What might the future hold for the digital connection between fans and brands? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Zoe Fraade-Blanar, CCO at Squishable.com (2007-present):
Watching American football, whether at home or in person at a game, is more fun when using the #mondaynightfootball hashtag. Dressing up as the anime character Jessie from Pokemon practically requires an audience who can say, "Wow, how did you get the hair to stay that way?" Very few people would show up to a Star Trek convention with no one else there.
Fandom is inherently social. But our fellow fans do more than just make things interesting. In many situations, they make things possible.
Hatsune Miku, the popular 16-year-old Japanese pop star with teal pigtails, is an entirely fan-created construct. Her high level of recognizability, not to mention commercial appeal, has allowed her to feature in commercials for Toyota and Google, tour with Lady Gaga, and appear on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Nevertheless, "Miku" is a piece of software - a vocaloid computer program that allows users to create songs that are then played back in her voice. Her owner, Crypton Future Media, provides the software and an occasional new outfit change, but other than that they have adopted a laissez-faire attitude about the character's use.
Sites like iTunes and YouTube attribute hundreds of thousands of pieces to Miku, all of them fan-created. Her fans also write stories about her life and create millions of pieces of tribute art and videos. But these works aren't the musical equivalent of fan fiction - Miku has no official canon of work aside from that which her fans create for her. These works are her official canon.
Without her fans, Miku has no songs to sing, no backstory with which to sell Toyotas. Her fangroup contributes to their favorite icon for themselves, and in doing so they create a celebrity that can attract more of themselves. Many fans even appreciate the very inhumanity that others might find off-putting; Miku will never let them down, never die, never decide to take her music in a direction they don't like.
In the works of Miku it's possible that we see a vision of the future of fandom. Just as its fan community has become an integral part of what it means to watch Star Trek, more and more fan objects have begun to rely on their fans to define the fan object itself. A fan object that has fans needs fans.
Out beyond the petty horizon of crowdsourcing is a possible future where fan activities begin feeding seamlessly back into the very thing that they were created for. We can see a hint of what it will look like in icons like Hatsune Miku, but it's also popping up in unexpected places such as officially adopted fan-made gaming mods, and semi-official fan trailers. The potential is massive. It's a world where everything is part of the canon.