iMedia Connection

Case studies: The value of online fandom

Larry Weintraub

Fanscape recently celebrated its 11th year in business. The fact that we've survived this long is indeed reason to celebrate; but honestly we're more excited that most, if not all, of the brands that we've been explaining social media to for all these years have finally come around to understanding that it's something they need. 

I won't lie; we didn't call ourselves a social media marketing agency 11 years ago. We were an online music marketing company. Record companies hired us to market their bands on the internet. We ran online street teams that acted as conduits between fans and the musicians they worshiped. We empowered fans to help promote their favorite bands by giving them buddy icons, wallpapers, and links to stream music. They built fan sites on Geocities and Angelfire, and gossiped with others in message boards and chat rooms. It was social media via Web 1.0, pre-MySpace and Facebook.

The connection between fans and musicians had long been overlooked. A band was someone you saw on stage or on MTV, not someone who would actually respond to your letters. Fanscape closed that gap. At first it was relatively unknown bands like Simple Plan and The Calling, which gladly engaged their fans on message boards and recorded voice "thank you" email messages. But when those bands proved that engaging your fans can help you sell CDs and rise up the MTV TRL charts, then others joined in and soon megastars like Mariah Carey and Bon Jovi were filming web-based videos thanking their street teams for all their hard work.  

Music campaigns led to movie and television campaigns, which led to brand and product campaigns. Nearly a thousand campaigns later, we've honed our craft and stayed ahead of the curve as the landscape continually evolves. But while the tools today are better, faster, and infinitely less expensive, the basic premise of social media remains the same:  Listen. Respond. Empower. Reward. 

What is social media and digital word of mouth marketing?
The number one reason people buy something or try something is because someone they trust told them to. That's word of mouth. The goal of a brand is to create a product that is so well received by its customer that they tell someone else about it, leading to increased sales. Meanwhile, the internet has evolved into a social environment where people share their thoughts openly with others who are eager to listen. Word-of-mouth companies help brands by facilitating digital conversations about their products through social networks, blogs, and online communities.  

While the edict to listen, respond, empower, and reward remains consistent, each individual campaign is different. Each is tailored to the individual client and based on achieving the client's goals. Some last for a few weeks, and some are still going strong after years. Social media is a customer-centric component of a business and ideally should be thought of as a long-term strategy that warrants the same attention given to marketing, PR, customer service, and market research. 

But before we start any campaign, we should step back and ask this one simple question: "If I were the customer, why would I care?" As marketers we're ultimately going to interrupt the customer, so if we do, we better be able to answer that question.  

The best way I can think of to explain how this is done is to provide two brief case studies of recent Fanscape campaigns that exemplify social media marketing and how it results in conversations and action.

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Case study: GameStop
Each month GameStop, the world's largest retailer of video games and entertainment software, puts a spotlight on a particular game. One recent promotion focused around the latest installment of "Guitar Hero". GameStop and its promotions agency, The Marketing Arm, created an eight-week contest where people uploaded an image of themselves to a specially created website. Each week the person receiving the most votes would win a GameStop gift card. However, the grand prize would reward one randomly chosen winner with a character modeled after him or her to be created and featured in the next iteration of "Guitar Hero."

Now stop for a minute and think about that. If you are a "Guitar Hero" fan, the idea of being immortalized in a future version of the game is the ultimate prize, right? It quickly answers the question, "Why would I care?" 

As great as a promotion as that is, if no one knows about it, it doesn't matter -- the old tree in the forest analogy. Our job at Fanscape is to not only find the people who would be most interested in this contest, but to find the biggest voices, as well; the people who speak and those who listen. Once these influencers are found, our goal is to get them to participate, drive them to this website, enter the promotion, and vote. 

Type "Guitar Hero" into YouTube's search box and you'll see nearly 300,000 results appear. There are countless videos of "Guitar Hero" gurus and phenoms who've posted videos of themselves showing off their expertise. This is where we started. We found the top players of the "Guitar Hero" franchise as well as competitive music game "Rock Band". Then we scoured Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs, and so on. We approached hundreds of these influential gamers and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.  

The standout was a guy named Freddie Wong. If you are a "Guitar Hero" enthusiast, then you know who Freddie is. Two years ago Freddie uploaded a video of himself schooling the world on how to play Rush on "Guitar Hero." That video has been watched over 6 million times.  

Nearly 15,000 people subscribe to Freddie's YouTube channel, and when Freddie posted a video asking his fans to vote for him for the GameStop contest, it was viewed 50,000 times. Freddie not only requested the support of his fans, he actually offered up a prize that he supplied himself -- one of his specially made "Guitar Hero" guitars. 

Freddie was not paid, nor did we fly him anywhere or give him lots of free gifts. We simply sent him an email, told him about the promotion, and he did all the rest. He participated because it meant something to him. And like Freddie, many others did the same. 

The results were fantastic. While Fanscape was only one small part of the overall marketing of the promotion, 25 percent of the weekly winners were influencers like Freddie, and 65 percent of all votes cast were related to our outreach. The promotion was a smashing success, and GameStop was overjoyed at the results. 

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Case Study: MTV
In the GameStop case study, you can see the power of the influencer. Harnessing that power is a key component of digital word-of-mouth marketing through the social media realm. This next example is dedicated to showcasing the power of syndicating digital video content across multiple social media channels. Something we did for one of MTV's most popular shows: "Randy Jackson Presents: America's Best Dance Crew".

Currently in its fourth season, "ABDC" (as it's known amongst its fans) continues to thrive and has become a major property for MTV. In the television world, it's known as appointment TV. It's the kind of show that you have to watch live. The kind of show television networks and their advertisers love. The kind of show that creates passionate viewers eager to know what's going to happen and to relive what they just saw.

Fanscape has been developing and executing the social media marketing for "ABDC" since its debut. Our work includes uploading video clips to user generated content sites, providing influential blogs and websites with exclusive video content, partnering with the dance crews themselves to promote the show and nurturing powerful relationships with fan websites and social network pages. 

The show took off early. We could see it in the views. We would upload the clips and within days the views would skyrocket. Now mind you, a typical clip for a television show might get 5,000 views, 10,000 on a good day. Some of the "ABDC" clips were getting views into the millions. 

How does this happen? You don't just upload a video and expect people to watch. No, it happens when videos become syndicated and multiple parties embed them into their blogs, fan sites, social networks, and official show properties. That's what happened with ABDC.  

Blogs
When the show started, there wasn't an audience, so we began our marketing by executing online publicity tactics seeking content and editorial placement on blogs and websites that were geared towards reality shows, dance, hip hop music, and pop culture. Sites like TVgasm and MyYearbook embraced the show early and wrote blurbs and embedded video clips.     

Fan sites
Fan Sites are online communities that are run by fans. In the case of "ABDC," we found fan sites dedicated to the show's judges, to the musicians whose music was highlighted on a weekly basis, and to the show itself. Champions included a fan site for judge JC Chasez and one of the show's biggest supporters -- a blog created by uber-fans of the show, BloggingDanceCrew.  

Social networks
The biggest and most powerful drivers of views were the social networks. Specifically the ones run by the dance crews themselves. When you combine the MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter profiles of each dance crew and their individual members, the reach is in the millions. And each week they happily pushed clips and their own personal commentary to their friends, family and fans. 

Official show properties
Rounding out the quartet, we pushed out video content through MTV on the show's official website and on its MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter profiles.  

Add all of that up and you have your views. You have your awareness. You have a hit show. But don't go thinking that you can do this every time, because you can't. As stressed before, each campaign is different. Each has its own path. In the case of "ABDC," it was video driven. The content was compelling; it fed the fans and gave them fodder for conversation. They wanted more and to get more they watched the show on MTV and then watched the clips again online.  

Conclusion
The takeaway is this: if you have a product, odds are someone already loves that product and is talking about it. Listen to them. Understand what they are saying. Respond to them. Invite them to participate in what you are doing. Empower them. Give them the tools to talk about you and your product even more. Reward them. Give them something that answers the question, "Why would I care?"

Larry Weintraub is CEO and co-founder of Fanscape. 

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. 

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