What fandoms have taught me about Community Management

by Danielle Schwerin April 26, 2018

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.

The bigger picture

If you nurture it, your community can and will self-manage and self-direct in 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.

Revealing what’s behind the curtain can produce real magic

There are many reasons for things to be kept private – whether you’re  a celebrity or a brand. But letting your community into certain intimate areas 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’ can be used for good

Trolls are hard work for a community manager, but you can use their presence in constructive ways. When Stephen Amell, star of the TV show Arrow, encounters and addresses trolls in his Facebook fan group, 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).  

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

Have you ever noticed the trending hashtag #GISHWHES during August each year? GISHWHES (or the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen) is one of the two charities launched by Supernatural star 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.

Amell is a passionate advocate for the fan art his community produces. 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 that Amell’s cancer charity, F**k Cancer, features fan art and memes sold to raise funds for causes the entire community hold dear.

Mistakes can be funny, personable and part of your brand

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 Torchwood – and his infamously flamboyant 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, quite oblivious to how powerful social media can be, barely noticed his faux-pas. Barrowman noticed and was 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, and both enjoying the opportunity to be vulnerable and real in front of fans.

Fans watching TV

Your community can be your buffer in a crisis

Star Trek icon George Takei has created one of the most successful and original Facebook fandom communities. His formula of posts that his fanbase 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.

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.

Keep it real

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 his community seems to be enjoying the personal engagement and banter. The transition would have created less ripples if managed transparently.

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 MacGyver), John Barrowman and the godfather 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 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 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.

Feeling inspired?