GamePro posted an article yesterday which I consider required reading for anyone who doesn’t feel like they really understand what a “community manager” does. The article can be found here:
The inspiration for this was something that happened to Dan Amrich, a friend of mine who recently became the Social Media Manager at Activision. This is a new position, and watching him as he defines the boundaries of his new role has been a learning experience for me—as I imagine it probably has been for him.
There was a big fuss recently on Develop and Joystiq about some conjecture Dan posted on Facebook regarding the Activision / Infinity Ward lawsuit. Basically he offered some commentary on the lawsuit which was his own personal conjecture, which the news sites interpreted as official statements. Dan quickly posted a clarification on his blog, but I can nonetheless easily imagine the Activision chewing out that I personally conjecture must have occurred—I’ve been on the receiving end of a chewout or two like that myself.
Employing someone like Dan is a very scary decision for most businesses. The purpose of hiring a community representative is to connect directly with your customers, and that means really answering their questions—and not just the easy ones. You need to be genuinely open to customer feedback. Transparency is scary—the closed culture is a tradition that goes all the way back to the beginning of corporate America. There are some things that you don’t talk about. Anything you say can and will be used against you, after all—and the Internet is a wild, vindictive place.
When community management is good, it’s really really good. Seth Killian at Capcom calls it a “superhealthy feedback loop”—the players tell the devs what they’re passionate about, and the devs tell the gamers what they’re passionate about, and everyone is richer for the experience.
But when it’s bad, it’s horrid. The true danger of snafus like this lies in the fact that when the proverbial shit hits the fan, the reaction of the company is frequently one of panic. The first thing a company often does is to tie the community manager’s hands—to lock them down and prevent them from saying anything, for fear of making the situation worse. This is a mistake, just as much as the passengers trying to take the controls away from the pilot when the flight gets turbulent. Crisis situations are a good time to make your expectations of your community team very clear, but the worst thing you can do is lock down your community manager when that happens. Community managers are your first line of defense from PR crises, and heavily restricting their ability to do their job at those critical times is only going to hurt you in the long run.
The fact is, the industry needs community managers. I belong to a generation of gamers that expects to be personally engaged. We’re interested in the companies we patronize, and if we can’t get our information from the source we’ll speculate—and that speculation is often dangerous, both to the company and to the community.
The game industry, perhaps more than any other, is dependent on direct and personal online communication with the customer—and community managers are the people making that connection. We’re still in the early stages of evolution for the community management business, but as time goes on—and as the role of the community manager becomes more clearly defined—more and more companies will be realizing the benefits of a policy of transparency and open communication with their customers. And I, for one, am looking forward to every minute.