It's easy to become overwhelmed with the seemingly instant rise of the social revolution. Knowing what your role should be and which tools you should be using can seem daunting. Where do you start? What is appropriate for yourself, and what is right for your business?

The fact is, the underlying technologies that make up many of the popular social networking platforms (where the goal is to meet people, identify leads) and social collaboration platforms (designed more for interacting with teams and customers) have been around for some time now, but business culture is finally catching up to the consumer-focused leaders, bringing social to the forefront of business.   

I came across an article in the September/October issue of Business Uncovered magazine called "5 Top Tricks for Making Social Media Work for your Business" that provided some sound advice on utilizing the social landscape by understanding your goals, defining your target markets, selecting the appropriate content to engage customers, and then measuring your success so that you can learn from your experiences and improve your ongoing strategy. 

What stood out to me, however, was the idea of understanding your role, or style, within the social landscape, and where your skills and interests will be best put to use.

While there have been efforts to develop a social computing or community-based maturity model to help companies and individuals identify and then to progress in their social awareness and capability, what I liked about the article is that it focused on a broader set of social profiles that, I believe, provide a simple snapshot of where most people fit. And when you understand your current state, you can then develop a strategy for improvement. 

Identifying Your Social Style

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Some of us may span multiple styles depending on the business goal or on our own professional or personal need. To be honest, I constantly change social styles throughout the week: most of the time I am creating, while other days I feel like being more of a spectator. And most weekends I completely unplug, going dark with the rest of the "inactives." Can you find your style? 

Creators

These are the people who are generating the original content, through articles, blog posts, videos and memes. They are constantly identifying content that interests themselves, or that they believe their network may be interested in, sharing news and content, or organizing it into interesting and relevant formats for their networks.

Most Creators are active in every aspect of the social landscape, adding content, responding to questions, providing feedback on other sites and networks, and generally nurturing their followers and keeping in touch with their friends and associates. 

Critics

While not creating content, these people are providing their feedback and commentary to the community by replying, liking and re-tweeting content. They may not be the thought-leaders, per se, but they are a critical aspect of the social fabric because they extend the audience of the Creators, generally focusing on one or two areas of focus. They are often specialists, with deep subject matter expertise who have strong opinions, and who are also very active in the communities in which they participate.

Collectors

These are the people who build vast networks, many times acting as connectors for their contacts. An obvious Collector job might be a recruiter, who wants a large network to help them identify unique skills for an open requisition. Some Collectors also gather contacts as a status symbol, making them feel like a tight knit part of the community. They may not participate in creating or discussing much of the content, but they tend to be active members of the community. 

Joiners

Within every community there are those who sign up for every list, join every group and sign up for every mailing list -- but then do not add much to the conversation. You've seen them -- they have a Twitter profile, follow 785 people, but have only tweeted 3 times. Joiners have not yet figured out how to make social part of their work habits. They are generally testing the waters.

Spectators

Sometimes referred to as "lurkers," these are the people who, like Joiners, sign up for various tools and groups, but do actually participate -- as consumers of data. They may not add content, or rarely even comment or share their feedback, but they are out there. In fact, they constitute the largest portion of the social sphere. They are the audience of the Creators and Critics. 

Inactives

And then there are those who are unwilling or unable to participate in social networking. Many of them consider social tools unproductive, outside of their job description and/or a huge waste of time. But as the role of social becomes more integrated into various enterprise applications, and in the way all of us do business, they'll find themselves slowly adopting social tools.

Social Style Considerations

Whether your goal is to change or improve the level of your social activity, its important to know your style and what level of social activity is necessary for you to achieve your goals.

For example, maybe you want to find a higher paying job, possibly moving into management. Most companies have strategies for social, both in building their brands and product awareness, as well as to identify and attract new employees. Being aware of your target employer's social standing -- and employee expectations -- may be critical to your success, and require you to move from a Spectator role to that of a Critic, or even a Creator.

All of the styles play an important role in the social continuum. All of them consume data, receive messaging and interact with others. If you're approaching this from the perspective of a business owner or marketer, you may focus your efforts on the more active participants in the social sphere, but it may make sense to develop a strategy for each style, allowing you to get the maximum benefit out of your marketing campaigns. 

For example, high-quality content and social tools for interacting around the content may help you to attract Critics and Spectators alike, but also acknowledging connections within your site, or bridges between your site and the common social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn) may also attract the Joiners and Collectors. 

There's not necessarily a right or wrong approach -- it all depends on what you're trying to accomplish. But having a plan for each style is your best bet for creating a compelling, and effective, online social strategy.

Image courtesy of marekuliasz (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more of Christian's thoughts on the Social Enterprise, try Breathing Life into SharePoint's Social Landscape