A Change in Fandom
A little over a decade ago, I watched the Suite Life of Zack and Cody nearly every day of the week. As a seven-year-old, I was a obsessed with the show’s actors. One week at school, I heard that Mr. Moseby was distantly related to a classmate of mine — I took that fact as a token of my own stardom.
In the Disney treadmill, young actors like Dylan and Cole Sprouse, went from little social profile to hundreds of thousands of fans. They were either broadcast to the many TVs in America’s home, or they were not. In this new paradigm of content consumption, digital creators are the new Disney stars, but there are gradations to their social fame. They can see clear metrics on their growth, from 1000 followers to 10,000 to 100,000 (Disney stars could not). And so too can their fans. Fans take note of when they follow a creator and take it as a form of immense pride when they watch that creator reach new levels of recognition. These gradations in growth have borne a new type of fandom.
In the era of Disney stars, the fan phenomena were characterized by super fans who would, at the sight or appearance of their favorite stars, yell “I am your biggest fan!!.” Today, another modality of fandom has arisen: the Day One Fan.
Day One Fans are the class of subscribers and followers who followed a creator before widespread attention and massive follower counts. They subscribed to Mr. Beast when he had less than 1 Million followers, rather than 50+ Million.
Instead of yelling “I am your biggest fan!,” these fans yell (in digital and physical realms): “I followed you when you only had 10k subscribers!”
In just a decade, the fan experience has fundamentally shifted.
There is immediate gratification in knowing you selected a creator before their exponential growth, akin to holding bitcoin when it sat at just $1000. It is a form of social currency for young people today, one that carries more weight than the extent of your fandom.
Spotify has brilliantly capitalized on this phenomenon with “Wrapped” and the “Day 1 Club.” For a near 48 hours every year, Spotify monopolizes the Instagram stories of every Gen Z and Millennial.
Spotify recognized two things:
- It is not easy to track when you started following someone (fans don’t have a portfolio of creators they think will make it big in the same way one would in the stock market)
- A Day One fan is prideful and social media is a virtual feed of people’s pride.
By recognizing this, they gave people a way to prove their “bets” to themselves, and importantly, their social network.
But few other platforms or startups have arisen to create and formalize this social currency.
“One area that I think is unexplored and relevant to this conversation is digital merch. What does digital merch look like? Not your avatar wearing a digital shirt. Rather: a badge saying you found this person early. Being able to flex to your friends that you found an artist or a content creator before everyone else — and you can actually prove that through your badge. It’s like the idea behind tour merch — it means you were there early and a real fan. What is the digital equivalent of that?” — Blake Robbins
The basic formula is clear:
- Identify who your top fans are.
- Understand them deeply.
- Productize (whether its a ticket, token, badge, trading card, or anything else)
Result: Build loyalty, monetize, and create an amazing fan experience
However, each one of those steps, as if this moment, is challenging to do. Most social platforms hold on to the most important fan data points. This fact, in of itself, effectively nixes steps 1 and 2.
A creator must reach a certain following before there is the emergence of a Day One Fan. But that very fact also poses the problem. Social platforms do a poor job at segmenting your audience. They give you high level, not granular, data. So, at 1 million followers, it is unclear who the first 10,000 were.
I also wonder whether the emergence of the Day One fan will result in increased support for up-and-coming creators. If the feeling of being a Day One is a good feeling, then it follows that people will put themselves in circumstances that increase their likelihood of that feeling coming about. I imagine a flywheel of the following sort:
There are a number of missing steps here, but it is nonetheless an interesting opportunity. Disco 💃 has a neat approach to helping small artists find fans that could capitalize on a similar flywheel.
A Larger Problem: The Fan Experience Sucks
Ask any person who has spoken with or met a creator they subscribe to and you will swiftly learn how special/validating those encounters are. Sadly, these situations are rare.
In the digital ecosystem, fans are relegated to two primary locations in the hopes of securing the attention of their favorite creators: Direct Messages (DMs) and Comments.
Some creators have explored alternative methods for engaging their community. MrBeast has welcomed select fans into Minecraft servers, created pop-up kitchens, given fans millions of dollars, and more.
When you leave a comment on a video, it doesn’t matter whether you were a Day One, whether you bought their merch or listened to their song on repeat, or whether you subscribed just yesterday. You are just like the other thousands in the comment section. When you try to reach your favorite creator over DMs, it is similarly the case.
It is an unfulfilling fan experience as much as it is an unfulfilling experience for creators.
The fan-to-creator and creator-to-fan experience, which starts in comments and DMs, must consider more variables in its calculus and design. Devoted Day One fan should be able to bypass the DMs of new followers, and creators should be able to sort their messages and comments by more than just “most recent.”
Ultimately, the feeling of being a Day One is unmatched, but also under-productized. There will be a new, defining social status that comes to the surface when solutions arise that prove to a fan they were an early follower.