What Marketers Can Learn From Fan Culture in 2022
by Abby Esteireiro, Digital Content and Social Media Marketing, Innovate By Day
Social media has made it easier than ever to be a fan. If you search for your new favourite TV show or movie on Twitter or Instagram, you’re bound to find a variety of fan-made art, fan-made edits, or maybe even fan-written academic journal articles about it. This is “fan culture.”
Fan culture or fandom describes a community built on shared enjoyment of a specific aspect of pop culture (books, movies, TV shows, sports teams etc.). Fans are both consumers of content and content creators of fan art, videos, cosplay, commentary, or making simple posts on social media.
Fan culture has become so ingrained in mainstream culture that it’s not only a way to engage with content that you love, but a way to discover new content too. As a fan of the K-Pop band BTS myself, I can’t tell you how many tweets I see of people saying they’ve become a fan from seeing a cool fan edit on their feed one day.
Fans love something so much that they’re inspired to share it with others. When someone creates hours worth of content dedicated to the piece of media they love, their enthusiasm can be contagious. I, too, have fallen victim to TV show fan edits or fan art and immediately opened up a platform to stream it.
But it makes sense– who knows what fans want to see better than the fans themselves? An active fan base has similar goals to marketers: to engage audiences. Fans want to build connections with other fans and share their joy with new ones. Marketers want to reach their target audiences and foster a fan community.
Sometimes I find that organic fan-generated content resonates better with audiences than promotional content created by the production company or distributors. It’s hard to beat content made by the target audience for your target audience.
I’ll let you in on some insider secrets– here are three of my favourite fandom marketing strategies you can use in your next campaign:
THINK LIKE A FAN, EDIT LIKE A FAN
When you’re making promotional videos, try making something that feels more like a fan edit.
Some of the most effective fan edits have a “mic drop” moment, a critical moment in the edit that makes you want to learn more about the show. It usually showcases a plot twist, a punchy one-liner, or a high point in a character’s epic story arc.
When creating branded TikToks, Reels (Instagram/Facebook), or Shorts (YouTube), take notes on the moments the “mic drop” moments fans are talking about. Highlight those moments using music, filters, transitions, effects, graphics, or text. Encourage fans to create content using the show’s soundtrack by making the audio available for their use.
PLEASE DON'T STOP THE MUSIC
If you’ve ever played a song and pretended that it was the soundtrack to the movie of your life, you’ll know what I mean when I say music is a powerful and immersive tool. After all, Kate Bush’s 1985 song “Running Up That Hill” became the number one song in the UK for its second week after being featured in Stranger Things Season 4.
Sound plays a big part in setting the tone of a story. When we listen to the soundtrack again, we’re transported back to iconic moments in the narrative. Like when we hear “Don’t You Forget About Me” and we think of Breakfast Club or when we hear “A Thousand Years” and think of Twilight.
Music and curated playlists help fans engage beyond the show and connect fans of that music to the show. There are a ton of show-inspired fan-made playlists out there and character-inspired playlists too. This is a trend that many shows and distributors are jumping onto, like Amazon Prime’s Spotify playlist for their summer hit, The Lake.
Two recent studies—one in the United States and the other in Japan—found that music doesn't just help us retrieve stored memories; it also helps us lay down new ones. So if your show or web series features a lot of music, consider creating a playlist—and get creative with it! If there is an important song in the show, create content that uses that song to highlight key points in the story. Use memories to create more memories.
FANS ARE YOUR CO-STARS
In the BTS fandom, we have something called #ArmySelcaDay. On the first Tuesday of each month, Armys (BTS fans) post a selfie alongside a picture of a band member, and the goal is to make your photo similar to theirs. What I love about this campaign is that it invites co-creation, or a call and response, between the piece of media and its audience.
Fandom creates challenges or campaigns that invite participation in a fun and easy way. After Bridgerton Season 2 premiered, the fandom started a Kate Sharma eyebrow scrunch trend where fans would copy a specific eyebrow moment from the show. Not only did this invite fans to participate, but it also caught the attention of non-fans who wanted to test it out.
Consider ways your campaign can be a collaboration with your fans. Interactive campaigns should be fun and easy to do and have the potential to be interesting to non-fans too.
There’s a lot we can learn from fan culture. After all, we’re all trying to create fandoms for our products, whether it’s a TV series, a movie, a song or an album. It’s key that marketers like us listen and observe existing fandoms and follow trends that emerge from fan culture. More often than not, the key to identifying and activating new audiences is sitting right under our noses (or already playing through our earbuds)!