What fandoms have taught me about community management

Television shows and movie fans can help community managers understand and manage their communities, writes Quiip's Danielle Schwerin

Living is learning. If you’re open to the experience, there are many many ways you will gather and apply knowledge in your career.

As a community manager, my participation in communities (both online and offline) has been just as important to the development of my skills and strategic thinking as professional training has.

Here are some of the top things my participation in the fandoms of my favourite television shows and movies has taught me as a community manager.

If you nurture it, your community can and will self-manage and self-direct in the most fantastic ways
Since the days of the original Star Trek, TV shows in the science-fiction space can usually expect a dedicated following (or fandom). The TV show Supernatural – led by Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, and Misha Collins – was never an exception to that rule.

But the way the show and its stars have nurtured their community has created a something far bigger than the show itself. That community – self-named #SPNFamily – is now capable of not only following its leaders (with some pretty awesome results for charity and the community itself), but of self-directed actions that the community members deem are part of the #SPNFamily ethos.

Sometimes showing the wizard behind the curtain is actually where the real magic begins
There are many reasons for things to be kept private, by a celebrity or a brand. But sometimes letting your community in can create a true sense of belonging and camaraderie. #SPNFamily became more than just fans following a TV show in March 2015 when Jared Padalecki shared his long struggle with clinical depression and anxiety. Where Padalecki had expected stigma, he encountered compassion and a willingness to help.

When the Always Keep Fighting charity was launched to raise funds for, amongst others, To Write Love on Her Arms, fans came together and quickly surpassed original fundraising targets. They even secretly organised a candlelight vigil as a show of support at San Diego Comic Con.

‘Trolls’ are community members too
“Hello, Facebook” –(Captain) Stephen Amell, actor and leader of the TV show Arrow fandom.

Trolls can be hard work for a community manager, but it is important to remember that they are also a part of your community. When Stephen Amell encounters and addresses trolls in his Facebook community, he does it by addressing the whole community to make everyone feel part of the community (regardless of whether they have joined just to start trouble and pick fights). Very few users who have joined his community simply to troll receive further engagement beyond Amell’s messages of welcome, and most don’t stick around to continue attempts at disrupting the community.

Being weird, wacky, and wonderful is perfectly okay if that’s who your brand is supposed to be
Have you ever noticed during the second week of August each year the trending hashtag #GISHWHES? Have you looked at some of the accompanying tweets or pictures? If you had, you may have noticed that it all looks a little weird. GISHWHES (or the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen) is one of the two charities launched by Supernatural’s Misha Collins.

Collins is as kind as can be but is also downright eccentric, and his two charity brands – GISHWHES and RandomActs – are equally as offbeat, focusing on spreading acts of charity, kindness, and support amongst the fandom in the quirkiest of ways. One of his biggest aims is to find ways to make fans that may be considered shy or socially anxious comfortable as they interact with others – because everyone is weird and that’s okay.

Similarly, Stephen Amell is a huge and supportive fan of his community, and in particular, the fan art that they produce. On the back of support from Amell, several graphic artists from his community have gone on to become quite famous for their works, selling it to the fandom and beyond. It’s not surprising then that Amell’s cancer charity, Fuck Cancer, features fan art and memes on the merchandise sold to raise funds.

Mistakes can be funny, personable, and part of your brand
Nobody’s perfect, everybody makes mistakes. But what do you do when that mistake is public, really public? I present to you John Barrowman – fandom favourite from Arrow, Doctor Who, and its spin-off Torchwood – and his infamously “clothing-optional” husband Scott Gill.

Barrowman is a big fan of communicating with his community using Facebook Live, sharing his life and travels on a regular basis. In one viral Facebook Live incident Gill wandered on over to their hot tub sans-clothing, whilst John was happily chatting with fans on Facebook live.

Gill, being someone who is quite oblivious to how powerful social media can be, barely noticed his faux-pas. Barrowman, however, noticed and was quite embarrassed. But with sharing his life in raw and unfiltered ways being part of his brand, Barrowman decided to leave the video as part of his community history, watching his husband end up going viral.

Your community can be your buffer in a crisis – The George Takei effect
George Takei created the most successful and original fandom-based Facebook community. His formula of posts that his fan-base found entertaining and informing, combined with his own witty commentary, saw his page receive engagement rates that most community managers dream of. “Uncle George” brought together his fans in a way that fostered community out of a global group who were ostensibly strangers.

So when Takei joined the long list of celebrities accused of impropriety and sexual misconduct, his community was his breathing room. It was his space, where he could talk to his community and explain his side of the story.

I make no assumptions as to which version of this discussion was the truth, but the community manager in me noticed that his community was his haven and his buffer in a time of crisis. Because he had taken the time to build a good relationship with them, they were willing to listen to what he had to say.

And isn’t that the dream for a CM? Having spent our time each day building relationships, when something goes wrong – as it inevitably will – we’d love to have the space to say our piece and have our community engage with the information we provide calmly.

Be authentic
When it was revealed recently that many of the posts and jokes on George Takei’s page were written by others, that content management had been taken over by an agency, and the personal commentary and replies to community members had dried up, the harmony and engagement within the community began to wither, with many choosing to unfollow the page or becoming active ‘trolls’ of the posted content.

But guess who recently took back his Facebook? That’s right, Uncle George is back, and so far community seems to be enjoying the personal engagement and banter.

And finally, facing your personal fears can be worth it
This is one that’s very personal to me. A community can make its members brave enough to face their struggles and fears. Encouragement from my fandoms made me strong enough to face crushing crowds and the anxiety of claustrophobia at Oz ComicCon and Supanova ComicCon – where I over the years I have been fortunate enough to meet Richard Dean Anderson (aka MacGuyver), John Barrowman, and the God of comics Stan Lee!!

Similarly, participation in mental health communities can help members to let go of fears caused by social stigma so that they can openly disclose their journey and struggles. Sporting communities can similarly empower members to stick to their journey to fitness and achievement.

While these are the things that I have personally learned from my fandoms, there are many more things that can be learned from the communities we interact with and apply to those we manage. So as a community manager, I encourage you to take the time to stop and think what your daily interactions can teach you as a professional.

*Fandom = “a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest. A fandom can grow around any area of human interest or activity. The subject of fan interest can be narrowly defined, focused on something like an individual celebrity, or more widely defined, encompassing entire hobbies, genres or fashions”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fandom

Danielle Schwerin is community manager at Quiip


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