Since self-marketing for web series’ moved away from a push toward a pull mechanism – and social experiences have trumped traditional forms of marketing – the value and leverage of the early adopter or more precisely the SUPER-FAN is becoming more important than ever.
First, what is a super-fan and how do you know you have one? A super-fan put simply, is not just someone who follows your series, but is radically curious and involved with your content over a long period of time. They come in early and engage often. They share, post, even create fan-fiction.
There are 3 kinds of fans:
Skimmers: Engage with your series one or twice a month
Dippers: Engage once or twice a week
Divers: Engage every day (these are super-fans)
An obvious example that lives as legend in the web series world is “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” – The loyalty of Lizzie Bennet’s super-fans extended far beyond “liking” it on Twitter or throwing the odd comment on a forum every couple of months. Those early-adopters had the need to overturn and investigate every single rock Bernie Su and his team put out there. They shared every single post and even expressed anger when a character didn’t do what they wanted them to.
However, the most telling sign of super-fandom is a fan that actually creates content based on your series – fan-fiction. Whether it is in the form of short stories, blogs, sketches, or videos – They literally reinterpret your content using their own worldview.
When I typed in “The psychology of fan-fiction” into Google, this came up from Yahoo Answers and it’s a damn good reason why people can get so involved in the lives of your fictional characters:
Best Answer: It sounds to me like a bit of living vicariously. As in, you can’t “be” Buffy or Spider-Man, but it would be cool if you were because you really relate to and identify with the characters. And writing fan-fiction about them allows you control over them in an intimate way that lets “you” try to be like them, by seeing if you can literally put words in their mouths, thoughts in their heads and deeds on an unofficial track record…and still keep it “them” and not you.
In the end, if someone is willing to put their face and opinions on the internet in such a direct and open way, they are surely someone who believes in your series. They are literally the high-priests of your story-world and should be treated accordingly.
The following five steps have proven highly successful in gathering and cultivating the super-fan for my own work as well as for the wider industry.
Create a seismic event/Inciting Incident
A seismic event or sometimes called an “Inciting Incident” is a series launch hack (usually a short video)) that turns heads and creates conversation. This is the audience building equivalent of tipping over the apple cart and making a ton of noise. It is often a piece of video or online content that forces consumers to ask more questions than it answers. For example, in my web series GoBZRK, we created a fictional and somewhat comic piece of video that appeared to be produced by a “real”, new age “mega church.” The result was instantaneous. While viewers didn’t know who or where this video came from, they immediately began passing it around and asking other people whether or not it was a real organization. As a result, communities formed as people began to investigate. That’s when we pointed them to our site. Many of these early-adopters became super-fans and shared everything we made.
The result was 125,000 users and 500,000 views over 60 days which drew the attention of Sam Raimi and Sony Pictures who bought the movie rights.
Move the early adopters to an exclusive area
Once a small vocal group begins to form around your initial seismic event, move them to a place that celebrates their early involvement. No one wants to go to a club that anyone can get into. Create the equivalent of a velvet rope.
This could be an exclusive forum limited to the first 1000 fans and only open to others when they “earn” their way in. It could be an early release area where super-fans get first look at new content or the ability to win swag for taking audience building actions around your content. The options are endless, but the rule is exclusivity and rewards for sharing and re-posting.
Reward those who make it into your "club"
The incentive is up to you, but a good rule of thumb is to make it exclusive. For example, we offered our super-fans sneak-peeks at yet-to-be-released content, personalized comic book covers, and extra virtual, in-world currency they could use to “purchase” cheap but fun items from our site in exchange for their help in community building. The options are endless, but the rule is exclusivity and rewards for sharing and re-posting.
Make the experience "more than free"
More than free is what the average super-fan is after. Their philosophy is simple: “I will give you my most valuable assets, my time and my friends, but you have to give me something too.” At this point we have asked them for something, and they have asked us for something. As creators seeking to maximize our audience retention, we have just created a two-way conversation between our series and our super-fan, and this proves invaluable as fans feel part of and participants in the narrative rather than just innocuous bystanders.
In addition, never ever ask super-fans to buy anything. In fact, reward them with lots of free stuff for their involvement. It doesn’t have to be expensive or cost much to produce. What the super-fan is really looking for is proof that his or her involvement with your content means something – so be sure to honor that relationship.
Make content your swag
Super-fans are crazy for narrative. The ability for fans to truly participate in the extended story is the coup-de-grace of engagement. For web series creators, creating genuine and authentic content endears super-fans to your series when they feel that they have influence and that their voice matters. In other words, let super-fans play with your content first. Let them tell you how they feel about it. If you’re lucky enough to have them like it, they will tell everybody about it
One thing you will notice is that super-fans travel in small but engaged groups, and they are very influential in the success of your project. At my company, we consider them small “digital nations” and have a great deal of respect for their “digital autonomy” because the minute we don’t, we lose them. Once they are gone, scrambling to find an audience becomes nearly impossible.
In the end, not only will super-fans become consumers of your series, but they also will covert many others to become the same – and all because your content gave them a voice and rewarded their engagement. . In fact, the average number of ‘regular’ fans brought to us by super-fans was 132/1. That means each super-fan could be relied upon to bring in 132 “regular” fans through their engagement.
In conclusion, super-fans give your series a human and authentic voice, resulting in a much more human and authentic experience.