5 tips on how to build brand fans – and keep them

We tend associate ‘fans’ with pop culture, but fans are hugely important for businesses too (if you want to read more about this, check out Kevin Kelly’s ‘1000 fans’ concept). However building and maintaining a fanbase is very different from building an audience. Here are five things to bear in mind.

1. Study your fans

A fan can be loosely described as someone who does at least ‘one extra thing’. If they go to a concert, they buy a poster. When they purchase a product, they record the moment with an Instagram selfie. So study this behaviour and use it to your advantage. Do your fans take pictures in the exact same spot? Why not help them by indicating the best place to stand? This is what South London’s Horniman Museum did, sparking off the Selfies With The Walrus project on Pintrest.

2. Give them the space to be fans

‘A fandom is a group of people. But more importantly, it’s an excuse for them to get together and talk about what they are a fan of,’ says Matt Locke from Storythings and former Head of Multiplatform Commissioning at Channel 4. Fandom is also a performative activity, which is a fancy way of saying they like to show off what they’re a fan of. A good example of this is the trophy selfie that proves ‘I was first at the front of the queue’.

If your brand or product is lucky to have fans, then make sure you carve out digital (and real) spaces for them to meet, talk and share stories. 

London’s Southbank Centre, one of Europe’s leading arts centres, holds a popular annual festival called WOW - Women of the World. Over the years it has established a core group of super fans. They even independently set up their own intrests.me discussion group to talk about the events they were attending. So, in the lead up to the 2015 festival, when I was working as the Content Manager, we gave these fans some free tickets and provided them with space on our own website to hold their discussions.

3. Show them some love

To maintain a loyal audience make sure you reward your fans. Access is often a good way to reward. Think about how you can give them something exclusive, such as first pick or a special invite. Remind them that you’ve noticed them and value their loyalty. 

This is one way in which Apple arguably let down their fans. Customers that have invested in their products for years still get the same treatment as someone who has only recently bought an iPod – and you can see how the Apple bashing has started to bubble over in recent years. 

4. Think strategically

Don’t think about influencers, instead concentrate on networks. ‘You have to seed content to the fan accounts,’ says Laura-Maye Coope, former Social lead at BBC Radio One and founder of social media agency Social Life. ‘If you’re making content, start with the audience. Go back to how you could share it to reach them. Don’t guess. Sharing is the most important thing. Bring user-generated content into your campaign as a reward, but if it is good content it’s a win for you too.’

5. Stay in charge

One last tip from Matt Locke: ‘make sure partnerships don’t own core relationships with fans.’ Fans react the most passionately to both good and bad news. Things can go nasty quickly, especially on social media. Sometimes just giving them the space to vent and feel listened to lets off the steam. So make sure you stay in control of the networks and are able to manage this process yourself.

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