The 1000 Fan Theory

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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