Witness the allure of "how to" posts, books, videos, and so on. Right?
You probably heard about the theory of the 1,000 true fans put forth by Kevin Kelly. In the post, Kelly writes:
A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author - in other words, anyone producing works of art - needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.
Today many more of you are free agents, consultants, small businesses than ever before. Realistically, unless you have the distribution power (read budget, marketing staff, and partnerships) of a large company, a big hit is improbable. True, your work could live in the Long Tail. You'd probably not make much money to sustain yourself on a day to day basis there.
Kelly put forth that to raise your flat line off the Long Tail, you need to connect with your true fans. Why? Because they are the ones who:
- Love your stuff and share it
- Buy your product and services
- Help you build community around them
- Evangelize both the community experience and your products and services
The key, Kelly reminds us, is that you need to keep direct contact with your fans for them to remain such. Social media can be one of the ways. Digital is not enough. You need to create a context and ways in which your fans engage with each other -- and with you -- on a consistent basis, online and off line.
When building communities, businesses often focus on quantity, volume, scale -- because there is a craving, and an economic reason to want to arrive to the profit part of the fandom as quickly as possible. It's understandable. Say you already have loyal customers, they could jump start the process with you.
Answering the why question is very important. It's the path that leads you to building a strategy on top of goals you can back into or plan forward. Then you set out to engage with the process yourself, integrating many forms of marketing communications based on:
- a valuable and valued offering
- engaging contextual experience
- good, helpful content and resources
Initially, you may need to develop more of the content, resources, and offerings, and then, if you're engaging and participate, gradually shift to curating the content developed in the community by the community.
For example, think about your employee base as a control. You will know they're starting to engage when they begin to use your signs and symbols -- visuals and messaging -- in their own words and new ways. This is what you want. Personally, I've always felt that you give people the tools and the simplest story as to why, and a few examples of how and you'll be amazed and what happens next. Then again, I've never been a brand Mussolini.
Together with marketing communications, think about customer dialogue, including:
- a facilitator or host, especially at the beginning
- elevating someone from your team as the community manager
- good, helpful attitude and learning approach
Most importantly, be flexible and reach agreement (yourself and your company) on what to stay firm on, and what you're willing to let evolve. Read also the part in Kelly's post that addresses the group size (your business) and corresponding fan size growth. I'll cut to the ending -- it's linear and gentle. Herein you probably see that:
It's all about how from there on
Grassroots followings today make or break the long term viability of a brand.
If you start strong with why, once you attract the 1,000 true fans (no mean feat) and begin to add people to the team, you split your time between staying engaged with those fans, and adding fans in proportion to how you add to the team. In other words, the integration happens proportionally to your natural attention bandwidth.
When we made the case for customer communities, we talked about our attention spans being able to handle up to 150 connections, the Dunbar's number -- the relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person.
In a network though, weak ties, which is how we obtain information from new sources, people outside our immediate circle, do play an increasingly important role. For a practical example, think of the friends of friends, yes, a little bit like the mechanism you find engaged in the conversation at the little known social network FriendFeed.
Wait, doesn't Kelly talk about artists? Isn't the number of true fans calculated for creators?
As you know, marketing is as much art as it is science. In fact, as we are pulled into and attracted by the art part -- being human, having two-way conversations and appreciation of skills, emotional draw, etc. -- we resist that pull by marching with sheer determination into the science part.
All the online and off line chatting must be measured, have an ROI, be trackable. I must be able to read my customers digital body language, and so on. Science is very important, with a caveat, that it is the very science we worship that motivates people to be independent, autonomous, work on their own mastery and craft. This drive becomes social by inspiration, and yes, emulation.
It turns out, our social drive is science -- and art.
I'm simplifying the numbers, of course, to give you a tangible example of how a brand strategy for community engagement would develop.
© 2006-2010 Valeria Maltoni. All rights reserved.