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The Rise of the SuperFans: Live from Content Marketing World

After Drew Davis’ fast paced Prezi talk on “Participation Creation,” Josh Richman, Vice President of Marketing, WGN America, and Keith Blanchard, Creative Director, Story Worldwide, took the stage to cover the “Rise of the SuperFans.”

Josh jumped in by disagreeing with Content Marketing World’s morning presenter, David Meerman Scott, when he shared his sentiment that, “No one cares about your product except you.” If your product is a TV show like How I Met Your Mother, Josh said, people care. And some people – SuperFans – even care enough to watch the episodes as many as 80 times.

The Problem

Working through some technical difficulties, Josh continued to say that WGN America jumped into the SuperFan space because it can’t compete with the budget of other stations. And because viewers can watch most of the content that WGN America broadcasts elsewhere, the station had to get creative to draw fans to its channel and, ultimately, bump up its ratings. The SuperFan approach is one way to convince fans to watch their favorite shows on WGN America, rather than on other channels or on the web.

What is a SuperFan?

According to Keith, “Every show has its Star Trek geeks.” These SuperFans write fan fiction, create fan music, blog about shows, and have followings of their own. So Story Worldwide and WGN America, says Keith, started by seeking out and engaging those fans.

In order to reach those fans, as well as a larger (slightly less geeky) group of casual fans, said Josh, WGN America had to “get out of our own way,” and put the shows’ brands before the channel’s brand. So it seems that David Meerman Scott’s comment that, “no one cares about your product except for you” actually does apply – but just to WGN America, not to How I Met Your Mother.

The Process

Josh explained that the first year of WGN’s efforts focused on gathering fans, while the second year, which they are currently launching into, is about arming fans to bring in their own friends.

Keith added, “You’re much more receptive to a message you receive from a friend.” Leveraging existing connections makes sense when you have a limited budget and can’t blast messages to mass audiences.

Together, WGN America and Story Worldwide are providing tools to help fans to bring in their friends – like the Facebook app they developed, “The Barney Bro Burn,” which is an insults Facebook app of sorts. They’re also using WGN America-branded Twitter presences to help fans that are already talking about its shows find rebroadcasts and ways to connect.

How to Motivate Fans

The clincher of the SuperFans campaign was WGN America’s strategy of actually giving SuperFans time on TV, fulfilling that “15 minutes of fame” fantasy. Additionally, WGN America features tweets during shows, and conducts Facebook polls that actually affect programming. This is huge: As Todd Wheatland said in an earlier #cmworld session, a huge part of leadership is realizing that people care about things they helped to create. For fans, the next best thing to being on TV themselves is helping to decide what goes on TV.

The Results

“We’ve seen specific spikes” in ratings that correlate with specific promotions, Josh said. Yet it’s hard to calculate exact ROI for some benefits, such as fans returning time and again because an online promotion has helped them realize that WGN America is a place to see some of their beloved programming in the first place. Overall, efforts have been extremely successful, and to hear it, it sounds like they’re just getting started.