Where Have All The Great Thought Leadership Blogs Gone?

by Mack Collier

I had an interesting back and forth with Adam the other day on Twitter about his perception that ‘social media gurus’ don’t openly disagree or challenge each other’s thoughts.  I wanted to write a post about that, but then I realized that our discussion actually dovetailed a bit into another train of thought I’ve been having lately; Where have all the great thought leadership blogs gone?

2005 and 2006 was a magical time for me.  Not only was I discovering blogging for the first time, but I was also discovering some amazing bloggers and some profoundly provocative writing on the future of marketing.  Blogs like Horse Pig Cow, Gaping Void, Church of the Customer and Creating Passionate Users inspired me on a daily basis and their thoughts got my creative juices flowing and led to some/most of my best writing.

But around 2007 or 2008, the social media/marketing blogging space began to change.  We went from discussions largely around ‘What If…’ to ‘What Is’ when it came to social media and its impact on marketing.  At the time, this change was welcomed, I remember talk around 2007 or so that we ‘needed to stop talking theory, and start sharing real-world results if we want businesses to take social media seriously’.  By 2007 and 2008, a few innovative companies were starting to produce real case studies from their early social media efforts, and almost overnight, it seems as if we all stopped talking theory, and started embracing reality.

Which is good, to a degree.  It’s wonderful that we started incorporating ‘real world’ business examples into our writings.  But in the process, I think we went too far away from what made our writings so incredibly compelling to begin with.

We stopped asking ‘What If…’

The discussion around ‘Social Business’ has been nagging at me for a while now.  Last week, someone ( I wish I could remember where I saw it) said ‘What everyone is calling ‘Social Business’ seems to just be ‘Good Business’.  Exactly.  This was what was irritating me.  There’s nothing revolutionary or ‘bleeding edge’ about ‘Social Business’.  We just took the idea of running a ‘Good’ business and swapped in the ‘Social’ modifier, and it’s as if we slapped it in a Shiny Object wrapper.

Is it vitally important that companies facilitate collaboration between their employees?  That they find ways to better connect with their customers and they with the company?  That they have tighter connections and smarter conversations with their partners/vendors?

Yes, of course, and you betcha.  But all of those things were just as important in 1912 as they are in 2012.

Back to Adam’s point, somewhere along the line, I think we stopped publicly challenging and disagreeing with each other as much as we should.  Disagreeing with someone isn’t a bad thing (unless you are being disagreeable, there’s a BIG difference), and it encourages thought to have your ideas challenged.

I think we aren’t challenging and building on each other’s ideas like we once did.  As a result, I think the entire Social Media/Marketing blogosphere/whatever has become largely stagnant.  We haven’t run out of new ideas because there’s nothing new to talk about, we’ve run out of new ideas because we aren’t pushing each other to FIND those new ideas.

In 2005 and 2006 we had The Porous Membrane to explain why Corporate Blogging worked, we had Pinko Marketing to explain how customers were more empowered than ever and Influence Ripples to explain how ideas spread and bloggers become influential online.

Today we have ‘Why Your Business Should be a Social Business’, ‘How Pinterest is Killing (Insert SM site here)’, and ‘Klout Sucks’.

Seriously?

We need to do better.  Starting today, I promise to start asking ‘What If…’ here more often.  Sure, I may sometimes make a fool out of myself in the process (Because that doesn’t happen already ;)), but I think asking the occasional question is better than acting like you have all the answers.

{ 14 comments }

Narciso Tovar February 26, 2012 at 10:31 am

This is kinda funny b/c this is something I began pondering last week…and then I got interrupted by a client call…which comes to my point. I think we may have become successful enough to not have the time to ‘constructively disagree’ online.

Now this is simply my own opinion – cause I’m sure that other people may have a different take on this. But, for me, I love engaging on that level (not to say that I used to do ALOT of it; but when I did, it was fun) – just don’t have the time I used to for that kind of stuff.

My point is that I believe we all still have that moxie – just don’t have the time (quite literally) to go into ‘battle’ (respectfully, of course).

My Two Cents, Anyhow

Narciso Tovar
Big Noise Communications
@Narciso17

Mack Collier February 26, 2012 at 11:55 am

Hey Narciso, I do think there’s some truth to that, although you could argue that it’s more about what we MAKE time for as well.

I also wonder if we are moving to tools like Twitter that aren’t as conducive to in-depth conversations as blogs are?

Miriam Gomberg February 26, 2012 at 10:54 am

Mack, it feels like a serious case of group think in that dissenting opinions are quieted rather than explored. The reason people were considered “thought leaders” is because they were fresh and innovative with their ideas and had something important or relevant to add to the conversation.

One problem I see is it seems as though some have let it get to their heads and stopped creating something special. Often the dialogue that was in social business turns into a lecture instead.

Thanks for provoking my own thought process. Miriam

Mack Collier February 26, 2012 at 11:58 am

Miriam I agree (;)) I think too many people are agreeing just to win favor with certain bloggers/gurus/whatever. On the flipside, I think that opens the door for a few people to go out of their way to be disagreeable (vs disagreeing) in an attempt to draw attention to themselves by ‘attacking’ the ‘popular’ kids.

I also think that so many people in this space are trying to position themselves as ‘experts’ that they may feel like engaging in and even creating these ‘What if..’ conversations may undermine their role as a supposed expert.

Judy Helfand February 26, 2012 at 11:42 am

Mack,
I think I got here today because Lisa and you were tweeting back and forth. Anyway…I just want to say that your thoughts here are correct. I don’t have a lot of time today, so I just want to give you a link to a post I wrote in May 2011 http://judysoped.blogspot.com/2011/05/social-media-trust-lapel-pins.html

I hope you will read it, as it pretty much covers my thoughts on this very important topic. Good business is just that…GOOD. Deliver what you say you are going to deliver or have a darn good reason why you can’t.

We’ll talk soon.

Judy

P.S. In 2007 I wrote a post about my father – the original “social” businessman… http://blog.webconsuls.com/2007/08/smo-old-fashioned-way.html
Sorry for all the links.

Mack Collier February 26, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Thanks for sharing your posts, Judy. The emerging social technologies have changed the way companies connect with customers and how information flows in both ways, but the basic tenants of good business today in 2012 are the same as they were in 1912. We may have some new spiffy terms that we are slapping on the tried and true, but in general what works today in business worked just as well yesterday and will tomorrow as well.

Ed February 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm

I’ve been saying this for years.
I watched the Social Media Blogosphere birthed,
and immediately, ‘A-Listers’ created their clique.

Agree and praise their posts, rather than bucking their contrived trend (what they’re about to pitch a big corp), or they’ll tweet a disparaging comment to signal B-List lemmings to shun you.
The politics and pecking order is disgusting and has ruined courageous, innovative blogging.
Don’t be fooled by their tweets disowning the mafia; that’s camoflage.

Anna February 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm

As someone just starting out in the field of social media, reading this post has really opened me eyes. I’m still at the questioning stage as to what works and what doesn’t and why, so perhaps being outspoken with my questions and ideas will be more worth it than I can imagine. And I’m not afraid of looking dumb! Here I go…!

Brandon February 27, 2012 at 7:26 am

Heya Mack. Not sure if I’ve ever commented before, but that’s a bit irrelevant… anyway, Part of the problem in this whole scenario is the speed at which new technology or social sites can pop up now.

People see as many issues and challenges as they always have, but we stopped challenging each other because we are so quick to ACT on the “problem”. You make statement ‘A’, and because I want to be the one to change it, I dont challenge you, I simply start site ‘B’. When it doesn’t take off (market saturation, maybe), everyone writes it off and moves on to statement ‘c’ and the process continues.

When it was a little slower to do a startup and it wasn’t a race just to get into pole position, yeah, people talked. They collaborated. No one was THAT worried not to be first and best and fastest.

Make sense or am I talking out of the side of my neck here?

Mack Collier February 27, 2012 at 8:00 am

Brandon that’s an interesting slant on the issue. I think that might be more the case for tech bloggers in the Silicon Valley area, but…

I think several things happened to get us to move away from asking ‘What If…’ as much:

1 – Blogs were pretty much the only non-Socnet kid in town in 2005 and 2006. Their popularity has fallen since as new tools have arrived, and thusly the ‘long-form’ communication that gave rise to a lot of the lengthy conversations and debates has fallen by the wayside a bit. I do think the rise in popularity of Plus is revitalizing those conversations, to a degree.

2 – A lot of the people asking ‘What If…’ a few years ago are now in business for themselves. So they have even less free time.

3 – A lof of the people that used to ask ‘What If…’ are now using SM to position themselves as Social Media/Marketing experts with all the answers. I guess they feel that asking questions undermines the expert position they are attempting to create for themselves.

Who knows, maybe it’s just cyclical.

Brandon February 28, 2012 at 7:41 am

Well, I certainly can’t speak for that point in time (1), but it makes complete sense. (2) I can picture, and (3) is a sad situation. Just in the last year I watched people I trust and occasionally interact with in this arena stay 100% consistent and I have seen them do a 180 and abandon the people they claim put them where they are. So yeah. I can see number three happening.

And I wouldn’t discount the first bit necessarily. Tech isn’t the only place where bigger better and faster reigns supreme. I’ve been working in and around parenting and craft blogs since I started and I’ll tell ya, the competition is pretty damn fierce there also.

Good chatting with you Mack. Thanks for the response.

Chris Eh Young February 27, 2012 at 8:17 am

You are definitely right about the disappearance of thought leader blogs. I think many of the original thought leaders in the social space are in the process of selling out or already have. They’ve climbed to the top of the mountain, then created a tight circle to protect them from up and comers. Instead of getting to the top and helping others up, they’ve decide instead, to hold people down. Thus maintaining their position. The market has become so saturated with wannabe me-toos that are willing to kiss any arse that will get them a couple of retweets and a blog mention, that no one challenges anyone anymore.

Even Brian Solis made the sellout blunder of a lifetime last week by writing the foreword for two books with the same title but polar opposite content. That, my friend, is hypocrisy and fame whoring at its finest.

When many of these A-Listers started out a few years ago, their content and platforms were cutting edge. But the market evolved so quickly and many of them failed to adapt. This left them as thought status-quoers, not thought leaders. They failed to recognize the shift and maintained the platforms that got them to where they were. Well there is a funny thing that happens when you stand still in a world that moves so quickly.

They stayed the course when the winds changed, yet somehow maintained their status as leaders from the middle of the pack. How? By closing the circle tighter and using the strength in numbers approach.

Well, that era is drawing to a close. I see moe and more people looking elsewhere for leadership. Places you wouldn’t expect. I see a huge shift on the horizon and those who don’t embrace it risk great peril.

Social business or social BS? To me, good businesses have been social forever. We’re just trying to sell them on some shiny new take on it. You know what? Businesses aren’t going to buy our crap for much longer, it’s time to deliver what we’ve been promising.

Owen Greaves February 27, 2012 at 5:58 pm

I am not a Blogger who writes much about Social Media, in fact, I find SM somewhat boring! Boring in that, I’m tired of hearing so much about it, I’m tired of hearing from the so called GURUS & EXPERTS. I do however Blog about forward thinking people, the Future Of Business, I share some forward thinking thoughts, I show you how business is changing, I don’t talk about Social Media much, I don’t teach it, I do however use it.

I love talking about the Future of Business, I don’t agree with most Social Media GURUS, infact, they all have become a different kind of Internet Marketer. What will happen when Social Media becomes no different than the phone, when everyone knows how to do it. In fact, what will happen with all these GURUS when knowing how to participate in Social Networks is as simple as a requirement to get hired in ANY job. What will these Social Media Internet Markers / GURUS do?

Social media is not new, we’ve been doing since we learned how to talk, it’s just gone digital, and the world can listen and join the conversation. It went from offline to online, nothing more.

But our attitudes changed, we suddenly believe that Social Media is the answer to all our business woes, NOT!

To me Mindset Trumps Skillset Everytime, the Future of our Global Businesses is more about how we think, rather than what the Industrial Age convinced us to do. The Industrial Age is DEAD!

Self-employment is the new job, your bad or great idea, how much you believe in your idea is really the answer to your woes, Commitment to your ideas, tells the deeper story.

Let’s build the ” Could You Imagine ” what your business would be like if you did XYZ. The key there is action.

The Thought-Leaders are everywhere, they just seem to be waiting for something. They shouldn’t wait at all, they should share their thoughts and try to make the business world a better place.

Sorry for the Rant, I’m just a Thought-Leader out here fighting the good fight. : )

Many Blessings, Mack.

jovie michel June 18, 2012 at 9:53 am

a lot of blogs peddle information these days. because of this, so much great content has been lost to make way for what appeals more to the market.

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