Marketing & Branding

Fan Sites Are Free Promotion: An Interview with The Hob, a Hunger Games Fan Site

This series focuses on creators and maintainers of fan sites for the most popular fandoms around. Fan site creators work as unpaid promoters for record labels, movie studios, book publishers, television networks, and more. They often put their own time and money into a marketing campaign for their favorite entertainment with little, if any, recognition from the creators.

In this series, I’ll interview these fan site creators to review the development of their site; their interaction with the writers, performers, and companies that benefit from their fan sites’ popularity; and the reason they’re passionate enough to work as unpaid promoters.

Harry Potter scared the crap out of marketing executives everywhere, because no one knew the excitement and passion of millions of united bookworms would have on the Internet and offline. It’s no surprise then, that the bubbling excitement over The Hunger Games book series by Suzanne Collins and upcoming Lionsgate feature film are being compared to the phenomenon surrounding the boy wizard.

Several ladies from The Hob have graciously given up some of their valuable time to tell me all about what it’s like running a fan site, their relationships with the creators, and what makes dedicating hours of unpaid time to a website based on The Hunger Games so worthwhile.

Front row: Megan, Amanda, Lee, Jessica, Yara \ Back row: Jennifer, Barb, Gabby, Holly, Pauline, Michelle, Kathryn
Front row: Megan, Amanda, Lee, Jessica, Yara \\\\\ Back row: Jennifer, Barb, Gabby, Holly, Pauline, Michelle, Kathryn

Tell me about yourselves. How did you all meet?

We all met through the Twilight fandom, specifically TwilightMOMS.com (some of us are mothers while others of us are just adult fans). We all became involved in that fandom and met at different Twilight related functions over the years, and we subsequently became close friends in real life.

How did you get into The Hunger Games?

Being women who really enjoy reading a good book series, and have similar tastes in what we like to read, it was through word of mouth between us all that there was a new book series out that was gaining a lot of attention.

When did you start the site?

It was after Mockingjay was released that a few of us started discussing the books at great length in an email thread. We wanted to provide a site that was not only up to date on all the news on the upcoming movie adaptation, but we also wanted to create a forum where adults could come together and talk about the books, the movies, etc., in an environment that was a little more comfortable as they would be having discussions with people their own age. So after a lot of hard work behind the scenes, we launched The Hob in September 2010.

How much time do you spend on running The Hob?

Running The Hob is literally a 24/7 job. We are not professional journalists, but we wanted to remain as professional and respectful of the industry as possible. We didn’t want to be a blog that posted paparazzi pictures of the actors, irresponsibly posted false rumors, or reported on news hours after it was already all over the Internet. We wanted to be as proactive as possible to offer our readers content they wouldn’t find anywhere else.

The Hob on Facebook
The Hob on Facebook
I’m not looking for numbers, but I’m curious to know if you put your own money into the site. What kind of financial investment and/or return is involved?

We have put our own money into this site, and no, we aren’t making any money off of it. There are many behind the scenes costs that it takes to run an endeavor like this. But we realize that in order to give our readers the best possible experience in this fandom, you have to go all the way or go home.

What makes you so passionate about The Hunger Games that you’re willing to put all this time and money into the web site?

The most basic thing this comes down to is that we are fans of the book series. We aren’t some big corporation trying to cash in on the next big thing. We are regular people who have read the books, enjoy the story and the characters, are interested in the movie adaptation, etc. We want to take our love of the series and share it with other people out there who are just like us.

How has the site grown/changed?

We’ve seen a lot of growth in the last 8 months! Our exclusives brought a lot of new readers to our site, and with the movie now being cast, we’ve seen a lot of growth as far as traffic. New people are starting to read the books now that talk of the movie is in full swing.

What recognition or communication have you and your site gotten from Suzanne Collins, Scholastic, Lionsgate, the actors, or crew?

While we haven’t had any direct communications with Suzanne Collins, Scholastic has been very accommodating when we have book-related questions for them.

As for Lionsgate, we think most movie studios are a little cautious in the beginning when dealing with fan sites because they don’t know you, they don’t know your reputation right away, and they have to be sure you are responsible in the way you report things. But so far, all of our interactions with Lionsgate have been great. They keep us up to date on official news, such as casting announcements, and are currently helping us to confirm Twitter accounts for cast members so we can help prevent our readers from interacting with fake Twitter accounts.

We have also developed really good relationships with other news outlets such as MTV, ReelzChannel, Picktainment, NextMovie, etc. that value our opinions as Hunger Games fans and frequently reach out to us for thoughts on the latest news.

Have you had any negative interactions with anyone professionally associated with the publisher or movie studio?

Not yet, fingers crossed! The only thing that could be classified as “negative” is our inability to get responses from Suzanne Collins’ reps specifically, but Scholastic has been able to serve as a back stop.

The Hob on Twitter
The Hob on Twitter

What is the most frustrating thing about working on the site?

The most frustrating thing for us has been the lack of credit we sometimes receive from other Hunger Games fansites when they find news on our blog and then post it to theirs. We have always tried to be careful in making sure that anyone we find information from gets sourced correctly. There are general blogging courtesies that just aren’t always acknowledged (although we must admit that a majority of the Hunger Games fan sites out there are great!).

What’s the most rewarding thing about working on the site?

We created this site as fans of the series ourselves, knowing what we would want in an all-inclusive fan site, so when our readers give us feedback that they appreciate how quick we are to post news and exclusives, how the atmosphere on our blog is really positive, how they love that our readers express themselves in a mature/respectful manner…it makes it all worthwhile!

How do you think your web site helps/affects the books and movie? How does it help/affect the fans?

Fan sites like ours help keep the excitement up in the time between reading the books and waiting for the movies. Without places like our site for people to go, they might lose their momentum for the series. Creating a forum where people can talk about anything and everything Hunger Games related not only keeps the excitement and interest alive, but it also introduces people to others who share in the same love of the books that they do.

What kind of feedback would you from like from the publisher and/or movie studio?

We just want to be treated like any other news source who gets full access to the whole process, rather than getting overlooked because we are deemed “a little fan site and not some big, professional news agency.” We are a direct connection to the fans, so we just want to be considered due to the content of our work and not the fact that we aren’t a traditional news agency. It’s the fans who buy the books, buy the merchandise, pay to see the movie, and those fans are coming to fan sites like ours on a daily basis, which we believe makes us quite influential in the Hunger Games space.

If you got that feedback, would it change how you run your site, and, if so, how?

The more feedback we get from Lionsgate, Scholastic, and other sources, the more our readers (a.k.a. their target audience for the upcoming films) will be informed and connected. We don’t think it would change how we run our site because, as mentioned earlier, we decided from the very beginning that we weren’t going to be a gossip site, so we feel very comfortable in how we run things already.

What would you like people to know about your web site?

We’d want people to know that we can be trusted as a go-to source for breaking news and accurate reporting, and that we respect our readers and know that we would be nothing without their support and interactions. We are constantly learning something new from our readers, and their participation in the blog, on Twitter and on Facebook is just as much, if not more, important than anything we learn from the movie studio or actors’ reps. We hope the readers will stick with us because we are on this journey with them!

What businesses can learn from the ladies at The Hob:

  • People in a trusting community will often recommend other products or services they enjoy to other group members. Referral bonus programs to promote this kind of word-of-mouth publicity can be enormously successful.
  • Fans are more than happy to spread the word of official announcements, especially if they are sent directly to the fans themselves. Providing exclusive content to your most loyal customers can help you jump start distributing information.
  • Give credit where credit is due. If someone uncovers information or comes up with an idea, make sure that person gets the credit for the information. Feeling “cheated” only reduces the motivation to continue providing a free service.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of positive feedback. When you like something your customer has done to promote your brand, let that person know! Your customers did it the first time, because they really believed in the product. Positive reinforcement encourages them to do it a second time, a third time…