The Golden Age of Creator Communities
A few months ago, pre-lockdown, I was walking through an empty Sydney at around 11 pm at night. Wandering back home, likely looking for a bite to eat to take the edge off an evening of tequila with friends. As I round a corner onto one of the city's busiest high streets I meet a crowd. All lined up, in front of a closed store. They were bedded down, ready for a long evening presumably ahead of doors opening at 10am coinciding with a rare sneaker drop. Hypebeast culture.
This is a sight we are all familiar with. We all know a collector of sneakers. As I kept up my pace towards a boat noodle soup I started to think about the why. It’s plain that this isn’t about a dope pair of sleds. But if not the sneaks, then what. The answer struck me… community. This is a subculture that lives online. They congregate on forums, hyping on Discord and Telegram. Their ritual is a calendar of drops that they covet and the line in front of the store, all night is their church. It occurred to me that this is one of the few times this community can come together, in person. An opportunity to congregate, to be together and share their common obsession. Be with their own people. That pull is enough to shift behaviour outside of their normal lives and do something quite difficult… think about it, when was the last time you spent an entire night awake, in a city, standing in a line? I can’t say I’ve ever done that.
"If a brand can build a die-hard community, their growth path is paved in gold."
Such is the power of a community.
Our communities give us a sense of purpose, a sense of place and ultimately a means of survival. What communities do, from a practical point of view, is teach us how to behave. Behaviours are important. They are codes or signals that help us identify common ground with others in an, often, socially disagreeable world. Those behaviours also define the way we consume. The things I eat, wear, attend, listen to, watch and the places I go, all code me as a part of a community. As humans, we are all expert at reading these signs and adapting as expressions of culture evolve. It’s no wonder there is an increasing focus on community building in the business world.
Community is at the centre of our social experience. The social experience is at the centre of our evolutionary advantage. Community is hard wired into every aspect of our lives and is how we are guided to make decisions, assess threats and opportunities and ultimately community forms the pressure that moulds who we are and where we are going.
"Think about the historical timeline and the impact that community has had on the formation of culture."
Humour me, imagine you’re Grog and I’m Mog, we’re cavemen (If the names didn’t give it away), our lives are saved by our ability to communicate and not just communicate with each other but communicate with our tribe. Human’s unique ability to form complex sounds AND be able to differentiate those sounds AND be able to assign meaning to those sounds allowed us to form the ability to communicate with rich meaning. The outcome is collaboration.
Jump forward in time with me now. The development of language meant the development of storytelling and that can’t be understated. Along with our ability to weave a yarn came the collaborative sharing of tradition, of ritual and of wisdom and then arose ontology, the area of study that considers reality, being and existence. At this stage we see our communities form around our ontological need to understand the ‘why’ of our existence. Religion is born and this guides our community development for millenia. This also gave rise to the combination of a top-down community governance style that was adopted by corporation, government and military.
"Collaboration equals survival. You gather, I’ll hunt, we’ll both make shelter and we’ll increase the chances of our endurance."
As we enter the early-21st century our relationship with those communities starts to change. Government begins to secularise (to a point), military isn’t glorified and corporation, recently defined by the 80s/90s, greed-is-good paradigm of capitalism (really, corporatism and cronyism) struggles to maintain its position with the young and the idealistic.
Enter Social Media. All of a sudden we can connect with individuals that we aspire to be like. In the 90s we connected with celebrity through talk show interviews, magazines and fragrance ads. The comms were one way and we felt that. We were disconnected from the people we aspire to be like. In 2012, all of a sudden the communication became two-way. Celebrities became engaged with the obsessed people that give them voice — enter the first creator communities, forming online. Those communities grew and became valuable. Communities around individuals, communities around publications, communities around ideas but at the centre of all these communities are people who are creating value. The creative photographer, the creative writer, the creative thinker, the creative maker…
These community platforms (IG, Twitter, Tik Tok, Substack etc). became adept at connecting anyone with skill and a will to publish that skill with a distributed community around the world.
The aggregation of distributed people into a cohesive structure that can be easily communicated with is valuable. That value is derived from an authenticity and connection to a person that brands want but eludes them regularly.
"Brands try to borrow communities."
When a brand hires a PR agency they are attempting to tap into someone else’s community. When they collaborate with other companies they are attempting to tap into someone else’s community. When they host events they are attempting to bolster their own community and when a brand hires a creator they access that creator’s community.
Consider the fanatical community that surrounds Streetwear brand Supreme or consider the infamous football hooligans, communities built around sports brands that will go to jail for their team (brand). The reality is that a brand’s customer base can form a strong community and that community, if leveraged well, will drive revenue, product innovation, marketing, growth, store expansion, market expansion and more.
It’s no wonder that every brand out is doing whatever they can to build strong communities. Just like collaboration and community provided security and a path to survival for our distant ancestors, it also affords brands and companies the same path.
Only the gatekeepers of community now are Creators.
The golden age of creator communities is here. All hail ;)