The job of community managers is complicated in the era of online games and live teams, but the dedicated console fanbases are a beast of their own. Microsoft's Kathleen Sanders of the Kinect Share team and Sega of America's Kellie Parker are two community leaders working in the console space, and they shared experiences and best practices at GDC Online.
One important issue is the complexity of the relationship between public relations and community management. "We work really closely with the PR teams, but my role is to take that message directly to the consumers, and then to take that feedback from them," says Parker.
"Part of the job of marketing is to promote and to protect the company," says Sanders. "Part of my job is to promote and protect the community."
One of the interesting things about PR is they sometimes create messages without an understanding of how the community will react. "The main thing is, ultimately even though ... I need to protect the community, ultimately we're all on the same team," says Sanders. It's important for higher-ups to understand where that delineation really is, and if goals aren't clearly understood, "you're set up to fail, because at that point the only correction you'll get will be when you do something wrong and that's no way to succeed."
Part of Parker's job is "to deliver information nobody wants to hear... those are never fun days."
"It gets very personal very quickly, and if you're going to do this job for more than a few days, you're going to have to have a thick skin," she asserts.
When Sega has to release games in Japan that don't come West "the community still doesn't understand... so people will lobby us for a specific game the moment it's announced in Japan." "Just like in real life when people don't think they're being heard is they shout louder. The way that they do that is to try to... infiltrate and spam every place they can. They'll fill your inbox... they'll get in there and do that."
"We just try to redirect," she says. "I can't solve your problem or snap my fingers and make your game appear, but we can redirect you to our forums. And we do take that to our executives [and say] 'there's huge demand for this game.'"
For Sanders, there were a few times in XNA's history where the announcements weren't necessarily what people wanted to hear. The majority of the feedback was "really mature, driven intelligent people, and much of the time I agreed with them, and it made sense, which makes it even harder when you're delivering the bad news."
On the plus side, community managers can earn loyalty from fans by letting community managers be themselves. Parker says every community employee who uses Sega's official Twitter tries to consistently sign their name, and while she can't express qualitative preferences about games, Sanders keeps a blog. This can ameliorate hostility when fans are consistently reminded that they're dealing with a real person.
Microsoft has seen great success with its official Twitter feed for live Xbox support
. In the social media era, personalized responses from immediate, attentive official accounts can create enormous good will.
Although much of the job of community management is about encouraging fans to be loyal to the company, it's important to find ways to appreciate the positive side of the community to motivate and inspire everyone involved in the making of the game and its relationship with the audience.
Parker says that at Sega she maintains a "Wall of Awesome" with pictures of amazing fan art, kind and funny tweets and posts, and other motivators that can "close the loyalty loop" and help the company keep track of what's important, especially as fans of Sonic the Hedgehog
in particular are exceptionally -- and often bizarrely -- devoted.
"There are some Sonic
fans," Sanders teases, wincing, "...and there are some Sonic
"As a community manager, my job is to get everyone on the internet to want to have a beer with me," says Parker. "You need to have that kind of engaging personality... I think that you have to find the right personality, and you can train the skills, but you can't expect someone that has a lot of Twitter followers to be able to pick up and do that in a professional manner."