April 24, 2023
A power law, often referred to as the 80-20 rule is a pattern where a small group of individuals or events have a disproportionate impact on the total results.
Just like in other industries, the power law applies to the creator economy - a small percentage of your audience can drive a huge percentage of your results. The top 5% of your audience can drive 95% of your engagement and earnings.
These devoted “power followers” are often referred to as true fans, because they are the ones who are most passionate about your work and most likely to support you over the long term. The term 'true fans' was popularized by Kevin Kelly in his 2008 blog post, '1000 True Fans,' in which he argued that creators can build a sustainable career by cultivating a small but dedicated group of supporters.
“To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.”
- Kevin Kelley
Your true fans are your ambassadors; your most loyal and vocal supporters who promote your work to others without any prompting. You can generate revenue by directly monetizing this group, selling products, services, or access to exclusive content. This is in contrast to indirect monetization, where you earn money through advertising, sponsorships, or other means of reaching a wider audience.
Not all creators will have true fans. Creators can still be very successful without a core group of passionate supporters. For these “Weak Allegiance Creators,” it’s best to maintain indirect monetization. On the other hand, “Strong Allegiance Creators” are those with an identifiable group of true fans.
Not all true fans will exhibit the same level of passion. They don’t all need to be at the Swiftie or Beyhive passion level. At a minimum, however, your true fans are those who serve as ambassadors and who are available for direct monetization. Even within your true fans, creators can distinguish between passive and active segments, typically based on their contributions.
Passive true fans are dedicated supporters who help spread the creator's message and content to a wider audience. They buy merchandise, attend events, and share your work. While passive true fans are valuable contributors to a creator's success, they are limited in their contribution.
Active true fans are the ones who take an energetic role in content and experience creation. These active contributors not only amplify the creator's work, but they also make the consumption experience better for everyone else.
For creators on traditional, free, algorithmic social platforms, we estimate that true fans are roughly 1.5% of their audience. While the idea of monetizing these true fans directly is still relatively novel in the creator economy, it's a trend that's gaining steam. More and more creators are realizing that they don't need to rely on middlemen or advertisers to make a living - instead, they can build a sustainable business model by cultivating a their true fans.
In 2021, Teachable, a popular platform for online course creators, reported a 38% increase in creators earning over $100,000 on their platform, and a whopping 48% increase in creators earning over $1,000,000. These impressive figures are a testament to the power of cultivating a dedicated group of supporters who are willing to pay you directly for your content.
Another notable example is Justin Jackson, who made an impressive $190,000 from his online business in 2018, a time when direct monetization was even less common than it is today. Jackson was able to leverage the power of his true fans to achieve remarkable success. Of the $190,000 he earned, $53,200 came from his membership program, which offered coaching calls and exclusive access to his content. Direct monetization was responsible for 80% of his revenue, demonstrating just how powerful a dedicated group of supporters can be. While the remaining 20% of his revenue came from a separate business he launched, the fact that his true fans were supportive of his endeavors further underscores the power of cultivating a passionate fanbase.
Identifying your true fans is an important first step, but it's serving them that will truly elevate your career as a creator. One of the most common mistakes that creators make is trying to appeal to everyone, instead of focusing on their most loyal supporters. While it's tempting to try and extract even a single dollar from every member of your audience, the truth is that you'll spend too much time and energy trying to win over those who are unlikely to become true fans. If you are wholeheartedly committed to serving your true fans, you’ll earn their lifetime commitment in return.
When evaluating new opportunities for monetization, partnerships, or strategy, always consider how the opportunity aligns with the end goals of your true fans. By prioritizing their needs and desires, you'll be able to build a business that not only supports your creative vision, but also provides meaningful value to those that reward you the most.
To assess the goals and objectives of your true fans, use data about broad populations to drill down on your more narrow sample size. You can then create a True Fan Avatar, guided by your data, so you can directly tailor your content to your audience’s most important objectives.
Remember: the creator economy is constantly evolving, and those who are able to cultivate a dedicated group of true fans will be the ones who thrive. So don't be afraid to invest in your most passionate supporters and build a business model that's focused on serving their needs. By doing so, you'll not only achieve financial success, but you'll also create a community of supporters who are deeply committed to your work. In a world that's hungry for genuine connections and meaningful experiences, your true fans are ready for you.
To learn more about identifying your true fans and capitalizing on them, download our success guide!
“No matter how many fans you actually succeed in gaining, you’ll be surrounded not by faddish infatuation, but by genuine and true appreciation.”
- Kevin Kelley