October 26, 2021

Community Creator Economy — A Guide

Erin Staples

What is the community creator economy?


The community creator economy is a subsection of the creator economy that specifically focuses on those who are leveraging their networks, communities or their fandom in order to generate value.

Why are we exploring the community creator economy?


In recent months, we've seen an explosion of the community creator — someone who makes a living through community — whether it be through activating their fandom, audience, paid community and private access, partnerships, or private events.

What does this guide cover?


This guide covers what is a community creator, what are the pros and cons of being a community creator — and how could you become one.


What is the Community Creator Economy?


The community creator economy is a subsection of the creator economy that specifically focuses on those who are leveraging their networks, communities or their fandom in order to generate value. What first got its start through early YouTube, gaming or related Internet culture communities, we've now seen the types of creators evolve and behaviors spread out across other types of communities.

What differentiates the community creator?


  • Great at building community, and converting their audience into a community.
  • Focused on decentralization — how can they stay connected with their members across a variety of different platforms.
  • Value is generated by the community — members know one another and share similar interests, traits or behaviors.
  • Rituals, habits and traditions are largely carried out across the community.
  • Oftentimes, the community parallels fandoms or fan-like behavior
  • Embraces participatory culture for the benefit of the greater good. (Jenkins, et al. 2009)

Community Creators leverage their community gaps to build relationships that previously may not have been possible.


One of the first examples that really stood out to me — is Kanye Dating. While this may not have started as a community creator bit — it's grown because the creator, Harry Dry, leaned into the same tactics we all do to build community.

Dry provided a way for folks to participate in a fandom, a community of individual that's share a common interest. In Dry's case, this was Kanye West and his fans and stans. He leaned into this fandom in full force — embracing the natural creator culture that later evolved. Through conversations and community culture — Dry fostered connection and a mutual understanding between Kanye West fans that later drove growth.

Companies splash thousands on “growth hacking” goon squads but having one mind like Bart Simpson on your team is more valuable.
Now — I'm not encouraging every marketing team to go out and hire another Bart Simpson (please, god no), what I'm encouraging is that teams should know what makes them, them, and channel that. (in the world of marketing speak — that's your unique selling proposition). Community Creators often tap into this larger fandom to provide fans a venue to participate in the community.

We all just want to be heard — community creators facilitate belonging among their members.


At the end of the day — no matter WHO you are, most humans have the same emotional pull — we want to be heard, valued and loved.

Here's where the power of community comes in — community gives folks the space to be heard, valued, and dare I say geek out on together on a variety of topics.

The cool thing? This can be a powerful tool for bringing people together that you may not catch in the same space. Clay Shirky in his book, Cognitive Surplus, chats about how Josh Groban attracts fans from grandmothers to teenage girls — all relating to the same goal, fawning over a musician.
Bringing together folks with different backgrounds and experience, building diverse communities, is essential towards building a better future. Later on in his book, Shirky also mentions the impact that your community can have on learning:

Knowledge, unlike information, is a human characteristic; there can be information that no one knows, but there can't be knowledge that no one knows. A particular bit of knowledge lives only in the minds capable of understanding it. The community of those who understand 'happy birthday' is much larger than the community that can understand Sanskrit poetry.

I've often said I'm bullish on community because of how it brings people together, to go somewhere, or accomplish something. It makes sure that folks are taking time to not only discover something for one another - but also encourages you to practice empathy for your fellow humans.✨

What does the Community Creator Economy look like in practice?


Community Creators rely on the participatory culture of the internet.


One thing that separates the community creator from your traditional creator is that they rely on the participatory culture of the internet. Rather than content being their primary medium, a community creator relies on the larger participatory culture of the internet to give their fans a place to come together to belong.

Take for example, Mr. Beast — a YouTube Star that offers individuals multiple different ways to participate in his fandom through content, online challenges, or even commerce.
We must remember that fandom, and therefore the community creator economy which is inherently rooted in fandom, is a verb, requiring specific action and participation.

What is participatory culture? Why is it relevant here?


Originally defined by Henry Jenkins, participatory culture describes the environment in which fandom, communities and the community creator economy henceforth exist.

According to Jenkins — Participatory Culture can be defined as below.

For the moment, let’s define participatory culture as one:

  • With relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
  • With strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others
  • With some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices
  • Where members believe that their contributions matter
  • Where members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created). Not every member must contribute, but all must believe they are free to contribute when ready and that what they contribute will be appropriately valued.

This same framework that created participatory culture has made the community creator economy possible. This framework demonstrates how individuals can participate, create, and share insights with one another.

What to be mindful of in looking at community creators + their related communities

  • Who's participating?
  • What does the makeup of the community look like?
  • Who has power?
  • Who has a voice?
  • Who is moderating this community?
  • Who is benefitting from the network and relations created?

Asking yourselves these questions allow you to better understand what is the future of the community creator + how it can continue to be an equitable industry.

Community Creators rely on their skills as community builders to develop a community worth building.

The Fandom of Community Creators


In many ways, Community Creators are following the same playbook that fandom does at it's core.
Fandom can be used as a business model more often than we realize — at its core, fandom is just simply folks with similar interests and causes coming together to pursue interests of their own accord.

According to Zoe Fraade-Blanar, author of Superfandom and professor at NYU's ITP program — even some of the ways that we actively crowdfund is based on fandom. Any Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, or crowdfunding campaign relies on tapping into your own fan communities.

Fandom can be incentivized by economics


Fandoms inherently drive spending — oftentimes, people will pay to foster that sense of belonging. From your major entertainment franchises (Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Fast and Furious, Harry Potter), to major sporting teams (New York Yankees, SF Giants, Golden Knights), to even our local trivia teams supporting breweries through being a fan of bar trivia!

In some ways — we've seen corporations and brands acquire brands or franchises based upon the pull of the larger fan community — take Disney's acquisition of Star Wars for example. The business case of fandom and fan groups largely predicts the business case for much of this latest wave of community-driven businesses.

So where does fandom and the creator economy overlap?


Fandom and the creator economy overlap through providing passionate folks an outlet for their passion — with a creator often facilitating the development of that group. they both tap into an individuals desire for belonging and feeling included as part of their passions. The act of fandom itself is largely rooted in creation. Fandom, in itself, a verb, much like relationships.

You build relationships with someone else by doing something. Relationship building isn't a passive action — and neither is fandom or community building.


The question of authenticity


The question comes to mind, if creators are profiting off of their community — is the community truly authentic?

And for that — I'd say it depends. Fandom in itself is inherently not authentic, fandom is crafted, curated, and manufactured. It's largely a tool created in the participatory culture that we live in, one of which we gain a sense of belonging and identity from. However, we're not talking about fandom, we're talking about communities.

While community and fandoms aren't inherently different, community and fandoms aren't inherently related as well. Communities rely on interpersonal relationships rely on authenticity, trust, and connection — largely all things that do not scale. Fandom, and in part the community creator economy is largely something that does scale, relying on the flywheel captured and created by the various members within the fandom.

The community creator economy, taps into the participatory structures that fandom has relied on in order to grow, scale and be fiscally sustainable, however relies on community as the means to retain and sustain individuals for the long run. The community creator focuses on a shared larger goal, where will we go together. This larger goal gives members of the community an increased feeling of belonging and motivations towards staying involved.

"Fandom is not autonomous; its products are not in any simple sense “authentic.” For starters, fans are responding to products that are massproduced and distributed for commercial profit, and they intervene in those practices to generate forms of culture that more fully address their own fantasies, desires, and interests. As fan activities migrate into new media platforms, their activities are also often taking place within commercial contexts, where their attention is commodified, their data are extracted and sold, and their texts are claimed as the intellectual property of the host companies."

Chapter 1: Fandom, Negotiation, and Participatory Culture, by Henry Jenkins from A Companion to Media Fandom and Fan Studies
In order to maintain its roots in community and not dissolve into a fandom, the community creator must rely on the relationships between the many:many. This means the creator themselves must maintain an active presence as well as continue to foster personal relationships within the community at large.

These little actions — while not seemingly insignificant — still play a larger role in how we perceive the community for years to come. ✨

Want something added to the guide — send Rosie or Erin a DM ✨

—Erin Staples