“I have a bad feeling about this…”
To most people, this is a phrase that you wouldn’t think twice about. To Star Wars or George Lucas fans, it has a much different meaning.
The phrase has been spoken six different times across five different characters across the series of films. And now that I’ve mentioned Star Wars, you probably also now have thoughts of Wookies, Stormtroopers, and possibly even canceled actors and spin-off shows and series.
The network effects of Star Wars expand well beyond the original films. To some, it’s even religion: the Jedi Church religion to be exact.
As, admittedly, a member of the Star Wars Fandom, my first two weeks living in New York — my then-boyfriend and I made the trek to see A Musical About Star Wars.
The off-Broadway musical, written by Taylor Crousore, was described as “exactly what you think it is. Star Wars fans who happened to be friends and love musical theatre putting together a show that featured absolutely everything you probably ever thought about the franchise.”
Wearing a lightsaber button-up, and galaxy dress, the two of us spent the next two hours geeking out and laughing along to parodies of 80’s songs telling the Star Wars fandom.
It’s Star Wars, and more specifically, a musical about Star Wars — as well as a very prominent sign that the Community Creator Economy is alive, well, and filled with opportunities.
But what can we learn about crazed Star Wars fans and spin-off musicals as it relates to community building and new business models? There are livings to be made through bringing people together.
Welcome to the Community Creator Economy
In the last year‚ it feels like everyone has their own fan club. And for many, these fan clubs and communities are an untapped market to make a living. In comparison to other startups — community creators have a different mindset than indie businesses, they want to see a change in the world, and a change in the world that starts with themselves.
From no-coders, communities about communities, lightsaber builders, or even ADHD comic creators — community has become a major perk for their fans, and something they’ll even cough up a pretty penny for. They’re looking for folks just like them – folks that want to nerd out and geek out about the same sort of world they’re interested in.
No longer selling services or resources, these creators are selling access to a community for connection. Exclusive rights to be part of that exclusive inner circle.
Look at it from a fan perspective and you’ll see this has been going on for some time now: sports fans make pilgrimages to major games, fans of the musical Hamilton trekked around the world and coughed up some serious dough to participate, and some book series fans participate in unique traditions and events (like what Pottermore is to Harry Potter fans), while startup junkies might participate in a hackathon (Startup Weekend).
Community creators are people who:
- Make a living off of community
- Believe access and connection are the largest reasons to purchase
- Provide exclusive content for the community
- Entertain niche subgroups
- Allow for deeper connection among fellow fans
Breaking it down, why these communities are not only natural, they’re the future
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned more of as I’ve gotten older, it’s that nerds do truly rule the world. In the past year, the pandemic has forced everyone to gather online and make new internet friends, rather than IRL friends. But geeks, nerds, and outcasts like myself have already been online and making these digital connections for quite some time.
Now, we’re all forced onto our screens, saying goodbye to the regular happy hour and hello to yet another zoom call or slack community to hang out in. It’s no wonder that businesses have caught on. Go to where the people are.
As Dr. Jason Tocci puts it — this geekdom has a significant financial impact:
“The economic import of the internet and the financial successes of high-profile geeks have popularized the idea that nerdy skills can be parlayed into riches and romance, but the real power of communication technologies has been in augmenting the reach and persistent availability of those things that encourage a sense of belonging: socially insulated "safe spaces" to engage in (potentially embarrassing) activities; opportunities to remotely coordinate creative projects and social gatherings; and faster arid more widespread circulation of symbols - from nerdcore hip-hop to geek-sponsored charities - confirming the existence of a whole network of individuals with shared values”
But this isn’t only happening online. Comic-Con is an example of a tangible, real community that has existed for years as an event that draws nearly over 135,000 attendees specifically to geek out about shared interests from over 80 countries!
While community creators have roots in nerdom, it’s no longer just for the geeks. The community creator is for anyone who is absolutely passionate about something.
Geeking out collectively on something isn’t only natural, it’s how we’ll start to even see more businesses grow and evolve.
What can we learn from the Community Creator?
Never be afraid to be obsessed with something, then go find others that are as equally obsessed with as you.
My graduate school professor always encouraged us to find our obsession, and that through finding our obsession, we’ll never be out of work. And well, he’s right. Finding your obsession can lead you to not only others who are also mutually obsessed with that topic, but also to opportunities within this larger field.
Take pages out of the book of the cult-loved musical Hamilton, which earned their cult fandom status through means providing access to those who couldn’t afford to see the nearly $400/ticket musical. We caught snippets of the community creator in action through the comment section of Lin Manuel Miranda’s tumblr. He once notoriously tapped into an adjacent fandom by pushing back to JK Rowling’s thought that he was a Hufflepuff, by stating he was actually a Slytherin, according to JK Rowling’s very own Pottermore house placement quiz.
Through learning on online channels and embracing their online fans, the producers and cast of the musical likely drove themselves to a spot on Disney Plus. People wanted to be part of the inside circle — knowing all about Hamilton.
Planting your seeds: how do you become a community creator
The first part of the phrase community creator is community. And yes, this seems like a “no-duh” sort of situation, but I think that’s exactly where most people go wrong. We forget that community must come first and foremost for creators.
The community creator economy relies on individuals to facilitate connection with one another. Whether it’s providing content to connect around (Rosieland), or bringing people together over a shared topic (r/lightsabers), or even connecting over a similar passion (Makerpad).
Fostering connection: Who is fueling the community creator economy?
The community creator economy hasn’t just taken off by itself, there are plenty of businesses that have been helped along this journey in order to help facilitate the growth of the community creator.
From payment gateways and processors to tools to measure impact and resources to entire business models purely support and fans to what they do. This is only an area we’ll continue to grow and expand.
At a quick glance, here’s just a peek of recent growth supporting the community creator economy:
- Patreon tripled its valuation to $4 billion to continue to empower creators and their communities.
- Beauty Streaming platform, Newness, helps tap into the beauty community by providing those communities additional ways to support their partnerships.
- Garry Kasparov taps into his platform and community by raising money to build a community-first chess platform.
- Roblox became one of the most valuable private companies in the world — empowering both those who come on the platform to play, but also those who come on the platform to create, (like Roblox Queen MeganPlays — who’s now making millions of dollars through tapping into her community)
- StreamElements latest State of the Stream report showed that Twitch saw a total of 2 billion hours watched in Jan 2021 — the largest month on record. Twitch also recently made updates to their Twitch Affiliate Program.
- We’re also interested in how communities and creators are growing and scaling, — with folks like Orbit, SuperGreat, Pico, and Stir all taking a peek into how folks are growing (and monetizing) their community.
Parting thoughts: never doubt the power of very passionate people
After all that’s all that community is about in the first place — groups of passionate people coming together to connect over things they’re passionate about.
I’m bullish on the future of the community creator ecosystem, and not just because I’m a part of it. I’m passionate about the values that this ecosystem stands for and continues to support.
The community creator:
- Values connection over money
- Seeks change
- Isn’t afraid to go against the status quo
- Embraces their nerdiness (and whatever they may be nerding out about)
- Work to not only grow themselves but also those around them.
While these seem like, in the grand scheme of things, little differences, these are actually values that make the entire difference.
Magical things happen when you build authentic communities by putting people first. Put money first and well, you’re just tapping into the same transactional system that we’ve been operating on for years.
Go ahead, embrace your fan clubs, your inner circles, those you text the things that you’re excited about — build with fellow passionate people who are willing to put one another first.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
— Margaret Mead
Do you have thoughts on the community creator economy? Are you a community creator?
I'd love to hear what you're into!