Head of Strategy Laura Bartal on How Can You Tap Fandom to Deliver Social ROI


Last month, I attended two conferences in Chicago. First, I Geeked Out at C2E2 - The Comic and Entertainment Expo, then continued my nerdvana at the Social Media Strategy Summit. So why did they work so well together?


What we tend to forget is that social media is public media, a collection of human voices, covering, creating, driving and receiving information, a distribution platform where experimentation is the norm. And nowhere is this more evident than amongst the Fandoms at a Con.

Brands benefit from Fandoms.

Geek culture has always understood the value of fandom. There is a mutually beneficial relationship between a fanboy or girl and the thing they love, which has an inherent greatness to it. Alina Wheeler, author of Designing Brand Identity said "Strong brands make you feel as if you are a part of a very special tribe of people who are like-minded in their passion and experience." But it isn't shared experiences or backgrounds that unite a tribe of fanboys, it is the brand itself. The value of the thing a fanboy loves comes from the fact that it is a brand that projects a ‘known currency or image’, and it says something about who that person is. In order for the brand to have - or maintain - this value, the fanboys are just as much responsible for people knowing about the brand as the brand itself. Put simply, it is not enough that Star Wars is awesome; it's that everyone else knows that it is. Geek brands benefit from this identity adoption, and so do non-fans. Exposure to impassioned content and conversation encourages a brand interaction or experience and they are accelerated through the customer journey.

We are still asking the wrong questions.

I was interested to understand how marketers can leverage fandoms whilst still delivering ROI. The Social Media Strategies Summit promised to focus on “Looking beyond Social Media: Understanding Storytelling, Relationship Building and ROI”, with ROI being the key area of interest to me. But of the 46 sessions offered over the three days only one session presented a case study that was actually able to demonstrate the impact of social media both in terms of relationship building and value, to their customers and business. To quote Bono, I like many others I spoke to, walked away feeling like “we still hadn't found what we were looking for”. This begs the question, is the reason we aren't finding the answer because we are asking the wrong question? Rather than measuring the value of every dollar spent based on attribution of the last click to sale, shouldn’t we be focussing on measuring the moments that matter?

Reach, Relationships and Referrals.

At the Social Media Strategies Summit, the case study that best demonstrated both relationship and ROI was presented by White Castle (of the Harold and Kumar variety). Despite having a relatively small physical footprint (400 Hamburger restaurants throughout America), they have a large and passionate fan base they call Cravers. Cravers go out of their way to talk about and share their passion for the brand, and in return White Castle encourages and rewards them for doing so. Not just because the content added authenticity and experience to the brand, but because they understood that everyone was a ‘Keeper of the Crave’. Cravers’ posts were seen to generate new ‘points of crave’ or sale, with non-fans – moments of interaction that lead to action. In fact, 50% of the responses to a Cravers’ post by a non-craver were ‘where can I find my nearest White Castle?’ This was then answered by the brand, directing them to a store and offering an incentive to buy. The brand was able to calculate Fan Value by the influence of their advocacy in referrals.

Measuring the Moments that Matter

Rather than understanding how we are driving intention, we are driving ourselves crazy trying to understand if a single channel impression is impactful or valuable. The reality is…

  • Social matters to customers in the face of the changing customer journey. Whilst the journey still has the same format, now most of it is happening in a public and social way.

  • The single most important driver of commerce today is trust. Your fans accelerate non-fans through the consumer journey.

  • Single channel sales attribution isn’t always possible, nor the right unit of measure. What we need to be asking ourselves is how social, when holistically combined, is contributing to intention within the consumer journey. 

    Don't believe me, just ask a Fanboy 

    Laura Bartal is Head of Strategy at Carat Melbourne

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