I like Schlock Mercenary. I read the comic every day. I buy pretty much every Schlock merchandise that comes along. That doesn’t make me a fan.
What makes me a fan is that whenever someone asks about comics, I mention Schlock Mercenary. When I talk to someone about idle time, or surfing the web, or entertainment, I mention Schlock Mercenary. Whenever people talk about SF, or humor or anthropomorphic piles of poop wielding plasma cannons, I mention Schlock Mercenary.
The difference between a fan and a follower is not how much money or time they spend on your stuff. The difference is that a fan will actively try to broaden your fan base. Fans engage non-followers in order to make them followers.
And that makes fans the most valuable resource you could have. These are the people who will work in your booth for the honor of wearing a Munchkin t-shirt. These are the people who will repeatedly post links to your stuff in their Facebook accounts. These are the people you want on your side.
So how do you get fans?
Easy. You consistently give them what they need.
Read that sentence again. Note the two key words: “consistently” and “need”. Pay special attention to the need part. Creating fans isn’t about giving them what they want. A Manchester United fan wants Man. U. to win every game in the premier league but that’s not what he needs. A Man. U. fan needs the community surrounding Manchester United, the friends wearing white-and-red, the chanting and the clapping and the cheering and toasting and possibly hugging strangers at the pub. Without that Man. U. could win every game in the League and it still wouldn’t have as many fans. Fandom in loneliness isn’t as rewarding as being a fan together.
So how do you figure out what your fans need? Ask them, obviously. If you can’t, try observing them, or looking at what they do in game and in meta game (that’s what analysis is all about after all). Or you could look at what fans of related stuff need.
For me, with Schlock Mercenary, it’s the routine that I need. I boot up the computer, put on my reading glasses (yeah, I’m that age), fire up FireFox and click on the Schlock bookmark. That’s what happens every time I boot up the computer. I act in a completely routine, automatic manner and I get the payoff of a new Schlock comic. It’s a very behavioristic chain of action.
Which brings us up to the second keyword: consistently. I follow several online comics: Schlock, PvP, Goblins, Gunnerkrigg Court. I’m only a fan of Schlock. Why?
Schlock updates every day. Without fail, every day for over 15 years (since June 12, 2000).
I turn on the computer every day (OK, almost every day). That means that reading Schlock is always a part of my routine. Even when I’m in a hurry, my ingrained action sequence goes power button-boot-start Firefox-Schlock. And I’m rewarded by a new strip. I’m like the rat pushing the lever in Pavlov’s experiments. No other comic that I follow lets me do that.
PvP has a somewhat erratic update schedule. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it isn’t. Goblins has dropped off several times; I’d go to read Goblins and it would be the same strip that I’d already seen twenty times before. Gunnerkrigg Court, which is regular as clockwork, updates Monday-Wednesday-Friday, meaning that I can’t build a routine around it (not that I built it around Schlock, it happened automatically over time). None of the other comics is as consistent as Schlock. None of the others hooks, and re-hooks, me as reliably as Schlock.
That’s one reason why I aim to keep to a reliable posting schedule and, perhaps, create fans.
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This post previously appeared on Wiltgren.com - Game Design, Writing and Personal Development. New updates every Monday and Friday.