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This text is a free translation of the text “1,000 True Fans”, by Kevin Kelly. Click here to read the original version in English.

This is an edited and updated version of an article I wrote in 2008 when this now popular idea was still embryonic and just a draft. I recently rewrote it to condense the central ideas and remove the dated details.

This revisited article appears in Tim Ferris' new book, Tools of Titans. I believe the concept of 1000 real fans will be useful to anyone doing something, or making things happen.

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What are 1000 real fans?

To be a successful creator, you don't need millions. You don't need millions of reais or millions of users for your app, millions of customers or millions of fans.

To make a living as a craftsman, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app creator, entrepreneur or inventor you only need 1000 real fans.

A real fan is definitely a fan who will buy anything you produce.

These hardcore fans will drive 500 kilometers to see you sing; they will buy the hardcover, standard and audiobook versions of your work; they will shop for their next as-yet-unseen costume; they will pay for the “Best of” DVD of your free YouTube videos; they will come to your restaurant once a month.

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If you have approximately a thousand real fans like this (aka superfans), you can live your life – if you're content with living your life without a fortune.

See how the math works. You need to check two items. First you need to create enough per year so that you can earn, on average, R$100.00 for each true fan.

This is easier to do in some arts and businesses than others, but it's a good creative challenge in every area because it's always better and easier to give more to your existing clients than to find new fans and customers.

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Secondly, you need to maintain a direct relationship with your fans. That is, they need to pay you directly.

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You need to keep their full support, as opposed to the small percentage fees you can get from labels and record companies, publishers, studios or other intermediaries.

If you keep each real fan's $100 a year, you only need 1000 of them to make $100,000 a year. That's a good value for most people to live on.

A thousand customers are much easier to plan and acquire than a million customers. Millions of paying fans is not a realistic goal to have, especially when you are starting out. But a thousand fans are viable. You can even remember a thousand names.

If you add one new real fan a day, it will only take you two or three years to get a thousand.

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The number 1000 is not absolute. Its significance is in the order of magnitude – three orders less than a million.

The actual number has to be adjusted for each person.

If you can only make R$50.00 per year with real fans, you may need 2000. (Similarly, if you sell R$200.00 per person/year, you only need 500 real fans). Or you may only need R$75,000 a year to live, so you adjust it down. Or, if you are in a duet, you have a partner, then you need to multiply by 2 and you have 2000 real fans.

For a team, you need to multiply beyond. But the good news is that the increase in size of your real fan base is linear geometry in proportion to the size of the team; if you increase your team by 33% you only need to increase your fan base by 33%.

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Another way to calculate real fan support is to aim for a daily wage per fan per year. Can you excite or please them enough to earn a day's pay from them? It's a difficult goal, but not impossible for 1000 people around the world.

And, of course, not every fan will be super. While the support of a thousand real fans might be enough to live on, for every real fan, you might have two or three regular fans. Think of concentric circles with real fans in the center and a wider group of regular fans around them.

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These regular fans might buy your stuff occasionally, or they might just buy it once. But the number of purchases increases your total income. Maybe they will add 50% of the value.

Still, you want to focus on the super does because their enthusiasm can increase the number of regular fans. Real fans are not only a direct source of income, but also the main marketing force for creating ordinary and regular fans.

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Fans, customers, patrons, they've been here forever. What's new here? A few things, actually.

The internet as support for 1000 real fans

While direct relationships with customers were the standard model in the old days, the benefits of modern commerce have meant that most breeders in the last century have not had direct contact with their consumers.

Often, not even publishers, studios, labels and manufacturers had crucial information about their customers, such as their names.

For example: despite being in business for hundreds of years, no New York publisher knew the names of their most avid and dedicated readers.

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For previous creators, these intermediaries (and there are often more than one) meant you needed a lot more audience to be successful.

With the growth of the now ubiquitous peer-to-peer communication and payment systems – known as the internet today – everyone has access to excellent tools that allow them to sell directly to anyone around the world.

So a creator in Bend, Oregon, can sell and deliver a song to someone in Kathmandu, Nepal, just as easy as a record label in New York (and sometimes even easier).

This new technology allows creators to maintain relationships in such a way that the creator can keep the total payment, which reduces the number of fans needed to maintain.

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This new ability to maintain full price is revolutionary, but a second technological innovation amplifies this power even further. A fundamental virtue of peer-to-peer communication (like the internet) is that the most obscure part of the system is one click away from becoming popular.

In other words, the most obscure and least-selling book, CD, painting or idea is one click away from becoming a bestseller, platinum album or million-dollar idea.

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At the beginning of the growth of the internet, large content and product aggregators like eBay, Amazon, Netflix, etc., noticed that the total sales of all their least sold products equaled or even surpassed some of their few best sellers.

Chris Anderson (my successor at Wired) called this effect “The Long Tail,” to visualize the curved sales distribution graph: a small, never-ending line of items that sell only a few copies per year that form the long tail for the abrupt vertical growth of a few bestsellers. But the tail area is larger than the head.

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With this insight, aggregators came up with the great idea of ​​incentivizing and encouraging audiences to click on obscure items. They invented recommendation engines and other algorithms to bring attention to rare creations along the long tail.

Even search companies like Google, Bing, Baidu found it interesting to reward searches with obscure results because they could sell ads in the long tail too. The result was that the most obscure became less obscure.

If you live in any of the two million small towns on Earth, you might be the only one in your town who has a death metal band, or likes Japanese cartoons, or wants a left-handed fishing rod.

Before the internet, you could never satisfy your desires. You would be alone in your fascination. But now satisfaction is just a click away. Whatever your interests as a creator, your thousand real fans are just a click away.

All I can say is that there is nothing – no product, no idea, no desire – without a fan base on the internet. Everything that is done, or thought, can be interesting to at least one person in a million – this is still a low average.

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Still, if just one person in a million on this planet is interested, that's potentially 7000 people on Earth. This means that any 1-in-a-million chance can find 1000 real fans. The trick is to find these fans or even get them to find you.

Now, here's the catch: the big corporations, the middlemen, the commercial producers, they are all ill-equipped and poorly trained to deal with these thousand real fans. They are institutionally incapable of finding and delivering to this niche audience and consumer audience.

This means the long tail is a good space for you, the creator. You'll have your average 1-in-a-million fans all to yourself. And the tools for connecting with them have only gotten better, including recent innovations in social media.

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It's easier than ever to get 1000 real fans around a creator, and it's even easier to keep them around.

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Using crowdfunding to work with real fans

One of the many innovations serving the real fan creator is crowdfunding. Getting your fans to fund your next product for them is genius. It's a total win-win.

There must be around 2000 different crowdfunding platforms around the world, many specific to different areas: raising funds for scientific experiments, bands, documentaries.

Each has its own requirements and a different financing model, in addition to specialized interests. Some call for an “all or nothing” model for goals, while others allow partial funding, some raise money for already completed projects like Patreon, with the money going toward ongoing projects.

Patreon supporters can fund a monthly magazine, or a video series, or an artist's salary. The biggest and most famous crowdfunder is Kickstarter, which has raised more than $2.5 billion dollars for more than 1000,000 projects.

The average number of backers for a successful Kickstarter project is 241 backers – well under a thousand.

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This means that if you have 1000 real fans, you can run a crowdfunding campaign, because, by definition, a real fan will become a funder of your project. (Although the success of your campaign depends on what you ask your fans to do.)

The truth is that cultivating a thousand real fans is time-consuming, can get on your nerves, and isn't for everyone. Done well (and why would it be any different?) it can become a permanent job. At best it will be an exhausting and challenging part-time job that will require some skills.

There are a lot of creators who don't want to deal with their fans, and honestly, they shouldn't. They should just paint, or sew, or make music, and hire someone to deal with their super fans.

If this is your case and you add someone to deal with your real fans, a helper will change your formula and increase the number of fans you need, but this can be a good compromise.

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Going as far as that, why not outsource this fan contact to the midfield players – the record companies, studios, publishers and dealers? If they work for you, that's great, but remember that in most cases they will be even worse at it than you would be.

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Conclusion on 1000 Real Fans

The math of 1000 real fans is not a binary choice. You don't need to go all the way from one to exclude the other, we don't live in a Manichaean world. Many creators, including myself, use direct relationships with their real fans in addition to traditional market intermediaries.

I've been published by several major New York publishers. I've already self-published. And I've been using Kickstarter to post for my real fans. I choose each format according to the content and my objective. But in each case, cultivating my real fans enriches my chosen path.

The conclusion? 1000 real fans is an alternative path beyond fame and absolute, global success.

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Instead of aiming for the arduous and unlikely path of platinum hits, blockbusters and celebrity status, you can aim squarely at connecting with a thousand real fans.

In your own way, no matter how many fans you actually gain, you will be surrounded by people who actually enjoy what you do. It is a much healthier destination, a much healthier path. And you have a much better chance of getting there.

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