The 1000 Fan Theory

Last week, my girlfriend shared a theory with me that, I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical about at first. She runs a fashion blog so Internet Marketing is something we have in common. It’s not simply a topic I inflict on her over the breakfast buffet here in Bangkok.

The theory is simple. Any artist or creative person who has 1000 true fans, has the means to make a living. When you first hear that, it sounds like quite a flimsy theory. Then you remember that your judgment is probably misguided by the poor schmuck you saw selling Facebook fan page “likes” the day before.

True fans, in the blogging world, are those who will listen to your recommendations – whether you get paid for them or not. Those who will praise you when you offer nothing that hasn’t been read a thousand times before. Those who give enough of a shit to retweet your “New post!” and add you to their blogrolls. In short, true fans are hard to come by.

But with an army of 1000 true fans, it’s quite easy to see how a blogger could make a living from his craft. As this article on the Technium points out, the numbers are stacked in your favour.

If you could convince each of those fans to spend just $100 over the course of a year, you’d have a total annual salary of $100,000. That’s discounting the influence of your outer network. True fans are likely to recommend your blog to other readers who share mutual interests, if not always in the exact niche market you’re targeting. This dominos effect completely kills the pain and boredom of link building or marketing your site. Why bother when true fans can handle that for you?

More to the point, what good are 1000 search engine hits if you can’t retain a single user and find yourself forever optimizing for the next? The best way to build an online asset is to develop relationships and acquire fans. SEO can bring you traffic, but it doesn’t add long term value to anything you do.

Okay, so lots of fans can equal earning opportunities. But how do you actually gain fans? That’s the problem for most bloggers, nevermind the theory itself. How do you get somebody to read your meandering shit and actually come back for more?

I think most blogs fail because they forget the vital ingredient that distinguishes a voice from the crowd – personality. The worst crime you can possibly commit, as a blogger, is to take the center ground. If you don’t have opinions, you become a news source. And if you compete with news sources, you’re instantly outnumbered and outgunned.

Oscar Wilde’s famous words, “The first duty in life is to assume a pose…” should be nailed on the dashboard of any self-respecting blogger who hopes for his ramble to be read. It doesn’t matter what pose you assume. You could be an offensive and controversial shit-stirrer in your niche. A deluded but always sweet source of encouragement. Christ, it’s plain to see how many people have already assumed the pose of “guru” (with varying degrees of success).

But to have no pose, no unique appeal and no committed voice…you’re sacrificing the very essence of any successful blog. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong. Most people are too dumb to care.

Do you think Pitchfork cares about counter arguments? I’m guessing when their editors sat down to create a business plan, they had the world’s most effective brainstorming session on “How can we be the BEST collective of pretentious Indie-hugging snobs on the planet?” Okay, probably not. That’s just my negative perception. But every negative has a flip-side. And to the Indie-hugging snobs out there, Pitchfork is the be all and end all of latest music news.

How about Nickelback? Nobody loves Nickelback. Never has a band stuck so doggedly to the middle ground and succeeded in sounding so unmistakeably shite. Do you want your blog to be like Nickelback?

Assume a pose, and let people judge you by it. That’s the way to gain fans. If you polarize opinions along the way, you’re probably doing a good job of avoiding the middle ground. The great freedom of blogging is that we have no obligation to report the truth. Invariably, the truth sucks. If people want the facts, they go to Wikipedia. For everything else, they’re fair game to your creative license.

So as you sit at your desk and ponder what to publish next, I would suggest you chuck those imaginary editor guidelines out of the window. You’re probably not qualified enough to merit any. And you’re not writing for a magazine. You can afford to be as wild and creative as your WordPress allows.

A pussy-footing attitude to blogging defeats the bloody purpose, does it not? So mark your ground, fly your colours and wait for fans to find you. When they do, they’ll either love or hate what you have to say. But it’s much better than being ignored. Only a complete tool writes to be ignored.

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About the author

Finch
Finch

A 29 year old high school dropout (slash academic failure) who sold his soul to make money from the Internet. This blog follows the successes, fuck-ups and ball gags of my career in affiliate marketing.

11 Comments

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  • I believe 1000 Fans theory was born here:

    http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/03/1000_true_fans.php

    And on the same blog, he later posted “The Case Against 1000 Fans”

    http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/04/the_case_agains.php

    Both are worth reading if you are considering adopting 1000 true fans
    as a metric of anything. I think the problem with “1000 True Fans,” is
    that the word “fan” has gotten watered down to a click of a button on
    facebook. It is a sterile, virtually meaningless action with no feeling
    behind it. A more accurate name for the theory should probably be
    “1000 dedicated customers” – people who will show you their “kindness”
    with their dollars (or pounds, or yen or ivory tusks, if that’s your cup).

    1000 dedicated customers, on the other hand, is not just something
    discussed in airy-fairy hypothetical land, its discussed in very concrete
    terms by David Heinmer Hanson of 37 Signals (grand daddy of the
    web app revolution, for those who don’t know). The math is really simple
    if you have 2,000 people who will pay you $40/month, you’re making
    $960,000/year (~$1MM). I’m not saying its easy to do, but when you run the
    numbers that way, its not *that* hard to make a million bucks.

    Granted, most artists/creatives aren’t going to make anything worth $40/mo
    (although I STRONGLY encourage you to try!), but if people really “love”
    you, maybe they’ll become your patrons at $5 a month. Or even $1/mo.
    Bloggers can run similar numbers based on predicted average adsense/
    affiliate commissions per subscriber per year. The only downside of this
    model vs a subscription model is that there is a ton more volatility, but
    theoretically potential higher payouts too if you’re really good at getting
    people click your ads & buy your berries.

    When you start to break it down this way, building a “distributed salary”
    isn’t so unrealistic, but its tough. One of the things mentioned in the original
    “Case Against 1000 Fans” is that cultivating a strong relationship with that
    many fans is legitimately difficult and time consuming and most devoted
    artists/creatives don’t have the time/resources to work on their craft as well
    as the fan management. This becomes SUBSTANTIALLY easier for business
    people and people blogging about business related things, because relationship
    cultivation *is* an inherent part of what you do anyway (assuming you do market
    yourself at all).

    Anyway, rant over. Just some things to consider as this theory caught my attention
    a few years back and its something I think back to from time to time.

    P.S. SEO most definitely is a long term asset. Just because it doesn’t guarantee return
    visitors, unlike facebook where demographic X is pretty much unchanging and you
    can reach “saturation,” search doesn’t really have saturation. The people searching for
    “salmon recipes” today are not the same ones a month from now, nor a year from now.
    So as long as you’re not ranking for passing fads, but for evergreen terms, it is most
    definitely a long term asset.

  • All good points. I haven’t read the Case Against article yet, so I’m gonna take a peek at that.

    The reason I don’t see SEO as a long term asset is simply because it can never be “set and forget”, and you can never guarantee your #1 ranking in somebody else’s system. The only thing we know for sure about the search engine algorithms is that they WILL change over time. Google is never more than one switch away from removing a site completely.

    Yes, I agree that people will always be searching for information. But there’s no guarantee the backlinks you created in 2009 will be good enough to keep your website ranking for them.

  • I totally understand where you’re coming from, but by your same logic, a blog/email list is the furthest thing from “set and forget.” A well known niche blogger in 2009 may become a relatively obscure one in 2011 if he decides to take a break or doesn’t keep up with the times. I think an argument can be made that a blog is even more fleeting in its value unless constantly maintained, especially depending on the niche. Can you imagine if a mobile blogger (meaning someone who writes about mobile technology, not someone who writes a blog from a phone) took a break for 6 months? They’d be as relevant as the dark ages upon return.

    Search engines also aren’t that mystically unpredictable either. Especially if you have a legitimate site and a solid strategy, you should be able to secure rankings for fairly long periods of time.

    I guess it comes down to that fact that “set it and forget it” marketing is a pipe-dream. Its probably the reason that a lot of arbitrage marketers eventually turn to paid traffic instead of organic – they know they’re going to be putting in the hours to see volume one way or another, might as well increase the value of your time and get the money today instead of a year from now.

    I think social assets (lists/subscribers) are valuable, as are search ones. Both require some amount of upkeep at semi-regular intervals.

  • No doubt. If you’re going to create a blog and then abandon it for six months, there’s a good chance your content will no longer be relevant by the time you return. But at least that fate is in your hands. Somebody who is serious about running a business isn’t going to abandon it at the drop of a hat. And if they do, they deserved to fail.

    By “set and forget”, I’m not suggesting any business can survive without attention and upkeep. What I mean is that it’s simply not possible to create an article with the intention of ranking 1st for “keyword x”, then forget about it, and expect to still be ranked the same in the future.

    Competition is going to get fiercer and fiercer and fiercer. But while we can predict the next algorithm changes, we still don’t have control of the magic button that keeps our website on the first page. So while SEO can provide long term results, I still can’t look at it as an actual long term asset. Google controls who wins and who loses. And if they can be total bitches to their paying customers on Adwords, I have no doubt they can be just as clinical with their natural search results in the future.

    The way I see it, only one person can rank #1 for any given term. While there’s a lot of traffic up for grabs in many of the positions below that, I don’t see much fun in competing with all my rivals. Especially in a game that rarely involves what I do best (posting random shit without sparing a thought for the big G)

    My affiliate marketing blog only draws something like 4% of it’s traffic from Google. I know that’s an extreme scenario, but I feel much more secure knowing that the traffic is coming, and I only need to worry about how to keep people checking back.

    Anyway, I’m straying slightly off the point here. I wrote an entire post dedicated to why I’m such an SEO-hater a few weeks back. Check it here: http://finchblogs.com/2011/03/14/why-wont-you-die-article-marketing/

  • Great read as always.I have to side with Finch here and join the ranks of the SEO haters.First I dislike the idea of putting a shit ton of hours on a pointless endeavor.Second and last the blind progress and most often than not irrelevant results to my target audience.All this just so the big G can come back a few months later and stick in the big D up your buttocks. Good useful articles and paid traffic ,eff the world.

  • Finch I read this article a few days ago, and your comments about finding your voice really struck with me. You hit the nail on the head, I ****ing hate Nickelback.

    However, I’ve noticed that trying to find your voice takes time.

    I’ve studied a few bloggers and video bloggers that I enjoy (and who are extremely successful at what they do) and they have a ton of personality and aren’t afraid to make their sometimes controversial opinions very obvious. It’s interesting to watch/read their earlier stuff when they were just starting out because you can see exactly how far they have come in discovering their voice and becoming unique and iconic in their respective niches. It’s a message that hasn’t fallen on deaf ears (for me at least) and it will be something I try to cultivate as I develop my own style.

  • Damn Finch, this is not the first time you blog what I think, but in a much more eloquent way. The thing about having a blogging voice/personality particularly resonates with me, possibly because your writing voice is rather distinct.. witty, sarcastic, easily annoyed at times and recognizably British.

  • If you’re in this for a popularity contest, then i guess 1,000 is as arbitrary as 10,000. Then again, I think the blogger with 1mil followers would win out, innit?

    The better metric is monetization. cos if you ain’t doing this to support yourself, you’re doing it for charity.

  • Very inspiring post Finch! Being able to express your opinion and branding yourself on the web is really important. Once you can get 1,000 raving fans spending at least $100 on average each year, so to speak, then you definitely onto to something as a blogger! I love your style of writing mate and keep at it!

  • it’s not true, it depends on the cultures of people. and though he’ll need more than 1000 fan, why not say that one million will be possible in this case United States but not elsewhere

  • The figure does matter but what is more important is the quality. There is a difference between true fans and followers who show up today and vanishes the next day. 1000 true fans can transform our business to great heights of success.

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