A Brief Primer on Community Management, or How Can a Bard Help Your Adventure?
Ah, Community Management… Most understand its value, and yet, this is one of the least formalized positions in the gaming industry (perhaps the least). There’s not a lot of documentation. CMs themselves tend to be too absorbed with their own communities to share and cooperate, and when things get rough in a company, CMing is usually one of the first areas to suffer.
At the same time, along with all the issues and uncertainties above, CMing is extremely rewarding. CMs get to interact with gamers, media, creative people, and more. We thrive on those personal or professional relationships, and any half-decent CM can tell you many tales about how people in their communities have met, established long-lasting ties (marriages and kids included), and their personal list of overcome hardships.
If life and work were a big Dungeons & Dragons RPG campaign, who would the CMs be, then? We are not the makers, the masons, the weavers of images and sounds (at least, not directly). We aren’t the Fighters, the Wizards, or the Clerics. Our labor is more subtle, more art than craft (at times!).
We are the Bards. Bear with me, put down that pitchfork. Let’s go into a journey of knowledge and understanding!
Bards are a much-maligned class in most RPGs. Why? Because they are there to support. Sure, they can fight, but not as well as a Fighter. They can cast spells, but not as proficiently as a Mage. They can heal, but a Cleric can do that much better. On a pinch, they can perform some fine thievery, but not to the extent a real Rogue would. The common thread here is ‘low impact’.
But, through their presence and the reassurance that they are there to fill any of the roles above if things go awry, the Bard makes everyone’s lives much easier. Bards seldom deal the killing blows. Bards don’t shine in the spotlight. They support, with the understanding that they can make everyone else’s task easier to carry out, and their days a little less dreary.
There couldn’t be a more apt description for a Community Manager. And, to be honest, if we are doing our job right, we become mostly invisible, which has the unfortunate side-effect of making us seem unnecessary or just a weird extension to Marketing or CS departments.
There are some corollaries of Community Management that I’ll explore in greater detail in this article, and through it, I hope you’ll learn a bit about what we do, what we shouldn’t do, and our role in a game’s life cycle. Ready for some Bardic knowledge?
YOU ARE NOT THE STAR
CMs are frequently exuberant, and there is no problem with that: being social is at the heart of what we do every single day. However, it’s common to see CMs getting carried away with their game, community and the power they can exert over aspects of them, to be then transformed into pseudo-celebrities. In my opinion and experience, this is a grave mistake, with grave consequences.
Ideally, the CM is a reference. Someone the community knows and trusts, who shows up when needed, who is always willing to engage, communicate, and mediate. But, on the daily routine of a gaming community (and, frankly, communities in general), the CM needs to step back and let the real star shine: the community itself.
Lyre in hand, fancy troubadour clothing sharply donned, we support, we educate, we moderate, we communicate. We share the company’s values, and we set the tone of the conversation. Some communities can be rowdy, spammy and even NSFW. Others might need a completely different tone and moderation.
There’s no cake recipe here: you need to know your product and your community members, then adjust as you go, making sure your community members can shine. They can also help in setting the tone around your product. Then we step back, and let the community itself blossom and take center stage, as the protagonists they really are.
A JACK OF ALL TRADES
Our defining trait is being there when we are most needed, and this can happen in more ways than one. In previous positions, I’ve had to manually set and restart servers, translate game text and legal contracts, organize and maintain a team of Game Masters, give interviews on the local news channel, set up live events, and even rescue a co-worker who was having a seizure. All that, of course, on top of the regular CM daily fare.
As a CM, at the very least, you must have a profound understanding about your product, about your team, and about your environments. Along with that, you need to understand the underlying tech your company is using, its financial and business strategy, and a number of other relevant general skills: content production, streaming, common software and hardware knowledge, industry trends, etc, etc. You can never know enough as a CM, even if you are not directly responsible for those other areas.
GOTTA HAVE FLAIR
Might sound a bit conflicting with the first pointer I’ve written above, but bear with me =) CMs shouldn’t try to be what they aren’t, because they will inevitably sound phony and awkward. And, we are also individuals, and that uniqueness should always be brought to the table. Games are international, multicultural crossroads where you can find all kinds of denizens, so there’s a place for several kinds of CMs in there too.
Be natural! You can be a calm, collected technical expert, an effervescent and upbeat host, and everything in between, as long as your flair doesn’t get in the way of your manners, your professionalism and your communication. In time, your community will get to know you and appreciate what you can offer them. A Bard has to find its own voice and rhythm, after all.
However, be very careful of what you say or write at all times, since your word is seen as official at all times. Don’t promise anything you can’t provide, never single-out users because they have broken the rules, even if they give you reason to, and be mindful that people will interpret what you say in a number of different cultural and language perspectives.
YOUR SCHEDULE DOESN’T BELONG TO YOU
Communities, especially in gaming, are non-stop affairs, and it is very common for CMs to succumb under the strain of this frenetic pulse. Even experienced CMs feel the strain of keeping up with thousands of conversations, developments, plans, strategies and people. Your sleeping time is someone else’s prime playing time, and they will demand the same level of communication as the rest of your playerbase.
There are no easy solutions to this one, since not every company can afford a team of well-trained Bards working around the clock, but that doesn’t mean you need to kill yourself in your quest. Establish a predictable schedule, and be very open about your response time. Let people know that you will always get back to them through a message or e-mail, and that everyone is welcome to post and interact in the community at any time, keeping those restrictions (your schedule, response time, personal time) in mind.
If you keep a strong work ethic, your community will know your schedule better than you, and they will work with you naturally over time. Your moderators and community pillars will be there to let newcomers know how the community works when you are not there. Don’t ignore your health, your sleep, and your mental health, which is a nice segue into our next topic…
THICK SKIN AND A HEART OF GOLD
Schedules can be a demanding aspect of the job, but it is the communities themselves that have claimed the sanity of many CMs, more than anything else. We all know the Internet, and how it can bring out the best and the worst in people. Poorly managed communities tend to slowly but surely slide into toxic behaviors that can spiral out of control, and once things get bad enough, reversing them is extremely challenging.
It’s easy to be the bearer of good news when things are all sparkly jolly, but not everyone is ready to be the herald of hard news, or the one explaining problems or sorting out a mess. That’s exactly what the good CM has to do, however. Being honest and upfront in hard times is fundamental to community trust, and a CM that can’t be trusted is as good as a two-legged chair.
Dealing with trolling and other toxic behaviors is also our bread and butter. Don’t rejoice or glorify banning bad users, as this will only create negative feedback that can bring them back (with reinforcements!). Be stern, professional and fair as you apply the rules, and you shouldn’t have a problem. Take a deep breath from time to time, and understand that you shouldn’t take anything personally.
At the same time, be welcoming and positive when good things happen. Show real appreciation for your community, because they could be spending their time and energy elsewhere. They remain with you because they choose to do so. Make sure they understand just how thankful you and your company really are for having them around.
EVERYONE IS YOUR AUDIENCE
Many gamers are very gregarious in their digital lives, and it’s a common pitfall for the inexperienced CM to find a group of users and stick with it. Let’s be frank here: we all have our preferences. Some people are a better fit for our demeanor than others, and this is natural.
However, everyone in the community is your job, not just the users you like. In a sense, you have an even greater responsibility towards the silent majority or those that actively cause you trouble than those you have already captivated. If you are not careful, people will see favoritism where it might not even exist, and this will divide your community and make things more complicated than they should be.
Equal treatment is the sharpest sword in your arsenal. If people see you treating everyone honestly, fairly and professionally, they tend to become disarmed and pacified. You then allow the community to create its own interplay, with you as a dependable devil’s advocate. Everyone should be comfortable (or at the very least, neutral) about your presence.
That’s it! Several members of our SkyWeaver community have asked me about Community Management, our routines and woes, and I hope you now understand a bit more how things are seen from our side of the monitor.
As someone who has been working in the gaming industry for well over a decade, I am in love with this community, and I am grateful for having the opportunity to start working with the SkyWeaver community before it even came into being. I really hope this elation is transparent for each and every one of you.
If you want to chat and/or enjoy the entertainment that our community provides, check our Discord. This bard will always welcome a bigger audience. See you in Sky!