A Lesson in How Honesty and Loyalty Builds Communities and Why Businesses Should Pay Attention
I have a confession: I love Nerdfighteria. If you don’t know what that is, you will. Nerdfighteria is an online community subculture (there are now offline groups as well) that came about when the VlogBrothers John and Hank Green started their video blog channel on YouTube in 2007 and gained popularity with their witty, honest, nerdy videos. Read about it. Get into it. You won’t regret it.
I’ve only been watching VlogBrothers for about two years, and found it because I saw John Green on a Mental Floss video. However, what I’ve seen in two years of John and Hank’s vlogs is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Some videos are nothing more than a rant that makes you laugh, some deal with difficult issues like bullying and depression, and some are educational about current events. But the common thread of all of these videos is the honest opinions and genuine affection Hank and John share with whoever wants to listen. And that is why there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of comments on their videos in YouTube from people who are loyal followers of VlogBrothers and support Nerdfighteria.
They now have more than 1.6 million subscribers for the VlogBrothers YouTube channel, reaching a widespread international audience as well. That international Nerdfighteria community spawned and supported a plethora of amazing organizations, events and projects such as:
- VidCon – the largest in-person gathering of online video creators, viewers and representatives
- Project for Awesome/Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck – a 100% volunteer organization that helps other charitable organizations raise funds
- Crash Course – educational, entertaining YouTube video focused on making typical school subjects entertaining instead of boring
- Subbable – crowdfunding to support various web video series
- Kiva.org – a financial lending organization that has loaned more than $4.3 million around the world to people lacking access to traditional banking systems
So what does all this do-gooder, feel-good karma have to do with how to run a business? Up until a recent venture in which they use funds from an associated gaming channel to sponsor the AFC Wimbleton football club, VlogBrothers and Nerdfighteria garnered support and attention via word of mouth from loyal fans and supporters. That’s 1.6 million people who love and support this community without one dollar spent on marketing or sales. Not only that, but that community raises millions of dollars on their own to “decrease worldsuck” and educate in a non-traditional manner.
Not to mention John Green recently announced that they would start allowing advertising on the channel with proceeds going to several of their recognized charities and organizations, including Project for Awesome. Not an easy decision, because profiting from free and open information was opposed by the brothers for years, but Nerdfighteria encouraged the decision upon hearing where funds from advertising would be distributed.
Think about other entrepreneurs and start-up businesses. They take the opposite approach, starting with investors, venture capitalists. They need money before launching a product. It’s traditional to think about the profit, loss and potential gains, that’s business. But what if businesses took a lesson from VlogBrothers? Many companies are taking note of successes from Kickstarter campaigns and books such as the Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuck, which urge to pay it forward to customers, because they’re the people who made the business successful (and in Kickstarter’s case, literally funded the business). In recent years, we’ve seen more commercials that try to create an emotional bond with consumers: Dove Real Beauty Campaign, Extra Gum “Origami,” Ram Trucks “Farmer,” and many more. These commercials gave people chills, and were some of the most talked about ads for a couple weeks, but they didn’t create a community.
Now think about an ad for Jeep Wrangler. You probably can’t off the top of your head. But Jeep Wrangler owners are, for a lack of a better expression, really in to their Jeeps. It’s similar to how Mac owners feel about Apple. So how did those large brands jump the hurdle and gain passionate customers? Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootesuite, gave us 4 Ways to Build a Passionate World Community Around Your Brand:
- Be humble
- Tell stories
- Cherish all relationships
- Enjoy the ride
In the end it comes down to having a passion for your product or service and conveying that to your customers and clients. If you show that in an honest way – whether videos, blog posts, commercials, billboards, editorials, etc. – you will earn loyalty from your customers, and they will continue to buy or support your business.
So a word to the wise for companies that want to create a bond with their customers: Scrap the strained, feel-good campaigns that don’t emit the compassion or connect on a personal level like a nerd, sitting in a room and talking to the camera. Build trust and loyalty around a community that evangelizes a product you’re proud to produce. Oh, and don’t forget to be awesome.