Before I begin this, I need to define what I mean by fandom because fandom and entertainment fans (consumers of popular culture) can often look alike but they frequently don’t act the same.
Fandom, Members of fandom:
- Group that shares a common interest in a media product such as Harry Potter, Twilight, Star Wars, Pokemon, Starcraft, etc.
- Are actively engaged with the product and other fans by having discussions, creating and commenting on other people’s fan fiction (art, vids, icons, costumes, etc.), attending/organizing conventions, organizing campaigns to save/improve the media product, etc.
- Form relationships based on shared interest where the relationships with other fans are central to their activities.
Entertainment fans, consumers of popular culture:
- Do not have a group identity as fans of a show.
- Are passively engaged with the product by having conversations, commenting on blogs, blogging about the show, consuming the product.
- Relationships are not at the heart of and purpose of their interactions with others who share their enjoyment of a media product.
Put simpler: Fandom is about relationships. Entertainment fans, not so much.
Which brings me to Twitter and my sometimes confusing relationship with it as a fan. And after a number of conversations with other fans, this is a problem that a number of other fandom people on the outside looking in suffer with. What use is twitter for fans? What use is Twitter for me as a fan?
I come from fandom out of mailing lists and LiveJournal where relationships are key. If there is an author I love, I would try to form a relationship of sorts with them. I might ask to be there beta reader. I might e-mail or IM them with questions about their stories or what else they are working on. If they were writing to slowly, I might leave lots and lots of feedback or beg them to WR1T3 M0R3! I might friend them on LiveJournal to keep up with what is going on with them. If I get to have a relationship with them, then my enjoyment of the thing for which we share an interest is enhanced. I have another person to squee with over new episodes, and insure that stories I love will be continued, have some one to unite with against other people in the community I don’t like. I might also have some one who could attend a convention with me or share a hotel at a convention with me which could make attending that convention cheaper. I’ve got a friend. Well. Sort of. Once our interests change or if I do something which upsets the person’s ability to enjoy the community or the material, I don’t have a friend any more. But while we’re both in that relationship, we’re great and we communicate a lot.
If I want to get “ahead” in fandom, if I want to have greater influence, I form relationships with people who are in the position to help me. I can make friends with fan fiction archivists, with authors who have huge amounts of readers, with content producers, etc. And if I want to be able to leverage these relationships for my own benefit, I’ve got to actively work on maintain those relationships in order to maintain my status because they key to staying on top, well, the phrase is “What have you done for me lately?”
So along comes Twitter. Twitter is great. Twitter is love. For the social media lover in me, I can’t get enough of Twitter. It means I can follow people I met at BarCamps, keep up with what is going on in the wiki community, possibly get some traffic for the site I run, can network with people who might have leads for work for me, can interact with news organizations in a way that I haven’t before.
Except, well, for all the great things Twitter does for that, it doesn’t do much for me as a member of fandom. Fandom is all about relationships remember. It is one thing to follow a person and comment, but that’s not enough in fandom. You need to have more focus and extended conversations. The Twitter format just doesn’t allow for that. It is too short to adequately share love of the source with or to hold conversations with others. If you do try to have extended conversations on Twitter, if you’re not providing value to others who follow you, you could lose followers. Ick.
One of my friends has other issues which put her off Twitter as a member of fandom. Twitter is very immediate. You can’t hold conversations over an extended period of time because the format doesn’t lend itself to that. If I am out on Thursday and miss the new episode of CSI and my friend watched it, we can catch up on AIM or blog about it a couple of days later, when we have the time. Twitter doesn’t allow that. And when your relationship is dependent on that shared material, the inability to slow the flow of conversation on your own terms? It can be bad news.
Another friend has issues with some of the comments on Twitter being so banal and unrelated to why they care about the person. They don’t care that you just woke up, that you’re eating breakfast, that you landed at Heathrow, etc. They don’t care that you are having a conversation with SEO with some one on Twitter that teaches you a lot. (I get this a lot from my fandom friends on Twitter. Especially when I start having conversations with people they don’t follow. They’ve considered unfollowing me because I do that so often.) What are they getting out of their relationship with me when I do that?
Another issue that comes up is content. Why follow me on Twitter for news about what I am doing fannishly when you can keep up with that on Fan History’s blog, my LiveJournal or on Fan History’s InsaneJournal asylum? The information is better, more detailed and easier to follow. It is easier to keep up to date because the content is much more focused. The blog is going to be about fandom. The posts will be once a day. You’re not going to have to filter around my other random content. If content is king, then Twitter, unless carefully focused, mostly includes links and doesn’t involve loads of engagement that is off putting, then well, Twitter fails. Content on Twitter isn’t king when it comes to relationship maintenance.
So relationships that are dependent on Twitter end up feeling shallow, where they feel hard to leverage for your relationships to faciliate your enjoyment of canon and accomplish your goals in fandom. Things feel even more confusing when Twitter appears to require a large follow list to be viewed as important on or influential on Twitter (and in fandom). How can you have relationships with people that are meaningful, that give you something back, when you can’t actively engage people because the “content” disappears so quickly and could easily be missed? In terms of my fandom relationships, I find I can’t maintain them like I can in other places. I end up having to play catch up with Twitter by reading their Tweets when daily summaries are posted to their LiveJournals.
In the end, what this means for me is I, and a number of my fannish acquaintances, haven’t figured out how to use Twitter for our fannish enjoyment. Yes, I know how to use it to promote my projects. Yes, I love it for networking professionally. I understand how to use it to monitor reputations and get celebrity and entertainment news. I’ve found some great Chicago related social media events. Fandom though… still a problem and I can’t see it changing.