Not so long ago, the media and entertainment industries were obsessed with reaching the audience. Today, it’s all about communities. And nobody knows this better than Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
If you haven’t already noticed, the word ‘community’ has all but replaced ‘audience’ among today’s content producers. YouTube creators have their fan communities. Facebook’s latest mission statement is 'Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together'. Netflix revealed at the 2018 Television Critics Association Press Tour that it uses ‘taste communities’ to make programming decisions.
As consumers of content - the folks they used to call an ‘audience’ or ‘fans’ - we’ve apparently all been given an upgrade to family.
This can seem strange when you consider what really drives the entertainment business. Linear ratings, subscriber growth, opening weekends - all measurements of audience size. And the advertising that supports entertainment is still planned around those metrics and demographics. So why all the touchy-feely talk about community?
The answer lies in the radically altered relationship between consumer and maker. As power has shifted away from the latter and toward the former, driven largely by social media and the changing definitions of fanhood, smart content makers are embracing their role as tribal leaders, not distant providers of entertainment.
Brands need to factor this new reality into their work with celebrity influencers if they expect to wring real value from those relationships.
At Trailer Park, we recently asked thousands of consumers across the country to help us define the word ‘audience’. One answer from a teenager in rural America put it simply: “It’s a connected tribe of fans who interact around a shared interest.” That, in a nutshell, is why community is the word of the moment. Fans are now more than consumers, they are active participants in success. Award acceptance speeches have never been so fan-centric. Trailer Park’s research shows that 64% of consumers agree with the statement, ‘I’m more likely to post something if I feel it’s under-represented elsewhere’. Under-indexing psychographics, interest groups, fan segments, subcultures, and everything in between advocate when they spot representation of their like-minded community. This is a timeless truth, amplified by social media.
Given this new reality, it’s not surprising to see celebrities behaving more like tribe leaders than icons. Anyone with a sizeable audience eventually becomes a victim to sustaining that audience. What’s super-charged today, however, is the value exchange between them. We the people stand behind you, and you, our leader, rewards us with representation. This is a truth inherent in the DNA of social media ‘influencers’ and a behaviour increasingly embraced by the biggest names in Hollywood.
From Taylor Swift to Chrissy Teigen to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, there’s something different about how they interact with fans. It all feels, well, kind of YouTube-y. It’s not just that these more traditional celebrities are getting better at the internet, it’s that the nature of celebrity has changed. These content creators are not just icons but community leaders who have learned to operate with that mindset. Today, fan intimacy and collaboration are indispensable elements of celebrity success.
This new mindset may have reached its apex with Rampage, the recent action flick starring The Rock. The original ending was a downer, so Johnson rewrote it with his fan community in mind. Why? “My problem is I have a relationship with an audience around the world,” he told Rolling Stone. “For years, I’ve built a trust with them that they’re gonna come to my movies and feel good.” Those are not the words of a traditional movie star, but a leader who understands and respects the expectations of his tribe.
What does this have to do with brands? As the rules of celebrity have changed, so have the rules of partnering with stars in hopes of attracting their followers. To be a good partner, you have to understand these new ends, and even help celebrities achieve them. These rules are still being written, but here are three that should guide anyone forging a partnership in the community age.
1. Build reach from the bottom up: Forget Q Scores. Instead, look at the celebrity’s fan community - online and off - and ask yourself how they can help you expand your reach. And just as important, how can you help them achieve that same goal?
2. Find creative inspiration in fan love: Elements of a fan community - from slang to imagery, memes, insider jokes, and narratives - can stimulate a core segment of the audience.
3. Ask what the community would think: Assume talent has a responsibility to their audience. Filter creative concepts with that in mind.
As long as media is measured by the eyeballs it attracts, audiences will continue to matter. But today, the key to growing audiences is to foster your community. The sooner you understand that, the sooner you can become a true and trusted celebrity partner.
Jake Katz is SVP, strategy at Trailer Park