Fans are great. At least, that’s what I’ve heard. If you’re in the creative business (or you know, delivering a service, or a product, or pretty much doing anything at all that gets people to notice you), you’ve likely got a crowd of people who like you. It’s tempting to think of them all as fans. But it may be useful to peel back the proverbial onion skin a bit and take a peek below the surface. Mmm, proverbial onions.
As has been clearly documented above, fans are great. They’re the ones who pay your bills, who eagerly await your next release, who market you for free, and who defend you whenever someone says you’re an overrated hack. But they’re also the ones who are most likely to feel betrayed if your next work strays too far from what they expected of you, who will call you a sell-out when you hit it big(ger) than they’re comfortable with, and who will say your old stuff was better. They’re also the most likely to offer you advice on what you should do next, or how you could improve.
Tag-alongs, on the other hand, are fans of fans. They’ll buy your stuff and tell everyone how much they like you, as long as their friends are doing it. They’re mostly just going with the flow, so the influence you have over them is limited. They’ll be largely indifferent to the discussions your fans are having unless there’s a particularly passionate argument, in which case they tend to amplify the loudest voices in the room.
True Believers are the rarest of your entourage, and are your most ardent supporters through it all. They’ll buy everything you put in front of them, even if it’s the same thing you gave them last month wrapped in a newer, shinier package. They’ll go toe-to-toe with the angriest detractors even when they’re outnumbered 1000 to 1. And even when you’ve totally blown it, they’ll reassure everyone (even you; especially you) that the thing you did that you are ashamed of was actually brilliant and one of the best things you’ve ever come up with.
It’s easy to think that True Believers > Fans > Tag-alongs, but I don’t think you can really rank your audience. Every person who supports you deserves to be appreciated, regardless of their motivation. It’s just important to be able to identify who it is you’re talking to.
And it’s even more important to know who you’re listening to.