Fandoms are incredibly influential and engaged groups, and brands are just starting to understand how to harness their power.
The fandoms of today are incomparable to simple fan clubs of the past. Highly connected and organized, Millennial fan groups have taken fandom to a new level, creating active communities online that go far beyond fawning, and have real world clout. According to Ypulse’s research on Next Level Fandom, 36% of Millennials say they belong to a fandom like Little Monsters, Cumberbitches, Swifties, Bronies, etc. (We’ll be revisiting this massive trend in our upcoming Ypulse Quarterly report.) Massive amounts of content—videos, artwork, GIFs, and fanfic—are being created daily by these fandoms, who connect, engage, and grow online.
All of that content and communication can be a massive resource to brands. To learn more about harnessing the power of fandoms, we spoke with Jared Feldman, the founder of Canvs, a technology platform created to measure and interpret emotions of fans and provide real-time metrics of their feelings. He told us about the importance of listening to passionate audiences, and how fandoms are shaping marketing and entertainment content today.
Ypulse: How were fandoms a part of Canvs’s start?
Jared Feldman: The content started with HBO, which has to have one of the most rabid fan bases, with True Blood and Games of Thrones. Their shows air Sunday nights, and Monday morning they say, “How did I do last night?” There really was no qualitative way to figure out what fans cared about. You could certainly understand how much they were talking, but when it came to what were they feeling, what were they responding to, what resonated, there was no way to do that, that was automated, trustworthy, and scalable.
So my co-founder Dr. Sam Hui—he’s a scientist, and was my professor at NYU—and I set out to design a system that could accurately take into account how people talk. It turns out for a given show, like Teen Wolf, about 65% of all of the conversations are completely unrecognizable by traditional state-of-the-art sentiment analysis tools. The systems were designed for well-worded sentences, and properly constructed grammar, and real words. Millennials don’t speak “properly,” especially online. We are the most important generation ever, until the next one, and no one knows what were saying. We are on this mission to advance the way we understand people.
So we designed a platform that can ingest any short form text and output a summary of feelings. We do this for the TV industry, with a syndicated portal called Canvs.tv. It looks at all new and live series on TV and on streaming content, essentially in every given minute how fans are responding to what they are watching. There are two core problems we have to address. The first, as I mentioned, was no one speaks properly, so we had to build our own knowledge-base, our own anthology. We have over four million emotions that we manually calibrated over the last few years. The second big problem is that fans are diverse, they have a spectrum of emotions: sometimes they are shocked, sometimes they are upset or bored, or they love it or they hate it, but it’s certainly not just positive and negative. It’s more complex than that. Our system essentially grades fandom on 56 different dimensions. We call them core emotions, and every show we score with these measures. You can actually see at scale and across time how fandom evolves for a given property. Literally as these fans are saying how they feel, we understand it in the same breath.
The majority of us spend a lot of time wanting to make sure the content resonates. Last year, there was about $40 billion dollars spent globally across sectors on focus groups and surveys and opinion polls, and the media space is like $9 billion of that—and yet there was a billion tweets last year about television while it was on, and no one knows what they said. We are focused on closing that gap and getting an accurate depiction of how fans feel.
YP: Do you feel like fandoms are becoming more powerful forces in the entertainment industry?
JF: One hundred percent. We have undeniable proof that the industry listens. The methodology of broadcast society is that there’s a few gatekeepers who tell us what we can and can’t watch, and that’s it. If you grew up like I did, I had like five or six channels I could watch. Now there are hundreds of pieces of content available to me any given moment—and I don’t even subscribe to cable. In this new paradigm, expression is democratized and everybody has a voice. Now there’s opportunity to participate in our medium. We have about 30 clients and most of them are TV networks leveraging our platform every day to make sure they understand how fans are reacting. It affects how they cut trailers, it affects what content they write, the website…Ad sales groups now use it to tell stories about their content. Networks are saying, “my show is funnier than your show, therefore I deserve more dollars.”
Brands are using it for investment purposes. They already know the most watched shows on TV— but you and I both know that the most watched shows on TV just measures how many TVs were on, not necessarily if they were watched. We’re essentially helping them understand the most emotionally engaging show on TV, the funniest, the most loved. There’s a magnitude difference in the amount of engagement, the amount of ad recall, the amount of loyalty and purchase intent displayed by this super passionate group. The more we do our job educating the market that emotional fans, passionate fans drive business outcomes, the more they are starting to listen to the fans. There’s a big opportunity there.
YP: What are the main pieces of fan chatter that you are collecting and analyzing?
JF: It depends on the social source. I think there’s two angles to this. The first is, how do networks think about fandoms, and the second is how are fans choosing to express themselves. For networks, you’re seeing a shift, a very consciousness intentional shift, from controlling the construct in which fans participate to empowering the construct to which fans participate. So with HBO for example, to the lead up into the last season of Game of Thrones, they see a large percentage of people hate seeing King Jeoffrey, they are able to then create a brand hashtag called hashtag #RoastKingJeoffrey. Then literally open it up to the community where anybody can give their best insults to King Jeoffrey. But they are also targeting the fans that they know hate him, so the engagement is off the charts. So there’s the organic component which is there’s all this earned media that networks can utilize, and once they identify that opportunity, creating a sort of an empowering platform or marketing play around that is one of the most gratifying things, because the fans feel they are hearing them and they get to participate.
That gets us to the second piece, which is fans react to what they see, so if they see something that’s interesting they’ll talk about or share their opinions about it. If they are super-invested they will create their own content around it. For a show like Game of Thrones, all of the correlated content—there’s no way a content creator can be responsible for all of that. You can see the entire Tumblr pages, or essays being written, or tons of events with experiential components to it…There’s no limit to where fandom goes, you just have to listen to them first.
YP: What would you say is the one thing that everyone should really know about fandoms?
JF: The cliché is listen to them. In the TV space ignoring the fans is just a no-no—it’s really important to start with the niche, to measure them and understand them, to see them, because those become your advocates. In the real world, you need them to create additional content, to share their feelings and they’re way more likely to do that. So identifying them, measuring them, and contextualizing them—because it turns out that a small group may stay a small group, or a small group may influence a larger one.
Before Canvs, measuring fandom was essentially a quantitative exercise. But now you can understand the passion and emotional resonance of the content. Of that $40 billion I mentioned, tthere was only a couple $100 million—$200 or $300 million at most spent on social media monitoring, across verticals. If you think about that gap, a couple $100 billion versus $40 billion, it’s because social isn’t seen as social science yet, it’s not a lens into humanity at this point. It’s still sort of this fluffy, buzz indication. That’s no longer the case. This is a new opportunity to with fresh eyes say, “People are passionate about this product. Let’s see how passionate they are, let’s figure out how to fan the flame there, and how to create a platform that empowers these guys to create their own content.”
YP: Is there anything that you’ve learned about fandoms that you didn’t expect before you created the technology?
JF: The thing that blows me away is just in general, social media behavior. If you pick a given show like an episode of Scandal, or one of these super popular shows, you know that they’re popular…But we have a leaderboard with the most emotional people that are reacting to the show, and top one will react 300-400 times in a given airing, which is just astounding to me that that’s a thing. When you think about having to extrapolate that, when we look over a given season at “negative” or “bad” emotions like hate, what Canvs is doing is that we are able to say what percentage of that is character driven, and then you can also quantify behaviors, you can see when people are saying they hate something about the show but they are doing it every single week. That’s kind of a fun way to think about what you’re doing right or doing wrong, and rethinking the paradigm of participatory media and sort of how to take advantage of it.
Jared Feldman is the CEO and Founder of Canvs, the technology platform created to measure and interpret emotions. Canvs provides insight and context around how people feel towards content. Jared has grown Canvs from a small social media startup to a multimillion dollar company supporting clients like HBO, Viacom, Starcom MediaVest Group, NBC, CAA, UTA, and more. He’s a Social TV thought leader passionate about innovation and continuously pushing the boundaries of social media insight.