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Podcast Episode 1: Fandoms (w/ Dr. Paul Booth)

Cinema and Media Studies professor Dr. Paul Booth dissects the differences between the "average consumer" and a fan, and what we can learn from studying fandoms. 

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3 Takeaways User Researchers Can Learn from Fandoms

In our first episode of The People Nerds Podcast, we sat down with Dr. Paul Booth, Professor of Media and Cinema Studies at DePaul University. Throughout our conversation, we discuss subjects including what fandoms are, how they came to be, their influence on products, and the obstacle of objectivity in research. (Plus, we touch on being fans of Doctor Who, board games, and horology).

While many of us are fans of something in our personal lives—how do fandoms tie into our industry? Here are three high-level takeaways from the discussion.

Note: For the full episode transcription, click here.

1. Embrace your inner aca-fan (academic fan)

User Researchers are often fans—or at least don't hate—the products and services they work on behalf of. It's why many folks get involved in the UX space in the first place: They enjoy the concept or mission of a brand and want to apply their research and design skills to make it better.

Similarly, Dr. Booth discusses how blurring the lines between being a researcher and fan can make for richer outcomes (rather than taking a purely objective approach). He shares his own experience on how being part of the Doctor Who fandom has helped him create rapport during interviews and heightened his ability to notice themes during observational studies.

A user researcher who IS a user of their experience might more also sharply ask, probe, follow up, and observe in their own work. Like the acafan, our users' experiences are often improved when the UXR also makes use of them.

When I interview fans and talk about my own fandom, the person I'm interviewing feels more comfortable, opens up more, and feels like they understand my position better.

I think there is an inherent fear in fan communities that academics are going to come in, point out all of the weird things that fans do, and laugh at them.

So if I can say that I'm also a fan—and maybe wear something like a Doctor Who pin—I’m creating conversation points. Doing something as simple as that, they knew that I was not going to be making fun of them and it was a safe space.

Dr. Paul Booth

2. Leave room in your research for individuals

While quantitative methods are excellent for measuring the things they’re directly studying, they’re not very good at catching the things in the peripherals.

We can measure quantitatively if someone is engaging and how much they're engaging, but understanding why isn’t as straightforward. Interviewing fans about their interests, learning how they got into it, and incorporating generative research into your toolkit can open up the space to discover new things about your most engaged audience.

3. Try methods that bring out user creativity

Our super-users, evangelizers, or simply our brand fans are the folks who typically push the experience, improving what it's capable of. Just as a "cinematic universe" and fan fiction, community forums, and other fandom engagement spurs new creative opportunities, so too can the energy and passions of our power users.

While surveys are a great way to get feedback, the more open-ended questions you include create a more taxing analysis later on. To give users a chance to express themselves, try a co-creation or ideation session.

These give your brand fans the space and time to explain their ideas—either for new opportunities or ways to improve current ones—and share the influence space, which ultimately helps reinforce the value of the fan.

Overall, there isn't a formula for fandom. Creating open communication channels that brands commit to engaging with is a sure start. Fans are made, not found, and human-centered insights practices are a strong step toward building this engagement across our user bases.

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