When you hear the term “Flirt Squad,” you’re not quite sure what to expect. A gang of scantily clad assassins? Several Chuck Bass types leaning against lockers and staring at you broodily? The truth is decidedly more innocent, though just as intriguing: it’s the official name of bestselling young adult and romance author Rachel Harris’s street team. Her Flirt Squad encompasses those loyal fans who help support her with whatever book she publishes or project she’s currently working on. These readers have become an essential part of her writing life, her publishing life, and how she promotes her novels.
A street team is an organized group of fans who use word-of-mouth tactics to help promote the artists, authors, musicians, or products they love. A team often has a regional leader who organizes the fans and has more direct contact with the artist. In exchange for promoting a product or work, street teams receive “swag” — albums, bookmarks, tickets, stickers, etc. But their real motivation is to support and be a part of something they truly believe in. “We don’t just love Rachel’s writing, we love RACHEL,” says Ashley Bodette, one of the leaders of the Flirt Squad and Harris’s former assistant.
Street teams actually originated in the rap world in the 1990s, when smaller record labels would have community members promote artists by encouraging their friends to listen, put up posters, hand out CDs and stickers, or request songs on local radio stations. In exchange, the street teams would receive band merchandise, tickets, or CDs. It was such an effective (and relatively cheap) way of marketing that larger labels and other mediums started adopting the trend. But despite the proven success of street teams, it has only been in recent years that the concept has moved into the world of books.
“My publicist first gave me the idea for street teams about a month prior to my debut’s release in 2012,” Harris says. “We started it up with readers who read advanced copies and it has grown from there.” Now her Flirt Squad is a thriving Facebook group with 340 members. Harris posts in it regularly, from excerpts of her latest projects to questions about a piece of writing. Her team gets first dibs on advanced copies of her books, spots on her blog tours, swag, and exclusive prizes and giveaways. To help promote her, the group shares graphics and teasers, blogs about her books, arranges giveaways, and, of course, blows up Twitter and Facebook with posts about Harris.
According to her squad, Harris might be the reason they’ve rallied together, but their bond has become deeper than just her books. “We’ll come together in support of her and through that we come to support each other,” says Megan Rigdon, another leader of the Flirt Squad and Harris’s current assistant. Bodette agrees: “[It’s] a support group…and I don’t just mean for those of us who have book hangovers after reading Rachel’s stories! We support Rachel, but we also support each other.” Members are free to post in the Facebook group, including sharing their own writing projects or seeking advice. “I seriously consider all 300-plus members my friends,” Harris says. “We chat about books we love, life events, you name it.” Like the two members of her squad, she uses the same words to describe their bond: “They aren’t there just for me — we all support each other.”
With so many positive benefits, it’s difficult to say why it has taken street teams so long to branch into book selling, and even more difficult to understand why the majority of teams only revolve around certain genres: mainly romance and young adult literature. Perhaps it’s because street teams are largely still considered a grassroots-marketing tactic, one that was originally embraced by self-published authors as a way to promote their novels. Those authors were, for the most part, writing romance. Or perhaps it’s because young adult and romance have such passionate fans, ones who are ready and willing to rally behind their favorite authors.
Whatever the reason, it seems a shame that more authors aren’t utilizing this powerful tool. “There are no words for the inspiration and encouragement their support and enthusiasm brings me,” Harris says. “They keep me going.” It will always be true: authors need readers just as much as readers need authors. A street team, like the Flirt Squad, allows an author to connect and bond with their fans in a way that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that breaks down the walls between reader and author, and, in the end, only makes both parties stronger.