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Sneaker enthusiasts, aka Sneakerheads, know the importance of looking good in a fresh pair of kicks. Settled between sports culture and hip-hop culture, Sneakerheads have carved out their own community on YouTube.

Sneakerheads have a near encyclopedic memory of shoe style and history, all the way down to the subtle differentiations in color and other changes from one generation of shoes to another. They love everything about sneakers, from the look, to the feel, to the history of the shoe.  Specific shoes in specific “colorways” have names like “Grape 5s” or “Military Blues.”

When Sneakerheads are asked about their personal histories with shoes, many can recall the shoe that made them fall in love with sneakers, the first shoe they collected, the most expensive, rarest, most comfortable… the list goes on and on.

Crowds form over sneaker releases. Like Apple releases, it is not uncommon for people to buy an extra pair or two with the intention of reselling them. Queues and crowds form outside shops. People even camp out.

The waiting game

 

Language

Sneakerheads have their own words like “heat” (a rare shoe), or “deadstock” (shoes that have never been worn).  Blogs and other users get shout outs for hooking them up. There is even a word for someone concerned only with the hottest new shoes rather than those more appreciative of the culture and history of sneaker collecting – “hypebeast.”

The language gets more complicated and harder to understand for the uninitiated, depending on the kind of video. For example, a “pickup video” or a “top 5 favorites video” might take more time to go over each shoe, which therefore gives more time to the viewer to catch up through context.  Whereas a sneaker “closet tour video” or a video about a large collection would be harder to keep up for a viewer not in the know.

Sneakerheads on YouTube shout out to each other and to members of the community, including tastemakers and sellers. Not only do Sneakerheads make videos on YouTube, but they make videos about each other as well.  Sneaker culture loves investigating the sneaker collections of the rich and famous. There are more official shows that do this for the community, in addition to individual vloggers.

Because of the ties between sneakers and celebrity culture, especially within the hip-hop and sports communities, there are all sorts of videos celebrating that connection. Basketball players open up their shoe closets for exploration by niche influencers online.

 

Commerce

The inter-community commerce of Sneakerheads is impressive because there is an understood code for the value of a pair of shoes. Unlike most people’s relationships with shoes as something to simply buy and wear until the end of the life of a shoe, Sneakerheads’ shoes, if worn, are kept as close to “deadstock” condition as possible. There is an emphasis on Nikes, especially Dunks, Airs, Lebrons as well as Air Jordans, along with shout outs to Reebok and Adidas.

Sneakers are fashionable collectables just as much as they are collectible fashion. Sneakerheads buy, wear, sell, collect, trade or admire sneakers.

The commerce of collectibles is in full swing when looking to buy kicks. Sneakerheads post videos showcasing shoes they are putting up for sale or trade. Unlike other platforms, YouTube is ideal for components to social selling as well. Sneakerheads can build rapports with their viewers so that if one decides to sell some shoes, the customer base has already been established and their familiarity with a collection has been solidified.

Urban apparel/street wear is also featured heavily. Shoutouts to brands and individuals that help dudes get gear are the norm. Some larger personalities in the community get sent products from brands in addition to making their own purchases.

 

Typical video style

Many videos are against the backdrop of a shoe collection. Sneakerheads differentiate shoes based on brand, line, make, model, color, sport, celebrity affiliation, comfort, cost and availability. These videos are frequently shot handheld or on a tripod and without lighting setup. When there isn’t a dedicated closet to display shoes as a backdrop, most of the time, shoes are stored in their original packaging, emulating the back room at a shoe store.

Videos fall into a few major categories: Pickups, Favorites, Collections, Closet Tours, Cleaning, and Personal Vlogs. There are some shows on YouTube dedicated to the more high profile elements of sneaker culture, but on the individual level, these categories tend to mirror those of other consumer-cultural verticals.

Because many of the most popular shoes, like Air Jordans and Nikes. have seemingly endless styles in countless colorways, there are seemingly infinite ways to categorize and show off parts of a shoe collection.

TimothyDeLaGhetto, a big time YouTuber outside of the sneaker scene, has a channel devoted to Urban Apparel.  His channel is sponsored by Foot Locker, which is way outside the norm. He once said the inspiration for starting his channel was by watching the Beauty Gurus and noticing that there wasn’t an equivalent for men.  His style is unusual and an outlier in the scene. But, his outlier status might stem from the fact that he is far more versed in the YouTube game overall, and it’s a positive sign that fan communities don’t exist in isolated bubbles.

“Let me tell you what this is about. Everyday … there are people asking me ‘dude, where do you get your shoes? Where do you buy your clothes? Where do you get your beanie? How do I dress? … So I thought, there is all these chicks doing makeup tips and ‘this is my outfit of the day’, and hauls and all this stuff, and I was like ‘you know what, a lot of my dudes out there need some guidance as well.'”

 

Closing Thoughts

Sneakerhead practices as earned media makers on YouTube are indicative of how certain communities establish relationships with brands and identities. Some of these video practices parallel other consumptive communities like Beauty Gurus and Fashion/Lifestyle vloggers. As a subgroup of shoes in general, Sneakerheads stand out because of how closely products and language are to both a sense of self and determining community boundaries.

To learn more about fan culture in general, check out our eBook or other posts about fan behavior.  If you think your brand or vertical might have a vibrant subculture on YouTube, check out some steps for finding your fans online. Or, if you really want to get into the weeds of the Sneakerhead world and go to SneakerCon, then don’t leave home without reading some expert tips and tricks for navigating a fan convention.

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Thought Leadership

 

At ZEFR, we’ve always been passionate about fans… because we’re passionate fans ourselves. And nowhere are fan communities more visible and vocal than on YouTube. For the uninitiated, diving into YouTube can feel chaotic and disorganized at times. But, if you look closely, you’ll see thriving communities organizing themselves into tribes and orbiting certain types of content. These are what we call fan communities.

Fan communities are more than just a collection of people that enjoy the same kinds of videos. They produce their own content, create their own language, and share spoken and unspoken rules of conduct, complete with hierarchies and leadership positions.

Our first ebook “ZEFR’s Anatomy of a Fan” serves as a introductory course on fan communities. It’s a must read for professionals hoping to use YouTube to understand their customers or reach more targeted audiences. When you’re finished with the book, you’ll understand what a fan community looks like, what makes a fan tick, and how the collective passion of these communities have created an overwhelming source of opportunity for brands. Choosing to ignore these communities, on the other hand, represents more than just a missed opportunity – you’ll be falling behind.

Meredith Levine, our author, has committed herself to studying these fan communities, diving into specific groups to understand unique practices, uncovering what fans are producing and consuming, and learning why they participate in these communities. She is a highly regarded author on the study of fan communities.  Meredith spent the last decade studying these communities including a UCLA masters degree on cultures of consumption and production by fans.

We’re very lucky to have her as our in-house fanthropologist, because if you don’t understand the communities on YouTube, you don’t understand YouTube.

She makes us a whole lot smarter, and I hope this ebook will make you smarter too.

Download ZEFR’s Anatomy of a Fan

youtube fans
Cultural Trends

photo above by Glenn Batuyong

So, you want to go to a fan convention? Fantastic! Conventions can be a great way to discover first hand who your most die-hard fans are. While going into the fan wilderness can be a daunting task, following these 6 steps should keep you safe. Overall, it requires doing a bit of recon and being flexible about plans.

Off we go.
 

1. A Sea of Fans

Prepare yourself for the sea of fans you will ultimately wade through.

You will encounter people overreacting when they see, speak, or breathe the same air as one of their heroes. You may or may not be able to correctly identify said hero, but this behavior is perfectly normal for fans in the wild.

There will be people dressed as things you don’t understand. This is normal. There will be people speaking very quickly using words you may not recognize. This is also understandable (unless you are a hardcore fan of whatever the convention is about, in which case, you might also be able to speak the language). There will be high-pitched shrieking.

There will be crowds. Lots of crowds. Fans have lots of patience and wait in lines. Unless you are speaking somewhere, the whole thing is pretty egalitarian, meaning it doesn’t matter who you are or how connected you are – you will still have to wait in line like everyone else.

The waiting in line is an opportunity to talk to fans and pick their brains. It is also an excellent opportunity to overhear conversations and witness fans in their natural habitats.

The best part about fan conventions is that everyone is there because they have something in common. There is an understanding that talking to strangers in line will happen and it is a way to make friends or network. People are more open to being approached in a convention setting than they would be in their daily lives.

Take advantage of the crowds by literally going with the flow. See where bottlenecks are and that will help to determine popular spots and events.

Pro Tip: If you must get through a crowd and you are on an expo floor, head straight for the perimeter of the room to do most of your traversing. Because those are the less desirable booths, the traffic tends to lighten up.

 

 

2. Schedule in Advance

schedule

photo by gamerscoreblog

Try to schedule a few things before the madness begins.  

Most of the time, schedules for conventions are published online a couple of weeks before the event. Go through the schedule and pick out what you want to attend. This is also the time to schedule meetings, as well as those crucial cocktail hours or “list only” parties.

Be sure to schedule in buffer time for waiting in lines, just in case. The easiest way to get off schedule is to be turned away from an event because the room has hit capacity. And, while nothing is more frustrating, it’s probably going to happen no matter how precise your plans are. So, mentally prepare for that moment.

ProTip: Do not forget LobbyCon. Find out which nearby hotels are the hubs for the event. This is where the late night networking goes on. Plan on spending some time there after midnight. Also, bring snacks. Nothing says expert like not having to leave a line because you have trail mix and a granola bar. Props if you are willing to share.

 

 

3. Create Goals

manowlbear
Set goals for what you are hoping to get out of the event.

Presumably, your goal is to get a feel for what the fans are like, but other goals include gathering demographic or psychographic information. Or, perhaps the goal is to meet a few key players or create more of a presence for yourself or your brand with your fans. In those cases, scouting to see if you want to be a sponsor at a future event is a great idea for a convention.

Are there certain panels you want to attend or people you want to meet? Learning about the ecosystem through the event programming is a useful goal.

Having a few actionable items in mind before the event will help keep you on track while you are there. It is important to not have too many expectations going in because plans change on the fly.

The best way to enjoy a fan convention is to be flexible and take opportunities as they present themselves.

ProTip: Make it a goal to get close to some costumed guests and listen to their conversation. To really get on trend, listen to what some of the younger fans have to say, because what you hear might surprise you. Plus, documenting the experience, or being in other people’s documentation of the experience, should definitely make it into your list of goals. Prove you were there.

 

4.  Get Your Bearings

comic con map
Orient yourself. Right after looking at the swag bags, read the map, study the schedule, and walk a lap or two around the venue that will contain the madness to come.

Give yourself enough time to figure out where everything is. Where things are located also speaks to the expectations of the event organizers about who will want to attend what. Stroll through the expo hall if there is one, just to see who is there. It is also worth figuring out which of the rooms are the biggest and what programming is in there. Conversely, which rooms are the smallest and what programming is in there?

It is important to figure out where each of the events you plan on attending is, and if you have scheduled off site meetings, where those are and how long it takes to get there.

ProTip: Don’t just get your bearings in the convention center. If you know a great offsite spot to recommend and check out, this will help create a more memorable convention for others. Learn the best places to get food where you and your companions won’t have to wait for an hour.

 

5. Stick to the Gameplan… unless of course you stumble across something totally epic

epic
Follow your plan as best you can.

The idea here is to follow the basic skeletal structure you’ve carefully created. If there are hard starts or hard stops for your time, be sure to pay attention to those.

If there are no hard deadlines, sticking to the schedule is one strategy. On the other hand, if opportunities present themselves for something more interesting or useful than what you had previously planned, live in the moment and go for it. And if you’re worried about missing something else, don’t sweat – someone will likely film or blog about that panel you had wanted to go to.

ProTip: With regards to stumbling across something epic, this can only happen by making friends, even if they are only temporary. That something epic can range from winding up at the same bar as that person you really were hoping to meet, or somehow getting into an exclusive party (that you didn’t know existed and certainly weren’t on the guest list for.)

 

6. Follow up

followup
Don’t throw away the time you’ve invested, and do the all important “post-convention work.”

When going to a fan convention as a professional, or as a fan, it is important to follow up with the people you met there. Using a convention to foster professional relationships and potential future professional relationships is one of the major reasons why conventions exist.

Process your data. If you were conducting formal or informal research, taking photos or video of the goings on, it is important to process this as quickly as possible so that the details are fresh in your mind.

It is easy to suffer from post-convention exhaustion because being around that many fans and having long days is both physically and mentally exhausting. But, it is important to not lose your thoughts and power through as best as you can so as to retain as much information as possible.

ProTip: Let technology help you by documenting the process and making connections immediately. The more you do at the convention while networking, the less there is to do after you get home. This is where connecting on social media and taking photos to document the process come in handy.

 

And remember…

Gathering fans together in one place is an opportunity worth investigating by professionals in the field and worth participating in as both an expert and newbie.  As the gaps between fans and professionals are increasingly bridged, understanding your fans en masse and engaging with them one-on-one are critical steps for this new branded space.

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photo above via Video Games Blogger

“A rabid breed of human female who is obsessed with either a fictional character or an actor. Similar to the breed of fanboy. Fangirls congregate at anime conventions and livejournal. Have been known to glomp, grope, and tackle when encountering said obsessions.”

– Urban Dictionary definition of “fangirl

Maybe you are a brand attending a fan convention for the first time. Or maybe you are looking to work with your biggest fans on YouTube. Any way you slice it, some fan behaviors might come off as insanity. Have no fear! What you are likely to encounter is merely unbridled passion and commitment rather than pure craziness. Part of connecting with your fans is discovering and embracing their culture. If you aren’t sure if you’ve ever encountered a fangirl in his/her natural habitat, here are five clear signs to watch out for:

1. Screaming, crying, and basically losing all composure in public

Fangirl behavior transcends time. Frank Sinatra had the bobby soxers. Elvis and The Beatles had their adoring, screaming masses. Today, Fangirls are not exclusively female, and they are as rabid as ever. Fangirls emote. They emote hard. Literally bursting into tears at the mere sight of their idol – it happens.

2. The Art of the Queue

Photo of the Hall H queue from San Diego Comic Con. Photo by Pop Culture Geek.

photo by Pop Culture Geek

Continue reading “How To Spot A “Fangirl”” »

Finding your fans on youtube
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Want to interact and engage with your fans on YouTube? Not sure where they are to begin with, or even how to talk to them? Here are some key steps to help you find your fan oasis and feel comfortable when you get there:

1.  Assess your current level of knowledge

How much do you really know about your fans? Some questions to think about:

  • Does your fan community have a specific name for itself? Can you guess where these names originated?

Whovians  |  Cumberbitches  |  Sneakerheads  |  Beliebers

  • What kind of language do your fans use to talk about themselves and the subject of their fandom?

Do they use words like emptiespickupscanonfanonFinnchel, acronyms like DFTBA, or phrases like “all the feels”?

  • Where are the online centers of the community?

  • Who are the community organizers and leaders?

 

2.  Find the “fan dictionary” – learn the language

Squeeeeeeee!

In order to search for your fans, you will first need to learn the language and keywords that can point you in the right direction. A good place to start is with the meme “you know you are an X if…” where X equals either the name of your fan community, or simply “fan of Brand Y.”

Then, dig into the results. Seek out words that are community specific, like mpreghypebeastcrossplaysquee, or bounding, and look them up. Looking up a definition for a community specific word will quickly lead to glossaries and dictionaries for the community. One community specific word will lead you to others

Some fans will use words that are about established online behaviors across fan communities. Many of these are acronyms like RPF (real person fanfiction) or OTP (one true pairing). Look those up as well if they are unfamiliar to you.

Once you learn their language, fan content will become a lot easier to follow.

 

3. Find the center of the fan universe

Joss the way we like it

WHEDONesque, the center of all things Joss Whedon

Where do your fans congregate? Where are the central hubs of information? Where are the historical records kept?

All of these questions will help you in your quest for understanding.

Fan centers and knowledge bases are usually online and have evolved into existing in a variety of places like: r/MakeupAddiction, everywhere on Tumblr, wookiepedia, as well as dedicated fan sites like Mugglenet or Nerdfighteria and of course, on YouTube. YouTube tends to be a major hub for fan made work.

Within these spaces find fans by searching for the community specific keywords, brands, and known influencers.

What kind of hubs fans are on to communicate with each other, how they store information and where they store information are all clues about the community’s thoughts on professionalization. 

 

4.  Follow the influencers

With our powers combined...The Beauty and Fashion Vloggers Alliance (BFVA) is the first organization of Beauty and Fashion Video Bloggers which unites today’s most influential voices while harnessing their massive appeal and network.

 

 

Influencers tend to know other influencers. They socialize with experts of similar taste and knowledge. Let the experts lead you down the rabbit holes of the internet to uncover the leaders of your fan community.

On YouTube, these rabbit holes present themselves in the related videos column, as well as in the content of videos themselves. An effective way to figure out who knows whom is through a kind of video called the “TAG.” Much like the childhood game or a chain letter, vloggers do a video answering questions or performing tasks, and then they tag some of their friends who also vlog to do the same kind of video.

Actually following or subscribing to earned media will help keep you up with trends in the fan space.

It is important to watch the videos and read the comments for insights about who knows whom in the community. This will also help to understand the style of the community as well as the enthusiasm and willingness to participate on the part of the fans who engage with knowledge bases and influencers.

So now what do I do?

Once you have this information about who your fans are, how they communicate, and where they conrgegate, then this information can be used to open up a dialogue with the community or influencers in the community. The beauty of being on a network like YouTube is that they are great for back and forth conversations, calling back to something that someone else did.

Some of these successful tactics include:

  • Referencing popular pieces of earned media in paid media campaigns
  • Including fans in paid media or doing brand integrations with earned media makers.
  • Using your most passionate fans as a focus group

 

Thanks for reading! Subscribe to our blog for more fan community building tips and unique insights into fan behavior on YouTube.

(photo collage via digital spy, ikeepemclean, The_Doodler, and whatleydue)

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