The dangers of building an audience

Building Blocks: Actionable insights to build an Intentional Life

Hey everybody,

Here’s another batch of actionable insights to start your week off right, so you can be more intentional with how you live, work, and create.

Let’s get started.

Insight 1: Not all audiences are created equal

Audience building courses are rampant all over social media.

Most are rehashed versions of each other—little more than a cash-grab to take advantage of people desperately looking for ways to “hack the algorithm.”

I’ve taken a few (and recommend even fewer) specific to Twitter, because that’s where I’m most active (feel free to say hi).

The biggest issue isn’t when the course doesn’t help you build an audience—it’s when it helps you build the wrong audience.

Most of these courses teach you to make strong declarations to “establish authority” that are thinly veiled engagement bait and arrogantly prescriptive Twitter-Bro bullshit like:

“By age 30, your friends should talk about stocks, real estate, and the latest Rolex they just bought. Not Netflix.”

Or some weirdly misogynistic shit like “Men, your job is to find a woman who wants you to be a man, then marry her. Take care of her and she’ll take care of your house and raise happy children.”

It works to grow an audience—too well.

It’s easy to get caught up in growth metrics, to double down on what’s getting likes and retweets.

But are you building an audience of people you want following you?

When I first started Twitter, I tried some of these tactics and got traction. Then I took a hard look at some of the people following me. They embodied toxic religious conservativism, anti-science, and arrogant ignorance.

Not my people.

So I abandoned all the “growth hacks” and focused on being myself, adding value wherever I could, and using social media to make connections instead of transactions.

I’ve gotten way more out of Twitter with this strategy, and lost all the toxic followers from the past. Win-win.

Your audience is a reflection of your content.

If you want a different audience, make different content.

Insight 2: Your audience can transform you, for better or worse

How do you resist the pull to become what your audience wants you to be?

In this article, Gurwinder shares a few stories of when people were unable to resist this pull.

One story he shares is the transformation of Nicholas Perry, a mild-mannered health-conscious vegan violinist, into Nikocado Avocado, a “loud, abrasive, and spectacularly grotesque” YouTuber:

Image by Gurwinder

Gurwinder warns:

“The rampant appetite for attention caused the person to be subsumed by the persona.”

Why do so many fall prey to the allure of audience capture?

“Audience capture is an irresistible force in the world of influencing, because it’s not just a conscious process but also an unconscious one. While it may ostensibly appear to be a simple case of influencers making a business decision to create more of the content they believe audiences want, and then being incentivized by engagement numbers to remain in this niche forever, it’s actually deeper than that. It involves the gradual and unwitting replacement of a person’s identity with one custom-made for the audience.”

Surrounding ourselves with others who think like us creates an echo chamber.

But over-indexing on audience capture is less like creating an echo chamber and more like cloning ourselves. Each new version carries a slight degradation from the original.

Eventually, who we’ve become looks nothing like who we originally were. And the more times we go through this process, the closer we get to an unsustainable monstrosity.

“When influencers are analyzing audience feedback, they often find that their more outlandish behavior receives the most attention and approval, which leads them to recalibrate their personalities according to far more extreme social cues than those they’d receive in real life. In doing this they exaggerate the more idiosyncratic facets of their personalities, becoming crude caricatures of themselves.”

So how can you avoid this fate?

Gurwinder recommends two strategies:

  1. Have a strong sense of who you want to be.
  2. Cultivate an audience that will hold you accountable to become that person.

Check out the article for more.

Insight 3: Don’t become a caricature of yourself

Dr. Jordan Peterson. Love him or hate him, you know his name.

He’s built a legacy around using the intersection of psychology, religion, and symbolism to help a generation (many of which are young men) understand themselves, the world, and their place in it better.

For many, he’s a symbol of inspiration. But for an increasing number, he’s becoming a symbol of how power corrupts.

In a recent article, David Fuller delves into Peterson’s rise and fall in the eyes of his fans—from nuanced commentaries on psychology and symbolism to prescriptive declarations rooted in toxic conservative political ideology.

It’s a cautionary tale of the dangers of navigating influence, polarization, and exploring our identity and beliefs in the spotlight.

“For Peterson this has meant leaning more and more into the reward circuit of the right side of the culture war, and increasingly losing any desire for nuance or even mutual understanding of the other side. As I said earlier in the piece, the most difficult thing for those of us who were fascinated by his work that, to follow him on Twitter over the last years, has been to see Peterson become this angry caricature of himself.”

Many of us want to build a legacy. We chase fame and fortune—and we start out with good intentions.

But fame and fortune—the kind where a few fans turns into an audience turns into an army turns into its own subculture—has a tendency to corrupt us and taint the legacy we worked so hard to create.

“We are all prone to having our needs met by what psychologists call ‘narcissistic supply’, and the unquestioning devotion of fans is an addictive substance, but one that is unsatisfying and ultimately leaves us craving more, and fails to puncture a sense of loneliness.”

As we build an audience, we’re told to “double down” on what people want. But this approach tempts us into slowly devolving into a caricature of ourselves based on what “the masses” want to see.

Those who survive celebrity, and enjoy the journey, are ones who share authentically and explore their creativity freely, without obsessing over how many “likes” they get.

Fuller’s article is a thoughtful and thought-provoking examination of the dangers of getting what we want.

Question for the Week

Are you becoming who you want to be, or the character others want you to be?

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Until next time—memento mori,

Corey Wilks, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Executive Coach


Cohort 2 starts soonIntentional Life Design