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The Power of Enthusiasm: Should You Create a “Street Team”?

Remember that time when you created something, and all of these strangers magically found it and just shouted about it to everyone they knew, and you went “viral,” and your success just grew and grew, like a runaway snowball cruising down a hill?

Me neither.

Recently, I have heard some successful authors such as Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy use this term: “street team.” Sounds cool, right? Well, today, let’s talk about what a street team is, and why it can be important to FINALLY building some momentum in helping to spread the word about whatever it is you are creating.

This topic has been brewing in my mind for awhile, but then the other day Johanna Harness shared this post on Facebook:

 

What immediately moved me about this was the admission that she couldn’t imagine who would support her, and how surprised she was to be proven wrong. At the time, her Street Team had a 9 members – more than enough to thrill Johanna. And now as I write this, she has 15 folks who joined.

I think that all too often, a number such as “9” sounds small, like a failure. But imagine this: NINE people showed up who actively want to support your work. Amazing, right? And then within a few days, she had a 60% growth rate to 15 people!

Then, a little while later, Kate Tilton shared this photo on Instagram:

 

So naturally, I reached out to Johanna, Kate, and the author she was working with, S.R. Johannes (otherwise known as Shelli.) I asked each about their motivation, fears, challenges, and value of trying to build a street team. And what they had to say will SHOCK you! (okay, no it won’t, but it is interesting stuff nonetheless.)
🙂

What is a Street Team?
Wikipedia describes it this way: “A street team is a term used in marketing to describe a group of people who ‘hit the streets’ promoting an event or a product.”

Shelli shared a great series of links from various folks talking about what street teams are, well worth checking out.

Johanna told me that she was wary of the thin line between organizing a group of fans who want to support someone’s work, and merely trading giveaways for favors, such as book reviews. So this is how she is framing her street team to ensure it has meaningful value to all involved:

“Most of the people joining my Facebook group are stepping forward and saying they’d like to read early copies of my book and help in any way they can. They already like my writing. I want to give these friends inclusion in the process, even to the point of being included in the final book. I want to give them insight into the process, what works and what hasn’t worked for me. I want to provide a place where we can speak with a little more candor. I’m hoping the process makes some brave enough to cast their own words into the world. Stories are awesome gifts. The best I could get back from the group would be the opportunity to see other unpublished works make their way into print.”

And here are some of the specific ways she hopes to engage folks:

  • Opportunities to discuss the details of a book release and influence how things progress
  • Answering questions about cover art
  • Floating ideas about future blog posts and listening to responses
  • Take part in a global book release party
  • Giveaways
  • Share advance reading copies
  • Books for those who want to leave reviews

Shelli outlines specific value she is offering for her street team in this post, which includes:

  • Quarterly group chats
  • A physical welcome pack (seen in Kate’s post above), which includes a blog badge, bookmark, pen, signed bookplates, press kit, and more
  • A free ebook with a chance to win more
  • A Facebook members only group for an open discussions on the books, indie publishing, or marketing
  • Monthly missions where members can win prizes
  • Inside information on her books, writing process, and publishing journey
  • ebooks and giveaways for members’ own blog readers
  • A chance to hangout after author appearances
  • Access to exclusive content such as character dossiers, character diaries, and more.

She said she had 30 folks sign up right away, and the street team is now up to 120 people.

Why I Love The Concept of Street Teams
When I consider the value of street teams for an author, artist, musician or other creative professional, these are the aspects I really appreciate:

  • A feeling of inclusion for the folks who join the street team; and the ability for authors to put faces/names/relationships on their readership.
  • For authors: it helps you engage with readers one-to-one, instead of this mysterious divide of “AUTHOR” and “AUDIENCE.”
  • For readers, there is the joy of shared enthusiasm. I’m a big fan of the nerdfighter community that John and Hank Green have created, which is all about enthusiasm for things that matter most to them. This goes from the most silly things, to the deepest: raising money for charity.
  • Shared journey – allows an author to have buddies in this process of publishing; it allows readers to feel a part of something, even if they aren’t writing and publishing books.
  • Especially for already popular authors, street teams seem to be a great way to stay connected with passionate fans in a manageable way, on a daily basis.
  • It allows an author to easily consider how they can scale their audience engagement efforts. For instance, they can have community managers who engage daily with the street team members, and the author can pop in when they aren’t writing. It isn’t so much a hierarchy as a way to create sustainability around engaging with readers.
  • My gut is that being a part of a street team is a badge of pride for many readers, it becomes an identity for them. This can align to a narrative that they appreciate – that perhaps they haven’t written the novels the author has – but they can still be a part of that process.
  • I love how vulnerability and enthusiasm seem to be core parts of this, two terms I have been thinking a lot about recently.

What Makes Me Concerned About Street Teams
Because I know street teams have becoming more and more popular, I don’t want to paint a picture that is all roses. Here are a some things that I think one must consider when deciding if a street team is right for them:

  • It’s too easy to be seen as, “I’ll give you bonuses and attention if you will promote promote promote me me me!!!” Connecting on a human level has to be the core of this, and that is a serious responsibility for the folks organizing a street team.
  • The flipside of organizing shared enthusiasm in this way: fans feeling as though the value isn’t equal. The author opens themselves up to judgement by sharing more of their process and of asking fans to do work for them. Ideally, trust is developed slowly, but too much enthusiasm for promotion too quickly could lead to crossing signals and miscommunication.
  • Social stuff is complex: readers could feel too much pressure; cliques could form within a street team, and one could feel like a wallflower in especially popular street teams.
  • It is INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT to properly manage a small community like this consistently over time. For instance, many authors will have loads of motivation to support the community around a book launch, but will they feel equal responsibility in the months/years between books?
  • As more people develop their own street team, it will become a de facto tactic, where you are constantly being asked to be on street teams as a marketing tactic.

I remember when Michael Hyatt created a Launch Team for his book. He reported that 764 people applies to be on this team, and he selected 100. It’s fascinating for me to consider the value of a team like this from the viewpoint of both a wildly popular author, and from the standpoint of an author prepping the publication of their first book. Clearly, there is value in both cases.

Shelli indicated that running her street team is indeed time consuming, and that in the beginning, there is no clear payoff. She hasn’t gone with them through a book launch yet, that will happen a bit later in the year. But my gut is, it’s better to go through a book launch with 120 people who love your work, than with just you and your cat. It’s always more fun with a buddy.

Kate Tilton was nice enough to share her experience managing street teams with me; here is some of her advice:

  • Authors find that many people who sign up are not as passionate as you hope they will be. Managing expectations on both sides is important.
  • When using giveaways to get folks to join a street team, you may find that only a small portion remain an active fan base – those who will complete a “mission.” The rest were just interested in the initial chance to win something, and were not really interested in a larger investment of their time and energy.
  • She mentioned Rachel Thompson as another example of having a street team, and mentioned that this was a great way to EXTEND connections with readers after you have already done so much else to develop that audience. I always love examples of how authors continue to find new ways to connect more deeply with readers, regardless of how many books they have already sold. (It’s also worth noting that Rachel’s street team is called “The Bad Redheads.”) Have clear guidelines governing expectations and behavior. You will hear stories of some street team members being a little too enthusiastic. Just like the metaphor the term comes from, you likely don’t want your fans “getting in people’s faces” on the street, but merely amplifying something they are excited about. Within reason.

  • Kate said, “you don’t join a street team to get free stuff, you do it because you love the author.” It’s not a bribery system. There can be a fine balance.
  • A street team should be more than just a one-off promotion, “a team collaborates together and works towards a goal.”

More from Kate on street teams here and here.

Are street teams right for you? That is for you to decide. But I do love how they focus very much on relationships and interactions with readers, and how they seem to have a mix of vulnerability and enthusiasm, that it requires a human investment to build a meaningful community.

Thanks.
-Dan

  • Great article (and not just because you mention me!). Many authors, myself included, either a) didn’t understand the concept of a street team or b) feel overwhelmed at the thought of it. Okay, and c) what you mentioned: being wary of ‘trades’ which isn’t something I’m comfortable with at all.

    Kate has been fabulous in explaining it all and organizing my BRHs (Bad Redheads) and while we’re putting together our first ‘mission,’ we’ve had terrific exchanges with the group members already!

    It’s also a heck of a lot of fun, something that is often missing from marketing.

    • Thank you so much Rachel! It is so helpful to see all of this IN CONTEXT, and yes, address the sometimes complex areas around balancing enthusiasm and action. I appreciate your taking the time to read this and comment. Have a great day!
      -Dan

  • Fonda Lee

    Dan, great post. I’m curious as to at what point in their careers authors usually form street teams and how they recruit them. I imagine it is very different for a new author as opposed to a successful author with an already established fan base.

    • Fonda,
      I think they are powerful at any point in one’s career, though clearly it is easier to get traction if you have already developed a fan base for your writing. On the flip side, for a new author, I believe this is a way of encouraging those first few core fans, and developing a practice of recognizing and engaging with them. And they get to feel a part of early growth, which can be a powerful incentive.
      Thanks!
      -Dan

    • Generally I suggest waiting to start a team till you have ten passionate people who want to join but this can happen even before you publish. If you already have a community (say you are a well-known book blogger) you may already have those people who want to join a team to help you.)

      Street teams are really about building those relationships you have already made and joining together to accomplish much.

  • Johanna Harness

    Thanks for including me here, Dan! I love seeing what other people are doing and learning from them. 🙂

    • Thank YOU for your initial post on Facebook! That is what really got this whole post going!
      -Dan

  • Thank you so much for including me in this post Dan. I am a really big fan of street teams and I’m sure we will be seeing more of them as time goes on!

    • Thank YOU Kate, it was so great to chat about this – I appreciate your taking the time! Have a nice day.
      -Dan

      • Anytime Dan! It was a blast 🙂 Have a great day as well!

  • Sarah Towle

    So grateful for this post, Dan. I am SO doing this! Great to have a sense of the pros and the cons. Many thanks to all involved!