Dec 142009

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.


  43 Responses to “No Silent Fan”

  1. Bravo, Fred! Bravo! It is in part due to you that I’ve got all of Jim’s books!

    Hmmm… what small thing am I a fan of and how am I being loud about it? Good question. I’m not that loud of a guy…

    Let’s see… I just spent a lot of time yesterday trying to convince my friends of the coolness of a little known rpg called “The Conjunction”… without much success, but hey, I’ll keep plugging away! Maybe I need to be louder…

  2. Badass post. So, of course, I will niggle and mention that the Zone of mediocrity link need fixing.

    -Rob D.

  3. Loud noises! Comment! No silencio! Raaar!

    Sorry. It’s early. No real cogent response other than, “Good point, Fred! High-five! I like your blog! Muhhhh! Nnngh!”

    — c.

  4. In an attempt to be no silent fan I am posting a comment. I know that this is something that I am very bad at. I read a lot of different things but I rarely post comments, even when I want to. But in an attempt to reverse that tendency I am commenting about not commenting.

  5. As always, a really good post. I’m going to facebook it and twitt it, as the loud fan I am 😉

  6. Damn, Fred, you actually took something out of my mind and into your blog. I’d been planning to do a post on the whole “leave a comment” part, but you took it for an orbital spin here. I’ll still do my post, but now I can add value context by linking it thematically and literally to yours. Thanks.

    • To add something, now that I’m not on my iTouch:
      Personally, I think that sometimes we need to leave comments against things. I’m not into the crap-on-people’s-parade thing as a way of life or a norm, but just like a positive comment is a vote for, sometimes it is necessary to voice a contrary opinion (always with respect, though; that’s one internet boogeyman that needs to die, the asshat troll).

    • My point more than anything is to think participation, and *then* think positive. I’m not saying critiques can’t be leveled, but I think they should be done more in a stance of “thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about this” than “you’re a dick, here’s why”.

    • Actual quote from a post I wrote today on one of my other blogs:

      [Putting together the Bicycle Film Festival – Miami] couldn’t have been easy, and I only get to have an opinion because your dedication gave me the opportunity to experience this event. For that I am very grateful.

      I think we share the same headspace there. 🙂

  7. Excellent advice for fans. I tweet about my favorite show (Dexter – go watch it and buy the DVDs 🙂 ). I tied my Twitter, Facebook, and blogs together so that when I write about something I am blasting it out there for all to see and take notice of. I’m huge fan of Fudge and I push that RPG in forums, got my local game shop to carry the 10th Anniversary Edition and dice, and I run events for it at conventions and locally.

    You have to get behind the things that you love and let others see you enjoying those products. You have to ignore the negative remarks others make when you try to expand upon those things that you love as well. I know many gamers who are still embarrassed to admit that they play tabletop RPGs, because of the social stigma attached to the hobby. The only way you will ever get rid of that social stigma is to blatantly challenge it and grow the hobby.

  8. You’re one of those bloggers, Fred. In the best sense.

  9. Well, I’d tweet how much I like this post, except twitter’s gone and blown it’s doo-hicky right out again. Silly Whale.

  10. I started off writing a semi-grumbly response about how loud fandoms can drown out legitimate criticisms and wind up making creators lazy and complacent. (see George Lucas for a perhaps too obvious example). But your post was so darn packed with cheerfulness and sunshine — I didn’t want to be “that guy”. 🙂

    Anyway – I used to be a loud fan for Kevin Smith films. I’d talk them up to other people -loan out my copies of Clerks and Mallrats, etc. Converted a few people to full View Askew fandom back in the day.

    Currently, not really a loud fan for anything — maybe I should change that.

  11. I was already planning on posting a list of upcoming folk-metal shows today. I mean, it never works for me, the same two people say they will go and then don’t. (To be fair once they did!) But I keep plugging away. I think Korpiklaani must sell enough tickets in the US because they keep coming back!

    I have had way lots of luck at actual events by watching and responding to tweets that are tagging that event. If I had all the time in the world, I’d be much more visible on band forums; that always gets me involved with like-minded folks. But I’m limited by time, sadly.

    Your post is talking about stuff on the forefront of my mind though! On the plus side and the minus side too – I have found, specifically with twitter, there is a point at which people can poison me on their Good Thing by overdoing it, and getting their friends to overdo it in turn. There has to be a balance. Of course, usually the situation in that case is that the product, site, or topic that is getting retweeted a lot is simply not of a quality to deserve that kind of attention… sad but true. And who’s going to tell them? Not me. I just judiciously snooze/mute.

    On the other hand, you know if I retweet something I don’t just like it a little bit.

    • Your point about balance is a good one, and one I do keep in mind. I know I tend to flirt with the edge of overpromotion here & there, but I try not to cross it too much (even though I’m sure I cross it for at least a few people).

      Getting loud is really just the first step. Next comes things like building an identity that folks come to trust.

      You’re doing just fine on that front. 🙂

  12. What, Fred loud? Never.

  13. Very true. I know from my perspective, I doubt Evil Hat would have been on my radar for quite some time if you and Rob weren’t so prolific and engaging. As it is, I pitch your works even before I’m totally familiar with them.

    • That’s great to hear! We’re definitely trying to build fans more than build customers, with Evil Hat, and you neatly sum up that difference right here. 🙂

  14. Thank you for this. I’ll be referring people to it regularly as I promote friends and fellow creatives. There are too many folks out there who remain silent and then wonder why no one has heard of the amazing talents and efforts of their friends!

  15. An excellent post Mr.Hicks. It’s really interesting how the internet has made available the promotion or demotion of products to anyone. If you are able to reach people enough, it’s like having a free publicitary campaign.

    I’m always trying to promote a sci-fi wargame made by some friends which I believe to be the best miniature game ever done and to have one of the best backgrounds written for this kind of games (it’s Infinity the Game btw, ask your nearest store for it!). Maybe I’ll have to be even louder about it (so maybe someday they’ll publish also the Infinity RPG they always wanted).


  16. A thrilling, heart pounding cheer to you Fred. I keep spotting your comments around the web, and until I read your blog today I didn’t understand the good for something, goodness in it. I’m a changed man/fan. Thanks for the guidance.


    • Ubiquity is a brand strategy, from at least one perspective. The things that build your “brand of me” are also the things that can uphold the things you’re a fan of. 🙂

  17. I am SO glad to see an article about this. One of my biggest motivators over the past year was the realization that there’s far less distance between people than we’ve been conditioned to think. The only thing really needed to bridge the gap is participation. Heck, that’s why I started podcasting! Thanks for this, it’s great to see it being talked about! 🙂

    • Yep. People who we see as Big Name People are just people. That’s probably the biggest single lesson I’ve taken away from the last several years of riding the crazy Evil Hat train. 🙂

  18. You know, fred, you’ve articulated something that has been nagging at me for years as a kind of formless guilt complex. I’ve felt like I should be giving something back to the people that inspire me online – and there’s no shortage of them, yourself included – but I’ve always kind of balked through a combination of shyness, embarrassment at the ‘presumption’ of bothering busy people*, not wanting to get drawn into wasting even more time on the net than I already do and, of course, laziness.

    You’ve managed to put your finger on the compelling argument for overcoming all those excuses, at least a little more often. Cheers!

    And you know, while I’m at it, thanks for**: Spirit of the Century; your superhuman efforts to improve transparency in the RPG game; the Butcher Block; One Bad Egg (may it rest in pieces); your attitude to evangelism in general; and, hey, new That’s How We Roll. Awesome!

    Oh, and DFRPG, in anticipation 😉



    * Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m working on it 😉
    ** I know you don’t get full credit for all of these things, but I have to start somewhere.

    • Hey Dave, glad to hear this connected with you. I’m doing my best to dodge the “feel guilty about this!” potential in what I’m saying, and instead present it as a call to action. Sounds like I got it right. 🙂

      And wow! You’re clearly a long-term fan. Thank *you* for that. 🙂

  19. […] Hicks exhorts you to never be a silent fan. He knows that you need to sometimes throw a […]

  20. Fred, well said. This is something that I’ve been trying to be better at – participation. As a podcaster it made for a richer experience in all my endeavors. In RPGs it puts me in touch with like minded people.

    This is one of the reasons I got back into blogging – connection and participation. I’m slowly expanding my circle of blogs to read (boy, am I ever glad I added yours to my reader). In doing so I’m starting to participate in the discussions on those blogs. I’m no longer silent on the net.

    As far as things I love that I’ll be talking about on my blog and in comments of others: Old School RPG, Gaming in Libraries, Gaming in Public, RPG Advocacy.

    Thanks again for a great post.

    Follow Your Bliss,

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