By Zach Collier
While many people have heard of Google+, and many more already have accounts on the platform because of YouTube and Gmail integration, very few people are actually actively involved with it. To many, it’s an unfamiliar platform with new rules, new buttons, and new terms. The learning curve is steep. But when you understand its function – the similarities and differences between Google+ and other social media platforms – it can be an incredibly useful way to not only put your art in front of new audiences, but to foster and develop a tight-knit online community.
This article will familiarize you with concepts and vocabulary that are crucial to understand. You have to know the following if you want to successfully use Google+.
What Is Google+?
In short, Google+ is a social media platform more focused on interests than personalities. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – all of them have a structure that allows charismatic users to amass huge followings based on the successful portrayal of personal thoughts and experiences.
Facebook especially puts a lot of emphasis on the user. Profile pictures, bios, life events, statuses, etc. Everything is about you. What did you eat today? Where are you currently located? Who are your friends and acquaintances? How angry are you about the latest trending tragedy and why?
Accounts (profiles on Google+), however, are minimal. Real names are not required. Descriptions/bios are often short or non-existent. While there are profile pictures and “cover photos,” they aren’t grouped into photo albums like on Facebook. You won’t find yourself endlessly scrolling through the profile pictures of an ex, or looking through all of a friend’s pictures of that crazy spring break two years ago. In fact, you won’t be spending much time on anyone’s account page at all. Many people’s profile pictures are either a professional, LinkedIn styled headshot; a brand logo they use as a creator; or a photo/logo of a brand or celebrity they are avid fans of.
Having a minimal online persona – keeping a level of anonymity – allows users to find like-minded people based solely on shared interests. Looks, mutual friends, geography – it’s all out the window. So what’s the point? Why use Google+?
Think of Google+ as a platform made entirely of Facebook groups. Only they’re groups that aren’t annoying and are centered mostly around one very specific topic. These groups are called Communities. Google+ users flock to Communities to discuss things like Slipknot, Pokémon, Marvel comics, or vloggers like AmazingPhil and Danisnotonfire. Communities are like better looking, faster loading, much more scatterbrained message boards. Typically Google+ conversations begin when a picture, GIF, song, or video is shared. They discuss inside jokes, theories, personal experiences with the topic, and favorites. Many Google+ users, like Redditors, remain passive observers and are simply there to scroll and +1 (the equivalent of a Facebook like) things they find interesting, meaningful, or humorous.
Consequently, Google+ is home to a vast array of fandoms.
What The H*ck Is A Fandom?
Fandom is a portmanteau of “Fan” and “Kingdom.” Fandoms have existed since the rise of the modern entertainment industry. The phrase “cult film” is used to describe a film that has gained an intense niche following over time despite not being an initial public or financial success. That following is called a “cult following.” Fandoms are cult followings by another name that have increased in scale and complexity since the dawn of the internet. Fandoms are internet subcultures centered around a particular person, team, fictional series, musician, etc. They often have their own slang terms, their own set of rules, terms of acceptance, points of debate, and names for themselves.
Google+ is full of people who are attracted to fandoms. Fandoms provide community, acceptance, and identity. Many people on Google+ seek escape from their real lives and find it through an intense fixation on entertainment and its stars. To those who do not attach an intense fixation to any one team or cause, getting your feet wet in this new culture can be an interesting experience, to say the least.
Tapping into fandoms can be incredibly beneficial. Creating one of your own, however, should be the endgame as a content creator. Speaking financially: these are the people who will support you on Patreon. These are the 14 year-old art prodigies who will design T-Shirts for you for free. These are active, engaged subscribers who will share every video, comment on every post, and like everything you do. You will become their profile picture.
Speaking metaphysically: as an artist, these are the people you’ve been searching for your whole life. These are the people who need your art, who crave it. These are the people whose lives you can change for the better by simply being who you are and doing what you love.
Understanding Fandom Culture
I cannot stress enough the importance of being genuine and sincere when participating in Google+ Communities. Because some people see the potential for exposure on Google+, you’ll find that there is no shortage of spam. Spam sucks. You don’t like junk mail coming to your mailbox, you don’t like spam in your email inbox, you don’t like fake profile accounts on Facebook, you don’t like thousands of app invites to BubbleQuest or whatever. So don’t spam. People know when they’re being used and when something is being pushed on them. Be very careful. Spamming may end up getting you dislikes or negative comments on your content.
In order to have people appreciate what you do, it’s a two way street. Just because you’re on the internet doesn’t mean the rules of relationships suddenly change. Be sincere. Comment on or +1 what other people post. Start conversations. Get to know people. Be consistent and become a username they recognize. Share the content of others before you share your own. Do this for a while before you decide to put yourself out there. This increases the likelihood of people engaging in what you share.
Part of this sincerity and relationship building requires understanding the rules of the community you are in. As I mentioned earlier, Fandoms often have their own slang terms, their own set of rules, terms of acceptance, points of debate, and names for themselves. If you don’t fit in with the culture, you lose credibility.
Let’s examine the Fandom of twenty øne piløts for example.
twenty øne piløts
Notice how I stylized their name. This is a hallmark among twenty øne piløts fans, who collectively refer to themselves as “The Skeleton Clique.” twenty øne piløts is the official stylization of the band name used on their merch, album art, social media profiles (where the platform allows it), etc. If you know how to make those slashy o’s, it goes to show that you know what you’re doing and you’ve taken the time to learn how to stylize their name yourself. It’s almost holy. However, if you refer to them as twenty one pilots (no capitalization), that is still acceptable. Calling them Twenty One Pilots will get you kindly corrected, and referring to them as 21 Pilots will get you DESTROYED on Google+. Don’t even get me started on “21 piolts.”
One community inside joke revolves around the constant shipping of (hoping for a relationship between) Josh and Tyler (collectively “Joshler”), the band members. Although they are both heterosexual males (Tyler Joseph is married), fans will often take screenshots of music videos or live performances that make it appear like the two are holding hands. Some even draw them this way. They do this either out of a sincere desire for the two to reveal their homosexual love for each other, or as a way to poke fun at their bromance – which the band members often humorously play up themselves.
Other inside jokes include one of the two members kicking the other out of the band; humorously setting the band’s lyrics over photos; making lyric puns; using the term “sick as frick”; and making memes about how sad it is that they obsess over tøp (accepted shorthand) so much.
You’ll find similarities across Fandoms everywhere. Katy Perry fans refer to themselves as Katy Cats; FOB fans refer to themselves as “trash” (“I knew all of these top 10 facts about FOB. I’m such trash lol!”); and Bronies – adult male fans of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic – spend an unreal amount of time perfecting their pony drawing skills.
As you can see, Fandoms are incredibly complex internet cultures that require studying, participation, and consistent sincerity to tap into. Keep this in mind when doing and sharing covers, parodies, tributes, etc. If a Fandom collectively loves something you’ve done, they’ll support it until they die. Heck, it may even get assimilated into their culture.
As you build your online presence and artistic catalog, keep the Fandom principles learned from Google+ in mind. Naming your fans is incredibly empowering for a lot of them. Showing off a bit of your personal life and humorous side helps build a relationship with them. But most importantly, putting out consistent, high quality content gives them a reason to be your fan, something to talk about with each other, and is ultimately the only thing that will really affect them. If you do it right, your art will be around long after you die.
About the Author: Zach Collier is a co-founder, writer, and editor at ReachProvo.com. In his spare time he conducts social media experiments. His first experiment with Google+ and Message Board Community Tapping in 2014 garnered his “Pokémon Love Song” music video 20,000 views in 24 hours on a previously non-existent channel. Since then, he has used the technique on his YouTube channel, Top10Music. Since January 2015, the channel’s content has been viewed more than 225,000 times, and the channel is on track to break 1 million views by the end of 2016.