When a person describes him/herself as a fan of something, he/she is generally enthusiastic about that thing and is willing to express his or her involvement by acquiring related material objects, displaying his or her fanaticism, and engaging with other fans. The relationship held between the fan and the object of their fandom is clear: the fan holds a certain loyalty, strong or weak, to the object of their fandom while willingly expressing their loyalty. Likewise, the object of a fan’s loyalty (be it a celebrity, television show, sports team, etc) recognizes that it has influence over its fan base, and usually begins to cater more to its fans. This relationship is typical for most things that have fandoms associated with them, and is mentioned very often by objects of fandoms in order to make the fans feel closer to the object and feel like they are a part of a community.
Fans of musicians, who attend concerts in which their favorite musicians perform, are traditionally the main audiences described collectively as “fans.” I think that the clarification between a fan in this traditional sense and a consumer of entertainment (provided by a person or group) is increasingly more important, especially with social media and YouTube being a part of our every day lives. It is a fairly safe assumption to say that people attending a Justin Timberlake concert are fans of Justin Timberlake. People who are enthusiastic about Timberlake’s music, are attending an event in support of his music, and are, more often than not, wearing or displaying things pertaining to Timberlake and his music. When, at any time during the performance, Timberlake then says something along the lines of, “I’d just like to thank all my fans out there tonight for all the support you’ve given me…,” the crowd cheers. The crowd is mostly fans, so it makes sense that those people would cheer having heard this. This statement also brings the crowd together as a group and serves to make each individual feel as though their contribution to the artist has directly influenced the artist.
Much like a concert, when artists or groups post on social media the same message (“I’d like to thank my fans…”), it has a lot of the same effect because those likely to follow an artist or group on Twitter or Instagram are probably fans as well. What, then, is the effect of someone making videos on YouTube thanking their fans for their support? Those watching a YouTube video made by someone they have never heard of are still supporting that content creator (ad revenue is still being collected by the creator off of that view), and in most cases that person is contributing just as much to the creator just by watching the video as many “fans” would. As a video content creator, referring to each individual in your audience as a fan can, in many ways, have the opposite effect than if someone like a musician referred to the people in his/her crowd as fans. It’s somewhat narcissistic to do so and can turn many first-time viewers off your channel if you cater too much to one particular demographic. Instead, many YouTubers thank their viewers in their videos, not their fans. Content creators often create groups that fans can associate themselves with, as not to leave out anyone merely passing through their YouTube channel to watch a video or two and then pass on. This approach not only respects the identity of the fans, but it also respects the relationship between the content creator and his/her less devoted or frequent viewers.
The use of the word “fan” when describing oneself, or “fans” when describing a group, should be used properly in the medium it is being used– at an event, on Twitter, and the like, because improperly using the term can leave people feeling like an outsider, thus, leaving the entertainer or creator further from his/her audience than intended.