I’m a loud guy. This is mostly true in person, but completely true online. I talk about what I like a lot, and at volume. This blog is a part of that, but so’s Twitter and elsewhere. I do my best not to push my way into faces that aren’t looking to hear me run my yap, but those who do will find themselves hit with a big wall of text.
Looking at this from a completely mercenary perspective, being loud in this fashion is very much about establishing a presence and a “brand of me”. In the Internet Age, silence is equivalent to invisibility. You might be out there producing great things and doing interesting stuff, but if you aren’t talking about it, and if other people aren’t talking about it, it may as well not be happening. Audience is king.
But beyond the whole “I’m loud so I’m seen” thing, I’m also loud in service of the things I like and love. I’m loud so those things are seen, too.
Silence, as they’re fond of saying, is complicity. That’s complicity with things as they are and are going to be. When I’m loud, I’m casting a vote. I’m voting to support the continuation of things I enjoy, or to change the things I don’t. By gathering that audience and being loud, I’m able — occasionally — to transfer parts of that audience to the stuff I dig. That grows its base, and a growing base begets an ongoing effort. TV shows get renewed (not always, sure; but viewers sure help). Podcasts continue putting out new shows. Authors write more books (and get asked to write more books by the publishers).
But that silence equals invisibility principle applies not just as a broadcaster, but as an audience member. As a fan of something you can either be a lurker — i.e., invisible for all intents and purposes — or a participant. This is what I had in mind when I talked on twitter about being “no silent fan”. I’m doing my best to be a participating audience member (I’m not always succeeding, but the effort is important).
This is particularly important at the small audience end of the scale. If I read a blog post I like or a podcast that says something that clicks for me, I take the time to comment on it. In smaller audiences (and let’s be real here, almost all gaming audiences qualify, among many others), each individual member counts as a nontrivial percentage of the whole. Loud-talkin’ participant members are few (despite appearances); one comment, one tweet, can carry a lot of weight. And that’s weight that’s felt both by the producer (say, a game’s author) and by the rest of the audience.
On the producer’s side, active fan participation undercuts that one thing that all creative types have to some degree: doubt. Your favorite author might benefit from seeing that positive review you posted on your blog (or on the book’s Amazon listing for that matter). It tells her that she’s reaching someone. That she’s doing something right. Participating as a fan is an act of giving the gift of confidence. It’s a potent feedback loop, and the internet and social media make it possible — so long as you make the effort to be a part of it.
On the audience side, comments stimulate conversation, and conversation evokes emotional response. Get enough emotional response going and you’re guaranteed to push the conversation — and by association the thing that got you excited — out of the Zone of Mediocrity. That’s what marketroid types call “grass roots” and “word of mouth” and all that, and most of them will also tell you it’s the most powerful force for making something succeed in today’s economy. Advertising doesn’t do it any more (unless it’s lucky enough to move enough folks to talk about the product). The product itself can do it with its intrinsic awesomeness (something Seth Godin calls “being remarkable”, i.e., being-worth-remarking-upon), but that’s a hard thing to do deliberately. Only you, as a participating audience member, can deliberately make it happen. When they’re talking about the word of mouth, the words and the mouths they’re talking about are us, the fans. When we talk, we make more fans, and the feedback loop grows.
Participation also changes the what you’re participating in, like that whole quantum physics thang (“the act of observing changes the observed”). No comment, no retweet, no blog review is a neutral thing. It adds context; it reframes. That participation feedback loop includes the creator/producer you’re responding to as well as the product itself, and that’s bound to affect them both, as I’ve already said above. How you talk elsewhere about the things you’re a fan of will affect how the word of mouth spreads (or fails to spread) and what the message is. When you talk about the stuff that excites you, you’re making it personal for the folks who read what you have to say. It’s one thing to read a product description by someone you don’t know; it’s another thing to see that a friend has gotten excited about something.
So when you get loud, make the context you add something good. Don’t bust on other things in comparison. Tthat’s taking a crap on something other people are excited about, and you want them to respect the things you’re excited about, so be reciprocal — just as everyone can be seen as an ass by someone else, everything that you see as crap is likely seen as awesome by someone else. So instead, focus on what rocks your socks, not the stuff that leaves your socks unmolested. And don’t fail to add context when you can: a straight up retweet is okay, but a retweet that includes your own thoughts about the link/widget/idea is better: you’re making it matter more to folks who know you.
All of this touches on what Chuck Wendig’s “pebble” post is talking about: a fan spoke up and made a comment. That moved someone else to talk about it. That moved someone else to do something because of it. That something got noticed by other people. And as a result, more eyeballs (more potential fans) make it back to Chuck’s blog. And all that that first fan did was support Chuck’s efforts by commenting rather than sitting silent. By participating.
It also connects to things I’ve done, directly, as a fan of Jim Butcher’s work. I’m his friend from before he was Himself and all, but I was also a fan of the stuff he was writing, early on. I started up a fan site before his first book was out (I’d had the chance to read the manuscript in advance); eventually it became Jim’s official website. I got a mailing list for his fans going that years down the line got so hectic with the back and forth communication of the community that grew there that it had to transition into an active forum with thousands of posts. No silent fan was I.
But even in the early days, when the site was just a fan site, and the list traffic was steady but not unmanageable, we made sure that as a community we were no silent fans. A culture of “buy the book for a friend, first one’s free” emerged — a deliberate effort to put our money where our mouths were. Inevitably plenty of the folks who got that first free book went out and bought the rest. The audience grew. And we weren’t content to see Jim’s work get invisible in stores. Several of us did the whole “bookstore commando” thing, where we’d go in, locate the section where Jim’s books were, and rearranged things a little so his books got an outward rather than spine-on facing. These are all little things, but you get enough people doing it and it adds up, especially as new fans are created and continue the same thing.
This is not to say that we can take credit for Jim’s success, but we definitely voted for that success, definitely participated in it, definitely were some of the words of mouth that pushed him forward. Today, we don’t need to “face out” Jim’s books — the stores know to do that. Today, we don’t truly need to tell other folks to pick up the books — Jim’s latest ones have been showing up on the New York Times bestseller lists. But he started small like anyone, and it was loud, participating fans that got him to where he is.
So what small thing are you a fan of, today? And how are you going to be loud about it?
Be no silent fan.