Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Insiders, Outsiders, and Fans

One of the dynamics that interests me most is the relationship between insiders, outsiders, and fans. Many of my favorite publications are aimed at insiders. SLAM serves hardcore basketball fans who care about the latest sneakers. The Atlantic Monthly appeals to upscale professionals who want to maintain an intellectual life. Harvard Business Review has an audience of business people, primarily MBAs.

What all three have in common is that they are written for their audiences. If you don't know their world, the writing can seem alien, whether the topic is the Rim Reaper (Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin), the Man Booker Prize (the UK's leading literary award), or covenant-lite loans (loans with fewer restrictions on key financial ratios).

While this assumption of expertise may alienate a general audience, it clearly divides the world into insiders (who get it) and outsiders (who don't). The enthusiasts who self-select into the insider category represent a valuable and loyal audience. Excluding outsiders is actually a smart strategy for cementing insider loyalty.

The art lies in being able to convert fans into insiders. Fandom is the gateway drug; a certain proportion of basketball fans who subscribe to Sports Illustrated will eventually crave the harder stuff and gravitate to SLAM or the much-missed FreeDarko.

At the same time, while you want to appeal to casual fans, you must maintain the insider/outsider dynamic or you'll lose the hardcore audience you've fought so hard to build.

Podcasting is a great example of an insider medium. As a new podcaster, you can't produce middle of the road content with broad appeal and expect to get any audience. What you can do is produce content that appeals to insiders, who have the enthusiasm and persistence to seek you out. But what you can do once you have an audience is to tap the fan dynamic to expand that audience. Guest appearances on other podcasts can allow you to convert some number of fans into insiders. Adam Carolla's Ace Broadcasting Network relies on the popularity of its titular star to bring in fans who are then exposed to more insider offerings like This Week In Larry Miller.

If you keep the insider/outsider/fan dynamic in mind, you'll have a better shot at building and retaining a valuable audience.

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