Do you remember when the idea of belonging to a fan club conjured up images of geeky obsessed teenagers writing letters to aloof musicians and movie stars? Marcia Brady as the president of the Davy Jones fan club didn't do a lot for Marcia's image, and Davy showing up at prom based on her request, didn't do a lot for his. Can you honestly remember any of the "cool kids" being part of a fan club?
And let's face it, actively participating in a fan club always seemed like a one way deal. The fan club channeled adolescent emotion and energy but had no payoff other than the occasional opportunity to meet William Shatner at a Star Trek convention, and the added insult of paying for his autograph. The fans had no power in the relationship, and were openly mocked even by the stars they adored.
But that is all changing.
The TV show Jericho was literally rescued by devoted fans who petitioned vigorously after the series was canceled. The TV executive in charge of programming opened a dialog with the fans and made a deal with them. We will bring back the show, but you have to use your considerable passion and energy to help get the word out and make a commitment to not just watch the show but to help bring in new viewers.
Lost, with it's myriad plot twists and mysteries has dozens of communities dedicated to trying to figure out what's going to happen next. And guess what, the producers and writers read what those communities are saying. They have admitted changing plot lines based on the communities' theories, and have even killed off unpopular characters.
It will be interesting to see how television executives incorporate fan passion into their traditional means of measuring success, the Nielsen ratings. Are 5 million casual viewers worth 5 times as much as a million passionate viewers? Who will stay with a show even if you move it to a new time-slot? Who will tell their friends about it? Who will start a fan club?
And listening to your fan clubs isn't the only way to engage with them. My tweenage kids have gone to 3 or 4 concerts recently all with the same family, who seems to be able to get all the tough tickets. Hannah Montana, Fall Out Boy, Jonas Brothers. I finally asked who their ticket connection was, because I knew they weren't paying scalpers rates for these sold-out shows. And the answer was, of course, fan clubs. In each case they had joined the fan club, learned about the upcoming event and been given inside information on how to purchase tickets. Parents are heroes for getting the tickets, the kids gladly fork over $40 for a t-shirt, and load up their iPods with the band's music. Everybody wins.
Who are your fans, and are you helping them organize? Are you listening to what they say? Are you inviting them into the product development process? Do you even know who they are?