How to bring online fandom into the real world

Shifting online success into the real world requires a delicate balance of staying authentic to the digital community while allowing space for others to join, says Paul Tynan, creative director at I-Am

It’s widely accepted that Gen Z and Gen Alpha spend a significant portion of their lives online, easily connecting with others with the same passions and interests, discussing their fandom in digital forums and social media across the world. However, it has become apparent that they also crave real-world interactions and are increasingly seeking ways to fulfil this need.

For digital native or celebrity brands, opening a real-world experience based on the strength and pulling power of their online community should be an easy win – people and businesses have been exploring the potential hybrid model for some time now.

Performer Machine Gun Kelly, who has nearly 9m online followers, launched his 27 Club Coffee shop in Cleveland, Ohio in 2020, which now boasts 13 different outlets and a cult lifestyle brand following, while beauty brand Glossier capitalised on its online fans’ obsession with its products and aesthetic by opening permanent physical stores in 2018. Now, Kim Kardashian’s Skims brand is said to be opening its first permanent store in 2024 after trialling several pop-ups.

The opening of a physical space – including those above or restaurants like David Dobrik’s Doughbriks Pizza or Clean Kitchen, the plant-based grab and go recently launched by internet personality Mikey Pearce and reality star Verity Bowditch – creates an opportunity to bring the celebrity closer, both physically and metaphorically, to their existing fans. Bricks-and-mortar locations also have the benefit of providing a much wider exposure to the brand, therefore creating a platform to engage new audiences.