Super Fandom in the Digital Age


Managing Editor

With larger-than-life charm and a love for catfights among rich housewives, Andy Cohen is a household name for reality TV fans everywhere.

Closing out Friday at SXSW Interactive, I attended the panel “Super Fandom in the Digital Age,” which centered around three Internet personalities who leverage videos to create their own brands. Cohen, the man behind much of the drama-filled TV programming on the Bravo network, moderated a discussion between big-time YouTube icons Tyler Oakley and Grace Helbig, as well as Ze Frank of everyone’s new favorite time-killer website—Buzzfeed.

The session was largely directed by audience questions posted on Twitter via @bravotv and using the hashtags #bravo and #askhosts. Oakley, Helbig and Frank answered a variety of audience questions that ranged from more thoughtful interpretations of social media in today’s world to funny lightning-round answers similar to the types of questions Cohen asks his celebrity guests on his Bravo show “Watch What Happens Live.”

When Cohen posed an audience question about the “secret sauce” of creating good content, Frank broke down the social quality of content into three pieces: identity, emotional gift and social role of the information. He said content can become a “humble brag” when media is able to prove an argument someone has been having all along or state something in a better way than it could be talked about.

As far as creating a million-plus fandom of subscribers and making a career from their channels, Oakley and Helbig shared their advice for success. Both of the Internet-famous Youtubers sell merchandise, have sponsors, support brands and self-promote their content.

Oakley said he stays humble by  reminding himself of the types of videos he’d make if he didn’t’ have any subscribers. He treats his YouTube personality like any other job and believes “you have to work your hustle.” Helbig feels the best way to develop an online personality is for people to find their own voice to make their videos feel authentic.

An audience member finally asked the question that has been on many people’s minds since they first stumbled upon the website—when is Buzzfeed going to run out of quizzes? Frank’s reply was a simple one.

“I’m not sure that is possible. I think it’s an endless well,” Frank said. “I think what’s not really surfaced is that this challenge of quizzes has been a three-year process. I think they’re amazing and when the writing and options come together, there’s something really fun about it.”

Frank left the audience off with his interesting take on content. He said only about 40 percent of video views actually come from subscribers, and there is a trend of content producers under thinking the social spread of their message to the Internet as a whole. Overall, with several laugh-out-loud moments and explicit language mixed in, the session kept audience members engaged throughout.