Why the Social Web Needs Thought Leaders

by Craig McBreen · 8 comments · Blogging, Content Marketing

Why-the-Social-Web-Needs-Thought-LeadersA few months back, Mark Schaefer wrote a post that rankled a few peeps in the blogosphere.

The post induced a mix of reactions. Those vehemently disagreeing, but many nodding in agreement.

His “Content Shock” post generated …

hundreds of comments (negative, positive and in-between);

sucked precious time from his business, (because he answered most of the comments);

and spawned a host of podcasts, articles and blog posts about this very topic …

Heck, I even wrote one of my own.

Why did the Content Shock post take off?

Mark thinks about the future of the online realm we inhabit and freely expresses himself, often.

He is never afraid to speak his mind and take a stand on an issue.

And for him, fear and uncertainty are just part of the process.

Yes, I disagreed with him at the time and will admit I’m still on the fence regarding the topic of content shock, but I 100% respect what he wrote and admire his savvy, smarts and business acumen.

He’ll write on a potentially controversial topic, but here’s the important part … he has the gravitas to back it up.

To me, this is thought leadership.

Yes, many don’t like the term thought leader, but I don’t want to argue about that. I just want to say the social realm, as fickle as it is, has leaders and followers just like the “real” world, and guess what? We need leaders, or at least those willing to take a stand.


This is how conversations on important topics get started. And his post lead to some heated, but insightful comments.

Insightful comments that could have easily become entertaining, useful, and controversial blog posts of their own.

Thought leaders write posts that generate these types of comments, and this is great for all of us.

What is golden goodness?

A post that gets everyone’s attention in the Content Marketing cave of echoes.

Heck, I’m still thinking about it (Content Shock, that is ;))

Mark could easily write posts like this all the time, but he chooses not to.

Like any skilled content marketer, he’s not solely focused on comment count or engagement for the sake of engagement.

I imagine he wants to move the needle when it comes to his business (don’t we all), but he also wants to make us think.

All good.

As Doug Kessler wrote in this excellent Slide Share presentation on the very topic of Content Shock, “The winners will be those who build Great Content Brands.”

“A Great Content Brand is a brand that’s famous for producing intelligent, useful and entertaining content that’s always worth consuming.”

He also goes on to add “authoritative,” “passionate,” and “prolific” to the mix.

Thanks, Doug. From now on I’ll just call thought leaders great content brands.

I kind of like that :)

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Schaefer August 6, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Craig thanks for this beautifully written post. I’m so very honored to be featured like this from somebody I respect so much. Great job my friend!


Craig McBreen August 7, 2014 at 7:53 am

Hi Mark,

Thanks, and all true. The respect is mutual, of course ;)


Jens-Petter Berget August 6, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Unfortunately, I didn’t see the update from Mark, but I think I understand what you’re saying. I read somewhere that we should apply the 70/20/10 rule to content, and that 70% should be considered «normal» content, that’s facts and what most people and businesses are creating. 20% should be more daring, add a bit uncertainty and provoking and 10% should be «shocking». I haven’t applied the rule myself, but it sounds like a good rule. It’s hard to create something new or be a thought leader if you just do what most people are doing, you need to add something brand new.


Craig McBreen August 7, 2014 at 7:57 am

Hi Jens,

“It’s hard to create something new or be a thought leader if you just do what most people are doing, you need to add something brand new.”
– That about sums it up.

Oh, and 10% might be a good number, because too many “shocking” posts and you might be spending all your time answering comments http://www.craigmcbreen.com/social-media-engagement-hurt-business/ ;)

Nice to see you again, Sir!


David King August 26, 2014 at 10:25 pm

An important one of that, in sharing content, it’s use as a driver of thought leadership always needs to be seen in the context of the audience. Today more than ever, and this is something that has been driven primarily through social media, thought leaders have the opportunity to engage directly with their customers or prospects and have a way of their conversation.
David King recently posted..Property Sales – IntroMy Profile


Davina K. Brewer September 25, 2014 at 7:47 am

I’m one of those who doesn’t care for the ‘thought leader’ term so much these days. Not because we don’t need them, but because it’s fairly simple to create and manufacture, they’re a dime a dozen in a world of frankly toolbags only trying to sell books and speaking gigs.

Your example with Mark is perfect. Yes he’s a noted author and speaker; he’s also in business, doing the job and most telling (to me at least) – he is actually social. Unlike many others I’ve seen with thousands of followers, his social profiles show there’s a social human behind them – not just a PR-run account set to auto RT and fave every mention, every placed bylined article.

Then there’s the whole sheep/leader/follower debate. It’s not about controversy, it’s not limited to authority. It’s hard for me because some days I consider myself to be just as smart as others; but b/c I don’t have the trappings of leadership – the ebooks, the keynotes – the quality and value of my ideas is somehow deemed less, as I’m not a recognized ‘thought leader.’ IDK but I always come back to the idea of ‘credibility coming from the echo chamber, popularity outside it’ – and it’s that celebrity that brands the leader. And what we really need more than ‘leaders’ are fewer sheep that’ll follow anything, what we need are more people like you and I that don’t care about those vanity titles – we just want to get the job done. FWIW.
Davina K. Brewer recently posted..Apple, U2 and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Good IdeaMy Profile


Craig McBreen September 25, 2014 at 6:41 pm

Hi Davina,

“… because it’s fairly simple to create and manufacture.” –unfortunately this is true!

Mark is accessible, while many of these so-called thought leaders are not. That’s why I listed him here. He also practices what he preaches … something else many simply don’t do.

I hear ya. I think there are some that already have the table set for them, so it’s much easier, while you and I need to slog away. With my new blog, the Art of Breaking Out, I’ll be interviewing some people you’ll be very familiar with, but am now looking for others doing interesting things outside of the house of echoes ;)

Glad you stopped in. Thanks for the comments.


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