CC-licensed by BagoGames on Flickr.

Pokémon Go’s New Community Manager: The First 90 Days

Modest proposals from a player & fellow community professional.

Niantic Labs is no longer hiring a community manager for Pokémon Go — at least, according to their jobs page — which most likely means they’ve hired one, or, at the very least, selected finalists to interview. (At the time of this writing, there is no Pokémon Go Community Manager listed on LinkedIn.)

This new CM will step into a community of players so disillusioned they’re now accusing Niantic of releasing an empty app update just to hide negative reviews. Where once there were breathless celebrations of Millennial nostalgia and optimistic predictions for Augmented Reality, now there are articles painting Pokémon Go as a game in decline, losing millions of users and failing its players. After early enthusiasm that made Pokémon Go bigger than Twitter and more engaging than Facebook, some of the game’s first fanatics have become its detractors.

An increasingly common Twitpic :(

What should this new hire do first to engage the Pokémon Go community, given the circumstances? It’s a big, tough job, but here are some quick wins for the new CM’s first 9o days.

1) Launch a Social Listening Strategy

Enterprise software like Sprout Social, Radian6 or Hootsuite Pro can monitor player sentiment over time. Inevitably, changes & app updates are received either positively or negatively, with overall sentiment gradually regressing to the mean. A solid social listening strategy will optimize for raising that mean gradually, rather than becoming preoccupied with the peaks and valleys that naturally occur with change.

Pokémon Go’s new CM would be wise to pull reports at least every other day on the top five issues being discussed on social media*. Work up the chain to prepare a response plan whenever a new issue enters the top five.

2) Reengage the Beta Community

I spoke to two Pokémon Go beta testers for this piece, and both brought up two points:

  1. The Pokémon Go beta was alpha quality: extremely buggy, to the point of being only marginally functional.
  2. Beta testers were not asked for qualitative, personal feedback.

Pokémon Go’s new community manager should open communications with past beta testers, thank them for their support, apologize for the long silence, and start scheduling Skype calls with testers who are still playing. If they start feeling the love from Niantic, former field testers can become powerful voices for Pokémon Go.

3) Get Player Community Leaders in Your Corner

Mike Prasad, founder of the 5,000 member strong Pokémon Go Club Los Angeles & SoCal, would love to transition his highly active community from Facebook Groups into the Pokémon Go app itself, if only the features necessary to do so existed. “The game experience is still essentially single-player in-game,” says Mike. “All the community exists out of game for now. Razer Go exists solely for that.”

If a true multiplayer experience is still far in the future, Mike would settle for being able to share Pokédex information and player stats directly from the app. An in-app sharing mechanism would encourage more activity in groups like Mike’s, while making it harder to post fake screenshots. There are hundreds of volunteer community leaders like Mike in the Pokémon Go universe. Niantic will need their support as it moves forward.

Niantic’s new CM should also pay particular attention to the artists and role-players feeding the hilarious fandom around Pokémon Go’s team leaders. An unofficial profile for Team Instinct Leader Spark has more than 127,000 fans. Spark-centric fanart ranges from this cute Princebunbuns ‘toon to a dramatic, professional-quality manga scene by Surfacage. (And, of course, there’s some fanart I can’t describe here…)

Art by Tumblr’s princebunbuns, found via Spark.

4) Ambassadors Program for Players Outside the US

Most US-built apps don’t do localization well, especially in non-English speaking locales. For Pokémon Go, the stakes for localization are unusually high. Not only is Japan the original home of Pokémon, the entire game is based in the real world.

Reach out to power players and player community leaders in key locales. Bring them together in a Slack channel and/or WhatsApp group where they can speak out about problems spotted by players in their area. Pay bounties in Pokécoins for local leaders who spot issues, such as mistranslated English text or broken formatting when switching to Cyrillic characters.

Extra bonus: you can draw on the same list of people when you’re ready to plan a trip and add an official presence to meet-ups in their country, which you should definitely be planning!

5) Let’s Talk About the Website, Shall We?

Pokémon Go’s official site is very visibly missing three things every game blowing up this big should have:

  1. A Code of Ethics (Katherine Cross makes the case in Wired.)
  2. A real blog. There’s an Updates page, but it’s boring.
  3. An actively updated Known Problems list.

In partnership with Marketing, the new CM should also work on a Style Guide that establishes a new, improved corporate voice for Niantic. They’re already learning fast: a recent tongue-in-cheek release note, “No text fixes,” drew chuckles on The Silph Road. Having a sense of humor isn’t just a cute nice-to-have. It makes the developers feel like fellow players, not an uncaring, distant corporation. So far, a sense of humor and self-aware tone hasn’t made it to the game’s help documentation, which is pretty bland.

That’s probably enough big projects to tackle in 90 days, New Mystery CM, but you’ll surely find yourself grappling with more than one person can handle alone. Here’s to you and what will be your growing team, provided the Pokémon craze continues! Grab a crispy Slowpoke Tail and celebrate.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this piece, maybe you’d enjoy my (much less serious) theory on the origins of the Pokémon Universe?

*I don’t agree with Niantic’s decision not to hire separately for social media management and community management — they’re two different functions — but this piece is about advice for the person who lands this role, not advice for Niantic on designing the role.