He’d probably tell you he’s an ordinary guy, but in the social media marketing world he’s the equivalent of a minor god. Business leader, Mike Stelzner, has built a massive empire with the hugely popular online publication, Social Media Examiner, and within the span of less than 2 years he has amassed a following of 84,000 daily subscribers, 46,000 followers on Facebook, and Social Media Examiner is now ranked the #1 small business blog in the world by Technorati. Who is Mike Stelzner anyway? Well, let’s find out. On June 20 I had the privilege to interview Mike and ask him about his new book, Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition. The following is a summary of what I would consider a mix of a dinner conversation and a business interview, because I think the history and the character of a man is just as important as what he’s achieved.

SP: Mike, what did you study in school and where does your accessible style of writing come from?

Mike: I have an undergraduate and a graduate degree in Speech Communication where I learned the art of persuasion using language in college. I started off as a copy writer, making large companies look good but now, the way I write is more like talking, I call it conversational writing. It took a lot of practice.

SP: Could you give SMM (Social Media Marketing) business professionals advice in managing the onslaught of information they face every day and having to keep up with the ever-shifting applications in technology?

Mike: Everything in our world is constantly changing, and trying to anticipate those changes is both endless and frustrating. So my mentality is: focus on people, that’s one thing that doesn’t change. I’ve learned that people at their core will always remain the same, and they want 3 things: great content, access to great people, and recognition, and if you give it to them for free, you have the secret to great success and a huge loyal following.

SP: You’ve been very successful at providing practical education for SMM business professionals, do you consider yourself a teacher, philanthropist, or an entrepreneur?

Mike: First, I would consider myself an entrepreneur. I’m a businessman that sells education. What I give away is education, what I sell is education. You can definitely say that I’m a teacher, but underneath it all, I’m a businessman. And if I wasn’t able to make money with this, I wouldn’t be able to sustain what I’ve been doing. At the core of it, I’m a giver, so you could classify me as a philanthropist. I would consider myself as someone who gives a lot, and does it knowing that’s what my audience loves, and I know I’m able to do it because I have a business that’s sustaining it.

SP: You had to shift gears when the last recession hit, since many of your clients were in the tech sector and you had lost a lot of them when the bubble bursted. How did you know to go into a very new field: social media?

Mike: I’ve always had a nose for something big. When I saw my creative services business was losing business to the recession, I had the idea to write about white papers and give it out for free. I knew I was onto something right away. And then, in 2009, there were rumblings of social media and the more I learned about it, I knew that businesses had a new opportunity that hadn’t existed before the opportunity to build community with blogs, Facebook and social networking platforms.

SP: I read in the first chapter of Launch that your first paying job was delivering the paper when you were a boy. Did you know you then you wanted to go into marketing?

Mike: What I didn’t write in the book is that I also worked at Sears in the Lawn and Garden Department selling garden hoses and Christmas tree ornaments. I got good at selling there. But it was in college, when I studied human communication and language, persuasion, the rule of reciprocity and social proof theory that headed me into this field.

SP: Social media marketing is a very new industry, and you seem to be leading the charge into a new frontier. Why do you think the most respected experts in the Social Media Marketing industry are older? What do you know that younger, more computer-savvy professionals don’t?

Mike: Yeah, it’s true the most respected in the field are at least in their 40s, not the 20s or 30s. I don’t think my colleagues want to learn from a 20-something and maybe it has something to do with having more knowledge, a bigger group of connections and having a strategy. I knew at the beginning of Social Media Examiner, I couldn’t do it myself. I knew I had to reach out to other experts in the social media industry: the Mari Smiths, the Denise Wakemans, Chris Garrets, and Jason Falls of the world… people who were already respected and had access to the community.  This was my strategy, to get a team helping me to spearhead a new movement, and at first, that’s what it was. Everyone was a volunteer. But it was the strategy that gave us a big head start.

SP: You discuss the Elevation Principle in your new book, Launch, as being the key force behind explosive growth for businesses today. In essence, its a model of radical customer service, giving to others, what they want, for free. When did you figure this out?

Mike: Well, I always tell everyone that I went to the school of hard knocks and I got a magna cum laude. About 10-15 years ago, I realized I wanted to help more people than I had time for, and I realized I could do this by providing great content. You can reach hundreds, thousands or millions of people with great content.

SP: Where do you think the rocket ship takes you, Mike? Where would you like to take Social Media Examiner and/or what legacy would you like to leave if this was your last gig?

Mike: I knew from the beginning, that Social Media Examiner had a 3-5 year shelf life. I will move on to doing the same in other industries, we’ll just wait and see. But what I really want to do is to write children’s books, something between a Sondra Boynton or a Harry Potter-type book geared to an early reader. In 10 years, that’s what I want to be doing. I’ve always been a storyteller, and I want that to be my legacy. Social Media Examiner will not be my legacy.

And there you have it, an extraordinary business leader and a very gracious, humble man with tremendous insight and focus and a streak for creativity and fun, with a balanced perspective on life. Buy his new book Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition online at Amazon.com. Learn more from him and many other social media marketing industry experts at Social Media Examiner. Download the first chapter of Mike’s book for free here. Many thanks to Michael for reaching out and demonstrating what it means to be a true business leader. Can’t wait for the children’s books!