Jay Acunzo has been creating content on the Internet for a long time. His journey on social media began when, as a sports journalist in 2005, he started a blog while interning and writing for a student paper.
When he moved into marketing, his sports blog called “Blog, Don’t Lie” (named after the infamous quote by NBA player Rasheed Wallace) shifted focus to writing about sports writing. He wrote about other creators who were writing about sports, connecting with and celebrating their work. And to find those people, there was no better place than social media.
Thanks to his early start on social media and his deep understanding of the relationship between marketing and creativity, Jay brings a unique perspective from which creators and marketers can learn a lot. In this article, we dive into the lessons from Jay Acunzo for the modern creator.
Your job isn’t to speak clearly – it’s to create connection
It’s easy to get sucked into the numbers and metrics and make that the focus of your work as a creator or marketer. Your audience doesn’t have that perspective, and so your content may not perform well because you think the job is to create content.
However, the job is to create connection, and the best way to do that is to ensure that your own personal creative fingerprints are all over the work. Infuse your personal perspective, your lived experiences, and your stories, and you become irreplaceable in the eyes of your audience.
In other words, share the things you lived through, observed, or remember that led to a meaningful experience or insight. That’s what effective storytellers do.
You might be wondering how practical “creating connection” is, but Jay shares a great way to reframe your perspective: “Yes, you can measure things you can buy. Or the things social networks say you should prioritize. But you can also measure the things you have to earn – and marketers don’t do the second one nearly enough.”
So you can buy downloads to a podcast, but you have to earn episode completions. You can buy traffic to your website, you have to earn repeat visitors. You can buy emails for your list, you have to earn replies to your email. These are the signals that your work matters and resonates because you created connection with your audience.
Key Takeaway: Focus on making genuine connections with your audience by infusing your personal perspective and experiences into your work.
If you’re worried about AI, you’ve got it all wrong
There are two sides to the coin when it comes to the use of AI in content creation and marketing – those who use it to produce their work instead of to unblock or facilitate it.
On one side, if they think the job is to create content, will worry about or use AI as a creator replacement. They will let it create whole pieces of content for them, essentially outsourcing their imagination.
However, the other side, if they know the job is to create a connection, will use the same tools potentially, but in different ways to unblock their imagination instead of outsourcing it. They’ll use it to enhance what they’re trying to do. They lead, and the tool serves them.
And in everyone else’s case, when they think the job is content, they seem to be serving the tool, which makes no sense. In what world does a chef ask the carrot to cook?
Key Takeaway: Rather than outsourcing your creativity to it, use AI to enhance your creativity and unblock your imagination.
Resonance > reach
Now, typically, when marketers are thinking about growth, they think they have a reach problem when really they have a resonance problem. If you can reach some people, and those people aren’t really excited and going and finding the others for you through word of mouth, then you have a resonance problem, not a reach problem.
If your work doesn’t matter, no amount of marketing will change that. And an easy example is that we can all reach some people very easily, very efficiently, if not for free. Are those few people responding in big ways? If not, the average marketer says, “We gotta go reach more people.” But the storyteller, without a marketing hat on, would say, why would we go reach more people who are total strangers? These are the people that like or even trust us, and they’re not excited? Shouldn’t we get them excited?”
Start with one thing and make it really good. If it deserves to be spread, it will spread easier. You won’t feel like you have to beg for attention because you’ve learned to resonate.
So the first hurdle to get from reach to resonance is: are you creating anything that matters to a few people? If you can’t do that, don’t invest any more time or budget into trying to get in front of more people – focus on getting those few people to care.
If you can do that, you don’t need to widen the top of the funnel because every individual who meets you adores you, buys from you, takes action with you, and is excited to share you with the people they know.
Key Takeaway: Ensure your content resonates with a few people before trying to reach a larger audience. Resonating deeply with a small audience is better than being ignored by a large one.
Personality should be present in all your content
Jay is a storyteller above anything else, and his personal perspective is hardwon. He described his work saying, “I tell stories and try to extract unexpected insights from those stories for people who want to produce quality work. My mission is to help people make what matters to their careers, to their companies, and to their communities.” But he wasn’t always this clear on his positioning. He shared that he started out imitating a lot of his heroes before he was able to define his own voice.
“The problem with many creators is that they never try to break out of the sameness and find a distinction in their category. There’s a lot of commodity content, there’s a lot of copycat thinking, and there’s a lot of sameness out there.”
A lot of people who want to stand out from that sameness think that their job is to get increasingly loud, outrank, or outhype the competition. But, as he puts it, “I actually think that the job is to resonate deeper, so you need to beg for attention less.”
If you’re working on something, even if you’re ticking a checklist, someone should notice if you stopped working on that project because something about your execution made it different and distinct.
The idea that you have things in your life that no language learning model (LLM) or AI has been trained on – they can’t access that stuff, so use it. Your perspective and personality – everything that makes you you – is your unique, unfair advantage.
Most people haven’t been using that advantage fully, even before AI burst into popularity. We think we have to be a vessel that creates what “works” for the “audience”. So we hunt down lists of the best hooks for TikTok or the most engaging Twitter Thread format.
The problem with that approach is that you start creating generic content without a perspective or point of view and without an experiential differentiator to it, so AI is your replacement. But if you know how to imbue your work with personal perspective and personality, AI becomes your intern.
Jay thinks we should look harder at the people who aren’t worried about AI because they are letting their personal perspectives, beliefs and frustrations, and vision for the world and their work lead instead of leaving it to chance that somehow they’ll show up in the work.
Key Takeaway: Your unique perspective and experiences make you irreplaceable in the eyes of your audience, so let your personality shine through your content.
Process, Posture, and Practice
When you’re thinking about creating content, and you get stumped, go back to your roots. Create the things you wish existed, and go find the others who also want that to exist. To quote Jay, “Pick your audience, pick your future.”
Most people approach content creation by thinking, “What do people want?” And then they run into a wall because they have a monolithic idea of “people” and “audience” and “content”. They’re going, “Our “audience”, wants “snackable short-form videos.” Do they? Or will they consume anything you create because there is a personality that shines through the content?
A lot of marketers (and creators) think of themselves as having mastered the craft of content. What they’ve mastered, though, is Process, defined by Jay as the workflow, techniques, and tools to guide your work. But there are two other pieces that not enough people consider: Posture and Practice.
Posture is how you see yourself and the world. It is the messy bag of humanity that you bring with you to your work, your confidence, your style, your tone, your lived experiences, and your memories.
Then there’s Practice, which sees you shipping on a consistent, coherent schedule, not for work or because someone gave you permission, but because it’s Wednesday, and on Wednesday, you ship an article or tweet or post just to get better at it. That’s where you master your craft.
Process is something someone hands you – it requires the least amount of effort. And if that’s all you’re good at, soon you won’t be needed because AI is really good at Process. But when you have a Posture and when you’ve worked at it through Practice, and when you use all three in tandem, you become irreplaceable. You develop a perspective, a tone of voice, a style, and people start coming to you, not because of your content, but because it’s you.
Key Takeaway: Master your craft by focusing on the workflow, techniques, tools, and personal elements you bring to your work, and consistently create content on a schedule (Buffer can help with this last bit) 😉
Want to niche down? Develop a premise
We tend to think about niches in terms of demographics – who your likely audience is, their job title, their sector, their experience level, and so on. Layered onto that are psychographics or thoughts and feelings of your audience. Jay describes this type of niching as a filter that you set up in the way you position yourself and show up in the world that brings the right people all the way to you and repels the wrong people.
However, Jay proposes an alternative approach to picking a niche: developing a premise. He defines the premise as “the specific, defensible purpose for your content that is pulled from your personal vision for the audience.” It’s a tipping point from people being loyal to people being super fans because you seem irreplaceable to them. There’s not yet another exploring what you’re exploring.
What makes a strong premise? Hrishikesh Hirway started a podcast about music in 2014 called Song Exploder. The category was crowded even back then, but there was a lot of sameness in it. Hrishikesh saw every musician being interviewed with generic questions. He wanted to hear these people talk about something specific: their craft. So Song Exploder asked musicians to take apart a single song and, piece by piece, tell the story of how they made it.
You can easily pitch that podcast with a defensible premise: “This is a show about music. Unlike other shows about music, only Song Exploder asks their music guests to take apart a single track and, piece by piece, tell the story of how it’s made.”
The formula is easily replicated in what Jay dubs the ‘XY Premise Pitch’:
This is a [Project type] about [Topic]. Unlike other [Project types] about [Topic] only we [Unique Proposition].
Your XY premise informs everything about your content. It motivates subscribers, shapes culture, and helps sell your ideas by sharing your worldview with the audience. And if you or your audience can’t figure out what it is, you haven’t figured out your niche yet. It’s not easy to come up with something like that, but the best media companies and storytellers know that it’s worth putting in the work to develop a resonance with your audience.
One red flag to watch out for as you develop your premise is if you start comparing yourself to others, saying, “Unlike other shows, we *actually* dive deep to get you the real tactics and practitioner language.”
Instead, you should say, “Unlike other content that explores these topics, only we [Unique Proposition].”
It’s not what you explore but how you explore it.
Key Takeaway: Differentiate your content by creating a unique and defensible purpose that sets it apart from others in your niche. Use the XY Premise Pitch to clearly communicate the unique proposition of your content.
Jay asks you to consider, “What are you doing to compel people to want to spend more time with you and connect with you on a level that is not possible on social media?”
Social media is a landlord that can change the rules or kick you out at any moment. It prioritizes the loud minority of extreme views or attention-grabbing gimmicks at scale, not giving the platform to people with nuanced and meaningful things to say.
It’s also really good at creating interchangeable personalities at scale. So even though some people stand out, they are still fighting to be seen, albeit among a smaller category than everybody else. Wherever you look, you’ll find subgenres coming out of every broader genre built and influenced by social networks. And they all seem replaceable – if one shuts off, you could find another, and it might not be exact, but it’d be pretty close.
As creators and marketers, our job is figuring out how to become our audience’s favorite – their preferred pick for a specific purpose. When you’ve piqued their interest on social media, you can bring the truly engaged members of your audience more into this worldview by directing them to your owned platforms. Now you’re left to consider what those owned platforms are.
Social media needs to become merely a way to discover you – a window into the deeper, more connective work you’re doing through newsletters, podcasts, memberships, email lists, and things that you can control with greater certainty.
Key Takeaway: Social media should be a window into your deeper work, so focus on moving your audience from social media to your owned platforms.
TL;DR? Here are the key takeaways from our interview with Jay Acunzo:
- Prioritize making genuine connections with your audience. How can you do this? By infusing your personal perspective and experiences into your work.
- Use AI to enhance your creativity and unblock your imagination not to outsource your creativity
- Test your ideas with a small audience before seeking a large one. If your content doesn’t resonate with the small but loyal subset of your audience, it won’t work just because you increase the size of your target.
- Your unique perspective and experiences make you irreplaceable in the eyes of your audience, so let your personality shine through your content.
- Differentiate your content by creating a unique and defensible purpose that sets it apart from others in your niche. Use the XY Premise Pitch to communicate the unique proposition of your content.
- Social media should be a window into your owned platforms – prioritize building something that’s yours so you don’t have to worry about social media regardless of its future.
- Focus on the workflow, techniques, tools, and personal elements you bring to your work, and create consistently.
Jay’s parting words are, “Strive to be the personal preferred pick for your audience by developing a strong premise and showcasing your unique perspective.”