In the universe of creative business, trust is our most precious resource.

It’s difficult to earn, and it takes considerable time. Yet it can be lost in an instant. With one bad tweet, or one shortsighted move, you can obliterate the trust you’ve cultivated with your fanbase.

So when it comes to building a true fan business, you don’t just need a great offense. You need a strong defense as well. It’s not enough to earn fans if you can’t keep them around.

There are no one-size-fits-all answers for how to do that. But I’m willing to bet you’ve got a handful of strategies hiding in plain sight.

A "flame-out" is my term for a creator you initially loved, but no longer.

Basically, they’re the creators for whom you could have become a true fan, but who dropped the ball somewhere along the way.

Just as you can audit your fandoms for useful strategies, so can you audit your flame-outs for ideas of what not to do.

Let’s dig into a personal example.

In the early months of lockdown, I started watching a YouTuber called Coffeezilla.

His whole schtick was calling out “fake gurus.” He’d make videos about dubious get rich quick schemes and MLMs and that type of thing.

If you’ve read my rant against the dear leader of ClickFunnels, you know I’m all aboard that train.

Tacky, manipulative internet marketing is a blight on the soul of humanity, so watching Coffeezilla’s videos was satisfying in a primal way.

By all accounts, the pieces of the true fan puzzle were falling into place.

But, in the fall of 2020, something changed. His videos started leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

Instead of simply documenting these hucksters and snake oil peddlers, and letting viewers make up their own mind, the host started developing what felt to me like a savior complex.

Whereas the channel had once felt light and fun, it started feeling sanctimonious and overbearing. The host made himself the hero of a bigger story, where he was saving his viewers from this awful scourge.

As a grown-ass adult capable of making decisions, I don’t need or want some YouTuber to save me from myself. I just wanted some entertainment.

And now I don’t watch Coffeezilla anymore. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

From this saga, I picked up a few valuable defensive strategies for my own quest to create true fans.

  1. Every fan is the hero of their own story. You might play a part in that story, but the emotional connection will always be strongest when you reinforce that they’re the hero, not you. (Check out Building a StoryBrand for more about this concept.)
  2. Treat fans like you want to be treated. Again, I want to be treated like an autonomous, intelligent adult. I want to hear the whole story so I can come to my own conclusions, instead of being spoon-fed some over-simplified narrative. That’s why there are no easy answers on Ungated (or my other site Citizen Within). I want to treat my people like responsible, grown-ass adults as well.
  3. Understand the core emotional value you’re providing, so that you don’t inadvertently undermine yourself. Coffeezilla was a case study in the one-sentence persuasion course. The emotional value he offered was entertainment that poked fun at scoundrels. Had he kept that going, I would still be a diehard fan.

So go forth and audit your flame-outs. Find the ways that other creators have let you down, so you don’t repeat their mistakes with your own fans.

And remember, defense wins championships.