One of the earliest and most challenging questions for new creators is choosing which platforms to invest time into.
There are tons of options – YouTube, newsletters, podcasting, LinkedIn, Instagram, and so on.
When I was getting started, people told me, "Focus on email! Social media is like building your business on rented land!"
I listened to that advice and went all in on email and podcasting.
As a result, I built strong relationships and a distribution system that I controlled, but I also left a lot on the table in terms of overall audience growth.
So I want to give you a more comprehensive and balanced guide to help you determine where to invest your time and effort in content creation.
The whole creator model is based on attention and trust. They are pieces of my PARTS model!
To earn attention, you must create and then distribute great content.
Creating and distributing your content requires a few key decisions:
- The medium(s) you create in
- The format(s) of content you create
- The platform(s) you distribute your content through
Ultimately, the platform decision is the most important – and what I REALLY want you to take away from this essay.
But let's break down each of these decisions in order.
Choosing Your Medium(s)
There are really only a couple of mediums to consider – so this is a good starting point.
Typically, when I ask someone if they are more drawn to writing, audio, or video, they have a pretty strong sense of which medium(s) they prefer. Of course, you could leverage ALL of these mediums, and they may even stack together – a lot of video-based creators also do heavy writing in their script and audio is a part of video.
So it's helpful to ask yourself:
- Do you enjoy writing?
- Do you want to be on camera?
- Do you like speaking and/or talking with others?
Each of these mediums has its own strengths, challenges, and quirks.
Writing is probably the most valuable meta-skill on the planet; i.e., it's a skill that enables other skills.
Writing is a forcing function for clarified thinking. In order to write well, you need to think well. Writing well allows you to really transfer information efficiently (and also gives you the ability to do audio and video without going off the cuff).
Writing is also difficult and painful – even for great writers.
I've heard it said that "painters love to paint, writers love to have written."
Audio in isolation is the least flexible medium on the list. If you lean towards speaking, your options are typically podcasting and professional speaking.
But if you're a great speaker, you're probably doing some subconscious clarification of your thinking in real-time. You just may process and speak more efficiently than you're able to write.
So if you are drawn to audio, fear not; not only do great speakers have an opportunity to learn on-camera presence, but you could even capture and transcribe your audio to give you writing to EDIT from rather than WRITE from scratch.
Video is arguably the most powerful medium right now in terms of audience growth. The platforms supporting video-first creators have gotten very good at helping you build an audience – especially in short form.
The challenge with video is that there are a lot of disparate skills involved in making great videos:
There is HUGE upside, but being willing to be on video does not mean you'll immediately create great videos.
Choosing Your Format(s)
Once you've identified the mediums you want to create within, it's time to think about your content format. Really, it's looking at your interest in the length/depth of your work.
I have a love/hate relationship with short form.
We are living in a time where short-form content dominates social media – think TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
Because of that, short-form content is arguably the fastest path to audience growth. But there are some risks with taking a short-form-only or short-form-first approach...
Short-form is an inherently ephemeral format. Once it's published, it has a very short shelf life.
So, to feed the machine, you have to keep creating new short-form content. This cycle of creating ephemeral content puts you on a treadmill that can build an audience but fails to create an enduring body of work. Without an enduring body of work, you have to keep creating NEW content to serve a future audience.
I call this the Sawdust Dilemma:
Short-form is great for near-term growth, but not great for creating long-term value. If you want to create long-term value, I recommend long-form content.
Long-form content doesn't need to be hours long or thousands of words. I use the tag "long-form" to basically mean "not short-form."
Long-form should be easily found, referenced, and shared days, weeks, months, or even years after writing it. Think YouTube videos, published essays, email newsletters, podcast episodes, books, etc.
Great long-form content keeps working FOR you long after you're working on it.
If you feel constrained by the character limits or video length of social media, then long-form is probably a good fit for you.
The great thing about creating long-form content is that it produces "sawdust" as a byproduct. That may be a chapter of your book that got cut out, a scene from your video, or an idea that didn't quite work in your blog post.
That byproduct can be published as short-form content OR you can repurpose the ideas in a piece of long-form content into short form.
When we produce long-form videos on YouTube, I clip out the intro to share as a trailer on social media:
No real additional work – simply repurposing the asset we created on YouTube to work well as a stand-alone piece of short-form content (which also promotes the original long-form content).
This essay itself will likely become a Thread.
Choosing Your Platform(s)
A lot of creators will jump from choosing their medium to choosing their platforms – that's OK. Most platforms basically make the short-form vs. long-form decision for you.
There are a ton of platforms available to creators today:
- X (RIP Twitter)
...and that's just naming a few of the biggest ones.
Think of any content platform as falling into one of two camps:
- Discovery Platforms
- Relationship Platforms
Discovery Platforms have new audience discovery built into the platform. Relationship Platforms give you more control and a reliable means of communication with your audience. Which makes it easier to nurture your audience relationships.
Let's expand on both...
"Discovery Platform" generally refers to social media platforms – but that's not comprehensive. I also include search-based platforms like Google and YouTube.
These platforms are designed to soak up as much human attention as possible – so they are incentivized to connect their users with exceptional content that the user will enjoy and spend time consuming.
Discovery Platforms are ad-supported. The longer they keep users on the platform, the more attention they can serve with ads, and the more they earn.
Their product is viewer attention. And your content helps them retain viewer attention. Because these platforms are optimizing for attention, they are constantly sifting for the user-generated content that will help serve that goal.
This is why algorithms exist – to automatically connect the best CONTENT on the platform to the CONSUMERS who will enjoy that content (and stay on the platform).
This creates a big opportunity for creators – if you create something that captures and retains consumer attention, the platform is incentivized to reward you with reach (e.g. you go viral). That reach goes BEYOND your immediate followers and out to new potential consumers too. And, in turn, some of those new consumers may choose to follow you.
Discovery Platforms are great for giving you an "audition" in front of new audiences – but new followers don't have a true RELATIONSHIP with you yet. In the beginning, they probably have a good first impression and curiosity.
When you go viral, you feel the illusion of distribution.
As we've seen time and time again with Discovery Platforms, your content is NOT consistently distributed to everyone who has chosen to follow you – the platform will still algorithmically prioritize the content that has proven to sustain attention the best.
That may not be the thing you just posted.
Distribution on Discovery Platforms is owned by the platform itself – you're just borrowing it.
Remember what I said about social media being rented land? That's true – but that doesn't mean that it doesn't offer value or opportunity.
Relationship Platforms are focused on distribution that YOU own and control. Some people will say relationship platforms allow you to "own your audience" but that's not the right way to think about it.
Your "audience" is actually a collection of individuals – and you don't own individuals. You own the right to communicate with them (for as long as they allow you to).
If someone opts into hearing from you on a Relationship Platform, you receive direct contact information for them, and your messages are reliably delivered there – there's no algorithm deciding whether they see your content or not.
There are four main Relationship Platforms:
- SMS (text messages)
- Private communities (Discord, Circle, Uscreen, etc.)
These do not need to be mutually exclusive – I utilize email, a podcast, and a private community.
These platforms typically have a higher barrier to entry than social media. On social media, it's pretty low-risk and low-effort to click a "follow" button. For a relationship platform, though, I'm sharing my personal contact information. Not only is that more effort, but it requires more trust.
This is where relationships with the members of your audience are truly built.
Pulling It All Together
Every creator should have a Relationship Platform as a core part of their strategy. This future-proofs your business against Discovery Platforms changing their algorithm, rules, or whatever else.
While Discovery Platforms are centralized, third-party platforms with their own incentives, Relationship Platforms are decentralized networks that give YOU control of your distribution.
The tradeoff is that, because there is no third-party incentivized to connect consumers to your content, it's really on YOU to get your content in front of new audiences.
This is why I believe creators need to build a strategy that includes BOTH Discovery and Relationship Platforms.
You leverage the attention Discovery Platforms make available to you and then do your best to direct that attention toward your Relationship Platforms.
Justin Welsh is a master of this. See how he directs people from social media to his newsletter?
Not only is he great at doing this, but he's constantly innovating in how he directs people from social to email. If you're trying to learn how to move people from Discovery to Relationship Platforms, follow Justin and Sahil Bloom.
My rule of thumb is to choose one Discovery Platform and one relationship platform. And, when in doubt, choose email as your relationship platform – I think email should be part of EVERY creator's strategy, so start there.
It may seem difficult to entice people to leave a Discovery Platform and join you on a Relationship Platform – but you have to figure this out.
There are two parts to earning attention:
- Capturing attention (getting in people's line of sight)
- Retaining attention (delivering value and building trust)
Most creators focus on capturing attention but fail to retain it.
This is an inefficient and costly waste of time.
If you are failing to move people from a Discovery Platform to a Relationship Platform, that's a sign that you're failing to retain their attention. You should focus on solving this problem before chasing bigger and bigger following numbers.
My Content Strategy
The heart of my strategy is my email newsletter. Email is my Relationship Platform of choice – though I also make good use of podcasting.
I'm investing time in several Discovery Platforms as well:
You can click any of those and follow me on those platforms.
All of them are intended to drive people to email and, to a lesser extent, the podcast. I really think of email as what I use to introduce people to the podcast.
You may be asking how my private community (The Lab) plays into this – even though The Lab is in fact a private community, I'm not using it as an audience-building tool, but as part of my revenue model.
If you only take one thing take away from this whole essay, make it this:
The best content strategy leverages BOTH Discovery and Relationship Platforms – but places a long-term emphasis on the Relationship Platforms.
As you get great at creating content and connecting with an audience on one platform, you can start adding on new platforms. I call this "effortless maintenance" – when it feels effortless to maintain a schedule of producing high-quality content that resonates on one platform, you can start building on another.
In the end, you want your creation efforts to compound over time AND create a distribution system YOU own. The only way to do that is to invest time in both creating long-form content and developing a Relationship Platform.
But there's no shame in leveraging Discovery Platforms to accelerate growth in your Relationship Platforms.
In fact, I recommend it.