Building Your Online Fan Club

According to a Recording Industry Association of America survey cited by Business 2.0 columnist Jim Griffin, about 7 in 10 music fans are not aware that their favorite performers have released new records. Substitute “new product” or “new service” in that statistic and you have the plight of most businesses, although most businesses, online or off, haven’t taken the trouble to cultivate fans. But whether you sell diet counseling or electric drills, collecting and nurturing enthusiasts requires little or no money online and pays off handsomely.

My favorite technique for sustaining and growing a fan club is the email newsletter, which I covered in last week’s and the previous week’s columns. It’s important to note that fans need not be paying customers. Admirers who will never directly pay you a dime may recommend you repeatedly to buyers, the media, industry heavyweights, or investors.

Here’s the strategy in broadest terms. In every situation in which you have the opportunity to make an impression on people interested in your area of expertise, you offer them the option of joining your email list. Then you stay in touch with them regularly, reinforcing their impression of your competence and becoming trusted and familiar to them. At that point, they’ll practically mobilize themselves to act like fans, either buying from you themselves or talking you up to third parties who might never otherwise hear of you.

Below are some techniques that help turn people with whom you have casual, one-time contact into loyal fans.

Your email signature. Exchanging email just once with someone on a business-related matter can turn that person into a subscriber if your email signature contains a few lines touting the benefits of your newsletter. For instance: “For a free weekly dose of motivation to stay on your diet, send any email message to signup@easydiets.com.” Enable the automatic signature feature in your email software so that this gets tacked on the end of each email you send without your having to remember to do it.

Your business cards. If you can squeeze it on (there’s almost always room on the back), add a suggestion similar to the signup@easydiets one. That way, people who meet you at a networking event will see your prompt to subscribe when they get home and look through their stacks of cards.

Your voice mail message. Image consultant Mary Lou Andre of Organization By Design does this especially well. If you call after hours, you hear: “While on our site, we hope you’ll sign up to receive our Dressing Well Tip of the Week, which is delivered free of charge each Monday to your electronic mailbox. If you leave your email address on our voice mail system, we’ll be happy to sign you up directly.”

Your brochures or flyers. If you speak or man a booth at a trade show, hand out something giving attendees a reason to get onto your list: “For free solutions to common drilling problems five days a week, sign up for The Daily Drill at http://www.thedailydrill.com.” My brochure includes the contents of two sample Marketing Minute texts along with instructions for subscribing.

An invitation at your web site. Too many sites ask people to type in their email addresses without describing what the subscription will give them and providing privacy reassurances. Those extra elements make a difference in turning first-time visitors to your web site into quality registrants.

Your signature in online forums or discussion lists. For instance, a web designer includes an invitation for you to enter her sphere of influence when she posts in the ClickZ Forum and elsewhere:

Once you collect a solid core of followers, maintain favor by regularly providing useful information. A few weeks back, I tapped the power of my fan club by telling my subscribers that my new book, “Internet Marketing for Less Than $500/Year,” had just been posted on Amazon.com with the rock-bottom rank of 1,559,153. About 30 hours after I emailed my fans, I checked the same book page, and my new book had shot up to six thousand-something.

Imagine hundreds of people marching off to their local hardware stores to ask for your drills — because you got the word out to folks who got the word out about you and your products!

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