We all know what it’s like to be a fan. Have you ever bought a mag­a­zine just because your celebrity crush was on the cover? Or pre­ordered an album before hear­ing it out of loy­alty to your favorite band? Some­times it’s purely sen­ti­men­tal, like cheer­ing for the same team your dad cheered for every Sun­day. Some­times we’re moved by admi­ra­tion, like a writer mail­ing a let­ter of appre­ci­a­tion to an influ­en­tial author.

Every now and then, peo­ple sur­pass mere fan­dom and develop an obses­sive, all-consuming love so extreme that they require a new label. I’ve coined them the “super­fans.” Justin Bieber has a lot of fans, but not all of them would wait in line for three days and miss their senior prom to see him per­form. You have to have a seri­ous case of “Bieber Fever” to be that delusional—I mean, er, dedicated.

You don’t have to be a pop star to inspire super­fans. Every­day prod­ucts and com­pa­nies also have super­fans who show their alle­giance by buy­ing, tweet­ing, com­ment­ing, review­ing, and start­ing con­ver­sa­tions online sim­ply because they want to. You may not know it yet, but your brand has a loyal, enthu­si­as­tic fol­low­ing just wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered and nur­tured into scream­ing, faint­ing superfans.

The Super Value of Superfans

Super­fans are highly valu­able to your brand because they rep­re­sent a pre­dictable, reli­able cus­tomer base that will help spread your mes­sage across all chan­nels. Super­fans deliver value in mul­ti­ple forms: from engage­ment and loy­alty, to active con­tent gen­er­a­tion and social influ­ence, and of course pur­chase and repeat purchases.

Some­one who leaves a com­ment on your Face­book wall may be talk­ing about you else­where. When you see that per­son as an indi­vid­ual, and not a tally mark, you might dig deeper and find that they also men­tioned your brand on their per­sonal blog, Insta­grammed a photo of your prod­uct, and left a review on a con­sumer forum. Upon closer inspec­tion, these mul­ti­chan­nel impres­sions may be con­tribut­ing directly to sales. Because of the many forms of value they will­ingly pro­vide, our super­fans are our superheroes.

Look Beyond Buzz to Find Real Value

Most com­pa­nies lack a model for how to acti­vate their super­fans and build a mea­sur­able busi­ness case around them. Even huge, house­hold name brands stum­ble some­times to take advan­tage of all the value their fol­low­ers offer because they treat them like just that: fol­low­ers. Ear­lier this year, Coca-Cola dropped a dra­matic state­ment say­ing that “online buzz has no mea­sur­able impact on short-term sales.” Peo­ple were puz­zled; how can the most socially engaged brand, with mil­lions of fol­low­ers, see no ben­e­fit from social?

Coca-Cola’s ini­tial find­ing reveals the pit­falls many com­pa­nies run into when try­ing to tie social activ­ity to busi­ness value. “Buzz” meant they were only count­ing the num­bers of likes, tweets, and men­tions in comments.

Social media strat­egy and mea­sure­ment needs to go beyond this. Enter, the super­fan. My con­cept of the super­fan does two unique things. First, it puts the per­son behind the social activ­ity front and cen­ter. Sec­ond, it incor­po­rates social activ­ity as only one of three key com­po­nents brands must look at to assess the total life­time value of a super­fan. It also merges tra­di­tional busi­ness met­rics for life­time value, such as aver­age order value and total spend, and how influ­en­tial the per­son is in the cir­cles that matter.

What About the Bot­tom Line?

Merely count­ing the num­ber of likes, tweets, or fol­low­ers is a shal­low way to mea­sure your social media impact. If you’re not engag­ing the indi­vid­u­als behind the tweets, you’re wast­ing a whole lot of super­fan power. These num­bers are only one com­po­nent of a value-rich rela­tion­ship that leads to deeper engage­ment and loy­alty, more pre­dictable pur­chase behav­ior, and crit­i­cal new brand assets like user-generated con­tent. When cal­cu­lat­ing the value of the super­fan rela­tion­ship, you can fac­tor in con­sis­tent, future cash flow from pur­chase, con­tri­bu­tions to social assets, and greater influ­ence … mak­ing them a marketer’s best investment.

If you want to learn more about acti­vat­ing super­fans to derive value and build a mea­sur­able, pre­dictable busi­ness case around them, vote to bring my panel to SXSW 2014. Cast your vote and share the ses­sion by Sep­tem­ber 6, 2013, and gain deeper insights into the value of social.

Also, check in later this week for part 2: “Your Own League of Super­fans: Three Types to Recruit.”

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