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How Neuroscience Can Improve Social Media Efforts and Build Fandoms

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During #SMWONE Fanocracy’s David Meerman Scott and Talkwalker’s Todd Grossman explained the intricacies of building a fandom and why it is the practice of creating shared emotions.

Join us for #SMWONE May 5 - 28, 2020 and hear from 300+ speakers across 150 sessions.


In a world of digital chaos, cultivating fandom is a method strong brands have used to grow their reach through pure love. There’s a neurological support network that humans identify with, and fandom is at the core of its connectivity.

During #SMWONE, Fanocracy‘s David Meerman Scott and Talkwalker‘s Todd Grossman discussed our collective hunger for relationships and the fandom that fosters it. Increasingly tech tired and bot weary, people long for human connection. Nothing brings people together closer than mutual enjoyment.

David is an author best known for The New Rules of Marketing and PR, a perennial seller for over a decade, as well as other bestsellers including Fanocracy, Real-Time Marketing & PR and Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead.

Todd is CEO Americas at Talkwalker, a conversation intelligence company. Talkwalker delivers social insights that help brands build growth. Their breakthrough AI technology was developed exclusively in-house to offer the best and most flexible video, image, text, and speech analytics across any media type.

Here are the primary insights and takeaways:

  • Fandom drives buying decisions
  • Neurologically speaking, people feel safest in a tribe of likeminded individuals
  • Building a fandom is the practice of created shared emotions

Fandom is shared emotions

Fandom is essentially the shared emotional experience and “everyone has the opportunity to build a fanbase,” said Meerman Scott Take Haggerty Insurance for example—they insure classic cars, with the owners being a fairly passionate group. Haggerty has cultivated its customer base into fans by creating a proprietary social network and through its Youtube channel, currently with more than 500,000 subscribers. “Haggerty Insurance has one of the biggest fandoms,” because “they’ve created a human experience from the mundane.”

Fandom drives buying decisions, and when people find their tribe they create a positive bond between the emotional experience of the tribe and the company providing those connections.

Let the fans take over

When you create an experience for your customers, through video, marketing, or IRL efforts, it pays to let go. “Once you put it out there it no longer belongs to you,” says David. Some brands embrace a curative method, which means forcing a strict set of terms to subscribe to. Think of Adobe’s prescriptive language reminding us that ‘Photoshop is not a verb, it’s a product name.’ Other brands prefer a transformative method, which means allowing the fans to do as they please with your product, by making videos and memes, embracing it as their own. Think of the Roomba videos of product owner’s pets riding around the house.

Give more than you have to

One way to promote fandom is to give generously and without expectations. Creating a roadblock (like requiring registration before downloading assets) breeds an adversarial environment. When things are given freely it promotes a feeling of reciprocity that can be very rewarding. Look no further than the Hubspot method of giving away all of their educational materials and simultaneously building a huge fanbase.

Take the Grateful Dead approach to recordings of their live shows: when other bands prohibited it, they welcomed it. In turn, they’ve created a fandom that’s still going strong decades later.

Passion is infectious and creates community

Brands that literally and figuratively exist as the sticker on someone’s laptop have staying power that is driven by that community. It isn’t impossible to foster that real human connection virtually, it just takes a few tweaks. David’s hack for making personal experiences from afar? Tighten the crop on your video. Seeing someone’s face close up created the feeling of actually being in close proximity and mimics the emotional experiences of being together in real life.

From a content or messaging standpoint, now more than ever it is crucial to rehumanize your language when reaching out to your audience. Meerman Scott has done a full-blown deep dive into what he calls the Gobbledygook of corporate PR language. In a study of each press release sent out during a 12-month period, he identified innovative, unique, and world-class as the most often repeated words. “If you have to announce that you are any of those things, are you really?” he asked.

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