Close-up of Albrecht Dürer engraved self-portrait

The line between sharing aspects of your life and making a business of the same information has always been a difficult one to draw. Social media has utterly erased the distinction: life and work has become one continuum, for better or worse. Your presence in social media is your business, whether you want it to be or not.

Many users regard social media as a casual activity. Most businesses see it solely as a marketing opportunity. They’re both wrong. Social media transforms the way in which we perceive individuals and businesses online: at its best, social media is a unique blend of intimacy, insight, frivolity and information.

I should emphasize that I do not regard myself as an expert in this: I have just a few hundred followers in each major social media sphere. I’m not going to talk about “conversion rates” or “analytics”. But from my perspective, it is fairly obvious that there are four different primary social media roles. Growing your presence online is aided greatly by determing out which role you play:

Etching of a Victorian painter by a waterwall
The most powerful and original of roles, but also the one that is hardest to maintain. You’re an artist, writer, musician, designer, coder… someone who is constantly creating new tools, products, and art, and talking about them. Most importantly, you’re revealing the creative process whenever possible: sharing the latest developments, betas and rough cuts, involving your audience in the creative act.
Etching of Victorian BooksellerCurator
Your attractiveness in social media circles relies on the fact that you have the ability to find cool stuff online before anyone else. Maria Popova is an excellent example. Ethching of sea captain with telescope
You have a unique outlook on life… or a unique life. Either way, people respond to your witty, trenchant observations of what’s going on around you, or in your industry.
Victorian newspaper boyBroadcaster
You’re a matchmaker, the one who finds the hottest deal going, or the secret show, the one who connects exhibitor A with artist B, the one with the inside scoop. You don’t originate stories or funny thoughts, but you’re open to more sources and report them faster than anyone else.

I’m referring to “you” in the list as an individual, but the social media roles I’ve described could be equally applied to businesses, with the understanding that companies are much more likely to fall into the roles of Creator or Broadcaster. People will rarely be exclusively one role: very often we’ll drift back and forth between different modes of communication. What’s important is to recognize what role others respond to, and which you’d like to be more successful in.

In an article to come, I’ll talk about how you can use an understanding of these personas to leverage social media to your advantage… and the weaknesses of each type.

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