May 17, 2007
Fan Types: Robert V. Kozinets and Online Communities

In my previous post, I wrote about a list of five categories or modes of fan engagement that I observed when observing and interacting at live pro wrestling events. These categorizations have been helpful to me in understanding fan behaviors in general, particularly in understanding the performative and communal nature of online fan communities. In relation to this, I thought it might be helpful to include as well here on the blog a list of fan types that one of our affiliated faculty has articulated and which has been of use to me in my research of soap opera fandom in particular.

In his 1999 essay "E-Tribalized Marketing?: The Strategic Implications of Virtual Communities of Consumption," which he wrote for the European Management Journal, Robert V. Kozinets provides a categorization that breaks fans up into four types, based on both their relationship to the brand or media property and their relationship to the fan community itself. I wanted to present those four categories here as well, both to provide for comparison to the modes of engagement from my work but also to bring this categorization into current discussion, since I think it still proves very useful, despite any changes in Internet behaviors and accessibility since it was first published in 1999.

These four fan types are described as follows:

1.) Tourists. These fans have a passive relationship with both the community and the show or the brand. They may often just be lurkers.

2.) Minglers. These fans have strong ties with the community but not particularly with the show or the brand, or at least not with the current product. These fans are tied to the product only through social ties and not at all through consumption.

3.) Devotees. These fans are strongly attached to a show or a brand but are not full members of the community. In other words, they are deeply engaged fans but not particularly involved in the social aspect of fandom, even if they lurk and read a lot of fan comments.

4.) Insiders. These are the prominent members of the community who both participate actively and are also devoted to the show or brand.

Of course, these four types are not static but are rather dynamic and changing, and I'm interested in how the behaviors of insiders in particular may help create more devotees or insiders from the pool of tourists and minglers. Others have written about this as well, including Kozinets himself in describing these categories, but it is always important to remember that these four "types" are not concrete and permanent categories but rather a way to understand fan behaviors overall. In fact, of course fans exist between these categories or types, and it is also important to realize that the influence of minglers and insiders play a key role in the relationship that minglers and tourists eventually develop with the text and the fan community.

I've been fortunate to work with Rob through the consortium, for which he is an affiliated faculty members (bio here. Last month, I wrote about some of Kozinets' more recent work, based on a presentation he gave at our internal retreat, entitled Collaboration 2.0.