followers and 15K blog readers, the unintentional message may be that your ideas are less valuable if you only have a fraction of his followers/readers.

2 - Stop focusing on numbers to determine influence. I get why this happens. It's quick and easy, it's score-keeping. You can quickly compare your number of readers or followers or comments to someone else. But it isn't always (ever?) accurate. Is it an absolute that if I have more Twitter followers than you do that I am more influential there than you are? Or if you have more than I do, that you are more influential than I am? Of course not.

3 - Listen closely to new ideas from new voices, and magnify both when you hear them. So many of us complain about the 'fishbowl' mentality in the social media space. A great way to counter that is to bring new voices with fresh takes into this space. Introduce your network to someone they might not have heard of previously. Yes we all know who the 'rockstars' in this space are, so show us who's next.

The bottom line is that this space won't grow and reach its full potential unless we can continue to have fresh voices with fresh ideas being brought into the fold. If you want to be viewed as a 'rockstar' in this space, then IMO you have the responsibility to promote others more than yourself. You have the responsibility to see that the great ideas, no matter who has them, are brought to the top. And please, let your ideas stand on their own merits, don't think that they are less valuable than someone that has more friends or followers than you do. You've earned the right to be heard just as much as the rest of us have.

I say it's time we all got to work, what say you?

UPDATE: I've created a 'What's Next In Social Media' list on Twitter, a group of people that are really smart, that you might not be following yet. You can find it here -


Mack Collier said...

Anonymous, I'm pulling your comment because you left it anonymously. Leave that same comment with your name, and I'll leave it up. Thanks!

Monique Trulson said...

Great post, Mack - totally agree, everyone I met at MPDM had something useful and interesting to share, speaker or not, and my "Important People" group on TweetDeck grew exponentially after I got back, as I added them all in.

I've never been one to go with numbers - I don't follow someone because they're popular. I follow someone after someone else who has earned my respect RECOMMENDS them for one reason or another. After all, isn't that what Social Media is all about?

Unknown said...


Love this post. Had a similar experience at BWE this year and of course, like you at Social South.

I think there are three primary trends causing this:

1) As you note, we confuse rockstars with rockstar ideas.

2) Too many people are afraid to share their ideas and results. There is far too much "thought repeating" versus "thought leading" (someone else's apt phrase not mine) thus what we get is a rockstar echo chamber. Not sure if this is old style "fear" of sharing because someone will copy my idea versus hire me to do it for them or just plain fear of maybe "not being smart" enough... either way, should stop.

3) Too many people saying it's not cool to "pimp your stuff" -- everyone talks about how it's important to lift others up...well that works great if the others do the same, but too often folks are happy to take the lift but forget, don't care or get too busy to return the favor. So some of the really big ideas go unnoticed - which as you put it, is a damn shame.

Thanks for reminding me to cast a longer, wider antenna to keep finding those cool ideas. Good lesson for all of us to remember.

RT'ing now ;-)


David Griner said...

Mack, you raise one of my (many) beefs with people who say "there's no such thing as a social media campaign."

Those in our industry who get too focused on gradual, long-term community building (which, I agree, is vital) lose sight of the importance of great, exciting ideas. It creates a culture of conformity, where social media pros spend more time trying to emulate the field's rock stars than creating new, fun, rewarding ideas that will keep the space interesting.

Maybe these ideas are temporary. Maybe they fail. But if people stopped wasting time on hero worship and started flexing their creativity (and taking risks in the process), you could stack conferences with case studies for years to come without repeating the same one twice.

SJHoward said...

Hey Mack, spot on post. Best example I can think of is Ashton Kucher(sp). When I first got onto to Twitter I followed him simply because everyone else did, but when I saw that he was filling my feed with garbage I dumbed him and quickly started looking for people who brought value to the media (at least in terms of my interests). I think I am gathering a follow list that has a mixed bag of the 'rockstars' and the under the radar value. I think its important to have a balance of both. At least a few of the rockstars, such as Brogan, are rockstars because they bring big value. Other simply influence a lot of the action or enable the lesser knowns to leverage eyeballs. What are your more specific thoughts on the value of followers? I agree that the writer shouldn't be valued based simply on number of followers, but there is certainly value in a large following. For example how do you feel about organic follower growth vs. using the services? Clearly organic is better, but 500 followers is better than 200. Again I think its a balance. Cheers, @HowieSJ

Keith Bossey said...

Mack, as a non-rockstar, and one really just beginning to understand the power of social media, I love this perspective. I think that in order to get organizations to really grasp the power of SM, a broader array of people and ideas will need to be brought in to the conversation. People will need to see how SM ideas and tactics apply to their business issues, and therefore they will need it to be "translated" by those one step away from the rockstars.

David B. Thomas said...

Mack, you're hitting on something that I've been feeling for a while but you've crystallized it very nicely. It's easy to idolize the rock stars, but it can be risky to show your respect for someone relatively new or unknown. There's still a fear of putting a foot wrong and being ridiculed for it. We need to recognize that social media is evolving and a lot of new people are and will be entering the arena. If we commit to making them feel welcome, they may be more willing to speak their minds and share new perspectives.

KaryD said...

Thank you for this, Mack. Once again, you plainly and calmly point out the simple truth. Why must we make everything such a popularity contest? Social media gives us a vast space to express ideas and learn from one another.

I know I'm guilty of placing some of my favorite social media people in the "Rockstar" category. One thing I enjoyed about being at the Marketing Profs mixer, though, was meeting people like you and realizing that beyond all of the social media "fame" that has been placed upon individuals, there's a real, honest-to-goodness human being. It's refreshing and real, and it's what makes the online connections worth having.

As you pointed out, the people in the seats of these sessions have just as many valuable ideas to share as the next guy (gal). Discounting them because you "haven't heard of them on Twitter" is ridiculous.

And, I'd like to call out the second half the title of your post, "more rockstar ideas." RIGHT ON. I'm starting to get really tired of the same ideas circulating around conferences, presented by someone who has propelled themselves into self-proclaimed social media fame. If we could spend less time mesmerized by the number of followers/readers and more time sharing and expressing innovative ideas, we could actually advance the communications and marketing techniques being used in this social media space we all love. (And save it from being dominated by spammers, bots and porn stars.)

Seriously, at the end of the day, we're all just marketers. None of us is Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. "Famous"? Come on. That's just silly.

Marla Erwin said...

Great post Mack. I've long decried the tendency of many conferences to bring in the same big name "rockstars" over and over again while ignoring what Ann Handley (in her opening remarks at MPDM) called the "up and coming stars" of the industry.

I think MPDM made a real effort to diversify the voices. I hope her message and yours is heard by some of the organizers — and attendees — of other conferences, who are too often reluctant to give their attention to ideas when it's so easy to be distracted by names.

Mack Collier said...

"Too many people are afraid to share their ideas and results. There is far too much "thought repeating" versus "thought leading" (someone else's apt phrase not mine) thus what we get is a rockstar echo chamber."

Tom, I made this point to someone (@JenKaneCo I believe) last week, that I noticed how many times someone would start to make a point and the other person would go 'Yes! THANK YOU!', it's like the other person knew what their point was going to be as soon as they started talking.

I think that results in too much agreement, and then when someone DOES challenge ideas being expressed, they often go too far the opposite way and launch into personal attacks.

Mack Collier said...

David the main reason why anyone knows who I am now is because when I started blogging, I wasn't smart enough to realize how dumb I was. I'd go to Tara Hunt's blog and expound my meager theories on marketing, I'd tell Hugh Macleod what I thought about his using blogs to sell more wine, and I'd post about how Seth was all wrong when it came to not allowing comments on blogs.

The point is, by getting out and interacting with people smarter than I was, it exposed me to new ideas, and exposed new people to MY ideas. And I am seeing that almost all the people I talk to have amazingly sharp ideas, that they should be sharing.

We NEED to hear those voices. I think the question is, how do we get these people comfortable in sharing, and how do we tune our ears so we can better hear them? Worth exploring, IMO.

Mandy Vavrinak @mvavrinak said...

Mack, one of my favorite things about your perspective is your determination to focus on others. This post is an extension of that perspective, as I see it. In any field, I hope we focus on the ideas and the results they generate (or could generate) rather than the mouth that shared them.
That is not to devalue those true rock stars in this space (or any other). Enduring fame is generally earned through consistently good ideas and results. I follow many of them because their good ideas inspire me and I hope to then do the same for my (much smaller) corner of the world. So, inspire on, my friend.

Rick Liebling said...

Here's an interesting experiment I'd love to see someone set up:

Create a website called Rock Star Ideas. People send in their 250-500 word SocMed ideas. These are posted *anonymously* for the hivemind to vote up or down. At the end of the week, identities are revealed, new contest every week. Now we get to see who is really bringing smart stuff to the table. Do I think guys like Brogan, Solis, Naslund, etc. will 'win' a lot? Yes, they are rock stars for a reason. But I bet you'd get an 'unknown' in the top five every week too.

Unknown said...

Mack - great thoughts. Rockstar ideas are the basis for rockstardom.


Why do we emphasize rockstardom to begin with?

Why do we focus on meeting / connecting with social media "rockstars" at conferences?

I don't know the answers (nor will I pretend to) but I think they're worth thinking about.

Perhaps we look to the rockstars because it's a shortcut - they've established trust and reputation and we know their thoughts have value.

Discovering new voices and validating their ideas take time and energy. It's not as easy as getting ideas from someone who's been pre-vetted.

Perhaps it's time for the z-list 2.0?

Scott Schablow said...

I wonder how much fear and loathing of social media criticism comes into play as well? It seems we're often too quick to judge others' efforts harshly. The thought of having your ideas undergo such public scrutiny can be frightening and therefore has a chilling effect.

amymengel said...

I like how you not only approached this from the standpoint of "let's not get too hung up on people with large followings" angle but also encouraged people not to hold back on ideas just because they don't think they are popular or "rockstar-ish" enough yet. It's an important message. There are plenty of "unknowns" out there with great ideas to share and they shouldn't hold back just because they haven't amassed legions of fans/friends/followers.

Ike said...

Mack, there is an institutional barrier that needs breaching, and I'm not sure how we do it.

Simply stated, "Them that has, gets."

I've known of many small television markets where the traditional #1 station could throw up color bars for a month and still win the ratings. The tiny, plucky competiton would beat Goliath to every story, but no one paid attention. It simply wasn't "news" until it came from the #1. And even those who saw the original piece would be confused about where they saw it, because of force of habit.

There are some brilliant ideas floating out there, but no one seems to notice them until one of the established names publishes the info. Yes, there are too many people to follow, and we have a need for those who play aggregator and connector in our networks.

I think the first step to address our shared lament is to promote the celebration of innovation. We have to change the culture of what we laud.

Second, it's time to ditch the Blogroll. It's nothing more than a mindless endorsement that keeps the top at the top. Replace it with a Postroll, a dynamic list of direct links to specific articles that are worth checking out. Now, innovation can truly defeat stagnation, and we can get a larger pool of players to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

Postrolls are easy to set up. Just use a special tag when bookmarking in Delicious, and pull the RSS feed for that tag. Or repurpose your Google Reader Shared Items feed. Or use a Public Evernote notebook. Or the RSS feed from a Posterous account. Whatever floats your boat, we've got so many flavors of sharing that it's inexcusable we aren't doing more.

(Here's where I blame Twitter. When people ditch other sharing options for the ease of Twitter, you lose the taxonomy and searchability that allows for great ideas to be discovered by the people searching for that specific need.)

(Mea Culpa: I am guilty of lazy sharing and insufficient tagging. I am correcting that now.)

Great food for thought, Mack.

Mack Collier said...

Keith I'm gonna pick on you a bit, but you started your comment by identifying yourself as a 'non-rockstar'. According to who? Don't make up my mind for me, let your ideas speak for themselves. When I started blogging I was confident (arrogant?) enough to believe that my thoughts had value, and that I had the right to share them with others.

You should have the same mentality, IMO, we all should. I know many people that have far fewer Twitter followers and readers than I do, that are MUCH smarter than I am.

Mack Collier said...

Marla I loved hearing from new (to me) voices like you and Ramon and others, and how you your companies are using and learning from social media. And I agree, Ann and the MP team does a great job in identifying talent before everyone else catches on.

Tami McCarthy said...

Hi Mack, as you know, I totally agree with you on this topic.
Like anything else in life, perhaps the non rockstars just
need a little boost from the rockstars? The more they are
recognized for their ideas, the more likely they will
feel comfortable sharing so we can all learn from them as well. Also, it would make this space more diverse and way
more interesting! Great post.

Michele Miller said...

Great post, as always, Mack! About six months ago, I set a goal for myself to discover at least one new blogger per week. It has added tremendously to my perspective on ideas and situations. I make sure to post comments on their posts, because they need to hear that someone out there is reading. And who knows how many of these folks are the rockstars of tomorrow.

So much great stuff, so little time! I just wish there was a great paying gig for reading blogs all day long. :-)

Anonymous said...

What an excellent post Mack.

As I shared with you last week, I thought there were a number of people at that conference who had drank a little too much of their own kool aid (surrounded by adoring groupies with follower-count stars in their eyes).

My favorite rock star comment was someone who asked me if the programming at the event was "a little over my head" since I wasn't there representing a big corporate brand.

Being small and nimble had enabled my firm to innovate circles around some of the big guys. Not only was I not intimidated, I was eager to have opportunities to jump in and share.

In short, the best ideas don't necessarily always come from the biggest names (and mouths).

Not sure how to change things, but your blog post is an excellent place to start.

(I wrote some additional thoughts on this myself a few weeks ago:

Keith Bossey said...

Mack - Point taken, but my counterpoint is that I'm not a "social media rockstar", but I do occupy that space adjacent to the social media conversation (where I am a rockstar), and I am the key audience, a key proponent to broadening acceptance of SM inside companies. I am the bridge.

sethgray said...

Ike- I REALLY like your idea of a postroll instead of a blogroll. Off to make that happen on mine.

Mack- I agree. there are a lot of great thinkers out there. I wonder if the rockstar phenomenon has something to do with Social Proof? Social media is a relatively new thing, people aren't quite sure how to behave (or what to think?!), so they look for people/ideas that have been validated by the crowd.

Unknown said...


First off, love your blog; you always seem to articulate thoughts/issues/ideas that other folks are mulling over but have not put into words yet (myself included).

Your point about how only paying attention to the social media "rock stars" can be a bad thing is well taken. I'll admit that I'm often guilty of not expanding my horizons when it comes to deciding where to read on social media.

As social media folks we need to be focusing more on rock star ideas (ones that have been shown to work) and putting less emphasis on the social media rock stars.

Thanks for the insight,



Anonymous said...

Great points Mack,
I know that many of the really smart people I meet aren't always those with a ton of followers and such. In fact, there are a number of wickedly smart PR and SM people I know who aren't that "famous" on Twitter or in the blog world because they're busy enough executing on their ideas for themselves or clients that they don't spend as much time chatting as they'd like.

You can find great realtionships and ideas all over the place. Sometimes they may very well come from one of the big rockstars but you shouldn't assume that. The great part about SM and technology in general is the potential to break down barriers in meeting new, smart contacts.

Great post and an important observation.


Kat Gordon said...

Amen! I find it far more gratifying to get direct messages from followers who gained something from my blog and put it into action with their clients, than to see my follower count bump to the next comma. The greatest irony is that those with the most followers often fail to lead.

Kellye Crane said...

Thanks for raising this topic, Mack. It relates to something I've been thinking about quite a bit lately: with no disrespect, most "rockstars" spend a great deal of time making themselves known as such. I'm sure I'm not the only person who feels dizzy watching some of their relentless networking.

Like you, I'm often amazed at the wisdom coming from unknown practitioners. One thing those I've met all have in common: their singular focus is on their clients or internal work. Often, they take the time others spend talking, and they're using it for action.

Your post has made me realize that many of these "doers" would never dream of writing a blog post a day - or even per week. They don't have Facebook fan pages. If they're on Twitter, it's not what many of us would consider active. So perhaps in addition to disregarding things like follower numbers, we also need to quit paying so much attention to blog rankings, comScores and the like when choosing who deserves our attention. One amazing Slideshare presentation is all it takes for us to learn.

I'm resolving today to share innovative content wherever I may find it - thanks!

Alan Petersen said...

Very well written. Seems like whatever incarnation social media takes MySapce, Facebook, Twitter in the end the "worth" of the participant seems to be based on numbers (friends, followers,etc.) which is a damn shame. What is the real percent of those following you on Twitter who are really following vs. just trying to pad their own follower numbers? I don't know the answer but out of 100,000 followers probably about 50 are really following you and give a hoot about what you tweet. :-)

David Stanley said...

This is a post that needed to be written. Thank you. With the exponential hype that is going on about social media, it's easy to confuse what's important. Lot's of small businesses are competing with big box stores simply by being quality businesses and building relationships with customers. This same approach can be applied effectively to new media.

David Cohen said...

Great post! As a few others have pointed out Twitter can be a confusing place when it comes to understanding influence. I think many of us have been raised with a "bigger is better" mindset and so it is easy to assume that a huge number of followers must mean huge influence, but sometimes it is just an inflated number caused by automated activity. However when I see someone who only has a modest number of followers, and only follows a modest number of people, but has a huge volume of tweets, then I start to suspect there is lots of conversation going on. This is someone who has found a community and is getting and giving real value.

Mack Collier said...

Thank you Mandy, and to be fair, the 'rockstars' I listed in the post all share my opinion that the spotlight should be on others. That's part of what makes them leaders in this space.

Tami and Michele, great ideas about discovering new faces. When I still used Technorati, I used to do a 'reverse-authority' lookup, I would search for blogs based on lowest # of links first, with the idea being that these were the newest blogs, and thus the best sources for 'new' voices. I found a lot of good reads that way, maybe time to try it again.

Mack Collier said...

Guys thanks to everyone for the comments, and I'm glad so many people agree that we need fresh voices and takes and ideas for this space. But the question still remains, what is the best way to FIND and PROMOTE those new voices? And there's still IMMENSE value in the ideas of the leaders of this space, so we should never dismiss those people.

But at the end of the day, how to we find those new voices? What are your thoughts for how we make that happen?

Unknown said...

Mack, I think this is a great post and you've obviously touched a nerve here judging on the comments. I'm a relative newcomer to social media and think it is a wonderful forum for sharing ideas. I don't have the number of followers that many others have but will share my ideas as much as possible and hope to add value for those who do choose to follow me.


Colleen Bruemmer

Anonymous said...

Good post Mack. Specially like "Stop focusing on numbers to determine influence". Have 1/3 of followers as spammers/bots isn't the answer.

Erin_M said...

I really like your ideas. As a college student, I have heard many peers say, "I need to get twitter because my journalism professor says I won't get a job if I don't."
People sometimes use social media for the wrong reasons--to think they can get professional air. Really, it is all about the conversation and your ideas. You can gain professional knowledge, but don't let it be your only reason.

Brian Clark said...

I've got a rockstar idea. How about we quit using the word "rockstar" unless we're, you know, discussing a famous rock musician. ;-)

Rob Ungar said...

Hi Mack,

First- obligatory great post comment. Second, what if you put together a conference like MPDM where you picked out people who you think have great ideas but who you would classify as "non-rockstars?" I think this would be a great way for those who haven't yet achieved that sort of status to share their ideas.

Jason Falls said...

I'm still waiting on someone to tell me what a rock star is. The only people who talk about them are social media people. The folks we serve have no clue what we're talking about if we bring it up.

I appreciate the notion, certainly, but we owe only one thing - great ideas to our clients (which is your point, I know). If someone wants to call you, me, Brogan or someone else a rock star, fine. Has no effect on my clients or my bottom line.

And if any of us are rock stars, where are all the groupies? Heh.

Aerin said...

Here, here. Pleated jeans and a sport coat do not a rockstar make. In fact, the whole thing often smacks of a "Yes Man" convention. The majority of these rockstars "emerge" because of the PR machinery behind them. I like to think of social media and technology as democratizing, and the good ideas do come from everywhere and unexpected places.

Brett Borders said...

I think we need more rockstar skills, and less rockstar personalities / egos. Skills are what kill it - along with the creativity to generate the winning ideas.

Beth Harte said...

Now do you finally see why I disliked that you call(ed) me a 'superstahhhh?!' LOL! ;-) But that's what makes you so special always put people first and let others know when you've found great folks that others should know.

There are a TON of smart folks out there who deserve recognition for the work they are doing. And those people are SO busy they don't have time to 'collect a following.'

I totally agree with you about Social South & the MarketingProfs Digital Mixer (my first Mixer was as a non-employee). There are a lot of smart speakers and attendees that aren't "Scoblesque." That doesn't mean they aren't smart, successful, etc. In fact, I'd vote that they are even more so because they can stand on their OWN merits...not the influence people have fabricated (some without deserving the merit).

I agree with's time to stop using terms like superstar, rockstar, etc. There's got to be a better way to shine a spotlight on smart folks & the work they are doing.

Beth Harte
Community Manager, MarketingProfs

Unknown said...

Great observations, Mack. And how true of so many fields. I've shared with my network, largely the K-12 education community, which is having its own growing pains vis a vis "rock stars" who use technology/social media - and those who don't. The link to your Twitter list doesn't seem to be working, though. Curious to see.
Thanks again.

Beth Harte said...

Jason, did you forget that I *AM* your groupie?? Sheesh. are 100% right. All that matters is our customers/clients.

Barry Dalton said...

Your a rock star for posting this! I attended my first Blogworld Expo a couple of weeks ago and was struck by the same feelings. And I follow and read many of the 'rockstars'because they all have something I can learn from (the same reason I read everything - to learn)

Seth Grodin recently wrote a post 'the rule of high school' about this, taking a slightly different angle in which he equated the overheated world of blogging/tweeting to high school. Unfortunately, from my outside perspective there appears a fair amount of idol worship, 'insecurity, social climbing, back biting, false friends, faux achievements and high drama' in many blog circles.

I assume none of the 'rockstars' are in this to be idolized. So, why then do we idolize them?

My humble suggestion to those that are feeling inferior? Find your niche, build your tribe (sorry for two Seth Godin references) and create value for that tribe. If you can do that, and not spend your energy on trying to "Be Like Chris (Brogan)", you are accomplishing a great deal.


Mack Collier said...

Rob, I actually did this with Social South. I suggested a few 'under the radar' people to Scott Schablow as speakers for Social South, and they were a big hit. I think you need a mix, the leaders are leaders for a reason, but we need to focus on trying to find the people that will be TOMORROW'S leaders as well.

Suzanne Vara said...


The social media rockstars of today that you have mentioned have earned it for sure. The "no-names" go unnoticed because they simply are ignored as they are seen as not important or trusted. Who wants to jump on a no-name when popularity comes from riding the coat tails of a rockstar?

Developing your own voice within social media is not always easy. Good and consistent content and views is what makes the "no-name" a name.

People with lesser followers think and rethink what they are going to post instead of just being themselves and adding value. Who cares if only 1 person reads your tweet - that 1 person is grateful for what you shared.

The rockstars of tomorrow will be the ones who share what they feel is worthy of sharing no matter who wrote it.

Mack Collier said...

Jason you're right, most of my clients haven't heard of any of these names. But I think without new names, and without welcoming those new names, our ideas will continue to stagnate. The few new ideas I have heard recent have come from people that I'd just met.

We need new voices, and I think we also need more challenging of existing ideas. And by challenging I don't mean personal attacks, but rather constructive disagreement that leads to a beneficial discussion.

Anyway I'm starting to ramble and get off-topic, so...

Ryan Miller said...


I enjoyed the post and agree with just about everything you're hitting on. I see more and more great posts/tweets/comments from non-rockstars every day.

I do think (as another commenter pointed out) that many of us (myself included) are still trying to find our niche and figure out how/where to share our expertise.

With a sea of tweets, blogs, and sites out there, it's natural that we gravitate to some of the same users who give good primers on SM. Plus they're easy to spot. The challenge is being comfortable in sharing opinions and genuinely providing useful content in the online conversation. That should be the end goal....but then again, who doesn't want to be a rockstar?

Mack Collier said...

Beth you are right, and I am going to seriously make an effort to stop putting those labels (even if well-intentioned) on other people.

But as I was reading your comment about MPDM and SoSo, I wonder, did others feel more willing to share their ideas because we were face-to-face? I think that was probably it.

I still think we need to think about ways to be more encouraging online. I'm really going to give this some thought.

Amber Weinberg said...

I've found that some of the best tweets come from those with less than 1,000 followers. There are a bunch of "social media experts" I try to follow with 15,000 followers or so, but their tweets are never relevant to anything or helpful, so I have no clue how they got that many followers, perhaps just because of their name?

Lasse Thomasson said...

Thanks for a great post.

As in in any social interactions/groups you get peoples who talk a lot with large followings and then the silent ones, hardly ever speaking with fewer listeners. And with no correlation to what people actually has to say.
Of course we have to start with our own attitude rethinking how we listen, and what we listen to
But any social context also need a larger frame. A set of rules, values and moderation to overcome.

Sue Spaight said...

Mack, this is brilliant thinking. What a leader you are, seriously man.

As someone who has only been in this space for a year, I can tell you it can be a *tough* crowd if you let it, akin to walking into the high school cafeteria, past the cool kids' table. Unless you're a very confident big mouth like me, I can see it being very intimidating for people.

Thank you, from all of us new kids, for starting to break that down.

Sue Spaight

Eric Hoffman said...

After seeing the light bulb go on over your head as the group was chatting on Thursday evening, I was really looking forward to this post, and you definitely didn't disappoint.

I think that many of us, when we first start off in social media, glom onto the easy to find 'Rock Stars' and RT any tweet that seems at all interesting and comment on every post on their blogs because it seems to be the way to engage. While this may be a way to start to figure out social media, as you point out, it certainly isn't the most effective or efficient way to engage.

Your post is a great example of what we should all do in terms of seeking out other people in our network as well as share those in our network that might be valuable to others. I know that Follow Friday was intended as a way to do this, perhaps we need start something like a "What's Next Wednesday" #WNW as a way to highlight new ideas and thoughts in social media?

BTW, hopefully I'm not sounding too much like the guy shouting "hear, hear" at the social media presentation, because I'm not intending it that way, but in any case, "hear, hear!"

missrogue said...

I totally agree with the more ideas and less rockstars thing (even though you identified me as one - I totally don't consider myself a. a rockstar of any sort and b. a social media whatever of any sort...but that's just splitting hairs).

But question: I may be wrong, but wasn't it you several years ago that created the top X lists of people? That's why I'm not a big fan of Top 10/100/whatev lists. They focus on the wrong things IMO.

The 'rockstars' you identify have one thing in common, they've gained recognition (sometimes for their great ideas, but sometimes for being uber good at self-promotion).

Thanks for saying this.

Ann Handley said...

So I'm a little late to this Comment Party (yikes, Mack!), but I'm chiming in anyway... because this is a topic near and dear to my heart.

As I said from the podium on Wednesday, when I kicked off the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Mixer, I love the Big Thinking that you can get from the kind of folks we have keynoting our events and speaking at our seminars (and I'm not using the word "rock star" here because I kinda don't like it.. and clearly it's not just me).

But that said, some of the best sessions I've been to have been led by folks I never heard of before. In fact, my editorial philosophy here at 'Profs is to constantly be on the lookout for those folks who I think are sharp thinkers, good writers, excellent teachers, generous souls, and all that stuff that makes someone worth listening to...

In fact, I often think that my only real skill is in being able to identify those people: In other words, I know smart when I see it. Sometimes those people are at the podium, but not always. Sometimes they are around the table at a roundtable or interactive session or whatever.

In any case, one of the things I love most about social media is that it makes my job a whole lot easier... it gives everyone a voice, and everyone (who wants one) a platform.

This is a wonderful post here, Mack. Thanks so much for it.

MikeTrap said...

I'm reminded of a post by Brazen Careerist a few weeks back, where he explained he was abandoning Seth Godin
so he could focus on developing his own ideas:

Maybe we all need to do that a bit more. Thanks for the great post.

margotzooms said...

How could you have list and not include Liz Strauss? You picked all "pseudo" marketing types and forgot the real communicator.

Mack Collier said...

Tara, you might be thinking of the Top 25 Marketing/Social Media blogs list I did for a couple of years. I stopped doing it because it seemed to have run it's course and was no longer a resource that it was when I started it.

Ann I'm doing that thing where I point at your eyes then point at mine ;)

Margot you are right, I love Liz. This is what happens when you make lists, you always leave someone out that should be there.

mrboilermaker said...

I would like to see more people that have proven results... and not a bunch of people that have thousands of followers, readers speaking all about ROI and not understanding that it isn't ROI unless it brings money back - no engagement is not ROI, it can lead to it, but is not it. There are people and companies succeeding in SM - unfortunately it is hard to get through the clutter created by so many of the "rockstars" - so... in short... I agree

Rob Frappier said...

Excellent post Mack. I wish more people were as inclusive as you are. Great ideas can come from anyone, whether they have 1,000,000 Twitter followers or 100. Sometimes, it can be difficult for a new voice to get heard over all of the social media rockstar hype.

margotzooms said...

Thanks Mark. Actually Liz and I recently became new friends. I was following her on Twitter, being a "pseudo" marketing type myself and I saw the background on her blog - was the exact view (in the summer) that I have out of my window in Chicago. So through her blog, I emailed her. I sounded like a stalker and we made a date to get together. Since, that date, when I supplied the coffee and Liz brought her own milk - I made a new friend. I am in awe of her writing ability and real connections she has with people.

Chris P. O'Leary said...

Very well said Mr. Collier. I guess Rock Star Status would be cool among industry peers...(I don't have it). But at the end of the day what pays the bills for most of us? Call me old school but providing clients with marketing solutions that produce a positive ROI usually does the trick and makes you a Rock Star to who is important > "Your Client". I completely agree that sharing ideas, strategies and tactics to improve a customer's bottom line tends to get muffled with all the noise.

Nothing wrong with calling oneself an UnJediSamauraiMarketingSocialCowboy/Girl and making a funny face, if in the end you actually make your client and yourself money. Otherwise what's the point?

Unknown said...

Perhaps it's selfish, but the reason I like being in this space is because of the wide exposure to new ideas and new people. Quite truthfully, I went into Marketing because I genuinely like meeting new people, picking their brains, and figuring out exactly how much smarter than me they are.

Social media makes this so much easier and I'm regularly (we're talking on a weekly basis) blown away by the things people teach me.

I like being in a room full of people smarter than myself, and I completely agree with the points you make in the post.

I can't say that I've spent much face time with any of the popular social media rockstars lately (all of whom are very smart), but I'm still learning from people who aren't considered "rockstars".

Continuous learning makes me smile and the people I do get to have face time with (and Internet time with, who are we kidding?) continue to challenge me to realize exactly how much I have to learn.

Unknown said...

Mack - really great post and I totally agree. The largest issue I have with the 'rockstar' evaluation method is that most 'rockstars' have careers that enable them to be active within the space 24 hours a day. I dedicate my professional and personal time to learning more about the space but I don't see the need in inflating my follower numbers just to achieve rockstar status. It's about the ideas.

Great post. We've got a few more ideas over at if you're interested as well!

Lindsay Lebresco said...

Well it's hard to jump in as comment #66 and add value to the conversation because so much great stuff has been said already but I will say that I think the reason that we don't hear as many new ideas/from as many new voices as we'd like to, is because this space can be intimidating for people just starting out.

Even though you clearly don't like anonymous comments, :) I actually like Rick's idea. I think people would be more likely to put their ideas out there/take a risk if they could do it anonymously. Then of course if the community dug the idea they'd happily take credit for it and maybe accept rockstar (or maven) status. ;)

This is a great reminder to pass along names of people to watch- by the way, I sat on a panel with @GeorgeGSmithJr from @Crocs. Great guy, great ideas & BTW, the mommy bloggers swooned when he started talking :)

Steve Seager said...

Well said Mack,

Especially in Europe the accent is on making your client the rockstar, not yourself. I am constantly amazed by the US SM contingent's ability to self promote at the same time as promoting their clients. I have seen a lot of burnout from these guys and gals. And I am not surprised.

I think us Europeans are a little behind in Europe, but we'll do it our own way. For the bigger agencies
, they often have it down. But I know of some amazing people who are really doing great work for their clients. And maybe, just maybe, you will hear about it soon enough :)

Big thanks for great inspiration and thoughts from the other side of the pond :) You guys rock. (To coin a very US phrase!)

Be splendid!

Steve (working his ass off for his clients with little time to blog, let alone self promote in the Netherlands) Seager

Mack Collier said...

Tara I wanted to go back to something you said:

"The 'rockstars' you identify have one thing in common, they've gained recognition (sometimes for their great ideas, but sometimes for being uber good at self-promotion)."

To be fair, you're pretty good at having good ideas, and you're pretty good at self-promotion. Let's not kid ourselves, every time we tweet that we are at 'Conference X having dinner with Rockstar1, Rockstar2 and Rockstar3', that's self-promotion. I've done it, everyone I mentioned has done it, and I've seen you do it.

Maybe I just know the people I listed better than you do, but they are the real deal and earned their reputation based on smarts. Are some of them also good at self-promotion? Of course, but it's not because of either promotion OR smarts.

Mack Collier said...

"Even though you clearly don't like anonymous comments, :) I actually like Rick's idea. I think people would be more likely to put their ideas out there/take a risk if they could do it anonymously. Then of course if the community dug the idea they'd happily take credit for it and maybe accept rockstar (or maven) status. ;)"

Lindsay that's a valid point. The reason why I deleted the first anonymous comment was that it took a semi-swipe at the people I mentioned, and I didn't want to see it escalate. If they want to leave the same comment again and sign their name to it, I'll happily let it stand.

Norene said...

I agree totally! I think so many folks get status simply by having a large following. I read their stuff and think...what? I guess that is why I follow folks that speak to me, and not those that simply have a large following. ~Norene

Unknown said...


Love that you're getting so much action on this post... shows a lot of folks really do get it.

Had a thought as I was reading all of the great comments.

Maybe what we ought to be doing is focusing less on being/finding rock stars and maybe more about playing in rock bands. Social Media is so much more fun when you're jamming with lots of other smart peeps.

I'm thinking there is an App for That or maybe a Wii game...

Congrats again brother. Keep up the great work.


Karthik S said...

Brilliant post.

We had a client say recently, when we suggested that he should blog, given the ideas he has, that he's more worried if people do not read his blog posts. And that's the reason why he isn't blogging yet. And to think he's the CEO of a very large organization!

Too many people are focusing on the popularity part and forgetting that social media is a communication exercise and that popularity is directly proportional to the quality and consistency of your thoughts. And yes, nothing in this planet happens overnight (well, almost, if you ignore Bubble Boy!) and that includes that elusive popularity via social media. Simple, obvious thing - but its strange so many people miss this!

Subbu said...

This should be made a must-read for everyone in the social media space and those who intend to be in it. I think it is only in the social media space that an 'egalitarian' approach to ideas is possible. Ideas>Individuals

Brave, Mack!

Patrick Murphy said...

Very good post, can't agree with you enough. We should look at the ideas and the overall goal. Not the people not the metrics. Well done!

Danny Brown said...

"Rockstar" is the same as "A-lister" - it's all dependent on relevance to the person.

I wrote a while ago about the gteat A-lister myth, and how it's mostly crock. Like you say, just because you have a bunch of numbers after your name doesn't automatically make you worth listening to. It might mean you just know how to game a particular system.

If you want to listen to "real" rockstars or A-listers, make it the folks that actually benefit your life and growth. If I'm interested in toy trains, for example, do I really give a crap about someone talking about social media and business consultancy? No - I give a crap about someone that can tell me how to align stations with trackside objects to make a living feel to my railway.

Someone that taps into what I need - now THAT's a rockstar.


Spike Jones said...


Nice post.

As I express on a regular basis - I could give a crap about the number of followers they have or even if they're a "rockstar" or not. My beef is that a lot of these folks (read: most of them) have gotten "famous" for building their own individual brand. In other words, they go around speaking at conferences to big brands and give all these case studies THAT THEY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH. They are preachers and not practitioners. They have very little-to-no hands on experience. And they are a dime a frackin' dozen.

It cracks me up when I read a tweet by a "rockstar" (the few I haven't unfollowed yet) that says that they won't be tweeting much today because they have work to do. WTF is that?

It comes down to What Have You Done? Experience matters in the world I live in. And I'm not going to begin to listen to you until you prove that you've rolled up your sleeves and gotten your hands dirty. For those new to the WOM/SM space, they need preachers. But to those of us that have been in the trenches, we need to learn from others that have also been in the trenches - successes AND failures.

Dorothy Crenshaw said...

Thanks so much for articulating what I and others have been feeling; I've had this conversation with colleagues, and I've read some posts that decry the "clubby" nature of SM, but those were somewhat negative and didn't particularly focus on how to move beyond this phase. I look forward to going through your list.

Adele McAlear said...

Mack, I agree with you and with most of the comments left here. I also bristle at the term social media rockstar because it really does perpetuate an "Us" and "Them" mentality.

However, I must say, there is an economic component to being considered an "A-Lister" (something I am nowhere near!). The more well known you are and the bigger your reputation, the more opportunities come your way - speaking gigs, book deals, consulting.

Yes, what really matters is the ideas you have and what you do for your clients. But having notoriety might make it easier to attract those clients.

As always Mack, you make me think.

GeekMommy said...

As usual adding my two cents long after most people have come and gone. Meaning it's probably just for you Mack ;)

I have long said, and will likely say again more than once, I would much rather be notable than famous any day. To be notable means that amongst those who are excellent in your field, you somehow have earned a place of respect, to be famous simply means even those who have no idea what you do know your name.

As you've already pointed out admirably, neither fame nor ability are causal or indicative of the other.

I'm apparently the only person who doesn't take offense at the term Rockstar in these comments. Mostly because I get that it's intended by most as a term of respect. But also partly because I aspire to the level of excellence if those you noted in your post.

I think you may have inspired a post from me (I know! How odd!! I don't do that much anymore.) :)

Dan Levine said...

Mack, great post and great conversation. Tons of great ideas and top of my list would be the following: the "rockstars" need to tout more than just each other (over and over again) and take some time to tout some of the "lesser-knowns". If rockstars RT'd those folks more, commented on their blogs, discussed an aspect of a lesser-known blog post on their own blog, suggested that others give the lesser known a Twitter follow -- more ideas would reach the masses. The conversations are dominated by the rockstars and as such it's incumbent upon the rockstars to include more lesser-knowns if we're going to move this space forward. Problem is, it's not an easy thing to do. When you're at the top, many folks like to stay there. You need to be incredibly self-confident and a great leader to bring new folks up onto the big stage. It's not easy to share the spotlight, but it's important we move in that direction. Awesome post.

Skyle said...

Happy to read this, and thanks for sharing.

It's so true there are many people who we don't hear about who are as smart or "smarter" than the identified *rockstars*...but I think rockstars can be defined as such, because they want to be.

The key ingredient you mentioned---> self-promotion.

It’s absolutely true, those who don't self promote get washed over by the rockstar wave.

Why is it, the smartest people are often not the rockstars?
The smartest people aren't always the best promoters and many of them may not want that spotlight. It's not always the smarter people who rise to the top, it's the squeaky wheel that gets the oil, and the same goes for notoriety, esp. in the marketing paradise of social media. We are all groupies of good ideas.

And as Tara said, lists fuel the "rockstar cult," and the culture of social media fuels the list.

Most importantly? We fuel it, and let's face it, the only reason people rise is because others promote them.
…And as David Armano said in his post, “we all just want to make a contribution, and to make a difference.” Listen outside of your own echo chamber and try to make your difference.

Unknown said...

Mack, very good and thought provoking post. There are several different ways to think about this. You are probably right that some "non rockstars" are afraid to voice their opinions and join the conversation, but what about those that are trying but simply don't have anyone to talk to yet. You have thousands of followers and an established platform that enables you to be heard. And you've certainly earned it.

As to your question about how to promote new voices, why not create a guest blogging series where every Friday (or whenever) you have a rockstar-in-the-making guest blogger write a relevant post. Or write a blog post yourself highlighting someone you think your readers and followers should know about. People like you and Chris Brogan et al. are great at selflessly helping others. Why not lend your platform directly? Your readers trust you and would surely find value in someone you recommend, in hearing a new voice, a new perspective, fresh ideas. I certainly would :)

Kevin Spence said...

Chances are, the people around you are spending their time in the trenches. You relate to them, you're going through the same things, they've created awesome strategies.

The Rockstars are more like upper management. They run their companies, they know the general strategies, but they stopped getting their hands dirty years ago. That's just the way of it. You know, how great programmers eventually stop programming and start managing projects. Doesn't mean they can't teach you a thing or two about programming if they're in the right mood, though.

But yes, the best people are generally unknown because they spend all their time doing what they do and zero time telling anyone about it.

Rock and Roll Mama said...


This is my first time visiting your blog (Thank, Shannon Paul!) and I appreciate the focus on ideas over personality you're proposing.

I wonder about the combination of factors that allows some people to be confident enough to throw their ideas into the public sphere. Is it an inborn trait? One bred in education? Good hair? I don't know.

But I think the more we make social media an "Idea-centric" zone as opposed to one rife with popularity contest lists and number-centric stats, the safer it will feel for one who perceives themself as "unknown" to make a name- through the merit of their ideas, not their social media "glomming" skills.

Thanks for making me think.-Lindsay

Mack Collier said...

"As to your question about how to promote new voices, why not create a guest blogging series where every Friday (or whenever) you have a rockstar-in-the-making guest blogger write a relevant post. Or write a blog post yourself highlighting someone you think your readers and followers should know about. People like you and Chris Brogan et al. are great at selflessly helping others. Why not lend your platform directly?"

Tyler, watch this space ;)