Just Because You’re A CEO Doesn’t Make You A Thought Leader…

[Analysis of The Top 100 “Most Wanted” Tech Speakers]

Earlier last week Bizzabo (creators of killer software apps for conferences) put together a list of the top 100 most wanted speakers on the tech circuit. The speakers were picked based upon feedback scores from over 3,000 conferences and keynotes, search data and social media buzz. The list consisted of all the usual suspects (the top 10 are below but you can see the full list here), so rather than have the usual conversations about who we agree with and who it’s currently cool to hate (Schmidt?) ~ I thought it would be more interesting to have a deeper look into the rankings…


It’s always interesting when you make a “most wanted” list like this because if you appear on the list, it highlights you as being a (generally) good egg and someone credible who can speak with authority. Personally, I think this is a GREAT list of thought leaders. I’d pay good money to listen to any of them speak at a decent conference. But many of the people on this list choose not to speak very often. Some of them don’t even see themselves as thought leaders at all, but we’ll get to that shortly…. 

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”. Margaret Mead

So while we want these guys (and yes it is almost all guys) to inspire us at whatever conference we mortgaged our house in order to attend, I wondered if this list of tech superstars really were the thought leaders that we thought they were. And if they are not ~ should they aim to be?


For my mini social experiment I turned to the Twitterwebs and decided to mine all the data associated with each leader. A deeper piece of research is crying out to take into account book sales, video views, search traffic, interviews and published articles. All I did here was examine the last 3,200 tweets of each person from the Twitter firehose (or as many tweets as they’d sent if it was less than 3,200) and ran text analysis on what they had actually said in their tweets. The text data was quite messy but once I cleaned it up, it revealed a some interesting stuff.

Top 20 Rankings (with basic follower stats)


* Rockstar VP Peter Thiel has never tweeted (from his own account) and my good friend Brian Solis is leading the charge in the top 20 with most minutes spent on Twitter each month.

Most Mentioned Words

Our top 100 most wanted ”thought leaders” shared 4,164 common keywords out of their combined 1,000,166 tweets. (I excluded common conjunctions such as “and”, “the”, “twitter”)


I’m not usually a fan of word clouds, but on this occasion I can’t argue that it provides an interesting snapshot of their conversations. I think it’s pretty cool that these tech leaders are so affirming and positive in their tweets (a good sign of leadership). “Congrats”, “awesome” and “excited” ranked as the top keywords. Interestingly ~ I noticed a distinct lack of humble-brags and ego-surfing, which was nice (and un-expected).


Most Followers (as of 23rd March)

  1. Ashton Kutcher15,859,189
  2. Richard Branson ~ 3,982,235
  3. Tony Hawk ~ 3,604,808
  4. Jack Dorsey ~ 2,572,930
  5. Mark Cuban ~ 2,102,844


Heaviest Twitter User

  1. Gary Vaynerchuk with 109,590 tweets sent.
  2. Robert Scoble was a distant 2nd with 65,906 tweets

Most Active Twitter User

Kara Swisher ~ (Co-editor of Re/Code) tweets 40.4 times per day! (Makes my 15 tweets a day seem relatively pedestrian). This works out at approx. 32 hours a month of time spent on Twitter. Just over an hour a day.


Who Tweets the Most “Real” Words?

  1. Peter Fredell (CEO, Seamless) ~ 96.79%
  2. Cyan Bannister (CEO, Zivity) ~ 96.46%
  3. Richard Branson (“Dr. Yes” at Virgin) ~ 96.08%

In case you wondered who was last, it was Niklas Zennström. But I guess when you are the founder of Kazaa and Skype (as well as Swedish), you’re allowed to pretty much tweet whatever you like…

But seriously ~ it’s not all fun and games…


Putting the fun aside for a moment, I took the liberty of assuming that Twitter might be the number one place that a thought leader would speak to the world. If that is the case, the vast majority of the thought leaders on Bizzabo’s list aren’t really thought leaders at all. But they could be…

  • Peter Thiel (possibly the world’s most famous VC) ranked #12 on the list has never tweeted ~ or at least not from his own current account.
  • 39 out of 100 speakers tweet less than once a day
  • 41% of Top 100 spend less than 1 hour a month on Twitter
  • The Top 100 tweet on average 5.4 times per day

This is where things get interesting ~ especially if you enjoy math or work in marketing, digital media or technology. It looks like this lack of activity raises a big question and a huge untapped opportunity…



We all know it’s a pretty poor metric. I wrote a post about it here, so I’m not going to labour the point ~ suffice to say that it doesn’t usually mean a whole lot. eg. There will be a lot of duplicates in the list. The vast majority of people will never even see the tweet, despite Twitter and many social measurement tools counting it etc. etc…

TweetRank (bear with me I’m building up to something….)

Unlike Facebook, who operate the EdgeRank algorithm in your newsfeed to only show your friends the “most relevant posts” ~ Twitter doesn’t have any kind of filter. Facebook claim that an average of 16% of your friends or fans see your posts, but it depends on a lot more variables ~ not least of which the amount of friends or fans that you have.

Twitter though doesn’t operate any such filter or algorithm (yet), but based upon the sheer volume of over 500m tweets now sent each day and the average user having over 165 followers, many marketers believe that it may* be safe to assume that only 20% of your followers will actually see your tweets.

*(Obviously run your own tests if this is important for you to know).

So…. What Does This Mean For Our Group of Thought Leaders?

If our group of chosen ones have a combined reach of over 2.8 billion people per month, we could cut that down straight away to 562,863 people (with our 20% assumption). Again, there will also be a large amount of duplicates in here, so these are not unique users obviously, but we still have a small group of people generating over half a billion impressions each month. Impressions though? Seriously? Meh…. but wait….


If you look at the frequency of tweets per day of our top 100 and the potential reach of each person, just 2 extra minutes spent on Twitter each day would generate an additional 1.4 billion “impressions” for this group.

We Want Our Thought Leaders To Lead…

Even if only a tiny percentage of these additional impressions get seen ~ it raises some interesting possibilities ~

  • What difference could these impressions make to a cause?
  • How many more problems could be solved through crowd-sourcing?
  • How many more start-up’s and entrepreneurs could be inspired?

What Difference Could These Thought Leaders Make In Just Two Minutes on Twitter?

  • Sheryl could encourage thousands more female leaders to “Lean In
  • Eric Schmidt could make more people aware of the real challenges that we face protecting our personal data
  • Gary Vee could motivate the next generation of Vayniaks to build a new start-up
  • Reid Hoffman could encourage more founders to not give up and help them connect with each other
  • Reid, Jack and Thiel could have Twitter chats about improving mobile payment systems
  • Zuck could campaign more powerfully for coding to be taught in many more schools etc. etc..

Even if we assume that only 20% of their followers would actually see whatever they tweeted, that’s still 286,318,034 people. And yes, there would be duplicates… but if we are encouraging thought leaders to lead, wouldn’t it be cool to think that for an investment of less than 2 minutes per day, they could reach over quarter of a million more people each month?

It seems like a missed opportunity and it baffles me every time I see “thought leaders” chose not to use Twitter. It was the same when I looked at the top 100 marketing leaders a few months ago and wrote a post ~ “Why do the best marketers in the world suck on Twitter?

Why are thought leaders important? ~ According to Harvard research, 1% of any given group can influence and bring about change with the other 99%.

I think the truth lies in the fact that this list of tech luminaries might not actually see themselves as thought leaders. Maybe they are the most wanted tech speakers because they don’t speak very often! (You only had to experience the 2 hour queue round the building for Zuckerberg’s talk at MWC in Barcelona a few weeks ago). Maybe they are brilliant because they don’t tweet. They don’t want to. Or they are just too busy being brilliant…

In The Age of Digital Media, The Thumb is Mightier Than The Pen


Whatever…. it does show us mere mortals though the power of Twitter. Even if you do only have 165 followers, don’t under-estimate them. Once they start sharing stuff the numbers start to get REALLY interesting. 165 x 165 x 165 means that even the smallest Twitter user in theory can generate a reach of almost 4.5m within just three ‘generations’. That’s how things go viral. Ideas are born. Causes are fought. Revolutions started…

[Note: If you work in marketing like me and bitch about reach and impressions all the time (and we are right to do so), we still shouldn’t under-estimate what a really well placed tweet can do, to just the right audience, at just the right time].

Anyway ~ it’s all good food for thought and a geeky debate down the pub….