The Value of Fandoms in Understanding Audiences

The concept of fandom is of growing significance in the area of market research. While fans represent the most dedicated and enthusiastic members of a consumer base, fandoms get at fans’ connection to a larger community with specific characteristics and rules. In recognizing the benefits fan loyalty poses for brands and entertainment intellectual properties, companies are becoming increasingly interested in how fandoms operate and how teamwork can be fostered between fans and production companies to ensure the well-being of beloved projects.

What is a fandom?

In 2016, Troika, a marketing agency, published an in-depth report exploring the various mechanisms behind fandoms. The publication describes fandom as “a love story”, driven by three major motivations: self-care, social connection, and identity. By engaging with something they love and are comfortable with, fans can use the emotions they experience with their fandom to help process events in real life. Fandoms also allow fans to bond with like-minded persons and find self-expression through integrating what they love with who they are as an individual, as well as a community.

Fans are also extremely creative, generating immense value with their projects. In his book, ‘Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture,’ scholar Henry Jenkins evokes the concept of collective intelligence, which describes how fans pool together knowledge and resources when engaging with their favourite works. Think of a Reddit page for ‘The Bachelor’ where fans of the show search for clues about who’s going home next, or a knitting club creating, with wool and yarn, the iconic characters of the Harry Potter universe. Collective intelligence and fan creativity speak to fans’ desire to take elements of what they love and reconstruct them in ways that are meaningful. An expression of love can often come in the form of a funny meme, an emotional video, or a flawless costume, just to name a few manifestations. While many companies have traditionally worried about this kind of fan reconstruction, a central part of fan dedication is the ability to customize content for oneself in order to create deep, meaningful connections with works.

Where are fandoms?

Most fandoms are found online. Though an initial sweep using key search terms can reveal ample fan activity, more complex considerations must occur in order to better understand specific fandoms.

Fan posts on different social media platforms take on different characteristics depending on the platform. Instagram, for example, is ideal for image-based content like memes, while Twitter’s instantaneity and brevity allows for sharing live reactions. There are also sites dedicated to specific creative genres, such as (a hub for fan editors who combine clips from anime with music) or (where fan fiction writers post pieces based on anything from books to celebrities), some of which have long histories as physical communities predating the internet. More recently, an article in The Verge revealed that Zoom is a new hotspot of fans coming together to share their favourite shows and music virtually.

Whether it be a fandom with a long heritage or a newly formed video-call group, each fandom requires respect and care when researched, both in terms of the people within the fandom and the information fandoms provide about themselves. The best studies are produced through a variety of approaches, from surveys based on numbers to ethnographic interviews relying on detail. Researchers often take on immersive methods, interacting with fans in ways that can both produce intimate insight and ensure ongoing interaction.

There is an emerging branch of market research in tune with fandoms and made up of researchers who have expanded beyond the quantitative nature of the field to incorporate qualitative approaches. Several researchers have described this approach as fan anthropology, since it utilizes ethnographic methods that preserve the nuance of human experience. For example, Susan Kresnicka, the researcher behind the Troika report, states in a Variety article that, “we need to understand the deepest form of value we create for people if we ever want to fully translate that value into stock prices, dividends, and paychecks.” 

As well, Fanthropology, an agency whose name hints at this new appreciation for fan culture, offers an audience-oriented approach that includes helping studio partners develop projects and market with fans in mind. These researchers recognize the importance of qualitative emotional engagement, which contributes not only to consumer loyalty and satisfaction, but also to the success and longevity of projects. 

The importance of fandoms to Canadian productions

A major strength of Canada’s media output lies not in its scale, but in its cultural resonance. 

The Canadian mediascape prioritizes diversity, complexity, and cultural specificity, allowing niche topics and voices to shine. These values construct an ideal environment for tight-knit fandoms with strong cultural ties to the titles they care about. 

Canadian projects have already produced some of the most positive and dedicated fandoms out there: the Earpers (fans of ‘Wynonna Earp’), the Kimbits (fans of ‘Kim’s Convenience’), and the Schittheads (fans of ‘Schitt’s Creek’) are notable examples of that. 

Investigating fandoms can demonstrate the value of Canadian projects in ways that can either supplement or even move away from traditional measures, such as ratings and box office revenue. In this qualitative and cultural approach, we learn more not only about the success of certain titles but also about the rich cultural significance that ultimately makes media projects worthwhile.

Photo credit: 'Kim's Convenience' actor Simu Liu speaking at Comic Con San Diego in 2019. Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 2.0

Jessica Yang
Jing Xian (Jessica) Yang is a PhD student at the University of Southern California, studying the intersection between new media and fandom research. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia, double majoring in Psychology and Film Studies. Jessica’s current work aims to harmonize quantitative methods with cultural studies and textual analysis in an effort to better capture the complexities of online trends and communities.
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