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We had a fun whiteboard discussion today with a client about the various flavors of relationships acquired through content marketing and social media. And during the course of our meeting, we identified different kinds of people who interact with blogs and social media outreach.

The conversation drew clear distinctions between fans and followers. Fans are great to have because they often swell audience size. But they mostly consume content, and don’t contribute much to the social discussion. On the other hand, followers are active participants who ask questions, contribute perspective and expertise, and interact with others via social channels, e-mail, phone, and sometimes in person. In many cases, followers were customers or prospects about to become customers.

Fans and followers can evolve into two other categories: friends and, well, freaks. Some people who follow you may end up as stalkers and go overboard with their enthusiasm for a particular post or contributor, and extrapolate upon posted topics in ways nobody expects. You know who these people are—they’re one of the reasons for moderators.

But fans and followers can also become friends, or even better, evangelists, who are engaged and contribute ideas shared through social media; in turn, they adopt and incorporate those ideas into their own outreach with enthusiasm. So what’s the difference between evangelizing friends and stalking freaks? The evangelists get it. Stalkers don’t. Evangelists we identified in our discussion represent many different roles: employees, partners, customers, contractors, and academics, to name a few. In each case, they expand the audience for content by sharing it through multiple channels.

What kinds of fans/followers/friends/freaks are you attracting via your social media outreach?