Marketing to Fandoms without Selling Out | The Social Element
Fandoms

Marketing To Fandoms Without Selling Out

Have your social channels started feeling less and less personal over the last year? So many of my friends complain that their feeds are full of people selling things. I, for one, often worry about the random comments relatives will leave on my pictures. And let’s not talk about our overly politicized friends and former colleagues calling each other names (we all have those, right?).  

This is the problem with huge platforms catering to huge audiences and why people are moving on. 

Social Media is undergoing a massive shift away from major platforms and into smaller interest based groups, or Fandoms, because of safety and trust. Trusted creators and fandoms are more powerful than friends of friends or influencers, in keeping people on platforms, and platforms and brands are catering to trusted creators. As marketers, we need to fine tune our strategies to engage with smaller groups, because the new social user is more savvy and is sick of being sold to.

Platforms rushing to accommodate social commerce and offer more incentives and features to creators might be missing the point 

Major platforms have so many users and fake users that they can scarcely keep an official count. With fake news, fake friends, and real friends who are social selling, audiences are exhausted by voyeurism and preferences are moving towards intimate conversations in their peer or interest groups. 

Platforms rushing to accommodate social commerce and offer more incentives and features to creators might be missing the point. Giving users who are already flooding platforms with sales pitches (looking at you LulaRoe Leggings), the ability to make more money from more posts, is alienating the non selling authentic audience. The pandemic was a tipping point of when users made the move to more secure platforms to avoid having to vet information or be targeted by ads. So what are platforms doing to compete for creators and keep users?

The Competition for Creators 

Creators are the currency platforms are trading in and platform success depends on creators bringing users, or fandoms. Major platforms are investing big money to keep them or attract them. In 2020 and 2021 there has been an escalation in spending on features and compensation structures from tokens, to snaps, to paywalls, to accommodate creators. 

  • TikTok- Longer videos to compete with Youtube- 3 minute videos on TikTok
  • YouTube invested more money in creators in Q2 than any other quarter
  • FB investment for creators: Live Breaks for mid-roll ads and Live Shopping, a total of $1 billion in creators across Facebook and Instagram, keeping creator tools free to use through 2023
  • Snapchat announced new monetization opportunities for Spotlight Creators through Gifting with Snap Tokens, enabling Creators to build personal connections with their fans.
  • Pinterest Idea Pin product tagging a tool that allows Creators to make shoppable content. 
  • Twitter– Tip Jar enables people to directly support creators through tipping
    • Ticketed Spaces allows people to pay for access to exclusive live audio experiences
    • Super Follows are a monthly subscription providing users with exclusive content
  • Linked In invested 25 million in new creator tools, mirroring tools by competitors such as reels and audio features like Clubhouse 

But is all this enough to keep creators and users or will the rush to get one up on each other take it a step too far?? For marketers, it might be worth keeping an eye on what’s happening in more niche communities. Depending on the authority a brand can carve out, they may see more benefits by diversifying budgets and moving to more secure platforms to integrate with fandoms instead. 

Platforms Winning Audiences and Fandoms 

The platforms that are leveling up their tech, compensating creators, and ensuring user security are Discord, OnlyFans, and Tumblr, and more major platforms are generating revenue without selling out their users and fandoms. Twitter is a great example of a major platform who rose to challenges posed by privacy and disinformation and is a leader in creating safety and trust. It accomplished this at the same time as adopting strategies for creator compensation.

 It is obvious from the spending on creator technologies, and spending away from ad sales and data, change is coming.  Users demand transparency from creators, brands, and each other, and platforms need to find ways to keep them both on their site to make money, so what platforms are winning users and making money right now? 

Discord, Tumblr, and OnlyFans appeal to creators looking for safety and fair compensation and they are the most talked about platforms because of their exponential growth in 2020 and 2021. This is what they do differently:

  • Users have more and direct access to creators (proximity/transparency)
  • Users and creators have a community that is moderated (safety)
  • User and Creator Privacy (privacy) 
  • NO ADS (no selling) 

These platforms however are all about true community, and launching a presence there is much more complex than simply uploading content. These communities are meritocracies, and it is all about credibility and authority: brands need to earn their spot, and work to keep it.

Marketers and brands making an impact on platforms made of fandoms offer users more of what they want and support creators. It sounds simple and the application is, but approaching a Fandom requires finesse, and A LOT of research. Fandoms value community, they are autonomous, and all members have equity. With ownership and integrity at stake, members are very selective.  They don’t have allegiance to platforms, they have allegiance to creators, and marketers looking to build brand awareness should do the work to know who and what they are going to present and offer members.

Marketing to these audiences requires a strong strategy: audience analysis and an understanding of what competitors are doing in the space are key because in fandoms, there is no room for errors. Most importantly is what you don’t do, and that is to sell or use back channel tactics. 

Partnerships can be a good way to build credibility: think about someone who has the right to be there, like non profits that are affiliated with the mission of an interest group, or maybe producing content with creators popular with fandoms, hosting an event for a fandom, or offering incentives to help members of the interest groups. These are all ways that are going to make your presence more palatable to fandoms. 

As consumers, we’re entering 2022 knowing exactly when we are being sold to, and we have gotten better at recognizing it digitally, which is why it can feel particularly insulting to be sold to through a back channel we trust. Sell socially, but don’t be a sell out.

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