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Why is it so easy to fall back into a routine when you’re with your best friend? Whether it’s been a day, or even years since you last saw them, what is it about the friendship that makes it just click? At the core, it’s the shared experiences, unique to you and your friend, that have had a profound impact on your lives and make your relationship feel familiar and easy. This impact surfaces in the form of inside jokes threaded throughout the conversation via small anecdotes, tidbits, and memories only you and your friend understand. They bring you closer together, recalling the shared experiences and simply put, make you happy.

Fandoms, fans of something connected daily to each other, drive friendship and thus, are more valuable than fans alone. We look to cultivate them for the programming developed with our brand partners. There is power in fandoms and they’ll pay a brand back in dividends with brand affinity if you properly stoke them. How do we know when a fandom has taken hold and what indicators can we look for in real time? How do we leverage the fandom? Look closely at social conversation, you’ll see the same hallmarks of what makes your real-life friendships so great, inside jokes. The love language of fandoms is inside jokes.

Listen Carefully

Look beyond the surface metric of a campaign having x% in positive sentiment. Engagement metrics alone won’t suffice. Dig deeper. What is the community saying? Are there patterns or trends that it’s gravitating towards? Specific references or memes to past episodes or seasons? These are all important filters to work through in surfacing inside jokes. Once you see them occurring, your efforts are moving in the right direction and you can begin optimizing messaging, leveraging the conversation.

Tread Lightly and Speak Softly

The key is to subtly reference their unique language in your owned social copy output and engagement. It begins as a wink and handshake acknowledgement of their language, and evolves into seeding iterations of their language, grounded in the original, expanding upon their lexicon. Acknowledge, iterate, and expand. Once you’re fluent in their language, you can begin seeding original content that you predict will be adopted as the fandom’s own.

Fluency Bears Fruit

With Netflix’s Stranger Things, now in its second season, a strong following grew and quickly latched onto the quasi-abandoned plotline of Barb. With #freebarb and #JusticeForBarb as common language, Netflix fed the fandom with Barb content and even used her in outdoor advertising.

At Fullscreen, we first observed this phenomenon within the AT&T SummerBreak franchise on YouTube. The audience referenced past storylines and cast, and they were in turn the most engaged with comments in the entire thread. The most popular inside joke is a reference to a season three episode when a cast member spent an excessive amount of time in the shower while her friends waited. This was memorialized within the fandom as, “last time I was this early, Sofia was still in the shower!” We proactively seeded GIFs and copy that acknowledged, iterated, and expanded on this language.

Finally, when launching Guilty Party, a scripted series under the AT&T Hello Lab umbrella, it was taken a step further. YouTube profiles were created for story characters and commentary seeded into the comments section, helping shape the language from the outset. Fiction was then blended with reality, with language, “Good Manners”, from cast member Miles McKenna’s actual fandom teased into an episode titled, “Bad Manners”. The subtle wink to his following ignited a greater affinity towards the Guilty Party channel, observed as a surge in viewership and conversation.

Commitment Fosters Language & Affinity

Four areas of focus assist in developing your own brand love language:

    • Listen and learn: Stay close to your audience and listen to what they’re saying. Make sure you’re comfortable in your understanding of the language before acting.
    • Dedicate resources to act quickly: Social moves fast and if you’re not ready to act, you’ll miss your chance and quickly become irrelevant. Keep space on your content calendar for these open windows.
    • Develop long-term programming strategy: Strong franchises create fandoms. Each has a love language of inside jokes and an audience waiting to reward brands for learning their native tongue. For AT&T, it was to the tune of benchmark breaking positive shifts in brand perception and consideration.
    • Keep listening and optimize: Listening and learning doesn’t just end after the first couple of words, it’s a constant state that should be leveraged to frequently optimize.

Mastering the fine art of a fandom’s language can be challenging, but when done right, the possibilities for authentic brand engagement, and in turn brand intensity, are endless.