I love looking at Fan History’s traffic information. Where is the traffic coming from? Which plugs are effective? Which are less effective? This, for me, is really important information as the decision was made, mostly for financial reasons, to not advertise. With Fan History catering to an obscure niche interest, it means getting and sustaining a large sustainable can be difficult. In two years, some traffic patterns have become rather obvious that those trying to market to fandom or those who seek to create in fandom projects can learn from.
- Wikipedia: Wikipedia is your friend. If your site, blog entry, mailing list is on the right Wikipedia page, you can generate a fair number of visits. It increases your visibility in fandom and to people officially connected to your fandom.
- LiveJournal: LiveJournal (and to a degree JournalFen’s more popular communities) is your friend. A good plug on an active community can net you 50 to 500 unique visits. If the community allows itself to be spidered, if the community has tags, those plugs can keep on giving. They help with your search engine visibility. For professionals in fandom seeking to promote their project, these plugs also demonstrate an awareness of the fandom community which helps establish those projects as legitimate in the eyes of that community.
- Fansites: Fansites are a great way to get visibility. Make fansite webmasters your friends. Ask them to plug your project. Explain why it would be good for their audience. Ask them to get involved with your site. If a popular fansite plugs you on your main page, they can provide a good 50 to 10,000 unique visitors. If you’ve got a unique product targeted at that community, that much traffic can be fantastic. (And maintain relationships with those fansite maintainers. The maintainers are power brokers in their corner and can help you figure out where to target the fandom community to help you grow your audience.) Many fansites also have ways to add your own links. AnimeNewsNetwork and Anipike are two good anime examples where you can add your own links. If you can’t get the maintainers to plug on your main page, do it there.
- Mailing lists: Mailing lists are not dead in fandom. A frequent characterization of mailing list folks is that they are opposed to web 2.0 and the whole blogging culture. Not true. Many of the folks I know on mailing lists just like that culture. They do use other social networking tools but mailing lists are a communal way of sharing news with out having to know how to operate in fandom cultures they may not be familiar with. It means that mailing lists can be a great source of traffic as you’ve got a community of people who share. Even better, people will take things that they see on mailing lists and mention them elsewhere as they share what they like elsewhere. An active fandom mailing list with 250 to 10,000 members might result in 10 to 50 visits but there is chance of a mention elsewhere that can result in more traffic.
- Digg: Digg is not always a huge traffic generator and isn’t a traditional fandom tool. (delicious seems to be the social bookmarking tool of choice.) Unless you’ve already got a huge website going, you’re not likely to end up on the front page with out something happening. Digg does help with search engine visibility. If your Digg link submission involves an article on an obscure topic, it can help to really channel people interested in that topic to your site.
- Social networking sites: Quizilla, MySpace, FaceBook, bebo, orkut are great social networking sites but they don’t generate much traffic, nor do they create much increased visibility. The fandom community on those networks isn’t really oriented towards fandom. You can tell you’ve made it though when you start getting mentions on them. Fan History does a plug on one of those sites, or gets a mention, it will net maybe 5 to 10 unique visitors in the course of a six month period. These mentions won’t necessarily help with your search engine visibility, nor help your networking opportunities. Your time is best spent plugging your project elsewhere.
- Blogs: Bloggers can be your friend and key traffic drivers. A big, influential blog that mentions you can get you a lot of traffic. A smaller blog might add to your search engine visibility. A small, influential blog might help you get the attention of people who can help your project succeed.
- Controversy: Controversy can sell and help add legitimacy to your project. Fan History gets fairly decent sized traffic bumps when people have issues with articles, with privacy issues in fandom or with people who help maintain the wiki. Fandom Wank can be your traffic driving, search engine visibility, viral link creating friend. Lee Goldberg slamming on you can give you sympathy and legitimacy. Having slashers and het shippers duke it out on your site insures they stay and means they’ll probably link to their arguments elsewhere to complain about the behavior of those they don’t like. Controversy may also bring media attention and attention from the people affiliated with your fandom.
- Specialized content: Specialized content generates traffic. Fan History gets a fair amount of traffic because we cover topics that are not covered as thoroughly elsewhere. Cassandra Claire is the best example of this on Fan History. The Draco/Hermione is another good example. Alias Smith and Jones is a third. Thoroughly link and promote this specialized content to make it easier to find. Doing that will help generate viral links with out your having to do the work.
Is marketing a fandom project different than marketing a project that is not fandom related? Probably not. A lot of this advice would probably work for a site promoting soap or a non-fandom specific web service. The difference is that fansites don’t necessarily see good marketing advice as applicable to them because fandom is a hobby or an academic exercise; for them, fandom is not a business and should not operate like one. They should because nothing is sadder than seeing a good project die through lack of interest.