SXSW Day Four: Felicia Day on the power of niche communities

FeliciaDayIf anyone understands the power of a niche audience, it’s Felicia Day. From her involvement in various sci-fi television and movie projects, to co-starring in Joss Whedon’s cult Web hit “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” to ultimately building the wildly successful Web series “The Guild” on the donations of viewers, Day has experienced firsthand the influence of a community that is created around a common interest.

Day’s Web series “The Guild,” a comedy about the lives of online gamers, began with Day’s own interest in gaming. With fans of Joss Whedon’s work on her side, she shot a pilot episode, calling on favors from friends for equipment and resources and filming on cost alone. Her team released subsequent episodes one at a time on a monthly basis, building a loyal fan base who began to donate to the production of more content.

Creating content for the Web: Aim with a sniper rifle, not a shotgun

After five seasons and sponsorships from Microsoft and AT&T (all while still maintaining full ownership of the project), Day maintains the reason for her success was targeting a niche audience from the start. She used a gaming analogy to explain: “aim with a sniper rifle instead of a shotgun” — by focusing on a community that at the time had not often been represented in mainstream media, Day gave a vote to gamers, and those gamers responded. In its first season alone, The Guild was viewed more than 80 million times.

Quality niche over mass appeal

Day urged big business to move some of their efforts away from casting a wide net with television advertising and other traditional buys. Instead, she suggested, spend on creating quality web content for a niche audience (or pay a team that’s already successfully doing it.) Not only might companies get in front of brand new potential customers, they would support independently created content and build reputation as a more savvy brand.

The power of social media

As of this post, more than 1.8 million Twitter users follow @feliciaday, and that’s not something she takes lightly. She explained her strategy with reaching out to her fan base on her blog and on Twitter as “a long-term relationship.” Rarely would Day tell her followers about something (or ask for their help) if it didn’t strike her as useful or interesting to others. She also urged celebrities to use their power on the Web to shine light on causes that could use more attention. On the heels of Christopher Poole’s keynote the previous afternoon, Day also expressed concern for the future of anonymity and creativity on the Web, urging the audience to seek to protect their right to create and consume original content online.

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Image courtesy Lan Bui on Flickr / Creative Commons.

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