Big Bang for Your Buck: Superfans in the Community

Lisa Park   August 10, 2011
Attention Bat Superfans! Please get in line to save the world. (image via Mark Strozier)

The Breakdown: We caught up with our west coast contributor Lisa Park on the best ways to foster the superfan in your virtual community and what that might mean for the brand and bottom line. Read on>>

I recently attended an online community meetup at TechSoup where Zynga Community Manager Nathan McGee spoke on the topic of Building Superfans: taking your community to the next level.  Nathan currently manages the Facebook game Mafia Wars.

Though none of the ground covered was earth-shattering to those of us who’ve been working in content strategy as it relates to social media, it’s still good foundational material to share with clients in industries ranging from financial services to publishing and healthcare who still don’t get the value or understand how to make social pay off for them.

Nathan starts with a story from his college days when a girl came up to him and said, “You have really nice eyes.” As she was walking away, he ran after her, wanting to know who she was. He then called his girlfriend (now his wife of 12 years) to tell her what was to him an incredibly exciting story; it had made such a strong, positive impact on him.

The message: Make people feel special, and they will feel excited about you.

Nathan says that by building superfans, they will in return:

  • demonstrate loyalty
  • provide feedback
  • build awareness
  • increase spend/involvement

He references GigaOM’s Aliza Sherman’s diagram below as a good visual for laying the path towards superfandom.

Make the Introductions

Nathan likens a successful virtual community to a bar like Cheers “where everyone knows your name.” It’s about people connecting with each other, he says. Fostering these connections—helping make the introductions—is the key to increasing their loyalty to the community and subsequently to your brand. If friendships/relationships are successfully built, then loyalty to your brand increases.

As loyalty goes up, (Zynga) consumers:

  • spend on average of 25-30% more at time of purchase and buy 53% more frequently
  • are 2x more engaged with the product
  • demonstrate a 10% conversion (of the non-payer)



Give Responsibility

Tap into the members that bubble up as the leaders, those who are the most vocal and engaged. Have them host meetups and chats, rally and engage other fans, approach other organizations for partnerships, etc. Nathan says that folks will know you like them if you ask them to do something for you. Your members will be excited to be part of a team. It’s amazing what they’ll do, says Nathan. At times, you may even see active critics ease up. Nathan says he’s reached out directly to these folks, and these naysayers have changed their tone, perhaps still retaining a critical eye, but letting go of their ranting/bashing ways.

Create an Advisory Committee

Nathan has a “Player Advisory Committee” for Mafia Wars that provides feedback to Zynga. These committee members comprise MW’s strongest advocates, the folks who are the most vocal outside of Zynga, who podcast and blog the heck out of MW.

Show Appreciation

Send free swag. Shower your superfans with attention. Give them VIP treatment, exclusive access, first dibs, sneak peeks. It’s easy and free, and will make them feel like they’re getting the treatment they deserve. It’s the simple things that go a long way, says Nathan. For example:

  • a note of appreciation (a simple shout-out in the community)
  • a birthday message
  • cheap swag like stickers or pins

Give Tools

If you’re looking to your superfans to help you get the word out on some new product or service, then give them clear instructions and the goal you’re trying to achieve. If it’s a twitter initiative, for example, provide them with a step-by-step guide, the exact number of tweets you’re going for, and the verbage or copy you’d love them to tweet, etc. The more guidance you can give them, the more effective your superfans—and your marketing/brand-building initiative—will be.

Take It Even Further

Grateful Dead fans are Deadheads. Lady Gaga fans call themselves Monsters. Give your superfans a name or label. Mafia Wars’ superfans are called “mobsters.” Nathan also says you can encourage superfans to:

  • create individual nicknames for themselves
  • identifiable symbols—e.g. clan tags have been created outside of Mafia Wars
  • develop their own lingo
  • set a common goal—e.g. for Mafia Wars, a common enemy is a typical unifier; setting a specific dollar amount to fundraise for would also be a good goal

You’ll find that superfans will take these things outside of the virtual community and into the real world. They will evangelize for you and your brand. Case in point, Nathan flashed up an image of a large Mafia Wars tattoo on the arm of a superfan.

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