1000 True Fans – Can We Have 1000 True Patrons?

I just read 1000 True Fans from Kevin Kelly’s blog – great article! I suggest you go read it. And then come back! Because… I’m wondering… can that model work in a library/non-profit/website setting?

Here’s the gist of the idea presented in the article: for artists or creatives to make a living, they don’t really need a blockbuster hit and billions of sales – instead, they need 1000 true fans. Here’s how Kevin describes a True Fan: “A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.”

And if those fans end up spending around $100 or so per year (buying your stuff), then you will earn a good living. Pretty cool idea – it’s basically the long tail working itself out from the artist’s viewpoint.

When I read the article, I couldn’t help but think – how does this work in a library setting? What if we had 1000 True Fans? What would that look like? Especially with the impending release of my library’s digital branch (March 31!) – what would 1000 true fans of our digital branch look like? 1000 people engaged in our blogs, leaving substantive comments, maybe joining an online book club, watching our YouTube videos… those 1000 true fans would keep us extremely busy!

And yet, that’s be just a small sampling of our user base, wouldn’t it? Sorta like… say… the group of people that visit our physical branch regularly! Our “regulars.” Our regulars really make up a minority of our total library visiting population – but we focus alot of time on those people – because they’re the ones using our services.

Sure, I want to reach much further than just 1000 people… but having 1000 True Fans of my library’s Digital Branch? That would keep us extremely busy.


More on Community

Nicole Engard (great blog, by the way – y’all should be reading it!) just left a comment on my post It’s About the Community. I was starting to reply to her comment when it dawned on me that my reply might work better as another post, so…

Nicole says: “David, I totally agree! But what about those public service librarians who are “too busy” to maintain these tools? I know that that is the case in many libraries – the staff who should be in charge of the project claims to be too busy (or are too busy) and then the maintenance is passed back to the IT staff – who probably are too busy – and then the whole thing falls apart … sometimes it’s not that the IT staff wants to control the technology – but that they were the last resort.”

Yep – that’s true! How can you deal with that sorta backwards philosophy?

Here are some suggestions (please add yours!):

  • The biggest challenge, in my mind, is getting staff over the fact that the new service resides on a computer. Think about it – Telephone reference is a great example. Does the library’s switchboard operator answer telephone reference questions? No – even though those questions come via phone. But there seems to be a disconnect with web-based interactions. Blogs, Social Networking tools, flickr accounts… those come from the computer, right? Wrong. You are interacting with real people, just like with telephone reference.
  • “I’m too busy” – this isn’t the fault of front-line staff. I think this excuse (that’s what it is, after all) falls squarely into management’s lap. Is a blog important to your library? Is the interaction and growth that can be had via a social network part of your library’s strategic plan? If not… you should talk about it. If so… you should be setting priorities and goals for front-line staff. Maybe the staff member needs to NOT be doing something, so they can focus more on the blog.
  • If participating in and supporting your library’s community via emerging online tools is important, why not add it to job descriptions? Why not include things like “post to the blog,” “respond to comments,” or “create a weekly videocast?” We do that with other important job duties – don’t just tack on an “oh yeah, do something with the web, too” line. Focus on strategic goals, and realign job duties to meet those goals.

Any thoughts?