People love to put other people in boxes. Metaphorically, of course. We do love our categories and classifications.
On social media, we can leverage one of four major roles: we can be creators, curators, commentators, and connectors. Focusing on one of these roles will provide a clear path toward building an equally focused audience. Let’s dive into the opportunities and risks of making that choice and sticking with it – and how many roles one person can realistically fulfill.
We’re creatures of category: we love to prescribe labels to other people. We have in-groups and out-groups, often strictly and distinctively divided.
When we encounter a person building digital products with code, they’re a software engineer. When we run into someone who lives to tell stories, they’re writers.
Of course, every single human being out there is more than one thing. We all contain multitudes, overlapping interests, and experiences that form the unique person we are. But if I had to learn and understand every single facet of every single person I have a relationship with, my mind would explode. I can barely do that with my friends from way back when. I wouldn’t have the capacity to do it with Twitter follows that I just found a week ago.
So I categorize. “This is a fellow writer, and here’s a coder who loves to teach.”
And in doing that for a while now, I noticed that the more this person leaned into their “appearance at first sight,” the easier time I had to build a lasting relationship with them that would eventually go deeper than what category I assigned them initially.
That’s why I recommend that you apply the 80/20 rule — the one where you spend 80% of your time focusing on one thing and allow for anything else in the remaining 20%. This is not the Pareto rule, which is about the power law of well-applied focus (and is often misunderstood to mean half-assing the work).
No, it’s all about allowing people to bring you into their world more easily. It’s about inviting people that FIT into your audience. A hundred well-fitting followers will give you more opportunities than thousands of people who don’t care much about your work.
And nothing is better than knowing exactly what the new person you’ve just will be doing next. So let’s take a look at the four archetypes of social media experts and how you can leverage them for your audience-building journey.
All the content on social media has to come from somewhere. Creators are the people who make it happen. They write blog posts, record podcasts, and craft highly polished video content that instructs, informs, or entertains.
Creators are like plants: they produce the digital oxygen that everyone else breathes. They are educators, guiding the novices in their respective fields along their journeys.
If you enjoy sharing your knowledge with those willing to learn from you, being a creator is a great choice. As a creator, you’ll attract those who seek novelty, refreshing insights, and reassuring anecdotes. You’ll have to be living an interesting life for others to find you interesting.
You have a lot of options when it comes to the type of content that will signify that you’re a creator:
- You can write articles. Having a blog is a great idea, as it allows you to create search-engine-retrievable long-tail content.
- Record a solo podcast where you share your knowledge episodically.
- Create videos. You can shoot short, bite-sized videos explaining one concept or go for the more in-depth, longer version. Whatever you do, when you combine your human presence as a person sharing an idea on camera with the additional effects of the video medium —B-roll, text overlays, animations— you’ll have an amazingly sharable piece of content.
- And it doesn’t have to be moving to be appealing. Visualize an idea by sketching it out. Illustrate complicated concepts with simple shapes and relationships. Allow the people you create for to understand things better.
All of these kinds of content create a permanent record. They are evidence of your ambition and —when done consistently— make you irresistible as a reliable source of new and exciting things to learn. Creators are teachers.
Creators can improve their work by exploring new media. If you love writing, consider narrating your articles into a microphone: boom, you just started a podcast. Each medium brings new opportunities to teach.
Creators risk sabotaging their work by never hitting that publish button. Imposter syndrome and perfectionism can quickly overwhelm them and prevent them from sharing their work. I suffer from that a lot, but I always end up reframing the situation: even though my work might not be perfect yet, it can already help at least one single person in its current state. That makes it publishable.
Creators create. They make new things, share them with an eager audience, and relentlessly explore their fields of knowledge for new opportunities.
I often wondered why people chose to be librarians when they could have been writers. And then I met my very first passionate librarian, and I understood. They are self-elected custodians of knowledge. They are the keepers, the guardians of all the wonderful creations made by others. Without curators, there would be nobody to ask, “what book should I read if I’m interested in botany?” or “which masterpiece should I look at if I want to learn how to paint the most amazing landscapes?”
Curators connect the work with the people who should consume them. They add color and context to standalone works and fit them into the ongoing cultural conversation. If you enjoy sharing great resources that inspired you with others that are waiting to be inspired, become a curator.
If you pick this path, people will learn to expect great curation from you. Here are a few ways of providing that to your growing audience:
- Find the most outstanding creations in your field and bring them together in an organized fashion. This can be a list, an exhibition, a lesson, a catalog; any kind of shape will do. The added value of this is how you discerned what made it into the list and what didn’t. How you organize it will allow your followers to understand content in the context of its environment. Others provide the content. You provide perspective.
- Summaries and reviews are always appreciated. With short attention spans, having someone ingest and pre-digest content into a brief and cursory summary will make you extremely attractive to your audience. You just saved them hours of their time. They might still consume the content, of course, but now they know if it’s worth it or not.
- If you have seen a lot and been through a few things, you have a feeling for the whole market. You can curate key players, up-and-comers, and historical movements. If you love spreadsheets or nerding out over data, this will attract all kinds of people: makers, investors, advertisers, and many more.
- With experience also comes good judgment: you can offer up suggestions ( in the shape of alternatives to standard solutions, recommendations for people who are just starting out, etc.) — which will make you the go-to expert for beginner knowledge.
Curators can improve their work by staying in touch with new creators. It’s always valuable to your audience if you introduce them to new and unique voices in the field. Your curations will also benefit from being the best they can be.
Curators can sabotage their work by omission: if you only play your old favorites and ignore better and more impactful works, your curated lists become stale and untrustworthy.
Curators curate. They sort, rank, and organize the content out there for everyone else to consume.
If creators make new things and curators put them into context, commentators are tasked with recontextualizing things as much as possible. Curators want to showcase the best and most useful things out there. Commentators take a piece of content, disentangle it from its existing context, and offer a new perspective on it.
The best commentators combine insight and anecdote. They polarize without radicalizing, and they skillfully shine many lights of different colors onto a thing or topic. Commentators invite conversation, deconstruction, and reevaluation.
Recontextualizing things can be surprisingly easy:
- Add color commentary. Let’s say you read an article about pricing, and it reminded you of something that you went through in your own business journey: talk about it. Add your anecdote to the piece by framing it through that lens—comment on how your experience differed or how you came to similar conclusions.
- Sharing news and industry developments are also wonderful ways of commenting on more significant themes. This is a kind of micro-curation with a distinct focus on figuring out the underlying intention behind the original content. Often, press releases are dissected to reveal what’s actually happening for the business.
- People love reviews. Take a thing, consume it, and judge it with all your might. People might disagree, but they will appreciate a strong sentiment one way or another. One of the benefits of reviews (when it comes to books and other info products) is that there are usually thousands of exciting things to choose from, which you can effectively serialize.
- Finally, you can share prognoses. Becoming an oracle in your space is an alluring supposition: people will follow you for “hot takes” or reasonable extrapolations alike. If your insights are good, they will resonate and inspire those who look for additional context.
Commentators often run the risk of turning into bitter nay-sayers. It’s easy to criticize without providing any substantial alternative suggestion. It’s easy to quickly tear down what others have built up painstakingly. Resist the temptation to find your purpose in becoming a destroyer. That will effectively sabotage your own journey — it leads to nothing but negativity in the end.
Connectors build communities. They establish relationships with and among the people that share their interests.
Some people are born cheerleaders. They have an easy time putting aside their ego and letting others shine. These are prime candidates for the role of a connector. If you enjoy empowering people to help themselves and others, consider making this your mission.
If you want to connect people, there are a few ways:
- Start an interview podcast. This might be the most magical choice you ever make. Having an interview show allows access to the most interesting people, and by talking to them, you get the chance to share them with your audience. The experts, at the same time, benefit from more exposure. Everybody wins. Over time, you get to talk to ever more exciting humans.
- With the advent of virtual meetups, connectors can invite people to live events like Twitter spaces or fireside chats. People trust their community leaders and contributors. If you, as a connector, suggest joining an ongoing conversation, people will follow.
- Another essential task of a connector is to maintain community hygiene. When there is drama, calm people down. When there should be drama, call people out. Always act in the interest of all involved parties: the individual people and the community as large.
Connectors can sabotage their work by eroding their communities through their own self-interest. Communities have emergent goals that appear because the community decides to have them. If your intent to sell your products runs orthogonally to those goals, you’ll slowly disrupt the health of your community.
But you can heal communities, too. Inject kindness into conversations and empower people with your gift of connection. Sometimes, a kind word can recharge a fully depleted mind. A supportive virtual pat on the back can make the difference between a founder grinding it out or giving up too early.
Connectors connect. They are the glue that keeps communities together. They bridge the minds and souls of people.
There is one more role. The one we all play, most of the time.
The default role of any Twitter user is consumer: unless we actively contribute, we passively ingest what’s out there. We read, we lurk, we like, we click.
None of that is creative, curative, a comment, or connecting people. But it’s equally important. No work would be seen without a consumer, nor would commentators, connectors, and curators have anyone to interact with.
You don’t need to do much to consume. But you can definitely over-consume. In fact, most Twitter users —a whopping 44%— have never written a Tweet. That makes it very easy to turn from consumer into any of the four kinds of contributor: just engage with people. Share your perspective, create, connect, curate, or comment.
And you don’t need to pick ONLY one of these options. While I recommend that you stick to one of them most of the time, the reality of your Twitter experience will cause you to create one minute and curate another minute.
Don’t lock yourself in — but focus on who you want to be perceived as. The clearer you project your favorite role, the easier it will be for your (would-be) follower to see the value of allowing you to build a relationship with them.
Personally, I consider myself a creator first and a connector second. I assume it’s roughly a 60/20/10/10 split between creation/connection/curation/comment. You’ll have to find your own balance, and it’s also okay to change that over time.
But when you’re starting out, focusing on one role will kickstart your growth the easiest.
And after all, it’s supposed to be enjoyable AND effective.