Brands, Fans, and Exchanges: Differentiating Between Fandoms, Transactional and Social Brand Communities, and Brand Publics

Brands, Fans, and Exchanges: Differentiating Between Fandoms, Transactional and Social Brand Communities, and Brand Publics

Breanna M. Todd, Catherine Anne Armstrong Soule
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1048-3.ch004
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Although fandom has a rich history within pop culture, it is difficult to know what constitutes a fandom, what differentiates fandoms from similar phenomena as well as what different types of fandoms exist and how fandoms are formed and maintained. In this chapter, the authors define fandom and the related member actions that create and maintain fandoms, as well as delineate the concept from the similar fan-brand communities of transactional brand communities, social brand communities and brand publics. A typology for fan-brand communities is presented with two dimensions: 1) motivation for engagement; and 2) social status and relationship type. This typology can help guide researchers, brands, and marketers in effectively managing different subcultures of fans. This chapter may be used as a starting point for further understanding of fan-brand community-based relationships.
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Hannah is a young woman who is highly involved in a community formed around a mutual love of a specific entity. Every day she checks online forums and social media groups to stay up to date and is known by others in the community as the biggest fan. Hannah routinely participates in staking, milestones, badging, and documenting (Schau, Muñiz, & Arnould, 2009). Staking refers to activities that set oneself apart, and Hannah does so through her reputation as one of the most dedicated and involved fans. Hannah’s first milestone moment was the first event she attended; at that event, she created authentic relationships with other individuals, marking a turning point in her die-hard loyalty. Hannah excelled in badging (presenting a signifier of a milestone), spending the next month decked out in fun and cheesy gear she received at her milestone event. Hannah also commemorated the event through documenting—she live-tweeted, discussed it with all her friends, and wrote a blog post about it. Hannah is forever loyal, dedicated, and affiliated… with the Lululemon brand community. The reader may have imagined Hannah’s milestone event to be a first concert or comic convention, but the event she attended was Sweatlife Festival, a weekend long festival where studios come together for yoga sessions, motivational workshops, and dozens of classes designed to “get your sweat on,” an event sponsored by and celebrating Lululemon.

Hannah’s relationship with the entity (Lululemon) and her actions within the community are similar to those of a fan within a fandom. A fandom is defined as a social network or community formed around a common focal entity, which could be a person or people (like a music band), a team, or creative content such as a TV series or literature genre. However, because the entity of Hannah’s affiliation is a for-profit brand that primarily sells tangible products, the social network created is a brand community rather than a fandom. The differences between traditional fandoms and brand communities lie not only in the nature of the focal entity, but also in consumers’ motivations for engagement and the nature of the relationship between community members. These distinctions are important for brands, marketers, researchers, and participants to understand.

This chapter begins by providing a brief history of the fandom construct to offer context in exploring the distinctions between types of fan-brand communities. Next, it discusses the difference between brand communities (both transactional and social) and fandoms and addresses the question of whether such a division is meaningful. If so, what are the implications for the consumers and brands/entities that make up these communities? When is the line between fandoms and brand communities blurred? Does this difference matter in the lives of consumers, and how can the structure of the fan-brand networks impact brand equity? Fandom participation has undoubtedly impacted millions of lives and has become an accepted, normalized aspect of modern-day society. Further, thousands of brands and entities have been influenced, supported, and extended by the fans that engage in their communities. But the concepts of fandoms and brand communities remain foreign to many; even those that participate in fandom activities may have limited understanding of the scope and influence of fandoms on consumer behavior and society as a whole. Often fans themselves have differing accounts of what constitutes a fandom and what it means to be a fan. As offline society and the digital landscape are converging, communities such as fandoms are uniting fans together in unprecedented ways. Understanding what it means to be a part of a fandom, as well as how fan communities develop and thrive, will ultimately allow brands and entities to better harness the power of community. This chapter proposes a new typology that delineates between the subgroups of fan-based communities through an examination of motivations for engagement as well as the related community interactions and social hierarches.

Key Terms in this Chapter

BRAND: A name created by an organization, person, or product symbolizing its commitment to a set of values, setting it apart from others, and creating recognition for its entity.

Narrative: A story recounting a sequence of events.

Status: A hierarchical social position created through social differentiation across groups and/or individuals based on any valued dimension.

Branded Buy Sell Trade: Transactional communities hosted on social media for the purpose of consumer-to-consumer buying and selling items of one focal brand.

Brand Community: A group of people, unhindered by geography, who share a set of social norms surrounding an affinity for a for-profit brand and who are frequently motivated by extrinsic rewards.

Community: A group of people that share particular characteristics, interactions, and/or ways of life.

Brand Public: An online space for an entity held together through continuous mediating practices centered around organized collectives using hashtags or topic areas.

Fandom: A group of people engaged in social and creative activities that are related by a commonly shared artistic or entertainment-focused entity.

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