Ten Qualities of Social Media Superstars – Featuring 32 Leaders

 In Relationship Marketing, Social Media Speaking, Social Media Training

A social media superstar is a person who has reached a certain level of industry leadership and success, in the eyes of his/her fans, followers and peers. And, these leaders naturally possess the ten qualities detailed in this post. Most of these characteristics transcend industries, and many of them transcend those who have or are striving to attain “superstar” status. But, those individuals who have all ten of these qualities are most likely people who are out there doing an amazing job of truly making a big difference in the world of social media and beyond.

Last week, I lead a free webinar discussing these qualities and featuring the 32 leaders I chose to spotlight. The webinar was attended by over 800 live participants; the replay has been viewed more than 1,000 times, and the slides have over 5,000 views on SlideShare. A popular topic for sure! You can gain instant access to the replay of the webinar here, and view the slides below. Plus, keep reading further for details of the ten qualities, featuring 32 social media leaders!

In each of the ten qualities below, I’ve highlighted some of my favorite social media superstars – every one of which I personally know, and feel that they embody all ten of the qualities, not just the section(s) in which I feature them. I could easily add many more wonderful leaders here; this list is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to recommend your own favorite superstars for any one or more of the qualities in the comments section!

#1 – Humility

Leaders who are clearly very humble are the most attractive and the most engaging. By attractive, I mean people feel naturally *drawn* to them. We feel more relaxed and open around humble people. These individuals love to shine the spotlight on others but tend to shy away from having the light shining on them personally too much.

Check in on your own humility. I recommend before sharing anything on any platform, ask yourself, What is my deepest intent? Sometimes it’s important to sit with that question for a bit to make sure you’re coming from the right place.

My social media picks for those who exemplify humility are:

Erik Qualman – talented author of Socialnomics and producer of brilliant viral videos, Erik is always gracious and has time for everyone.

Scott Monty – one of Ford’s best assets, Scott is admired by many. He’s super kind and super savvy.

Shashi Bellamkonda – I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Networked Solutions’ “social media swami” for many years. Along with his expertise, he’s extremely helpful. (He once went totally out of his way to help me track down a lost camera at Las Vegas airport!)

These individuals are so humble, they may even balk at being called “superstars!” Plus, if you’ve ever met Tony Hsieh — CEO of Zappos and author of Delivering Happiness — and heard him give a presentation, he really epitomizes humility in a leader. I’ve been blessed to share the stage with Tony five times now over the years! My friend Jim Kwik has a very similar disposition to Tony; Jim is currently working on his book called The Art of Warmth.


Regardless of your career, in an ideal world, you want to get paid for what you’re really, truly passionate about!! The one name that always comes to mind when thinking of unbridled passion in the social media world is my friend:

Gary Vaynerchuk – Gary has monetized social media with his exuberant personality and genuine love of people! I’m honored to call him a friend.

It’s important to share your passion in your own way!! It’s not about trying to be like Gary; rather, making sure your life – and hopefully your business too – is a vibrant expression of your passion!

#3 – An INCLUSIVE attitude

To be a good leader, especially in the social media industry, having a non-competitive, inclusive approach works very well. A social media superstar with an inclusive approach will happily recommend and endorse his/her peers. You will often see them retweeting and promoting other social media professionals – who could easily be seen as their competition by others. These leaders treat everyone as equals. They don’t put others on pedestals and don’t like to be put on a pedestal themselves.

Those leaders who have this type of non-competitive, inclusive attitude are:

Jay Baer – a super-savvy and real down-to-earth guy, Jay is very welcoming and kind to everyone.

Brian Solis – if you’ve ever met Brian, you know he has a wonderful disposition. He’s also one of the most talented thought leaders and futurists in the social media world and beyond.

Jeremiah Owyang – I first met Jeremiah in 2007 and he’s always been very sweet and personable. Along with Brian Solis, Jeremiah is one of the brilliant minds in the social media industry. It was an honor to have him lead the opening keynote for the Social Media Success Summit 2011.

There are many more, too. Who would you add? Make your suggestions in the comments section below! 🙂

You may have heard sayings like, “Be yourself because everybody is already taken,” and one of my favorites from Dr. Seuss, “There’s nobody youer than You!” There are nearly seven billion people on the planet (close to one billion of us are on Facebook!), and we are all uniquely different. Yes, you need to differentiate yourself. At the end of the day, people do business with people they know, like and trust. Even if you offer an identical product or service as other businesses, the right clients will be drawn to you because of who you are.

#4 – Engaging

As Brian Solis talks about in his latest book, Engage, business have to “engage or die.” In other words, it’s crucial to your success to be responsive to your community. Audiences don’t want to be talked “at” and get bombarded with marketing messages. True leaders in the social media world care deeply about others and it shows by their daily interactions with as many people as possible. My choices for those who engage well are:

Guy Kawasaki – yes, I know Guy is a “firehose” of content, but he’s also very engaging on both Twitter and his Facebook fan page for Enchantment. He’s also a very caring person and certainly walks the talk of being enchanting!

Ekaterina Walter – a talented social media strategist for Intel, Ekaterina is a terrific content producer and curator as well as being a great engager.

Pam Moore – Pam and her husband run a busy social media agency; she writes her own posts and is a popular guest blogger and is also a great engager.

Who would you add — who do you love to engage with on Twitter and Facebook?

#5 – Deep NICHE knowledge

This is where the true differentiation starts to come in. A vast number of people may possess superstar qualities #1 through #4. But, having deep technical knowledge and experience within a specific niche really sets these superstars apart. They are specialists, not generalists. In addition to deep niche knowledge, these leaders also have a great breadth of industry knowledge. And they willingly share their knowledge and happily answer questions for their friends, fans and followers.

Superstars who have carved out a powerful and clear niche include:

Viveka von Rosen – one of my favorite go-to LinkedIn experts.

Beth Kanter – hands-down the top expert for social media for non profits.

Sarah Evans – a PR genius and a super engager.

Steve Garfield – the author of Get Seen and is a talented video marketing expert.

John Haydon – like Beth, John is a master in the area of social media – specifically Facebook – for non profits. He’s my go-to guy in this area!

What I love about niche experts is they are always at the top of my mind whenever I have an opportunity come across my desk – I can confidently pass along opportunities  and leads to these industry specialists.

Who else would you add here? Who comes to mind when someone is seeking a true expert in ______? Fill in the blank!

#6 – A prolific CONTENT producer

Another differentiator: social media leaders create and publish vast volumes of excellent, quality content. The root word of “authority” is “author.” If you want to be an authority in any field, author more – write more! Publish more blog posts, articles, and guest blog posts. Create more information products. Lead more teleseminars, webinars. Speak more. Get your expertise out there in the written and spoken word and you will become known as a prolific, quality content producer!

These leaders also freely share “OPC” – other people’s content. They feature other experts on their blogs, they regularly share other experts’ content on Facebook, Twitter and more.

Some of my favorite quality content creators are:

Ann Handley – and the MarketingProfs team are phenomenal at writing some of the best marketing content. Their studies and in-depth reports are extremely valuable. Ann should be under #1 above too; I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her in person and she’s extremely humble.

Kristi Hines – is just a delight; do check out her blog and her consistently terrific blog posts.

Simply Zesty – my favorite Irish team, Lauren Fisher and Niall Harbison are the brains behind SimplyZesty. Their talented writing often appears on other big blogs like TheNextWeb.

Krishna De – another Irish gem, Krishna’s blog is packed with valuable social media and Facebook marketing tips.

Who are your favorite sources of quality social media content? Let me know in the comments!

#7 – Always add VALUE

Along with creating and curating terrific content, these social media leaders add value with everything they do. They are discerning in what they say; they lift others up, are encouraging and are great listeners. You may often hear people talk about how important it is to “add value.” Adding value comes in many forms – when you’re a source of great knowledge, expertise, resources and support for your community, you’ll have a reputation for someone who adds value.

Some of my top choices for this quality are:

Mark Schaefer – his blog is exceptional, thought-provoking, helpful. Always something new and fresh. And Mark is a super nice guy; he’s always a great source of support.

Cindy Ratzlaff – a longtime friend of mine, Cindy is a savvy branding and book marketing expert along with running her own social media agency. Her breadth and depth of experience always adds value.

Nancy Myrland – Nancy is one of the nicest peeps online; she always has a cheery and helpful word for everyone and publishes great content on her blog too.

Lori Taylor – another bright light in the online world, Lori shares an abundance of helpful social media tips and resources and always has something positive to say.

On the subject of discernment, here’s a great nugget from one of my favorite comedians, fellow Scot, Craig Ferguson:

There’s this idea that people are meaner than they used to be because of the Internet. People are not meaner; they’ve always been mean. It’s just the technology is just *faster!* People have a crazy, angry thought — BOOM!! It’s out. They don’t take time to slow down, self-edit and ask themselves these three questions: 1) Does this need to be said? 2) Does this need to be said by ME? and 3) Does this need to be said by me NOW?

~Craig Ferguson, from his “Does This Need To Be Said” show.

Who do you know that is always adding value by sharing great content as well as being supportive, kind and helpful?

#8 – 100% consistent.

Consistency has three main components in this context: 1) You have a seamless branding image and presence across all platforms. There is a consistent, uniform message that speaks quality. 2) You produce and share content regularly,  ideally daily, through your various social channels. 3) You engage with your network, ideally daily. Over time, you become known as someone who is reliable; you’re trustworthy and can be counted on to always show up.

Three consistently branded, generous leaders are:

Guy Kawasaki – I’m honored to call Guy a friend also; he’s the same everywhere – online, offline. I know Guy is also under quality #4, Engaging. I’ve put him in twice. 🙂

Danny Brown – a fun, fellow Scottish-Canadian, Danny has a great look and feel to his brand and is a prolific content creator and engager. 

Ann Handley – Ann deserves to be featured twice too; she can be relied upon daily for excellent content + regular connecting.

Who would you add here that exemplifies the quality of consistency?

#9 – A true LEADER

True leaders build people up and encourage them to reach their full potential, no holds barred. The thing is, many people in leadership positions actually hold themselves back from really championing other people, out of a fear that others might leapfrog ahead and surpass them. How sad. In his book, Greater Than Yourself, author Steve Farber talks about how true leaders really build people up.

These leaders are some of my favorites who are highly skilled at building real communities:

Laura Fitton (Founder @oneforty) – Laura is credited with being the person who got Guy Kawasaki on Twitter. Imagine Twitter without Guy! Along with being a published author, Laura created a great platform and community at oneforty.com.

Charlene Li (Founder @altimetergroup) – I’ve always admired Charlene’s talents and leadership style.

Liz Strauss (Founder @sobcon) – a fellow 6′ blonde, Liz is just a delight. She is cofounder of SOBcon (Successful Online Business Conference), a thriving annual event.

Michael Stelzner (Founder @smexaminer) – Mike does a fabulous job of really fostering community among his entire audience and all his guest bloggers on SocialMediaExaminer.com and its Facebook fan page. I first met Mike in 2008 and over the years we have enjoyed a very rewarding business alliance, specifically with the largescale online Summits.

Wendy Piersall (A leader of mom-bloggers) – Wendy is another delightful leader. She has built successful blogs and businesses and her book Mom Blogging for Dummies is coming out next month.

What other leaders do you admire?

#10 – A PROVEN track record

And finally, social media superstars did not just wake up one morning, hang out a shingle and call themselves and expert. Unfortunately, there is a lot of this in the social media industry which can reflect badly on those who have truly earned their stripes. However, I am of the opinion that you never, ever build yourself up by beating others down. Period. One of my favorite quotes is:

The best gift you can give others is the example of your own life working. ~Orin

True leaders – in any industry – have really “earned the right” to be a Superstar. They have put in the long hours of study and practice. They have client case studies and can point to their tangible results spanning many years. Several studies, including by Harvard, show that it takes ten years or 10,000 hours to be a real expert. Malcolm Gladwell, talks about this in his book, Outliers.

Experts have special knowledge of a subject beyond that of the average person. Experts have a prolonged or intense experience through practice and education in a particular field. ~Wikipedia

There is a vast number of experienced professionals in the social media industry with many years’ of experience working with clients and brands of all sizes, writing books and speaking at large conferences. Three of my choices for this quality are:

Brian Solis – a true leader with vast experience and expertise. Take a look at Brian’s popular blog on any given day and also pick up a copy of his book Engage, and you’ll immediately see why Brian is one of the top names in social media. I’ve included Brian twice too! 🙂

Chris Brogan – has definitely earned his stripes as one of the leaders in the social media world. He and I were recently speaking at a major event in Oslo, Norway and got to spend a fair bit of quality social time together – a first for us in almost four years. It was a joy to get to know Chris better on a personal level.

Jason Falls – a sharp and experienced professional, and all-round fun guy. 🙂

This list is not intended to be the “definitive” guide for ten qualities or characteristics of social media leaders. These are the ten that I have identified from working in the world of social media as a speaker, trainer and consultant since 2007 and, before that, as an internet and relationship marketing specialist since 1999.

Of course, I have refrained from listing myself anywhere in this post. During and since the webinar I lead last week, many people sent me encouraging and kind messages. I am truly honored. It is my life’s mission to shine the light brightly on you, to bring out the best in you, to support you in being all you can be. If you’re interested in checking out my mentorship program, do take a look here. We begin on June 16 and have a few spaces left. I’d love to work with you if it’s a fit.

You may have other social media superstar qualities that you would add or replace. Please share in the comments below your own perspective on leadership and superstar qualities in the social media industry or otherwise. I’d love to hear from you!

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Mari Smith

Forbes Top Social Media Power Influencer | Facebook Marketing Expert | Globe-trotting Speaker, Author | 'Mari like Ferrari' | Bubbly Scottish-Canadian!

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  • Anonymous

    Mari, thank you for your kindness, not just in this post by mentioning me, but on an ongoing basis with the amount of content and caring you show those of us who have chosen to follow, learn from and care about you.  You stand apart from many because of these qualities, and many more.  

  • You are such a superSTAR Mari! You do things like no-one else does – Integrity, passion, enthusiasm and caring comes out of every advice you give and each observation you share. I learn every day from you and with you… I’m on my daaaaaayyy…. 900 and something (I think)… 🙂 — Love and hugs, always.

  • Emma Nicholson

    Mari, you are not only a great source of valuable information and support but a precious person, as well! So happy to have access daily to your sparkling soul!!

  • Prsarahevans

    Mari – I wish I could add YOU to your list. Thank you. -Sarsh

  • Great list Mari, thought i’d mention that you were brought up as THE social media expert in a session at OMS Minneapolis yesterday. I was glad to be able to relate with their comments!

  • Thank you Mari. I agree with Sarah, you need added to your own list. 

    I’ll never forget the inspiration you gave me after leaving a 15+ career in corporate America. You helped me never look back. It is a true gift that I can now pay it forward and do the same for others. 

    Your wisdom & friendship helped me expedite my learning in social media and never forget  that it’s about the people and how we can help one another that brings the most value in both life and business. 

    Hugs to you social sistah! I learned from the best! <3

  • Wow, lots of great here Mari!  Thanks for including me with a lot of great names in social media.  There are some I haven’t heard of before, but am looking forward to checking out!  🙂

  • Mari, I’m so honored to have been mentioned in this post along with these social media powerhouse people. I love the way you’ve broken down and highlight the key components and qualities shared by people who excel online. These are replicable and admirable qualities and set the standard for us all to emulate in our online efforts. Great post.  Thank you.

  • You truly are awesome Nancy. Congrats on being recognized : )

  • Thanks for sharing both the qualities and some examples of each. I agree with others here that you should be on your own list. Another favorite of mine that embodies many of these qualities is @mashable.

  • Hi Pilisa!! Ahh thank you. Great point about Mashable!! The entire company is a reflection of Pete Cashmore, a fellow Brit, and truly a delightful person – I had the pleasure of meeting him briefly. He always comes across as very humble in all his writings and appearances. 

  • Coolio!!! Well deserved, Kristi! xx

  • Your comment warmed my heart, Pam. It’s an honor to know you social sistah. hehee

  • Wowee, Sam – I am truly honored!! Thank you for letting me know!! 

  • Awww, many blessings to you. It’s a joy to share this journey with you over many years now!! xx Looking forward to the big day in August. 😉

  • Thank you kindly, Emma!!! <3

  • Truly my pleasure – and well deserved. It’s an honor to know you. xxx

  • hehee, I just adore your bubbly energy, Karmen!! You are indeed a kindred spirit!!

  • Thank you!!!!! You know I think the world of you! xx

  • Anonymous

    Frank, you are adorable for that comment, and for tagging my with more congrats in our mutual Chamber of Commerce group!  I’m so glad I finally got to meet you at ACCE a while back! 🙂

  • Anonymous

    That makes me happy. 🙂 Well, the feeling is mutual!! 

  • Wow – Mari – what an awesome list of peeps and great points of what matters when it comes to what it takes to be successful in social media.  I guess the reason you aren’t on here is because you wrote it – and it might seem egotistical to have your face on one of them much less all of them – but let’s face it – if ANYONE else had written this post you’d be listed for ALL of them.  For realz.  You da best.  Always.  Great model for all of us.

  • Having met several of these in person (Jay Baer, etc.) I agree with much of what you say in regards to their leadership. Pete Cashmore is adorable, but OMG beyond that, he’s SO HANDSOME. Hehehe. Great post Mari

  • Thanks a million for the link Mari and appreciate the ongoing support 🙂 Also like what you have done with the little Twitter buttons here, thats a smart way for people to discover new people. Will have to use that in an upcoming post (will of course credit you :))

  • Heheee – truly my pleasure, Niall. I’m a huge fan of yours and Lauren’s and all the magic you create with your big team. (Btw, your about us page is THE BEST on the web – I was playing with it the other day. haha)

    Ya, I’m going to use this post for my #FollowFriday for the next wee while. I love #FF when peeps say why recommendations are made. So I figured the new Twitter Follow button would be nifty here. (The painstaking part was I added all the avatars manually! They don’t come with the button.)

    Hope to meet IRL one day! 

  • Huge thanks dear Lori – it’s truly a delight to share this journey with you!! xx

  • hahaa – true, true!!!! 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Hi Mari. Thankyou so much. I am relatively new to twitter and I am looking forward to recieving expert help in the way you provide for a smooth sail.. Thanks again!!

  • Very inventive way to use the new Twitter Follow button!
    Three Cheers Mari!

  • Awesome content Mari as always! Some of my favourites already there and thrilled to have some new superstars to add to my online gurus list on Twitter!  Take care and thank you for your awesome blog 

  • So honored to be a part of this fantastic content Mari. Thank you for ALL that you do for the community. You epitomize all 10 of these principles, and all of us are richer as a result. 

  • I wish you included more Kristi Hineses and less Brian Solises. I’m tired of seeing the same names everywhere. If you don’t write a book or don’t work for a Fortune 1000 company, you’re apparently a nobody.

  • lots of great advice here! following all your recommendations now so looking forward to tweeting with you all!

  • Thank you, Mari, for the mention! Truly flattered! What an amazing company!

  • Kurtfrenier

    Fantastic post. Great people indeed. I follow them all! @kurtfrenier

  • Anonymous

    Once again, you amaze me.
    This I attended a workshop for new businesses put on by SCORE, with primary sponsorship from American Express Open Forum. In the bag of freebies that was handed to me at the registration table, I found a book, “Enchantment” by Guy Kawasaki.Knowing nothing of Guy Kawasaki, I put the book aside and enjoyed participating in the workshop. Now, as I have become a fan of Mari Smith, I find in this article your accolades for Guy Kawasaki.

    Needless to say, with your endorsement, I will make it a point to read this book. I have just “Follow”ed him on Twitter, as well.

    Thanks, Mari, for being a resource to help me out the “wheat from the chaff” among the dizzying myriad of gurus to be found in today’s world of business. On your recommendation of the author, “Enchantment”, rather than gathering dust on a shelf, has moved to the top of my reading list.

  • Great post Mari. They are all American right? Makes me think that face to face is the most important part of Social Media. Must get there soon.

  • Thank you for the oneforty love!  @Pistachio:twitter is a very fun boss. 🙂 Among great company too!

  • Humbled and grateful to be included here Mari, thank you.

  • From all these qualities, Passion tops them all. This trait encompasses all nine qualities mentioned above. Without it humility, knowledge, and consistency will be lacking. Also, passion can drive you to be great even with little or no compensation at all.

    Remember Steve Jobs? Apple only pays him $1. This has been his annual salary for several years now. What drives Jobs to be great? His passion.  Even when he was sick and had a surgery – he still works.

    Passion can give you more energy to do more work.

  •  Great post once again Mari.Loved the list. It would have been good if your name was added in the list.You always are on the edge of thinking outside the box and very clever.

  • Excellent post Mari – all qualities that are important for all areas of life!

  • I’m just getting into Twitter. I’m really happy to have landed on a page that points me to the ‘best of the best’ so I can keep learning. Thanks for putting this post together.

  • If this 10 get together in one then they will be the no.1 superstar. Great work. Thanks for sharing.

  • web design bangalore

    f this 10 get together in one then they will be the no.1 superstar.That’s really going to be the true factor. Great work. Thanks for sharing.

  • C.A Advert Solutions

    I really liked this post. It was nice to have so much contact info via Twitter summed in to one place as well.

  • Larry benet

    great stuff mari-you are a social media superstar as you are always adding value  larry benet

  • Anonymous

    Humbled and grateful to be added to your presentation 🙂

  • web design bangalore

    Great post  Its more informative site I like this site

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Mari for the insightful post.  As someone who is newish to social media, but not marketing nor leadership, I appreciate your willingness to share and to help provide a road to run on.  I’ve been learning from many of the folks you mentioned and I agree they are spot on!

  • Great post, gives me some new people to follow!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Mari, I now have some new folks to follow and learn from.

  • Anonymous

    Very interesting and refreshing post, Mari :). I loved every part of it. I agree 100% with your choices and would add the following:
    * Passion: Mari Smith 🙂
    * Inclusion: Mike Stelzner (his elevation principle is all about inclusion)
    * Content Producer: Brian Clark (copyblogger)
    * Add value: Amy Porterfield and Andrea Vahl (Grandma Mary  🙂 ). I  ALWAYS learn something new from them.
    * A true leader: Seth Godin
    I expected “innovative” to be one of the qualities. I hope you would add it to the list in future posts. And if you noticed, no one came to mind for “humility” but now I have second thoughts: The fact that your name wasn’t included in the above list shows that you are so humble. Keep up the good work :).

  • payer en ligne

    i agreeee!

  • I’m just a humble DJ with a talk show about recruiting

  • Kimberly Roden

    You rock Heather!  Thank you very much for the mention.

  • Anonymous

    My humble thanks Heather.  I truly appreciate your recommendation and value our connection.  Twitter has been a transformational tool for many and I am included in that list. 

    I am honored by your mention here.
    Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach

  • Rochelle Dorsey

    Thanks for the info! You are invaluable!

  • My new morning routine now includes checking out what you are posting!  I am learning so much from you and your team, Mari.  Thank you!  This is a great list.  BTW one thing that really jumped out at me is the fact that all of the people you mentioned use their own photo as an avatar.  I’ve been using my company logo (I run a PR firm) so will be thinking about changing this.  Thank you, thank you!

  • Thanks for posting this list. There were many new people for me to learn from and follow. Here is a list I created from your post with a few others added in.

  • Great Summing up!

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