I’m watching a segment 60 Minutes recently did on Taylor Swift, including how she connects with her fans. At one point, they show Taylor performing, when she literally stops singing and her jaw drops as she stares out at the audience.

She cannot believe how loud her fans are cheering! It shows Taylor overcome with a sense of wonderment and amazement at how much her fans love her.

While this is happening, Taylor’s staff (sometimes including her mom) are scanning the audience looking for ‘special’ fans. Fans that are the most excited, that have the most colorful signs, maybe that are cheering by themselves. Taylor’s staff hand-selects two dozen or so of these fans and tells them that Taylor wants them to join her for a special T-Party immediately after the show!

After the concert, these 20 or so fans will get to hang out with Taylor and her band, they can chat with the rock star, get her autograph, maybe even play video games with her. Whatever happens, it will be a night that none of them will ever forget. Taylor has created something amazing for the people that love her.

Why Do Rock Stars Have Fans And Companies Have Customers?

I’m currently writing my first book, Think Like a Rock Star – How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans. The central question that the book answers is this: why do rock stars have fans, and companies have customers?

The quick and dirty answer is that rock stars have fans and companies have customers because that’s who both groups want. Rock stars, for the most part, want more fans, so they connect with their fans.  Companies and brands, for the most part, want more customers, so they are constantly attempting to acquire new ones.

But there’s a far more important truth at work here that we need to consider. Most rock stars have an emotional relationship with their fans, while most brands have a transactional relationship with their customers.

Let me repeat: Most rock stars have an emotional relationship with their fans, while most brands have a transactional relationship with their customers.

Most rock stars don’t just appreciate their fans, they actually love them. They feel an emotional connection to these special people, and these fans love their favorite rock star right back. Taylor doesn’t make a dime off holding T-Parties after concerts. She does it because she wants to show 20 or so of her biggest fans how much she appreciates them for being who they are; her fans. She does it because she wants to create something amazing for the people who love her.

The Biggest Mistake You Can Make

The biggest mistake you can make is to convince yourself that rock stars have fans simply because they are musicians creating entertainment products. The second biggest mistake you can make is to convince yourself that customers that Like you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter are automatically your fans.

Maybe some of them are, but the odds are that many of them do not have the emotional attachment that true fans have for their favorite rock star or team, or even brand. In fact, there have been several studies that have found that one of the reasons, if not the main one, why people Like or follow a brand on social media sites is to get a product discount or participate in a giveaway. In essence, social media has somewhat corrupted our definition of the term ‘fan’.

Four Ways to Create Fans of Your Brand

If you want to truly create fans of your brand, special customers that have an emotional connection with your brand that extends far beyond social media, here’s four things you need to master:

1. Become a part of the audience you are trying to connect with. Rock stars by default are part of the community they are trying to connect with – their fans. What your company needs to do is become a part of the space you are trying to reach.

For example, when Graco wanted to use its blog to connect with young parents with young children, guess who it picked to write its blog? Employees that were young parents with young children. That way, Graco’s content was being written in a voice that its customers could relate to; its own. A big reason why rock stars can so easily connect with their fans is because they understand who they are, and their point of view. It will pay dividends for your brand to understand your customers as well.

2. Shift control to your fans. Rock stars and companies have two completely different approaches to the people who buy their products. Most rock stars openly embrace their fans and see them as marketing partners that can help them expand their fan base.

Most companies keep their customers at arm’s length and are scared to death to give them any input into their marketing, other than maybe a crowdsourced Super Bowl ad. The bottom line is that you have to trust your customers if you want your customers to trust you. And brand advocacy cannot exist if trust isn’t present.

3. Find the Bigger Idea behind your marketing and content. I totally stole this idea from Kathy Sierra. When you look at your products and services, ask yourself ‘what’s the bigger, cooler thing that this is a part of?’

For example, do your customers buy your camera because they love your brand, or because they want to take amazing photographs? Do your customers drink your energy drink because they love the flavor, or because they want the energy to keep practicing to perform amazing stunts with their skateboard or dirt bike?

Patagonia doesn’t create content that focuses on its clothing, it creates content that focuses on the ideas and themes that are important to its customers. So Patagonia blogs about protecting the environment, being active in the outdoors, sustainability, and similar topics. By shifting your communications and content focus to that of HOW and WHY your customers are using your products, it makes your communications more relevant to your customers.

4. Embrace your fans. Earlier I talked about Taylor Swift’s concerts. Taylor goes out of her way to embrace her fans at her concerts and communicate to them how much she appreciates them. We’ve already talked about her T-Parties. In the middle of her performances she will have a short intermission then re-appear at the back of the arena and play a few songs for the audience members that just a few minutes earlier had the worst seats in the house.

Then she will walk back to the front through the crowd, stopping to shake hands and hug as many of her fans as possible. This isn’t rocket science here, folks. All Taylor is doing is communicating to her fans that she is grateful for them. By simply showing appreciation to her fans, Taylor has validated their love of her. It gives them more of a reason to be a fan, and to encourage their friends and family to be fans as well.

And one final point: Rock stars understand that by embracing their fans today, they will be creating new customers tomorrow. But those new customers won’t come from their efforts, they will come from the fans that they delighted today.

Where are your fans coming from?

Catch Mack Collier’s #BlogChat Sunday nights at 8pm Central.

Photo: WEZL on flickr

Mack Collier
Mack Collier is a social media strategist, trainer and speaker who specializes in helping companies better connect with customers via social media. He founded #Blogchat, the largest Twitter Chat on the internet. His first business book, 'Think Like A Rockstar: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans'
will be published in 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

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11 Responses to “Fans Are Not What Facebook Says They Are”

  1. 40deuce

    I love this post, Mack!
    It’s actually super relevant to me as I went on a bit of a Twitter rant last week about what a real fan is. I got a contest invite from an event I attend every year in Toronto, but from the ticketing company, not the event people. The email said I can win free tickets to this year’s event, so I clicked the link and was directed to their Facebook page. There it told me I had to “like” their page and do a whole bunch of other stuff just to enter. Needless to say, I did none of those things and didn’t enter the contest.
    Anyways, this then turned into me ranting for 30 mins about how that was such a bad tactic. You want people to “like” your brand or your page because they truly do like it, not because they were tricked or forced into doing so. People don’t get forced or tricked into liking a rockstar (except for maybe that “Call Me Maybe” song. That thing just sneaks up on you). They like rockstars because they feel a connection with them.
    You’re exactly right that brands should be trying to make their customers feel that connection with them. A “like” is meaningless unless that person really and truly feels that connection with your brand and actually LIKES you.
    As you can see, this post brought that ranting about fans and likes back out of me, but you know what that means? I felt something for this post.

    Sheldon, community manager for Marketwire & Sysomos

    • Mack Collier

      Hey Sheldon! Love it, wish I had seen that rant 😉 You want customers to like your brand because they are motivated by passion, you don’t want them to Like your brand because they want to win a prize!

      The reason why many brands struggle to develop connections with their customers and cultivate fans is because creating connections means showing a genuine interest in connecting with their customers and being more vulnerable than many companies are ready for. Again, most companies want a strictly transactional relationship with their customers. Which is incredibly short-sighted, but the field of vision for most marketers tends to be about 5 inches beyond their own feet 😉

      Thanks for the comment, I’ll have to pay more attention to your Twitter stream now 😉

  2. DAKrolak

    This is the single most succinct article I’ve ever read about social media practices: BRAVO! I read tons of stuff everyday and this is the most thought-provoking and true thing that is out there! Please keep them coming…

  3. Michele Price

    Yes so what is the balance here Sheldon and Mack. I totally agree it is much easier for rockstars to emotionally connect with their fans – music drives that. Then of course their actions can develop that connection deeper like you indicated above Mack.

    Sheldon I understand why they ask for a like to give you access to their contest – it is necessary piece of the game. Are you both saying that companies should just “Hope & WIsh” you show them that like so they can possibly ( with a big P) be seen in your stream? Other words why be on facebook and devote all that energy there if the constraints of the platform require you to have a darn “like” to be seen?

    I get it really, just wondering if we are not yelling at brand for operating in the constraints they did not create – facebook.

    Now step back and ask how can a company drive emotional connection with an app or even a movie that has not been used or seen yet?

    • Mack Collier

      Michele this actually brings up a very interesting point and I think that too many brands see getting a Like as the END GOAL versus the START of a relationship. I think too many brands simply want to get X number of Likes on their page, but maybe if they concentrated on creating a ton of value for their customers ON their page, then maybe the people that have ALREADY Liked the page would encourage others to do the same?

      I think this goes back to the mentality that many brands have of ACQUIRING new customers instead of letting new customer growth come from the efforts of EXISTING customers. This is what rock stars have always understood. They know that tomorrow’s new customers will come from them delighting their EXISTING fans TODAY.

  4. Gregg

    Great post and great points, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on a difference between bands and businesses that I didn’t see covered: the fact that band members are the product designers, the product manufacturers, and the CEOs. The CEO isn’t a guy in a suit that has no idea how the product was designed or built, the CEO is the guy behind the mic with his name on the lyrics.

    For the vast majority of businesses, these three areas – design, creation, CEO (and maybe marketing) – are disconnected. What ideas do you have for businesses to overcome that difference when trying to earn real fans?

    • Mack Collier

      Greg that’s a good point, and I think in great part it depends on having a strong CEO that makes sure everyone is on the same page, and that it’s the RIGHT page. And you’re right that the band is a smaller team, but the band also has to deal with its label, which is usually quite large.

      But if you’re dealing with a situation where different areas of your business are going in different directions with different goals, then it quickly becomes a mess and all but impossible for the business to build and sustain any real momentum.

      One way to help get other areas of your business on the same page (and this really applies to trying to get buy-in for social media) is to make sure you celebrate your victories. For example, if one area of a business is seeing positive results from engaging with customers on Twitter, make sure that those results are communicated to other areas of the business PLUS that a link to the bottom line is verified, or at least a solid impact.

      Or to put it in terms of fans, the CEO might not see the value in ‘wasting time on Twitter talking to your fans’, but if you can show her that say 40% of your brands Twitter followers identify themselves as fans, and that they spend 10% more than regular customers, then the CEO starts to see the value in connecting with existing fans. It’s so often about using the terms and metrics that the boss values and understands to help explain the significance of taking a particular action.



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