For as long as there has been something to be a fan of, there have been fandoms. People once gossiped over Mozart as if he were an 18th Century Beyonce. A new Monet painting was the Kanye West album drop of its day.
But the internet has reconfigured fandom. There are Swifties (for Taylor Swift), Loves (Dua Lipa), Barbz (Nicki Minaj), Livies (Olivia Rodrigo), Sheerios (Ed Sheeran) and, for fans of gyrating hips, Sexy Souls (Ricky Martin).
Every megastar artist now has a thousand Reddit pages gossiping over their latest public sighting, and the online influence of fandoms like the BTS ARMY is something to behold (insult Jungkook at your peril).
This modern super fan phenomenon is something Jacquelle Amankonah Horton wants to tap into with her company, Fave.
Fave is a social media platform and fan-centric home for celebrity obsessives. It’s a place where fandoms congregate, share stories of their favourite artists, dissect song lyrics down to the full stop. It also hosts a fanmade merch marketplace.
While still in its early stages, Fave has attracted two of pop music’s biggest fandoms to its platform – the Swifties and the BTS ARMY.
It’s also backed by the music company behind BTS, HYBE (formerly Big Hit Entertainment.)
The early beta kicked off in April 2021 with the Swifties. For the Taylor Swift community, the platform incorporated an immersive video feed, groups custom built to specific fandoms, a leaderboard that shouts out the most engaged fans, and a points system that lets dedicated fans unlock perks and recognition.
For BTS super fans, Fave gained thousands of downloads through a multi-day launch that included live events across the US, virtual dance classes and watch parties.
Rewarding internet fandom is nothing new. Where there were street teams, there are now Twitter retweet campaigns. Fave, however, finds its USP in it being both fan-centric and partially fan-built (Horton explains more on this below).
Horton had her own fandom, of course: Eminem, back when he was wielding chainsaws. “I would go the lengths, print out every fact about him, make my own artwork,” she says of her formative Stan-dom.
But it was her time spent working at YouTube and Google that had some of its biggest influence on how Fave was built.
Over five years spent at the two companies, she says that she saw how the line between fans, creators and influencers were blurred.
Creators seemed relatable, not marketed. Their fan bases mostly conversed in the YouTube comment section, not in gig venues. In that, Horton spotted something she could tap into.
Here, Horton discusses Fave, the world of internet fandom, how her platform attracted two of music’s biggest fandoms, and how Fave plans to moderate them.
Could you explain the concept around Fave, and why there’s a need for a fan driven platform like this in 2021?
Fave is a social platform dedicated to fandom and which allows these fans to come together and connect more deeply with each other.
There are so many amazing platforms that allow for creators to share a message with their audience, but the fans are always sitting back passively and consuming.
Of course, they love to consume, that’s why they fall in love with the artist in the first place. But they also have a lot of stories of how they fell in love with the lyrics that touched them in the first place.
There’s so much energy that surrounds this consumption that there’s a lot of room to showcase that, to connect with each other and bond with people who are like minded.
There’s an instant bond, and leveraging those connections is super valuable. It’s an area we haven’t yet tapped into, and it has a huge potential.
Were you part of a fandom yourself?
I was in a fandom. I was obsessed with Eminem when I was younger. I knew everything about this person, but I had no place to showcase that, no place to talk about him or meet other fans. The industry didn’t get anything from me because I wasn’t able to go to concerts or buy merch.
They also didn’t know they had this crazy superfan out there, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. There just seemed to be a huge untapped opportunity for leveraging superfan passion that I was keen to explore.
On the professional side, I worked at Google and YouTube for five years. This was where I would see platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that allowed for creator-to-fan communication.
“I was obsessed with Eminem when I was younger. I knew everything about this person, but I had no place to showcase that.”
But there’s a huge white space that only lets people connect via comment, or show their love through one tap of a heart. Meanwhile, people are crying in their bedrooms obsessed with these people, but all they can do is ‘like’.
It’s always these super passive actions and microtransactions that don’t always leverage the full depth of passion that somebody is willing to go to.
This begged the question of, “Hey, how do we get this started?”
You’ve started with Taylor Swift and BTS on Fave, why are their fandoms the first on the platform?
Early last year, before any line of code was written, we began by interviewing a bunch of fans. What does this user group need? What do they struggle with? What do they want?
A lot of those fans were Taylor Swift fans, so we started meeting a network of Swifties. From there, it was natural for us to continue on that route and build on it. We wanted to start with one fandom to really build that sense of community and understand how that would work.
Even though we have these relationships with labels and management teams, we aren’t taking that as the approach.
“super fans know the inside jokes that maybe the artist don’t even know.”
We aren’t working directly with the artists to have them start the fandom and then create all these campaigns. We’re partnering with the fan influencers.
Those [influencers] are the ones who want this. They are our core customer. These super fans know the inside jokes that maybe the artist don’t even know.
There’s plenty of products out there that allow these creators to have a space for their fans to get exclusive stuff, but what would you want out of the community? And how do we work with you to build what that is? That served to be a very interesting space and partnership for us than only going through the artist teams.
We took a similar approach with the BTS launch. Hybe is one of our investors and they’ve been a major partner, but we’re not relying on them to bring the boys to the platform.
We’re saying, thanks so much for this investment and we cannot wait to work with you on this, but let’s shift our focus to the fans and the ARMY – this huge, self-sustaining fandom.
I think people underestimate how much time and attention and focus fans put into their fandoms, so we wanted to learn from them and partner with them to launch Fave.
This provided us a unique take and spin on making sure that the space we’re building was built for the customers, not necessarily for how the artist wanted it to be.
How does Fave generate revenue?
Right now, we have one revenue stream potential for us, and that’s the marketplace.
That’s where Fave takes a 10% cut of the sales generated from the fan seller. The artist also takes a 10% cut of the revenue. The fan gets 80%.
how does the licensing work?
What we’re doing is helping to mitigate the feeling that artists have where they see a product being sold, [they think] this is all infringing on a trademark and send takedown notices.
“Artists are not going to make bathing suits or a lamp with their face on. But the fans will.”
Artists feel kind of icky about seeing some of these other things getting created. But we want this to be a partnership [between artists and fans], not adversaries.
Artists are not going to make bathing suits or a lamp with their face on. They’re not going to make a handcrafted picture frame of their name. But the fans will. They can leverage that to be a business.
there are other products that artists might not want their face on. How is that picked up?
The artists have control over the items that are being sold by blocking things they may not be comfortable with, but they’re not necessarily there to say, “Let me pre-approve everything that comes in.”
Users can flag content, just like any user generated content platform, but the artists can also go in and share with us what they want on there.
An artist might not want their face on a lighter, so we want to make sure that that empowerment also goes back to the artists.
How will moderation work on Fave?
It was a big stream of work to make sure that these fandom stay safe and that people can have the safe haven they’ve been looking for.
There are fandom wars that can break out. There are ‘antis’ that can come in and intrude on the fans who are just having a great time and want to throw something in there. Then there’s just general social media trolls.
It was a thought of mine [when creating Fave] on whether I wanted to create another social network that adds to that on the internet. But we took it very seriously, and want to find ways to innovate in this space.
There are the table stakes features of blocking and flagging content, but in future we want to experiment. How do we make somebody who is causing unnecessary chaos on the platform appear less relevant within the product? Does their user profile dim a little bit if they keep getting flagged frequently?
We’re exploring ways to allow for people to enter the fandom if, and only if, they really are a fan. How do we allow for that block, but not isolate fans who are new to the fandom and can’t answer a long quiz? There are experiments and ways to balance this, but it’s absolutely a train of thought of how we make this place a home.
You mentioned earlier that Fave is backed by Hybe, which runs fan community platform WeVerse. Will there be any crossover there?
We’re thinking about this for the future. I’m hoping so.
Is Fave in any way influenced or inspired by your time at YouTube and Google? Particularly the way YouTube creators and influencers make money and the ecosystem around that?
We’re starting with these mega pop stars but we don’t see us just staying there. There’s other genres of music, but there’s other genres as a whole. There’s movies, books, TV shows, and then social media influencers, which is its own world.
These [social media] creators don’t always have huge machines behind them, or a label who can help them strategize around their fans.
They’re using these tools themselves to figure out what to do, and they have just as rapid as fanbases. Maybe your parents don’t know the name of this creator, but this person has millions and millions of followers.
Some insights I picked up in my past days were that people would say they connected more with a YouTube creator than a movie star, because this YouTube creator is themselves. They actually know them, rather than a character that a person played in a movie.
The bond with them is even deeper. I think creating these worlds for the people who love these creators is yet another entity for us to tackle.
Is the ambition there to open the platform to all levels of artist in future, from small to mid sized artists?
We’re trying to be very meticulous in how it works to get a fandom to the point where they’re self-sustaining. For the ARMY, we threw different events, a dance class and an album discussion in partnership with the fans.
We’re really looking to see what works and what doesn’t, and once we learn from that model then it’s duplicate, duplicate, duplicate.
In a lot of cases, it won’t duplicate. Even between the Swifties and ARMY, they’re very different fandoms. What works for one does not work for the other, but we want to learn about the nuances that do work to equip fan partners with a playbook they can use to start building their own fandoms.
As soon as we gather this data we’ll be opening the floodgates to many more fandoms.
What fan communities would you like to see on the platform in the future?
I’m obsessed with the [reality] show Big Brother, which a lot of people either love or hate. I’ll start that fandom. But I want to see what sports fans do with this. Sports is really good at fandom and leveraging their fans already, but do they have any value with this?
Our curiosities are more around these different, nuanced ways to experience being a fan, but I am curious to see fandoms of that band in a town that if you go somewhere else nobody’s heard of them, but in that town everyone goes to their shows.
Those die hard, 1,000, 10,000 or even 100 fans are just as powerful as somebody with 100 million followers on Instagram.Music Business Worldwide