Eight personal branding lessons from the ‘Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Masters’


Technology solutions business Kitedesk recently published an infographic that highlighted the Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Masters (see below). It’s a great list, featuring a veritable who’s who of the social media and content marketing world.

What struck me when I first saw the infographic wasn’t necessarily about each listed individual’s ability to ‘sell socially’ (I’m not 100% sure what that really means exactly), but how a majority of them have managed to build significantly-sized, often global, personal profiles. Some are recognised for their own efforts and run their own show, while others have made their name under the auspices of a well-known brand.

Put another way: With perhaps the exception of perhaps Seth Godin, 7-10 years ago many of these ‘masters’ were, for all intents and purposes, unknown outside their immediate circles of friends, family, colleagues and peers.

I know of or have followed a good number of these individuals; I’ve read at some juncture articles and/or books they’ve written; I’ve been diligent in sharing their content with my personal networks; if they produce podcasts, I’ve probably listened to them over the journey (and with some, I still tune in today).

So … based on these observations, here are eight personal branding lessons that aspiring thought leaders can take from these esteemed individuals.

LESSON 1.  Build a home base

Pretty much without exception, these Social Selling Marketing Masters have kickstarted their personal brand by building a vibrant online home base.

More often or not it’s a personal blog, although some have since transformed their humble blog into a content hub featuring contributors from all over the world, such is their growing popularity – for example, Jay Baer’s Convince and Convert, Mark Schaefer’s Grow blog and Brian Clark’s Copyblogger.

For Joe Pulizzi (Content Marketing Institute) and Ann Handley (Marketing Profs) – while they both have personal websites – the bulk of their content goes through their respective business blogs.

LESSON 2.  Be relentless

I’m referring to the relentless output that a number of these Masters have been able to maintain over the journey.

Seth Godin sets the pace. He blogs daily and has done so for something like eight years. And he doesn’t write junk; his blog continues to provide high quality insights and provocations day in, day out.

Jeff Bullas is another whose prolific output has put him on the world map (he’s ranked #8 on Forbes” The World’s Top 40 Social Marketing Talent”). His self-titled blog has garnered a readership exceeding four million page views a year, providing him with a significant media platform from which to build his profile and authority globally.

While Bullas’s blog now boasts multiple authors which takes a bit of the load off his shoulders, it’s been his consistent and intense work ethic (I’ve heard he gets up at 4 am to write!) that set him up in the first place.

Gary Vaynerchuk is another of the Masters that has been relentless in creating genuine and interesting content, relevant to his audience.

One thousand episodes of his daily video blog Wine Library TV – plus the exhaustive hours he put in laying the foundations across multiple social channels, particularly Twitter – is what got @GaryVee noticed in the first place (which in turn led to a major book deal, which has led to three bestsellers, which in turn has led to a professional speaking career that’s off the charts!).

LESSON 3.  Put a stake in the virtual sand

Successful thought leaders become known for ‘something’. Yes, they become known for their knowledge and expertise, but more than that they also are recognised for their philosophy, or a particular take they have on a topic or issue, or a specific ‘sub-category’ of the area of their expertise.

If you’re a pioneer in your space, you might end up ‘owning the category’, as they say. In other words, become known as the dominant player in the field. Of the Masters listed in the infographic below, Joe Pulizzi is a standout in terms the territory he staked out in the mind of business consumers.

Pulizzi, the founder and head of the Content Marketing Institute, has done more than perhaps anyone else to educate and get people talking about the discipline of content marketing.

Brian Clark, the driving force behind the Copyblogger Media mini-empire, too has a pretty handy ‘stake’ in the world of blogging.

Founders of HubSpot, Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan, coined the phrase (and practice) “inbound marketing” – strategically, this has been a brilliant business move. Writing a book on the subject only further enhanced their authority in the space.

LESSON 4.  Have a point of view

While point 3 above is more around big picture vision, genuine thought leaders – like the Social Selling Marketing Masters-listed Steve Rubel, Jay Baer, David Meerman Scott, Shelly Kramer and Jeffrey Hayzlett – have developed a point of view around their particular industry, discipline or niche and are willing to not only discuss it publicly, but also use this view as a means to springboard further discussion.

Of the Social Selling Marketing Masters listed, whose work I’ve read or who I’ve watched on video or heard being interviewed on a podcast, one thing is crystal clear, and that is they all have a well-developed perspective on their particular topic which, you would assume, came after years of reading about the subject, writing blog posts, debating or interviewing others, and through connecting on social media with other smart people in similar fields.

LESSON 5.  Be human

Savvy thought leaders today understand that being human – being accessible, showing personality and giving part of themselves –  pays huge dividends when it comes to building an avid audience of advocates for your stories and ideas.

FOR EXAMPLE: Mark Schaefer, from the  popular Business Grow blog, is a real gem on Twitter; he not only relentlessly shares great content from others but he’s forever interacting with people in positive ways.

Scott Monty, who received an ‘honourable mention’ on the list, made a name for himself as the ‘human face’ of the Ford Motor Company, while people such as Mack Collier and Laura Fitton have always come across (to me at least) as really genuine, passionate, professional people.

Moz’s Rand Fishkin, with his popular Whiteboard Friday video blog posts, has also won plenty of fans with the way he goes about his business.

LESSON 6.  Strategically grow your brand

A number of the Masters excel in this regard.

I’ve watched with interest as Mari Smith and Jay Baer, to name two, have built their respective personal brands in a really smart and strategic ways.

Both Mari and Jay have grown up in public, professionally speaking; they started as ‘nobodies’ in the marketing world but bit by bit they each built a strong following and over time have been able to leverage their considerable reputations into lucrative new areas of business, including books and public speaking. NOTE: (‘How I Became the Person Most Mentioned by Digital Marketers on Twitter’ – this is a great article by Jay Baer, worth a look!).

Joe Pulizzi too has been very strategic with how he’s managed to grow his personal brand alongside that of his business, the Content Marketing Institute.

LESSON 7.  It’s all about community

Former social media leader at Intel Ekaterina Walter, entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk and digital marketing expert Pam Moore from Marketing Nutz are all active community builders; they understand it’s one thing to have a large audience, but it’s another to have a tribe of advocates who will support you at every turn.

Such communities don’t grow without careful nurturing from the thought leader.

Mari Smith is someone I follow very closely; at any given time she is active across multiple fronts, always delivering value to her community of fans and supporters via Twitter and Facebook, on her blog and newsletter The Social Scoop, and through her webinars and speaking engagements. Mari is definitely someone worth keeping an eye on if you’re keen to understand more about building a ‘village of support’ around your personal brand.

LESSON 8.  Write a book

Writing a book can boost your credibility and reputation A good number of the Social Selling Marketing Masters have had books released by major publishers, including:

  • Gary Vaynerchuk (Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook)
  • Jeffrey Hayzlett (The Mirror Test)
  • Ekaterina Walter (Think Like Zuck)
  • Joe Pulizzi (Epic Content Marketing)
  • Jay Baer (Youtility)
  • Ann Handley (Content Rules)
  • Seth Godin (The Icarus Deception)
  • David Meerman Scott (The New Rules of Marketing & PR)
  • Shama Kabani (The Zen of Social Media Marketing)
  • Mari Smith (The New Relationship Marketing)

There’s perhaps no better tool than a (best selling) book to build your credibility and launch your personal brand into new markets and communities.

A book will help you generate extra media coverage and buzz online; in turn this exposure will help grow your followings on social media and the readership of your blog (or listenership of your podcast) if you have one. It will as a rule bring you more speaking gigs, which in turn will help you sell more books and increase your visibility on social channels. And so it goes.

But more than anything, having a book released by a major publisher is validation of your knowledge leadership status. It’s not the end game, but an important step in a thought leader’s evolution.

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