The Untapped Power of the Superfan

Marketers who invest in reaching the ever-elusive influencer audience do so with varying degrees of success. Perhaps a fundamental misunderstanding of these powerful consumers is the very reason they remain elusive. There are success stories, though, and these tales of engagement often have a common thread: superfans.

“We think of fans as a very loyal audience that is engaged with your content. I think what we’re seeing now with the birth of social media…is this beyond-a-fan, even beyond fanatic,” Syfy Network president David Howe explained during a recent Advertising Week panel titled The Superfan Effect.  “[Superfans are] a group of people who are pre-early adopters, tech savvy, obsessed with popular culture, and are weaponized through social media.  They have this ability to take their passion and energy and not just bring it to life for themselves, but they can evangelize in cyberspace.”

Howe further classified superfans as people who are particularly imaginative, highly creative, naturally optimistic, inquisitive, and are opinion leaders.  “They really want to be at the forefront of what’s new and what’s next and it behooves all of us to get involved with them because they are so powerful and so ahead of the curve in terms of popular culture and buying products,” he said.

The influence of this demographic is particularly felt in the entertainment industry. Howe pointed to successful TV shows such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead as examples of highly successful media that is predicated on a fervent fan base. It’s that fervor that catalyzed the virality of Syfy’s Sharknado films.

“I thought Sharknado would disappear into DVD-dom, but [upon release] my phone literally bleeped itself to death. At first I thought my worst fears were confirmed, but as I read the reports I realized [Sharknado] was a huge success and it was a success because of the superfan,” Sharknado actor Ian Ziering said during the panel. “When [superfans] find something they like they just tell everybody because we now live in a global environment. What I find exciting might not be exciting to the people around me, but when I spread it on Twitter it goes global instantly and I can find a wave of humanity to follow it.”

Though superfans are highly engaged in entertainment products and services, Howe stressed that these are real people who lead real lives. “They buy cars and have houses and kids,” he said. “They aren’t this traditional image of a guy in a basement. They are worth getting to know.”

Of course, marketers should court superfans with caution. This audience is equal parts engaged and vocal. “If you get them on the right side they’re fantastic; if you get them on the wrong side they’re really quite damaging,” Howe said. “However, when you harness their positive energy they multiply and become this incredible, influential force that takes people with them and galvanizes and energizes a whole new audience.”

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