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Who's the "voice of innovation" in social media?

Posted by: Helen Walters on December 22, 2008

For a while now, we’ve been running the rather lovely “Voices of Innovation” series, featuring the likes of the inventor of the Captcha, Luis von Ahn, sustainable design activist Majora Carter and Nachiket Mor of ICICI’s Foundation for Inclusion Growth.

We’re continuing the series into next year, so BusinessWeek’s social media maven, Steve Baker and I have been discussing potential candidates. Then it struck me. Duh! Surely we should use social media to gather ideas and suggestions for the person we profile? So, we’re trying it. Who is truly the most innovative force within social media? Who’s really making a difference? Who really gets it? Who do you think your fellow BusinessWeek readers NEED to know about? The candidate Steve and I consider most worthwhile will be featured in a short profile and video we run in the Innovation channel.

All suggestions will be considered until Jan 16. Please include a website or some way for us to check out the work of the person you’re recommending — and let us know why s/he, in particular, gets your vote.

Reader Comments

Norbert Mayer-Wittmann

December 22, 2008 6:54 PM

I am! 8)

(it's all the "Wisdom of the Language" :)

Besides that -- how about Barack Obama (better get him before he starts his new job! ;)

Kevin Rose, Pierre Omidyar -- are those poster children? (well, Pierre is as old as I am ;)

Amazingly, the big masses of "leading" users are quite young -- I generally hang around people who are just half my age (older people are still quite stuck on paper and/or old-fashioned brand names).

I liked David Weinberger's address at the LeWeb conference -- see the widget on (and the community which is the implicit "driving force" in Professor Weinberger's address -- the GLUE that holds the community together is language).

So maybe ask Noam Chomsky.

Worst case: you could always fall back on me! ;P

:) nmw

Chris Luckhardt

December 22, 2008 8:41 PM

I think the obvious choice is Robert Scoble. He may not be an innovator himself, but nobody speaks about or brings attention to innovations and innovators in the web space like he does. His FriendFeed stream is packed full of examples of this:

Julie Gomstyn

December 22, 2008 10:51 PM

I would actually vote for Chris Hughes. He was one of the four founders of Facebook, but left in 2007 to head up Obama's social media campaign.


December 22, 2008 10:58 PM

I think Fred Wilson and his blog have done a good deal to advance what we know about how people are using these technologies, and when he adopts one service over another, he can often determine whether that service succeeds initially. That's clout.


December 22, 2008 11:23 PM

I find myself always looking for more posts by BL Ochman. She's friendly not fluffy. I always learn something from her posts about pr and social media. Check her out at:


December 23, 2008 12:34 AM

Beth Kanter, writer of Beth's Blog. I think think she is a link between different spheres in social media -- commerce, arts, nonprofits -- perhaps like no one else. And she's a participant, like all good social media people should be, and is visionary. I think she understands how social media is change very traditional ways of outreach, especially in the nonprofit world and how the early adopters there are seeing exponential returns while taking risks not with capital but mostly with their relationships with their audience -- in a good way --breaking down walls.


December 24, 2008 7:56 AM

We're talking innovation here, folks. Commentary and vision is great, but does not necessarily lead to new paradigms. I would look for someone who has been instrumental in developing and/or promoting disruptive technologies. Biz Stone who founded Twitter comes to mind.

Samson F.

December 24, 2008 9:09 AM

In the arena of social innovation, Mohammad Yunus continues to do inspiring work. This has been the case even after he won the Nobel prize for his pioneering efforts in microfinance. His notion of social business goes beyond microfinance and could well lead to the first serious assault on poverty. Yunus would get my vote.

Kudom Agyare

December 24, 2008 10:36 AM

Isn't it time the little known content creators also got some attention? Designers have always had the limelight. OhMyNews is an amazing user-generated content portal and its editorial writers turn out works of exceptional merit even while leading full lives as professionals in complex jobs.

Mack Collier

December 24, 2008 10:39 AM

Here's the people that I learn the most from, and that are pushing the edges of what's possible in social media:

Shannon Paul, head of social media for the Detroit Red Wings

Tim Jackson, brand manager for Masi Bicycles

Chris Brogan, New Marketing Labs

Amber Naslund, Altitude Branding

Jason Falls, head of social media for Doe-Anderson

Beth Harte, Harte Marketing & Communications

David Armano, Critical Mass

These are the people that are IMO the true 'thought leaders' in the social media space, and are also using their ideas to grow their businesses (Tim Jackson's success in leveraging social media to revive the Masi brand is one of the best SM case studies on the planet).

Ken Burbary

December 24, 2008 10:54 AM

I concur with everyone that Mack Collier listed above but he left out 2 important others:

1) Mack Collier - He's too humble. He's doing as much as anyone else on that list to spread/share social media knowledge and push the edges of the space outward.

2) Brian Solis

Michael E. Rubin, Blog Council

December 24, 2008 10:55 AM

There is a LOT of innovation happening these days in corporate-based social media. Definitely don't overlook them, because these people who are working to make their customer's lives better every day.

That's not only innovative, it's courageous.

1. Lindsay Lebresco, Graco

2. John Pope, Lionel Menchaca, Richard Binhammer, Dell

3. Bert DuMars, Newell Rubbermaid

4. Jim Deitzel, Rubbermaid

4. Christine Morrison, Intuit

5. Jeanette Gibson and John Earnhardt, Cisco Systems

6. Scott Monty, Ford

7. Natalie Johnson and Christopher Barger, General Motors

8. Jeff DeMarrais and Megan Parker, General Electric

9. Doug Childs, Kelly Feller, Michael Brito, Intel

10. David Churbuck, Lenovo

11. Lee Aase, Mayo Clinic

12. Ferg Devins, Molson

13. Molly Schonthal, Nokia

14. Mark Yolton, Mike Prosceno, Marilyn Pratt, SAP

15. Jessica Fredrickson, John Andrews, Suraya Bliss, Walmart

16. Tim Collins, Ed Terpening, Wells Fargo

Disclosure: yes, they are all members of the Blog Council. But they're all great people and I would recommend them anyway.

312-932-9000 / / twitter: merubin
I am a Blog Council employee and this is my personal opinion.

David Armano

December 24, 2008 10:01 PM

whoa. this is a tough one. I think this question poses a problem which needs to be solved through categorization. People can be innovative in different genres.

Here's a few that I think stand out (catogorized)

Rashmi Sinha: Slideshare
Rashmi is one of the founders of a Social Media web application called slideshare. It has quietly been innovating for nearly 3 years now, but in 2008 gained a lot of steam popping up in millions of blogs. Slideshare in my opinion has become the TED of the masses. It helps idea that are worth sharing spread through the Web.

Dell (Bob Pearson)
Dell has demonstrated that social media initiatives can in fact scale if properly staffed and prioritized, and in addition to more favorable Google results, they've demonstrated ROI in the form of over $500.00 sold through their Dell outlet presence on Twitter.

Frank Eliason of @Comcastcares on Twitter in my mind epitomizes elegant innovation. Effective customer service on Twitter when people are complaining about call centers because of how much they generally stink? Brilliant. Innovative and bold. Frank started on his own and has scaled the operation to a team of 10. (or close to it)

Thought Leader: Seth Godin
Forget Seth's blog. What Seth has done between his Excellent book Tribes and his Ning Powered community is a sign of things to come. I'm a member of the community and to see the dynamic is very impressive. A sign of things to come I believe (do it yourself social networks)

Design: Twitter, Biz and Ev.
Twitter in my mind has re-defined the design practice. It's simplicity and open source nature has spawned hundreds of applications that work with it. Some are excellent (Tweetdeck). Twitter was never designed for how it is being used today. This is a revolutionary case study in adaptive design—evolving a service with the collective as opposed to controlling every detail (like Apple).

These are a few of the top of my head. All the individuals mentioned here are worth looking into.

Good luck Helen!


December 27, 2008 1:35 AM

Robert Scoble, Barack Obama I agree with all that have been listed. You know there are so many that should be reconized. I think there are some inovations of high and low tech which have been over looked. This is just one item that should be looked into at You know there is a lot of new green items whichwe all should look more closely to become less dependent and more independent not only in energy but in our life styles We should be fighting global warming at every level

David Armano

December 28, 2008 12:42 AM

whoops, Typo on Dell Stat. Should be over $500,000. :-)

Senia Maymin

December 28, 2008 1:31 AM

Who I look to when I want great ideas in social media:

Seth Godin
Guy Kawasaki
David Armano
Robert Scoble
Kathy Sierra

* Seth is a star on every level. New POV's, down-to-earth, kind and challenging in his ideas.
* I started twittering because of Guy - so many of the bloggers I was reading were saying "Guy told me to twitter." Now, I love it.
* David Armano is so responsive - I don't know that I've ever seen a blogger faster and more in-depth in responding to blog comments and tweets. Insightful concept illustrations.
* Scoble adds a dimension different from others - video.
* Kathy Sierra is pretty much my hero. I'm an executive coach, working with young companies to help them grow. Kathy looks at how companies can change from the angle of the brain. That's her angle on social media too. She would say, "Don't do it unless it's effective for how people process info anyway."

Glad you're asking this way online. Look forward to seeing you at our hangouts like twitter, Helen and Steve. :)



December 29, 2008 8:41 AM

Must add Hugh MacLeod
"cartoons on the backs of business cards"
he created the niche

Garrick Schmitt

December 29, 2008 12:50 PM

There are a ton of great names listed above but they skew a bit too much towards social media "evangelists" for my taste.

If you are looking for those using social to have a true impact on the organization then you must consider:

Chris Bruzzo, Starbucks CTO and his team, for

While Starbucks may not have been the first to roll out a service like this, you could argue that they did it the best -- reaching the masses, really listening and having significant impact on the chain.

Free WiFi, swizzle sticks to prevent spills, frequent buyer cards, food changes, etc.

Hard to pick a bigger brand that used social media to make such meaningful changes to its business.

celeste w

December 30, 2008 1:46 AM

Beth Kanter is perhaps the most prolific social media blogger. She is also one of the most important because she focuses on nonprofits and philanthropy.


December 30, 2008 9:02 AM

Probably the original Social Media.
Low Tech but nice and simple..

j david

December 30, 2008 10:28 AM

Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield.

These two have been a little too quiet after leaving Yahoo!, so keep your eyes open.

They have traveled the arc in the social media world, and have to be working on something cool. I'd love to hear their perspectives.

Helen Walters

December 31, 2008 7:37 AM

Thank you, all, for your thoughtful suggestions. Much appreciated, and much for Steve and I to mull over in our decision making. Speaking of which, more of our methodology (as well as more suggestions and more debate) over on the Blogspotting blog:
Thanks again for taking the time to make suggestions. We're aiming to make this process as transparent as possible, and every one will be considered.

Karl Long

December 31, 2008 2:15 PM

I would add:
Clay Shirky especially for his book "here comes everybody" should be required reading for anyone trying to understand how social media effects cutlure, society and business.

Lawrence Lessig: for his book "Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy" - the hybrid economies already exist in Threadless, Yelp, Etsy, Twitter, flickr, blogs etc. and will be the a big part of the future of business.

Chris Boese

December 31, 2008 6:32 PM

Clay Shirky.
Popularizing a lot of key ideas essential for the social media landscape.
Book: Here Comes Everybody. See also 2-part interview on Columbia Journalism Review.

Adrian Chan. Most excellent research and thought leadership on social-centered interaction design. Most everyone else is just retreading the old single-user interfaces and calling them social interfaces. Adrian has a well-grounded approach that is significantly different from conventional methods.

Lucretia Pruitt

January 1, 2009 3:50 AM

I agree with Mack Collier's list... But I'd add in Mack himself, Brian Solis, David Armano, Liz Strauss, and Ted Murphy.

Those are people I'm watching this year, to name just a few.

Lucretia (aka GeekMommy)

Kelly Feller @ Intel

January 2, 2009 12:31 PM

There are lots of pundits and gurus in the social media space so I'll focus on who I think has made a significant difference driving the innovative (& effective & responsible) use of social media in the tech industry:

I second the nomination of Bob Pearson from Dell and would also add Sean McDonald (smcdonaldatdell) and Geoff Knox (@GeoffatDell) who helped drive Dell's customer service approach to social media.

I would also nominate Bob Duffy (@bobduffy), Bryan Rhoads (@bryanrhoads), & Josh Bancroft (@jabancroft) of Intel. Bob created Intel's business community site Open Port, Bryan created Intel's first corporate blog site Blogs@Intel, and Josh created the first wiki and was instrumental in the creation of the first community site at Intel, ISN.

Of course no list would be complete without these fine authors of important social media bibles or blogs: Charlene Li (@charlineli), Josh Bernoff (@jbernoff), Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang), & Rohit Bhargava (@rohitbhargava).


January 2, 2009 7:51 PM

Chris Hughes.

JD Rucker

January 3, 2009 1:30 AM

This list has to include Muhammad Saleem. NOBODY understands social media as well as Mu. No need to explain: look at these:

#2 User all time on Digg with over 2000 front page stories

Top user on Propeller.

Top user on Twitter.

The list goes on.

Bobbie Carlton

January 3, 2009 11:47 AM

Usually, I am careful to play nice and point to true lead-the-way innovators (you know who you are and you're already listed above.) So excuse this blatant, totally selfish play on my part. I would like Helen and Steve to consider what is happening with kids and social networking too. Not just teens, but kids. Sometimes things they are doing are just as interesting as what the professionals are up to.

For the last two years, I've been part of the team responsible for the Beacon Street Girls (BSG) -- it's a book series and website for preteen girls created by Addie Swartz as a new stand-alone, age-appropriate brand. The website is a virtual junior high where girls (and the age is key) UNDER 13 can network. The reason this is key because there are rules (COPPA) that highly regulate websites for kids -- no personal info allowed, no collection of data, etc. This is the age when kids graduate from online places like Webkinz and Club Penguin (too babyish, they say). Until the BSG, there really wasn't a popular place for social networking for girls -- other sites were mostly just collections of casual games. They would lie about their age and go to MySpace and Facebook. We have them create a user name; all comments are monitored BEFORE they are posted. No personal data beyond an email address (and it never gets shown and it encrypted and is only used for the newsletter.) We also know that this audience can be "mean" and cyber-bullying is more of an issue than anything else. The monitors don't allow mean comments any more than profanity.

The kids join the after-school clubs and teams based on their interests, and truly interact with each other. they support each other, make friends and "play" together. I've seen everything from virtual plays to book club chats on the site. One of the patterns is for a girl to create a scenario, have her friends suggest characters and then assign or offer up roles, and others act them out on the site. We didn't set up the site to do this but the kids create these role plays themselves.

Now, we're not using out-there technology but it is the understanding of the tween market and what they want in a social network that makes this special. It's the flexibility of the platform, allowing girls to create what they want to see. This is supporting the next gen of social network users, and what they learn on our site will set them up for the future.

Kai Turner

January 3, 2009 12:08 PM

If you are soliciting opinion on social media, using social media -- should you be asking people to reply via Twitter as well?

And with that in mind, my vote would go to Biz Stone, as an innovator and as a public face for social media efforts.

Scott M. Iseman

January 3, 2009 1:27 PM

Dear BusinessWeek:

In my own way, social media reminds me of the 1950's and 1960's space race, I often use "The Right Stuff" as a comparison of sorts to make the point for how the international social media drive for innovation is quickly unfolding.

We're essentially beginning to see a race to crack open the new frontier and possibilities of the internet, as it relates to business, news, socializing, and yes, here comes politics and Web 3.0 down the road.

Social media is becoming very competitive, and whether one wants to call this the leading edge of the internet revolution, or the launch into the Web 2.0 era (as I do), some great voices and thought leaders in the field should be fairly and "objectively" noted.

In the movie, "The Right Stuff", the question is asked: "Who was the greatest pilot you ever saw?"

At the end of the movie, Gordon (Gordo) Cooper gets the label as the greatest pilot anyone ever saw for his space journey, but we all know, it was the "Chuck Yeager" who truly had the right stuff and broke through the barriers of true innovation.

While there are "many" people who are driving social media innovation, fairly, there are three leaders in social media (I feel) who are truly driving innovation to a peak level going into 2009.

And remember, the question here is about "social media", not marketing, or Web 2.0. So my answer is based on solely on the social media discussion.

Who is the voice of social media innovation? Please consider.

3.) Scott Monty: I was there, and watched, and contributed in my own way, as Scott Monty, during the darkest moment of this economic ordeal (thus far), rose up, took the ball on Twitter and his blog, and drove social media innovation for the Ford Motor Company. Mr Monty's November 23rd, 2008 blog titled "How You Can Use Social Media to Help the U.S. Auto Industry" is "legendary", and my personal pick for the single best blog post of year 2008. In my mind, Scott Monty would earn the title of the national corporate spokesperson for social media, if there was one, and if he wanted it. Go investigate for yourself. Check Scott Monty's Twitter profile (@scottmonty)and other Ford profiles during the first couple weeks of November 2008. No other company innovatively did what Scott Monty drove Ford to do for social media. Website:

2.) Jeremiah Owyang: Jeremiah is the Senior Analyst for Forrester Research. The quality and innovation of his work is impressive, smart, and completely cutting edge. Two days ago (as I write this), Mr. Owyang published on Slideshare,"The Future of Social Web Roundtable", a 39 page presentation that has now logged 2329 views in just two days. When I think of social media pioneers and explorers, Jeremiah Owyang comes to mind. I look forward to watching his career progression for many years to come. His writing and analytical skills speak for itself. When Mr. Owyang writes, I love to read and learn. Website:

1.) Chris Brogan: Objectively speaking. Here we are in early 2009, and let's be fair. Mr. Brogan has done more for the current state of social media than anyone else. He inspires, he teaches, he drives ideas, and challenges people to think and act. Mr. Brogan is a relentless social media voice, and just alone, in inspiring all the people he has to learn the fundamentals of social media, Mr. Brogan has set the stage for broader national and international innovation as countless individuals come into their own through blogging and networking. For year 2008, seriously (I feel), Chris Brogan was the leading "voice of innovation" in social media.

BusinessWeek. I respectfully submit, the above three individuals really are the drivers of innovation for "social media" in 2008.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Scott M. Iseman

Nir Kossovsky

January 3, 2009 1:36 PM

I respectfully nominate the committee heads of the Intangible Asset Finance Society who are making the business case for sustainability, quality, ethics, integrity, safety, security, and other intangible assets. Intangible asset today comprise 63% of the value of the average public company. The objectives of the Intangible Asset Finance Society are to increase the visibility, transparency, and positive impact of intangible asset finance through education, advocacy, and the promulgation of standards. The committee heads are listed on this page:

Mark Yolton

January 4, 2009 4:11 PM

I'm flattered to have my name nominated on this list by Michael Rubin.

I'd also add:

Sean O'Driscoll (formerly of MSFT but now running a social media consultancy)

Maggie Fox - also a consultant @ the Social Media Group

I assume someone already mentioned Tim O'Reilly and Guy Kawasaki...

Mark Yolton

Jonathan Shelton

January 5, 2009 8:57 PM

I'd nominate Paul Jackson over at HousingWire,

He's built a massive following on housing matters, and he's done it really quietly. That's refreshing, given all the hype in the social media space.

From a social media perspective, he's not creating a vision for the future of news media; he's actually making it happen. How many bloggers can boast a steady stream of direct advertisers? And staff, too?


January 8, 2009 11:51 AM

John Battelle is creating the media experiences that will define the social Web for some time to come. And, maybe just as importantly, has made it a viable business by bringing major Fortune 500 brand advertisers with him.


Renee Edelman

January 16, 2009 11:29 PM

Nominate Jeremy Burton, president & CEO of Serena Software, as a Hidebound Hero. He is reinventing Serena using Web 2.0 tools and a social media mindset focused on collaboration and invention. He launched Facebook Fridays for his more than 800 emmployees, moved his companywide e-mail from Microsoft Exchange to Google Gmail and allows Apple iPhones and Macs in the enterprise. He also launched Serena Business Mashups for business users to create, deploy and share their own consumer-style Mashups within minutes to become more productive; Agile Development on Demand for global teams to work on multiple proejcts; and OpenProj, an open source desktop project management alernative to Microsoft Project.
Jeremy's profile on Facebook:

Sean ODriscoll

January 23, 2009 5:39 PM

Really cool to be mentioned by Mark Yolton, thanks! I guess I'd add Jake McKee ( was so influenced by him that we merged our consultancies!!

If I'm just giving a shout out - I'd thank the collective group of Microsoft MVPs ( - these are the 4000 or so recognized top contributors to tech communities recognized by MSFT every my 5 years running that program at Microsoft - that group taught me more than I can possible describe about social engagement and the social dynamic.



January 28, 2009 9:50 PM

How long will it take to build a single interfaced megastructure on lower Manhattan? Or self-reliant cluster cities on 3rd world coastlines.

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