Building community: Finding the first 10,000 fans

When launching a band, web platform or any kind of product, there’s one challenge we all: How to find the first 10,000 fans?


There are many different approaches – some smart but difficult, others easy but expensive. The first 10,000 fans create momentum for your product. No one likes to hang out in an empty bar no matter how great the music is. The best way to experience a new band is in a small venue crammed with screaming fans – a small group of trendy tastemakers who will be the first in the world to discover this great talent.


Then one day they can say, “I saw them at venue X with 200 other people and now they’re playing stadiums”. But, how do you find this first group of fans? How can you ensure they’re the ‘right’ people: The people that others will follow? How do you make them love you?


I’ll look at three ways of reaching your first 10,000 fans, as well as how I used each in music and at Posse, to varying levels of success.


1. Paid marketing, PR and hype


All these methods aim to put your brand in front of as many people as possible in a way that says, “Try me. I’m cool and I’ll make your life better.” They all work, otherwise no one would use them.


PR may create more exposure per unit cost than paid advertising, although some new marketing tools like paid Facebook ads can be effective at reaching targeted audiences for a lower cost. Hype certainly helped sites like Pinterest and Wanelo grow from hundreds of thousands of users to many millions.


But what about the first 10,000 fans? A new start-up with a good story can score both PR and hype. That’s easy. It’s also easy for a new band to set the whole music industry talking through rumours that a major record deal is imminent.


But hype, PR and paid marketing are like cotton candy: It tastes sweet; you get an instant sugar high, but then crashes when everyone goes away.


Big record labels used to burn through artist’s careers by launching them like this. They had pots of money, were impatient – and a bit lazy.


Does anyone remember the girl group ‘Cherry’ or ‘Jackson Mendoza’? One big label launched both in the late 1990s and early 2000s, coupled with massive marketing budgets. Both failed to connect. They never found the first 10,000 fans, so they never got the momentum they needed to build a community.


It’s the same in tech. At Posse, we’ve had a lot of great PR. Every time a headline story breaks, our user numbers jump – but often we don’t gain quality users. They join the site, add a couple of places and don’t come back. If we depended on PR, marketing and hype to build our user base, we’d be dead.


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