Cycle of a Fan


Every fan has a story. Are you a fan of a college football team, a baseball team, a car, a restaurant, or a musician? Maybe it’s even an auto mechanic. Some of us show more ‘fan’ behavior than others. I fall in the fan bucket. I want more out of the experience than just satisfaction. And I want more from that business or that team than just allowing me to make a purchase from them.

I started thinking about this as a cycle after reading David Armano’s excellent post about people and people labels. The post made me want to explore the difference between being just a customer and being a fan. My cycle is based on part David Armano’s people graphic and part Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell’s loyalty ladder model.

My passionate example is Furman University football. My father and uncle were my introduction. I learned the game of football by going to Furman football games with them. In high school we would sneak in Sirrine Stadium after halftime, and watch the games from the hill. In college, I attended home games and started going to the away games. As a working adult I adopted Furman by buying season tickets, putting decals on my car, and supporting the scholarship fund.

The internet changes the role of the fan quite a bit, and allows the ‘fan’ to be more active and to have cheap evangelism. Furman has an active, social message board ‘the uffp‘ bringing old fans, new fans, lurkers, students, and parents into a melting pot of conversations. Talk has become cheaper than when you had to write a letter, make a phone call, hold a meeting. When I say ‘cheaper’ I mean less physically involved. Communities are a wonderful tool allowing fans, customers, even passive customers to engage in conversations but this anonymous way of communication can come with a price ” no accountability. And because of this cheaper communication us fans are so busy talking to each other we often forget the real power of word of mouth. Face-to-face social currency.

Moving from being an evangelist to ownership requires one big thing ” Sacrifice. I started evangelizing after college – I told friends, co-workers, neighbors ” hell, even strangers about Furman Football. I jumped into ownership when I started buying game tickets and inviting others to attend a game with me for free. I’ve also reached into my pocket to start a fan blog ‘The Paladin Walk.’ I’m not going to suggest that everyone should use my examples for yourself. One thing I’ve learned from our work with teen RAGEers is that everyone has a voice but they use it in many different ways. In the case of Furman, when I’ve felt the need to raise my voice, I’ve simply picked up the phone and made the call. It’s simple and it works. Talking with a company, athletic department, or an organization about things they could improve about the fan experience is another way that you are taking ownership vs. just evangelizing.

Next time you’ve got a story to tell, by all means post it on a community forum but also take some action, tell somebody if it’s appropriate and if it’s a conversation about football bring them to a game. They will thank you.

  • David Armano

    Nicely done Geno. I just linked to this from my place.

  • Geno

    Daivd, thanks for the inspiration. Your blog made me really think in terms of sustainable cycles.

  • Jason Peck

    Great post. It’d be interesting to see a diagram/analysis of the actions needed before each step of the cycle can take place. For example you have to be interested before you particpate, have to enjoy something before you adopt it, have to really enjoy before you become an evangelist,etc Your diagram definitely is a good base for those kind of thoughts.

  • Nathan Rice

    Nice elegant way to new the creation cycle of a fan. Each of these steps requires a little bit different thought. For a start-up or new product they need to be thinking about attraction – ahead of trying to worry about establishing community – while recognizing it is a necessary step to fans owning the product.

  • Geno

    Jason, great thought. Virginia and I were talking about that very thing. For me having a visual reference allows me to think about possible steps and points of contact in the cycle from the “fan” perspective and from the brand perspective.

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  • Rick Wion

    Great insights. Would you consider the downward cycle (as folks lose their fandom) a result of over saturation of the fan experience, the pull of other commitments or just a natural ending of the cycle?

  • Geno

    Rick, that’s a good point. As a sports fan, my passion meter does go up and down based on the anticipation of how well I think the team will play. The opportunity to keep the passion needle up is to reach inward to your fan base, fan relationships are hard and painful. When things might be happening that aren’t really good the natural tendency is to shut the door, but that’s the time to open the kimono. I do think your right fan cycles do have downward cycles. But if your emphasis is to nurture a sustainable fan community, you can (I believe) create steps to stop that natural ending cycle you mention.

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  • Jennifer Laycock

    More so than seeing the downward cycle of people losing their fandom, I can see this exact cycle representing the progression of a detractor as well.

    At least that’s the spin I put on it when I wrote about it over at Search Engine Guide.

    As I see it, the person who goes out and criticizes you follows a very similar pattern.

    They have an introduction to your product or service…

    Then they have an experience with it…

    But instead of adoption, they have a rejection.

    From there, if you don’t catch them in their customer service complaints (say, they return an item that is broken and you don’t properly address things) they move into anti-evangelism mode. They may make a blog post, or a post to a discussion forum talking about their negative experience.

    If you fail to catch them at this point and offer a solution to the problem, the issue goes out into the greater community. Think of what happens when something shows up on the Consumerist or a similar blog. You’ve moved beyond a simple public complaint and you’re in viral mode. (The Kryptonite bike lock incident is a good example.)

    Finally, you risk someone moving into ownership mode of hating your product. Just look at the anti-corporation sites that show up when you run a search for McDonald’s or Wal-Mart.

    The cycle is the same either way…which shows just how important a good online reputation management campaign is.

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  • Geno

    Jennifer, thanks for stopping by and making some great points.

  • Jeff Green

    Nice write up! I stumbled upon it via Church of the Customer blog. I’ve got a short piece on my blog as well.


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  • Super

    Thank you for the post, I am really wondering how can I use this to create my own blog post.

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