Keeping your fans means keeping them satisfied. Fortunately for you, this is not a moving target, unlike most of our love lives. There are some guidelines you can follow.
- Be Thankful - Your fans want to know that you value their investment of time, attention, and money. After all, they value what you offer them. So say thank you. Find small ways to give back—one-on-one meetings, notes, coupons, merchandise freebies, a sponsored coffee break. The method is up to you, but make the effort.
- Be Accessible - There is a basic etiquette that exists between rock stars and their fans. A star never refuses a reasonable request for an autograph or photo opportunity. In return, fans don’t bug them at inopportune moments...say, when they’re eating at a restaurant, or walking into a public bathroom. In your situation, you may never have to flee from an overexcited group of Japanese schoolgirls, but you should make time to interact with the people who are invested in your work. If you see them in public places, take the time to chat. Be sure to engage: make eye contact, ask questions, and show with your body language that you are paying attention and you care. Open various channels of communication with them: letters, e-mail, blog, Facebook, Twitter. If they contact you, offer an individualized response from a real human being. Nothing will turn your fans off quicker than an auto-reply, except maybe no reply at all.
- Be a Mutual Admiration Society - Showing confidence in your fans also demonstrates confidence in your band and your brand. Compliment them on their dedication and on their engagement with the world and your field. If someone tells you of a success they have achieved with your help, publicize it and congratulate them. Use your communication channels to praise them for their own accomplishments and for their efforts to support you. (Make sure you have their permission to do this first.)
- Be Responsive - As for questions and feedback, you can do this during face-to-face meetings, via surveys, or through various communication channels. Ask your fans what they think, what they need, and what they want. Listen closely and implement good ideas. If they point you in the direction of a new development, technology, idea, or market, then follow up and educate yourself about it. Be open to learning from them. And if they are unhappy about something, take the time to comfort and validate them. Listen and investigate complaints. Offer apologies when necessary and explanations where appropriate. Lady Gaga regularly responds to her fans on her Twitter feed. If she hears criticism of a performance, or an expression of disappointment, she sends a tweet quickly to affirm her commitment to providing what they expect.
- Be Proactive - If your fans are buzzing about something, explore it. If you discover something new and exciting, share it with them. Open an information exchange. Build enthusiasm by giving them advance notice of upcoming products or activities. Ask them for their help in spreading the word.
If you see an opportunity to meet demand, fill it! When it came to the attention of KISS band members that their fans had started holding conventions, they offered to step in and sponsor an official convention of their own. Instead of threatening to shut down unlicensed activity, they offered an enhanced experience based on the things their fans had created themselves. It opened the door to a whole new marketing channel for the band.
When you engage in these activities, pledge yourselves to doing them well. If you do something for your fans, go all in; don’t stop short or make half-hearted gestures. Don’t start projects that you can’t complete, and don’t throw yourself into something without forethought. True fans will forgive you the occasional flub, but if you consistently give them the impression of ambivalence by making your contact with them lukewarm or half-hearted, they will begin to feel that their affection for you is unrequited. There’s only so much love a fan will give you if you don’t return it.
For all that, you should embrace your fans instead of fearing them. Remember, they are predisposed to love you—that’s what being a fan means. If you keep the quality of your work high, stay consistent about your vision, and invest yourself in cultivating a warm relationship with them, they will do just about anything you ask. In them, you will have a tremendous source of energy and effort that you can mobilize to promote yourself.