I’ve been on the outskirts of a lot of fandoms. I’ve watched a lot of shows that have some seriously dedicated fan bases and have even participated a bit in a few. The fandoms vary a lot depending on the format of the show (obviously) but they all have one thing in common: passion. I know all of this is nothing new to most people. We all know how important these communities are and (if you’ll pardon the PR speak) how a few key influencers can be tapped to build an intense, interactive following.
All of that being said I’ve been around the fandom block and I’ve noticed some key differences in how they’re cultivated, some worse than others. In light of last night’s Arrow episode (no spoilers, no worries) there was a lot of expected divisiveness. Being a widely watched popular CW show brings a varied fan base that skews a bit younger it’s to be expected. They don’t pull their punches with the content and I appreciate that but the show runners aren’t exactly the best example when it comes to their social media presence.
They’ve got a large group of fans with very passionate yet, disparate ideas and yet they meet a lot of criticism with disdain. That breeds ill feeling and it spreads quickly. They’ve had this unchecked battle of Felicity versus Laurel fans for a few years and instead of encouraging fans to stop pitting women against each other they’ve let it run rampant even going so far as to make snide comments at fans that articulate an impassioned opinion. If you’ve got a fan base this passionate there’s so much you can do with that. There are a lot of ways to coach them through an event like last night’s episode and they have really seemed to fail by all accounts.
There are a lot of fans like me who live-tweet, engage social occasionally, make fan art and generally promote the show. I’ve gotten a lot of people to watch Arrow but I always warn them against engaging online and the fact that I have to do that is a real detriment to the show. I don’t like having to say that the fans are generally pretty mean and show creators (Marc Guggenheim specifically) that I like can be very callous and reactionary. I understand not wanting the small segment of online engagement to dictate the direction of the show but outright ignoring your biggest supporters and responding to their anger with flippancy is a great way to alienate your best advocates. And I’m saying this as someone who really likes the direction last night’s episode is taking the show.
As an example of good management I’ll point to Syfy’s Haven community. The audience is much smaller and skews a little older but they’ve had some serious, controversial episodes and they have dealt with their fans beautifully. The actors, writers and creators all made great efforts to engage with their fans and commiserate with them over certain plot points. They managed to explain their decisions without derision and would admit if they made choices they were unhappy with in the end. They were accessible, relatable and a lot less precious about their vision and it really helped to build a supportive fan base.
Fandom is important. Whether you’re creating a show, writing novels or selling cars. Managing your community is an extremely important part of the process and one where I’m seeing networks, like the CW failing exceedingly. Without the fans there’s no one to submit artwork or take your polls. They’re the ones you’re creating for so treating them like unruly children rather than the driving force behind your success will always be a very poor choice.
EDIT: I’d like to clarify that I think the CW social team handling the backlash from last night’s episode did a pretty good job of explaining their viewpoint and managing fans. I think it was a great episode and a good choice. The only problem I have is that, in my opinion, the fan community hasn’t been cultivated well over the past four years and can be extremely nasty. I think this is a sign of poor management overall. It could honestly be any number of factors and I’m needlessly throwing some blame on the social media team but I’ve seen a few of the show runners make some snappish comments to fans that irritate them and when you’re handling something that people are this passionate about you just can’t react that way. It’s rude to the fans who dedicate so much time and money into supporting you. Your intended target isn’t the only audience on Twitter. Ok, I digress, Arrow’s a great show, you should watch it and avoid the online audience like the plague. And be the change you wish to see in social media.