Im Gespräch mit: James Stevenson, Community-Manager Insomniac Games

Insomniac Games ist eines der größten und wichtigsten US-Entwicklerstudios, die für Sonys Playstation-Plattformen Spiele-Software produzieren. Die Zielgruppe "Hardcore-Gamer" hat eine hohe Affinität wenn es um Internet und Communitys geht - das macht gutes Community-Management unumgänglich.
James Stevenson ist Senior Community Manager von Insomniac Games und hat alle Hände voll zu tun. Er schreibt Postings für den Insomniac- und den offiziellen US-Playstation-Blog, ist in dezentralen Communitys wie Facebook oder NeoGAF (Internetforum) unterwegs, hilft beim Aufbau von Insomniacs zentraler Community-Plattform und steht auch dort in den Foren Rede und Antwort. Zusätzlich ist er auch regelmäßig Ansprechpartner für die Presse, insbesondere auf Messen wie der E3. Im folgenden Interview spricht er über seine Arbeit, die Rolle des Community-Managers in den USA und seine Auffassungen von gutem Community-Management.

Question: James, thanks for the Interview and for helping me out with my diploma thesis! Let's get right into it: How would you define Community Management?

James Stevenson: Community Management is about building a core group of fans, engaging them, and allowing them to become brand advocates for you. We want to retain our current fan group, and keep them excited between releases.

Q:  In your point of view, what is a Community-Manager? What is the work of a CM about?

Stevenson:
A Community Manager is the person designated to be the company’s representative to the fan base. At Insomniac, it’s equal parts customer service manager, marketing manager, pr manager, and forum do-gooder. For a company like ours, we wear a lot of different hats.

Q: Which skills are required for a good community manager?

Stevenson: Coolness under pressure, a willingness to listen, someone who LIKES people and likes to communicate with them. Probably enjoys customer service of some sort. Good multitasker and knows games and the industry well. Being PR- and marketing-savvy is probably pretty important as well.

Q: Which is the CMs position in a company? Should he be involved in the internal PR-communications as well?

Stevenson: I’m involved with inward PR, just as much as I am outward PR and marketing as well. So that involves working with the marketing team at our publisher and PR team, doing interviews, talking to press, and generally being a resource for anyone who needs to get in touch with Insomniac.

Q: What are the targets of community management?  How can you check the achievement of these targets (ROI)?

Stevenson: That varies from company to company. We place a lot of value on e-mail address registrations, interactions (ie, posts, replies on twitter) etc. You can start to look for ACTIONS by your community or by users, and place a value on them. Then once you are measuring your normal rate, you can see how your activities effect those metrics and determine the value vs. The cost of the activitiy.

Q: Are there basic rules/strategies for a community manager? Are they applicable, irrespective of the type of targeted group and the communication medium?

Stevenson: Get to know your users, develop content/items to engage them, see what they like/how it worked, revise, and continue. This all has to happen within a larger framework of the product/company, but that’s the general idea.

Q: In your point of view: what are the differences between a social media manager and a community-manager?

Stevenson: Social media manager seems to mainly focus on using Facebook/Twitter as outward marketing type vehicles, where community managers look at every possible opportunity as a two way street and want to engage users (though they should also be telling users about cool stuff out there like a social media manager does).

Q: What are the main differences if you manage decentral (f.e. twitter, facebook) and central (f.e. your own discussion board) communities – how do you think this is different?

Stevenson: Decentral is a bit more one-way (social media manager esque) whereas centralized targets the users there for the long-haul, as they’ve signed up to participate in THIS community, specifically. I think you target communication appropriately, as the groups may care about different things entirely.

Q: What do you think is the difference in communications between Facebook, Twitter and a discussion board? Does every new platform come with new rules for the communication?

Stevenson: Definitely, Twitter is very different than Facebook and a message board. The social norms for tweeting are in some ways similar (things like don’t double post). But a message board is about sharing and cataloguing lots of information by topic, whereas Twitter is about a stream of short messages. Sometimes you could view a company’s stream as an awesome collection of their links/stories, but they have fundamentally different purposes. I don’t think the rules come with the platform as much as that they are developed by the community that embraces that platform over time.

Q: Comparing a centralized to decentralized community -what are the pros and contras?

Stevenson: Centralized means you have control over the message, can brand things, and have the power over the community itself. It is a pain though as you have to host it, moderate it, and continue to update – which is a real cost. Decentralized is less-expensive, but still requires you to reach out to it and provide help, but you don’t get the benefits of control. That said, it may seem more authentic to folks if it isn’t under the company’s thumb.

Q: Which community style will be the most relevant and important in the future (central/decentral)?

Stevenson: Both – though I think we are seeing Facebook and to a smaller extent Twitter showing the power of decentralized communities. That said, I still believe many folks will want to go to the source on things, especially for games.

Q: Which is the best balance between a problematical censorship and a potential loss of control?

Stevenson: Probably towards loss of control. Trying to rule with an iron-fist will cause even more issues. I generally try to step in and moderate things back to productiveness. Out of control doesn’t help anyone, so setting firm guidelines for productive conversation is key, without it making people feel like their opinions aren’t being heard.

Q: How can you get a discussion back under control when it turns against you?

Stevenson: With a firm hand, some locking/banning (only if needed) and re-focusing. I want to take that negative energy and help turn it into something positive, when I can. This isn’t always possible, especially on outside forums that I don’t control, some users will continue to attack.

Q: Would you agree that internet communities already may have the power to put transparency pressure on companies?

Stevenson: Yes- you must be transparent and open. It’s pretty critical – though gamers are somewhat forgiving due to know the power of the politics and NDAs and such in the game internet.

Q: Would it be important to you that the community users get the opportunity to “socialize “ in order to show their real identity in stead of being pseudonyms (f.e. off topic discussions, picture topics etc.)?

Stevenson: Off-topic is critical. You want areas for them to hang out and get to know each other. If they only talk about the product and company, they will be in and out in no time. Talking about other games, film, TV, themselves, all has ways of helping them form bonds (in addition to having events where they can meet in person).

Q: Do you believe that there exists a “Culture 2.0“ besides the ”web 2.0”? If so, how does it look like? Which is its structure?

Stevenson: I think the web culture is still evolving, but it’s a super fast, ADD culture that wants to find short-bite sized pieces of content that are super awesome and shareable. Everyone wants to be first, everyone wants to be heard and analyzed. There’s also a healthy bit of snark that I think is a cornerstone of the new culture.

Q: How important is it, that the CM socializes himself and is recognized as a real person by other community members?

Stevenson: It’s critical, people don’t want me to be a shill. They know I’m biased, but they need to trust me and building that trust is critical.

Q: Do you think it makes sense to induce hype in a community regarding your company or your topic even if this might turn against you?

Stevenson: Yeah, definitely. I’m excited about our projects, when I talk about them that will bleed to the people who are our fans already and most likely to be excited about upcoming ones. Why wouldn’t we want the word to spread? There’s something to be said about not OVERhyping, but hype is a good thing.

Q: Should a CM dialogue with the members even if the product is not very good? Which are the possibilities to do so?

Stevenson: Find out what they didn’t like, what they would do better, etc. It’s important to pass that feedback back to the development team.

Q: Does it make sense to be offensive against negative comments? Or is it more important to always “keep the frame” as a community manager?

Stevenson: We go after trolls – who are just trying to incite others and de-rail conversations. Negative comments we can handle, but trolls are toxic to the discussion and community.

Q: How do you deal with users who do not respect the rules of a community?

Stevenson: Private messages, public warnings, private warnings, short-term bans, longer-term bans. In that order.

Q: How can a user be motivated to join a community? And how can you motivate people to log in at regular intervals?

Stevenson:
For gaming, exlcusive in-game content is a huge thing. You can even dole this out over time. For instance, in Resistance: Fall of Man, a skin for the mysterious “Cloven” was available by signing up on MyResistance.net. As time unfolded, more bangles and accessories for this skin were made available. The game had messages telling you about this, and it was a really cool skin that was much cooler than the early level skins. Players would see other players using it and would ask each other how they got it.

Q: You are working for a company which has a target audience who is very vocal on the internet. Do you think this makes your position even more important? Also: Is your job harder or easier because of that?

Stevenson:
It’s both – it’s easier to engage people and get them going, but it’s harder to work with them because they care so much more and they all go in more directions. It does make the position much more important though, which is why you see so many internet savvy and aware companies targeting internet-savvy consumer doing this sort of thing.

Q: Have you already encountered difficulties to exercise good community management (f.ex: a crisis situation in your own company)?

Stevenson: The hardest part is politics. For instance, we can’t say certain things or address certain things due to the publisher or even internal reasons. Sometimes that can be the most frustrating aspect, and if we don’t seem as responsive or helpful as usual, that’s generally the reason.

James, thanks again for the interview and your help.

Matthias Bastian

Dipl. Online-Journalist, Online-Marketing-Nerd, VR-Evangelist

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