Stan communities – communities made up of superfans, people who are passionately enthusiastic and devoted – hit fame last year when a large group of South Korean pop music (Kpop) fans started getting involved in the US political scene. Just 6200 people showed up for a rally for Donald Trump in a 19,000-seat stadium in Tulsa after K-pop stans and GenZ Tik Tokers signed up to join the rally, and didn’t turn up – a move they’d agreed ahead of time.
There are other examples of stans – particularly K-pop stans – hijacking events that go against their values. One of my favourites was last summer, when stans took over a white supremacist hashtag, flooding it with K-pop videos.
Stan communities, K-pop or others, are a force to be reckoned with. And brands getting involved with ardent fandoms need to think carefully about how to approach them.
Here are a few things to keep in mind before approaching such communities:
Know your fandom inside and out.
If you don’t know – and care, deeply – about the community’s purpose and subject, don’t get involved. Nothing falls flatter than trying to muscle in with a “hello, fellow kids” mentality. These communities can spot fakeness from a mile away. You could consider working with an influencer or someone the community knows and trusts to create a gateway in.
Make it a real commitment.
These are not communities you can engage with and then leave. Being a part of these fandoms means showing you’re embedding your brand in the culture, rather than exploiting it. That means regular engagement – really getting under the skin of the community.
Consider your clout.
Does your brand actually have the clout and permission to be a part of this fanbase? Think about the credentials you have, and whether your voice will be credible. What have you done to serve the community’s fans? How do you relate to them, and how do they relate to you? Importantly, are your values in line with those of the fandom? These are communities who may have passionate views on political and societal issues. Make sure they’re in line with your brand’s views.
Make sure your values align with those of the community.
As with the Tulsa rally, these communities are powerful, and international. Avoid any backlash by ensuring your brand really does match the beliefs and values of the community. Go against the values of the community and you could find yourself dealing with a systematic and sustained ‘cancel culture’ campaign.
Stan communities are an extraordinary force. As with any fandom, brands should invest the time, research and the right people, in order to deeply understand the community before jumping in.