What is a true fan?
It’s an interesting question, and you’ll have your own definition. But what’s enchanting about this metric is that the notion of a true fan, inasmuch as how they behave and the things that they do, is a constant, and doesn’t really differ between the true fans of artists and people, and the true fans of brands and products. A true fan is a true fan is a true fan.
So, maybe the more relevant questions are: how many true fans do you need and, more importantly, where do you find them?
A couple of years back Kevin Kelly wrote an excellent piece that argued that a person only needed to acquire 1000 true fans to make a living. Kelly expanded on the concept of the true fan, outlining exactly what makes them tick.
They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.
And on that total, he says:
One thousand is a feasible number. You could count to 1,000. If you added one fan a day, it would take only three years. True Fanship is doable. Pleasing a True Fan is pleasurable, and invigorating. It rewards the artist to remain true, to focus on the unique aspects of their work, the qualities that True Fans appreciate.
I’d argue (and often do) that you don’t actually need as many as one thousand. I think for start-up brands (and artists and entrepreneurs) aiming for 50 true fans is a worthwhile exercise. As those fifty, if they’re nurtured and respected accordingly, will tell their friends. Who will tell their friends. Who will tell their friends. All of a sudden, you’ll have your 1000 true fans – and shortly after that, a heck of a lot more.
This infographic from Kissmetrics takes a look at the other end of the scale, where top brands and celebrity megastars have millions of true fans, and can (almost effortlessly) port this base from one platform to another. But there’s still value in observing the growth pattern of these luminaries, and Kissmetrics provides some additional hints on how all of us can use social media to expand our audience.
After all, when it comes to a fan base, there’s one very important thing that we need to remember: everybody started with a zero.