Is the Forbes Top 50 Social Media List Flawed?

If you made the Forbes Top 50 Social Media Influencers list, you’re generally regarded as being pretty hot stuff. The Top 50 have a lot of influence, are extremely knowledgeable, and are connected to tens of thousands of people in their various networks.

If you didn’t make the list, you can tell yourself you were #51, or just try harder next year.

This year’s list was compiled by Haydn Shaughnessy using a “Pull Report” from

There are also some basic criteria for involvement – experts must be creating their own content, and it has to be about social media. See more on the criteria here.

On the scoring, Peek Analytics gives people a score called Pull. If an individual has a Pull of 10x, that means that the audience the individual can reach is at least ten times greater than what the average social media user can reach.

Sounds pretty straightforward: if you’re a rockstar, you’ll be on the list.

Except it’s missing several notable names.

Jason Falls, Jay Baer, Chris Baggott

Seriously, these guys didn’t make the list? Jason Falls (l), Jay Baer, Chris Baggott (standing)

According to Judith Gotwald on Social Media Today (25 Social Media Influencers Forbes Ignored (And Why)), the Forbes list has snubbed a lot of pretty influential people, including several who were on last year’s list: Jay Baer, Jason Falls, Gini Dietrich, Charlene Li, Brian Solis, C.C. Chapman (Forbes did include his Content Rules co-author, Ann Handley), and even Mitch Joel.

Of course, Forbes does include some of the names you would expect: Mari Smith, Chris Brogan (but not his Trust Agents co-author Julien Smith), Liz Strauss, Jeff Bullas, Scott Stratten, and Dan Schawbel (disclosure: I write for Dan’s Personal Branding blog).

So what’s up? What happened to the names you would normally expect to see? Did Shaughnessy forget them? Did the non-Forbes people drop off on their Pull? Was PeekAnalytics having a bad day?

Admittedly, many names on both lists are names you expect to see year after year on a Top 50 or Top 100 list, but many of these missing names are glaring in their omission.

I’d like to see some better explanations for the list, and who did and didn’t make it, and why/how. I’d love to hear some of that “inside baseball” talk to explain how he went about determining who to measure, and who not to. How did he come up with the names to check? Is Pull based entirely on followers and reach, or is more like Klout, which could give a person with a very small following a high score because they the followers interact frequently? Or did Shaughnessy want to give some new people a shot at being on the Forbes Top 50? That’s admirable if it’s true, but then the list isn’t accurate or reflective.

It’s not that I’m suspicious of Forbes’ list, or will reject it out of hand, like it’s some partisan wing-nut website. It’s just that the exclusion of several noted social media experts is, well, eyebrow-raising, to say the least.

At the very least, Forbes’ list will be seen as problematic, which can be fixed with some basic explanations. At the worst, it’s a flawed list that is seriously lacking in its execution. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Should Social Media Marketers Give Away the Good Stuff or Get Ripped Off?

I’ve gotten burned by being a little too optimistic and open at times, especially now that I’ve been in the social media marketing business. I share the good stuff with people, and while for the most part, it pays me back in the end, there have been a couple times where I got ripped off.

Not just taken advantage of. I’ve had revenue-generating ideas stolen because I shared them too early in a negotiation process.

When I first moved to Indianapolis, I was working with a friend, Darrin, at his marketing company, and we were pitching a possible new client. As part of our pitch, I suggested that the owner start a new off-shoot company to hire entry-level employees and train them in his methods. This would end up being a feeder company for experienced employees, rather than have to scramble around at hiring time. Sort of like a minor league baseball team feeding into a major league one.No Burglars sign

It was a pretty good idea, even if I do say so myself. And I was proud of the suggestion, because the owner also seemed to like the idea, and I thought it was going to help us get the marketing contract.

Unfortunately, he never hired us. He never gave us a reason. He just took our proposal, and never returned our call, and was always “busy” when we called him. (My business partner, Paul, calls this the “Indiana No.”)

Fast forward to four years later, when I see the business owner in the newspaper for the brilliant idea “he had” for starting a smaller company for entry-level employees who later moved up to his company. It ended up being very successful company for him too.

How much did Darrin and I get for our idea?


Not having learned our lesson that time, a few weeks later, we made another pitch to a local restaurant, including six ideas we wanted to execute for them, and one idea for a radio commercial. After submitting our official proposal, they said they weren’t interested, and kept the proposal.

A few months later when I went in to the restaurant, I saw that they were using five of our six ideas, and had used our radio commercial idea for a guest appearance on a local radio station.

How much did Darrin and I get for these ideas?


Painful Lessons Learned

The lesson my friend and I learned in all of this? Give away the good stuff, but don’t give away the secret sauce.

It’s a shame too, because I fully believe in the Chris Brogan model of give away the good stuff. I don’t want to give away a nickel’s worth of free stuff to sell $100 worth of ideas. I want to give away hundreds of dollars of ideas to sell thousands.

Pile of $100 billsOur point was to give away some interesting ideas in the hopes that we would get hired to actually do them and get paid for it.

Did we get hired? No. Should we have gotten the contract just because we rattled off a few good ideas? Probably not.

But it seems to me that when someone pitches you an idea, and you don’t hire that person, you also should not be allowed to steal their ideas, especially when you didn’t hire anyone else to do it either. At the very least, it’s unethical, and the people who do it are skeevy.

So I’m torn. What should I do in the future?

Should I selfishly hold on to my “secret sauce” and only share the information that anyone can find in a book? I do that now when people want to “pick my brain” in exchange for buying me lunch.

Or should I give away any idea that I come up with for a potential new client in the hopes of signing them?

On the one hand, demonstrating some of our ideas could help us win a contract. On the other hand, the people we work with are smart enough to execute an idea just based on a basic two sentence explanation. If we tell them they need milk, they’ll figure out where to find a cow.

If you’re an entrepreneur, marketer, or salesperson, what do you do? Do you trust people and “share hundreds to earn thousands?” Or do you play things close to the vest and give those ideas away only when you’ve got a signed contract in hand? How would you play it?

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People Who Predict Failure Don’t Add Value

I’m tired of people who predict the failure of some new tool before it ever even gets off the ground. They’re cowards, doomsayers, and nattering nabobs of negativity. They don’t actually provide any real value, or anything I can use. They’re like the petulant child who automatically says “Nope. Won’t do it. Don’t wanna” to anything her family suggests.

It’s not hard to predict failure. It doesn’t take any courage, special intelligence, industry expertise, or a crystal ball. You’re not going out on a limb by predicting something will fail. You’re not offering an opinion that runs counter to 99% of your industry. Given the number of attempts at anything that fail, and you’re going to be right more often than you’re wrong. That’s why it’s such a cheap win.

Oh sure, you get to look like you knew what you were talking about when it happens. But the odds are in your favor, as with any startup. It’s like predicting the hitting success of any major league ball player. If you predict an out every time he comes up to bat, roughly 7 – 8 times out of 10, you’ll be right. But it doesn’t take a baseball genius to know that a batter is going to miss 75% of the time.

It takes a pessimistic jerk to say, “he’ll fail this time. And this time. And this time too. And — oops, I was wrong about that one. But I got the other 6 times right.”

The real courage doesn’t lie in predicting failure, it lies in showing success. Talk about what this new tool can do, how it can help people, and where you can see using it. Saying where it fails doesn’t take any creativity.

I’ve seen this lately with all of the Google+ users who whine and mewl that it’s going to fail, or that it doesn’t do certain things, or that it isn’t Facebook, or that Google’s past forays into social media have failed.

Blah blah blah.

There’s no courage in finding fault or criticizing. There’s nothing valuable in predicting that something will fail, and then reciting the same tired litany of faults that you read on some other blog post, or drawing the same tired comparisons to Facebook. They complain but they don’t offer solutions.

You want to do something cool? Tell me what’s awesome about it. Tell me the things this does or has the potential to do. Chris Brogan impressed a hell of a lot of people with The Google+50, which became his most trafficked blog post ever. I may not read Chris Brogan that often, but when I do, it’s because he’s telling me something useful, not why something will/should fail.

I think people who spend most of their time criticizing and finding fault aren’t actually contributing anything of value. They aren’t doing anything useful. They’re the failed restaurant chef who became a food critic. The failed musician who became an agent. The failed teacher who became an administrator.

If you want to be useful, if you want to be valuable, contribute to the success of something, don’t complain. Show why something is cool. Better yet, create something cool. But do something that’s worthy of you and your time. I already think you’re awesome, so show me.

Photo credit: ougenweiden (Flickr)

Ten Signs You’re NOT a Social Media Expert

Ten Signs You’re NOT a Social Media Expert

10. You updated your blog in December. 2009.

9. You’re convinced that Orkut will be the breakout social network of 2011.

Chris Brogan and Josh Brolin

This is not the same dude.

8. You’re feeding your Twitter stream into Facebook.

7. You think Chris Brogan was the star of “Jonah Hex.”

6. You’re still quoting the Malcolm Gladwell “10,000 hour rule,” unaware that you’re quoting someone who quoted someone else who didn’t actually read the book.

5. Your business email address ends with “,” but you don’t work for AOL.

4. You work for AOL.

3. You play Farmville so much, Zynga’s revenues plummeted the week you went on vacation.

2. You tell people you had the high score on Technorati when you were in high school.

1. Your social media experience consists of your unpaid college internship at your dad’s accounting firm.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

Why Designers Should Avoid Contests and Crowdsourcing

Chris Brogan got a bunch of people’s panties in a twist last week.

He blogged about a logo design project he created on a site called 99Designs to crowd source a new logo design.

99Designs is a godsend to businesspeople on a budget, but it’s an evil abomination to designers trying to make a fair wage for their skill and years of experience. Let’s say I need a logo. I create a project on the site (it’s called a “contest”), set my budget (the “prize”), and designers will submit their design concepts. Anyone who wants to submit a concept can do so. The project owner will then select the winning concept, and award the prize to the winner.

I saw a $795 for a learning portal redesign, an $888 contest for an eBay template design, and the highest project of $2,225 for a web redesign. But most of the prizes rolled in around $295 – $350.

$350 for a professionally made logo design.

Tell a real graphic designer about this, and she’s going to work herself up into a good frothing rant about the cheapness of business people and how hack designers cheapen the entire industry by shortchanging themselves.

“Any twit with Photoshop Elements and a weekend seminar under their belt thinks suddenly they’re a graphic designer,” she’ll shout, followed by the obligatory “you get what you pay for,” and rolling her eyes so far back in her head, she can see her entire third grade year.

Brogan’s post unearthed lovers and haters of 99Designs. The designers all hated it, except for the ones who were still learning the keyboard shortcuts for their copy of Elements. The businesspeople all loved it, because, hey, $350 logo.

Their argument falls along the lines of “if someone’s willing to accept a low bid, then I’m stupid for not taking it. No one is forcing them to accept these projects.”

I think 99Designs is dangerous, and urge any decent graphic designer to avoid it. (The sucky ones should stay with it though.) But since the businesspeople seem to think it’s an acceptable model, I wonder if they’re willing to try it out for themselves.

Using the Crowdsourcing Model For Business

  • My company needs a social media campaign. I would like you to write up a strategy, set up some social media accounts, build each of them out to about 5,000 people, and then let me see your work. If I like your strategy, and if I like the people you added to the accounts, I’ll pay you $500.You’ll be competing against other social media strategists, like Jason Falls, Tara Strong, and Scott Stratten. The winning bid will get $500, while the losing bids will go away empty handed, with nothing to show except some social networks they spent 7 – 10 hours to create and grow.
  • I want to hire a landscaping company to mow my lawn every week. I need each interested company to cut my lawn once, and whoever does the best job will get the winning contract for the rest of the summer, at $15 per week. I’m offering that much, because that’s how much the kid down the street offered.
  • I’d also like my house redecorated, but I need to do it on spec. Any interested designer should be willing to redecorate one room of my house. If I pick your design, you’ll get $1,000 to do the entire house. I figure, I’ve seen the home redecorating shows on HGTV, and it doesn’t seem that hard, I just don’t have the time to do it.

I get both sides of this argument. I really do. But my heart lies firmly in one camp: the creative side.

I’m a business owner, but I’m also a creative type. When I write something, I get paid for it. I don’t have the time to do anything on spec, because I’ve grown beyond the need for possibilities of payment and “exposure.” The time I spend writing on spec is the same time I could be using to write for pay.

I think asking designers to submit themselves to this kind of creative minimum wage is heinous, because we would never ask a businessperson to do it. You would never write a full-blown social media campaign and start executing it for the possibility of $500. You would never cut a lawn, decorate a room, or fix my car for free, just in the hopes that I might hire you. I would never ask a business owner to do this because they’re in business to make money.

Just like graphic designers.

If you don’t have a budget, that’s fine. Go hire a college student who’s still finishing his or her graphic design degree. Barter your product or services, or do it yourself for free. But don’t ask for spec work. It cheapens the industry, but it makes you look cheaper.

The Growing Need for Bloggers as Citizen Journalists

Two bits of interesting news this past month for bloggers who consider themselves journalists:

I’ve been preaching for a while that bloggers are citizen journalists. And now we get confirmation that 52% of us believe it to be true, and that 61% of Americans are possible readers. Plus — and this is a big one — the last-reported numbers from Technorati are that 77% of all Internet users read a blog of some kind.

The time is ripe for bloggers to begin thinking of themselves as citizen journalists. Social media is making it so much easier for us to not only see the news, but report it as well.

Social media is breaking the news before the news.

We’ve seen several instances where social media broke news stories before mainstream media picked it up. The three most notable examples have been:

  1. The first images coming out of Haiti were on Twitter, because mainstream media couldn’t get on the ground. People with cell phones and spotty wifi were sending photos to Twitter and Facebook, and we were spreading them around like wildfire. My family was particularly interested in one set of missionaries in Port-au-Print, and @TroyLiveSay was providing information that we weren’t getting anywhere else.
  2. Moments after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, news was spreading on Twitter before the shots had even stopped.
  3. When the US Airways flight landed in the Hudson last year, news had broken on Twitter 15 minutes before the first news reports hit the airwaves.

While none of these examples show a failing of the mainstream media, they show that in many cases, people reporting on incidents that happened nearby ended up being first just because of the widespread nature of the tools.

I’ve been playing with Posterous as a possible blogging platform for rapid response and crisis communication professionals. You email your blogs to your email address (it’s actually just, your subject line is your headline, you attach any photos, type and format your content in your text box, and voila! You’ve got a blog post sent from your smart phone.

And I totally geeked out a few days ago, when Chris Brogan showed how you can take photos on your digital camera, and immediately have them uploaded to your favorite file sharing service, with something the size of a quarter and something else the size of a pocket calculator.

My advice? If you have even the slightest inclination of being a citizen journalist, start taking your blogging seriously. You don’t have to change the scope of your blog, your writing style, or even the quality of your writing.

Just do it with intentionality. As hard as it may be to explain (this is the 6th time I’ve written this paragraph), report your news for posterity. Do it with a sense of responsibility and gravitas. When you see something happening, take photos and upload them to Flickr or Picasa. Send tweets. Email news to your blog. Be a source of information to your community. Don’t just repeat what you’ve seen, report on it.

Even something as simple as reporting a small incident you just witnessed can sometimes lead to national or even international stories, or you may be the lone voice that speaks for someone who can’t do it themselves.

While I’m not suggesting we all change our focus and become word slingers, I am suggesting we adopt the mindset that we’re just as good as the professionals who, I’m sorry to say, just aren’t as quick as the “ordinary citizens” armed with nothing more than cell phones and a serious case of Twitter-thumbs.

Related posts:
Rules for Being a Media Blogger
Defining Two Types of Crisis Communication
Five Things Newspapers Can Teach Us About Blogging
What Stylebook Should Bloggers Use?

Why Are There So Few Trend Setters in Social Media?

I noticed an interesting trend, and I’m ashamed to say I’m part of it.

There are very few trend setters in social media. Very few pioneers. We’re mostly settlers.

We all try to be as cutting edge as we can, but we’re sometimes at the mercy of what everyone else is talking about. We pay close attention to luminaries like Chris Brogan, Jason Falls, Jeremiah Owyang, and Gary Vaynerchuk. We wait to see what they’re talking about, and we talk about that. And we all hold up their discarded sandals, like that great scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

I do it too. I see an interesting article on Jason’s blog, and decide I’ll comment on that. Or I’ll see something Doug Karr wrote in the Marketing Technology blog, and piggyback off that. But it’s rare that I write about issues that those guys didn’t write about first.

I’ve done it a few times — crisis communication, entre-commuting, or getting spanked by the Canadian Council of PR Firms — but I’ve also jumped solidly on the bandwagon, pushing women and children out of the way so I could get a comfy seat.

Unfortunately, this is a rather centralized industry. We only have a few tools we use with any regularity — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google — and so we all talk about how we use them, and the great things we’ve learned, or the trends coming our way.

I want to stop doing that. I want to be that one guy in the crowd who says, “Hold up the sandal!”

I can’t say I won’t keep doing following the pioneers, but I’m going to make a conscious effort to do it less. That’s one reason I didn’t post anything on the blog for a couple of weeks. (Yeah, yeah, that’s the reason.)

So it may mean I post fewer times per week on the blog. It may mean shorter posts, and fewer how-to posts. But we’re going to try to make our own path as much as possible, even if it runs adjacent to someone else’s. We’re just going to quit following the well-worn path that some people have meandered down.