Making offline hay from online fans: the Street Team approach

Street teams have been used for a long time to organize fans to engage in (usually) local promotion in exchange for some kinds of rewards. I’ve recently run across two sites, one European, the other American, that are adapting the street team concept to a social networking approach. focuses on European bands in Europe. One fan of Norwegian band My Midnight Creeps reports:

If you have been to you might have noticed they have a link to which is some sort of street-team collection that includes MMC and several other bands. For some reason I signed up for it, but I figured I would never hear anything about it again. But today I received a package from them, with MMC stickers, flyers, a signed “Histamin” CD (specified to me by name) and a free ticket for the Stavanger concert on Wednesday! How cool is that? (link)

FanCorps seems to be up to the same thing in the US, though explicitly tailoring its message to emphasize converting MySpace friends into people who will actually work on your behalf. They seem more stringent about who gets to be a member of a street team and really emphasize that this is a means to reach, organize, and work with “hard core” fans. I dislike the militaristic motif of the site, fans are not soldiers, this is not war (thank God), but I think I like what they’re doing.

Stickers, flyers… the materiality of fandom maintains its appeal. For all the ‘they’re just forming empty allegiances on MySpace and then stealing the songs’ that may be going on, the fact remains that fans want STUFF and will do things in exchange for it.

I suspect I’ve got at least one reader involved with FanCorps, and I’d love to hear any reports from promoters, fans, bands, about their perception of and experience with how well these web-organized street team sites work.

Update:  Reverbnation, a music social network site that has focused on helping touring regional bands connect with their own and potential fan bases, says in a message sent to users: In the coming weeks, look for our new Street Team feature that will more closely connect artists with their most rabid fans to carry out promotion activities all over the web.

Twitter Fans Unite!

The ever-articulate and insightful Fred Stutzman has written a nice definitive Twitter guide that may be useful to those of you not sure what the buzz is about or looking for a way to explain your new addiction to others. I had written a few weeks ago about Twitter’s potential application as a way for celebrities and artists to connect with fans. That seems a little slow on the uptake, though there are (a very few) famous twitterers to be found. In the meantime, though, not content to wait for a celebrity to create fandom around, Twitter lovers have gone and created Twitter fandom, the first real result of which is probably the Twitter Fan Wiki, which I found via Fred’s article.

The Twitter fans say:

Since the Twitter folks hadn’t put up a wiki yet, it seemed like a good idea to get one going out of the community.

Lately there’s been a bunch of scripts and other cool ideas pushed forward and it’s finally time that we had a place to bring them all together.

Twitter doesn’t do much for me, but this fan wiki is a lot of fun anyway. I got a particular kick out of the “fakers” link, which lists all the technologists (e.g. Steve Jobs), politicians (Bill Clinton), celebrities (Paris, Nicole, Britney,…), and, other categories of individuals who appear to be on Twitter but who aren’t who they claim to be. The list includes a lot of “fictional characters” which goes to show, as ever, that fan-identification will rear its head wherever fans can read heads. Though I’m a little bummed if it’s true that Santa Clause’s twitter posts aren’t really Santa’s. What’ll I tell the kids?

This fan wiki is more useful than the Flickr fan photo group I wrote about here, but it shows the same basic phenomenon where there’s a web2 app that (some) people get so excited about they start acting more like fans than users. Movie stars, rock bands, tv shows, web 2 apps… wait, who let that last one on the list of valid objects of fandom?

I am sure there were some who were really into earlier internet applications, and certainly Apple has had tons of adoration that can only be described as fandom from its early days and now more than ever with iPod and forthcoming iPhones, but I just can’t think of a real (pre-Web 2) parallel to people using a particular internet service they love creating fandom around it. Was there Usenet fandom? AOL fandom? Sure people used those things, and still do, all the time, but did they inspire fan sites and enthusiastic displays of devotion as Twitter, Flickr,, Pandora, and many other “web 2″ sites do? Anyone have any good precedents?

From Barbaro Fandom to Political Activism

You may have heard about the online websites that sprang up around beloved racehorse Barbaro. Delaware Online recently posted a profile of Alex Brown, the man charged with providing continuous online updates about Barbaro’s condition:

Since May 2006, Brown also has overseen the popular Tim Woolley Web site, It was started to keep fans updated on the progress of Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro after he shattered his leg in the Preakness. Barbaro’s fight for life ended last month when he was euthanized at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa.

One might wonder what happens to a community born of a shared concern after the object of that concern is gone. The answer so far seems to be that it goes on:

“After Barbaro was hurt, I was on the Web site five hours a day,” Brown said. “We created the Web site for you, the public. We did updates, even blogged about things that might be happening. When Barbaro first passed, the traffic went up considerably. It’s gone down a good bit, but we still average about 8,000 to 9,000 hits a day.”

What keeps it going? As this article spins it anyway, it’s shared commitment to the shared political cause of eliminating horse slaughter in the US:

Brown said the Web site remains popular because of a recently formed group of people around the country known as “Fans of Barbaro.” They continue to spread the word about the slaughter of horses in the United States and the anti-slaughter bill currently before Congress. Human consumption of horsemeat is rare among U.S. residents, but is an accepted practice in some countries.

“The fans of Barbaro are growing and growing,” Brown said. “We are hosting this group on our Web site. These people have become active on a variety of horse issues. They encourage each other to lobby their representatives and senators on the anti-horse slaughter bill. Just this week, they raised $3,500 in 24 hours on the Web site to save six horses and a mule.”

Fandom launches shared practices that go way beyond fandom. This is a good example of an online community spurring offline civic engagement and, I would bet, spurring new opportunities for offline interaction with one another and with new people as well. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many people still think of online community in opposition to offline community and worry that people who spend time doing things like hanging out in a website for a horse who has passed are passing up some kind of rich meaningful face-to-face interaction that they would be having if they logged off. John Robinson and colleauges have studied how people spend their time for several decades. The only really big differences they find between people who spend time on the internet and people who don’t is that net users sleep a lot less.

Update note: This post is generating a lot of traffic from — Welcome! This blog (Online Fandom) watches trends in how fans, industries, artists, and sometimes horses, are relating to one another in new ways using the internet.  Click on the header up there to browse around and explore some other interesting fan phenomena.

In Search of the Holy Grail (of Sneakers)

Last week I got an email from AC (Al Cabino), former writer for Sneaker Freaker magazine and hardcore sneaker fan. He’s spearheading a move to get Nike to make the McFly sneakers worn by Michael J. Fox’s character in Back to the Future 2. He’s put up an online petition, which has garnered over 25,000 signatures, and Robert Ryang, award-winning New York film editor who reedited the Shining into a trailer for a romantic comedy, has made a commercial for the McFly (and the petition) that you can see on YouTube . AC is on a quest to get a million views. With almost 120,000 so far, it might happen.

It’s a great confluence of all the things I write about on here — fan creativity, fan power, fans and brands, wacky combinations of the unexpected. So I grabbed the chance to ask some more about the project:


How did this come about? When did you put up the petition?

I’m an ex-writer for Sneaker Freaker magazine, I visited the Adidas worldwide headquarters in Germany, I contributed to the Adidas Superstar 35 book. I love Nike, Puma, Adidas, classic Reebok, Vans, Converse, New Balance Japanese editions. Since late 2005, I started a quest to get the Nike corporation to manufacture the futuristic sneakers Michael J. Fox wore in Back to the Future Part II.

Is this coming from Back to the Future fandom? Nike fandom? Both? Neither?

Back to the Future fandom, Nike fandom, Michael J. Fox fandom, sneakers fandom.

Why this particular pair of shoes? What’s their special appeal?

Because they are the ‘Holy Grail of movie sneakers’. You’ve got Eddie Murphy’s Adidas in Beverly Hills Cop. You can buy them. You can buy the Nike Cortez that Forrest Gump wore. You can get the Kill Bill Tigers that Uma Thurman wore. You can get Rocky‘s Chuck Taylors when he runs up the stairs. If you look at movie sneakers, the McFlys are the only ones that were created for the film and never worn beyond the silver screen.

There’s a sneaker legend that says in 2015 Nike will come out with them. This I cannot confirm to you, but someone supposedly back in 1989 wrote a letter to Nike, and the answer came from [Nike founder] Phil Knight: “You have to be patient.”

Why Nike?

The futuristic shoes are Nikes. If you watch Back to the Future 2, the scene with the futuristic sneakers is at the beginning of the film, if you watch the scene, you’ll want those sneakers too. Back in 1989, I remember going to many sports stores asking about the futuristic sneakers because I wanted them back then. But the answer I got from everyone was, wait till the year 2015 (the futuristic sneakers are in the scene that takes place in the year 2015). So when it was 2005, which is 10 years before 2015, I decided to start this project to get Nike to make the futuristic sneakers.

Do you have any sense of where your support is coming from?

Friends, sneaker geeks, fashion designers, stylists, magazine editors, writers, artists, futurists, sci-fi aficionados, photographers, illustrators, graphic designers, musicians, DJs, store owners, Nike employees, a Wired Magazine writer, etc.

Any feedback from Nike?

Not yet because we have not gone to their headquarters. The project is gonna get a new look, its own mini website, we’ll spread the word more, then we’ll go to the Nike headquarters. Hopefully, we’ll get a meeting with Phil Knight.

My thanks to AC for bringing this to my attention. And remember, if you’re up to something you think I ought to write about (or just watching from the sidelines), don’t be shy about sending it my way!

FanBoy Culture

Mark Cuban has a fun post up about “FanBoy Culture.” He’s not talking about the sports fans, he talking about the product fans:

I’m a child of an era when teenagers distrusted anything from government or business and I still harbor some of the same viewpoints from then. So imagine my surprise when in writing about Google, Youtube, Apple and other corporate entities or their products, I got flooded by emails and comments disparaging me for my positions. [...] I got typical teenage feedback “You Suck, Google Rocks”. “Youtube is the new Internet, you are old school Internet”, “BitTorrent is amazing and you are not a geek” and things a lot more personal. Such was my introduction to today’s fanboy.

Whatever happened to Counterculture being a positive attribute ? In today’s fanboy culture, kids are obsessively supporting products. They aren’t “fighting the man”, they “are the man”.

The marketing implications of all of this are fascinating. [...] All marketers dream of having a fanboy base for their products. What is more textbook wonderful than passionate customers ? But like trying to create a video that takes off and becomes viral via Word of Mouth, fanboys happen in spite of marketers, not because of them. The challenge for marketers everywhere is to determine the depth of any fanboy following, how to support it and what the implications are if you don’t match their expectations. Gaming companies have Fanboy advisory groups, I don’t know of any companies outside the gaming world, and certainly not outside the technology world that do.

He goes on to talk about the necessity for all corporations of knowing their fanboys. Obviously, I couldn’t agree more with that assertion. And I love the line “they aren’t fighting the man, they are the man.” Although, if they are the man, what’s up with the turning on them when they don’t match expectations?

The comments on the post are well worth reading and show people really trying to make sense of the fanboy phenomenon — are they just bullies? big brothers teasing little brothers? Or is this the new substitute for religion in a secular society? Is there really a significant difference between being a jerk about your favorite operating system and being a jerk about your favorite basketball team?

One person points out fangirls (what? there are girls on the internet?).

The whole “fanboy” phenomenon throws another twist into online fandom that I don’t think most cultural observers have really picked up on yet. We’re not talking here about creative user-generated content, we’re not talking about building communities, we’re not talking about nuanced engagement with a pop culture product — all things that scholars and critics have been looking at for a while now. We’re talking about knee-jerk promotional activity. What are the motivations here? What are the implications? And what are the dangers of collapsing the ‘fanboy’ activity of spamming blog comments with “You Suck, Google Rocks” with the kind of fan activity that gets into lengthy intelligent debates about the details of whatever google’s done this time. And what are the dangers for corporations of building advisory groups that don’t make that distinction?

It’s not just about knowing your fans and knowing what they say about you, it’s about understanding the different kinds of fans you’ve got, their different ways of engaging what you do, their different needs, their different spheres and levels of influence, and where to concentrate your own energies in making the most of what these very different people do.