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What can brands learn from gaming’s best community managers?

The Drum Social is a weekly column from The Drum’s social media executive Amy Houston covering the latest social media trends, strategies and insights. Follow Amy @AmyCLHouston and join in the conversation #TheDrumSocial

The Drum’s social media executive Amy Houston explores what brands can learn from gaming’s best community managers as part of our deep dive into gaming.

Gaming, at its core, is built on community and culture, and as social media networks continue to grow, this combination undoubtedly creates a winning team.

In any community, the underlying feeling is a sense of belonging and acceptance, and the gaming world is no different. Growing up in the 90s, my favorite game was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the N64, and still to this day when I meet fellow gamers from that era, I feel a sense of commonality and excitedly want to talk to them about it.

This is the type of honest engagement and emotion that brands want to evoke when marketing their products, so taking inspiration from a community that thrives on it seems logical. This is where gaming community managers enter the conversation, and they didn’t come to play.

Community managers take care of the most important aspect of any game – the gamers themselves. They engage with the followers, grow the communities, attend events, and are the people who know what the fans want better than anyone else. So, what makes a good community manager?

I asked Roberto Kusabbi, director of community and social marketing at King, for his thoughts. ”I think a good community manager is someone who is curious in general and has a real passion about the game and the community they are managing,” he notes.

Oliver Hindle, the community director for Fall Guys at Mediatonic, adds:”We opted for a very direct and personal approach, which has resonated really well with our audience. Beyond this, community management can also be a very creative, or very analytical role, depending on your wider priorities.”

Tone of voice is an aspect of marketing that brands need to get right, and knowing your audience is essential. Having a dedicated person who is invested within the brand’s community will ensure messaging is on point.

On the relationship between community managers and players, Kusabbi says: ”Within a lifecycle of a game, there will be different moments where you need closer relationships, so the community lead can really understand where the game is, what’s coming and how to engage the community in real-time.”

Not only is the relationship between community managers and players important, but now, more than ever, so is communication between developers and players. James Gallager, senior social media manager at Keywords Studios, says: ”It’s ubiquitous now for game developers to take the public stance that they are listening to player feedback and are open to shaping the experience around what their players tell them. It’s something that’s quite specific to video games – I don’t think I’ve ever heard a film director or a recording artist say upfront that they will update their work based on feedback from their fans.”

It’s indisputable that this type of partnership and open dialogue is central to the success of any game, and marketers who tap into this way of working will reap the rewards.

The sense of devotion is apparent within gaming communities and the marketing tactics are derivative from that. Petra Opelova, co-founder and head of paid media at Sticky Click, has some sound advice about what she has found to be effective methods: ”Active community channels supported by paid media activity are a powerful combination for growth. Nothing exists in isolation.

”Having an always-on approach to pull new people to the channels is like having a massive sign above your shop that grabs people’s attention so they have a closer look at your shopping window – your social media feeds.”

Using a mixture of paid and organic social posts is a successful tactic, but in order for users to have the best experience, they need to be relevant and not repetitive. As Hindle points out, gamers are really switched on when it comes to advertising, ”so straight-up ads will always have a different response to something organic and are typically used for the top-of-the-funnel brand awareness goals”.

Audience attribution for brands is a major part of marketing any new product and having a combination of both paid and organic strategies working in tandem is a clever approach.

I asked Gallagher if online gaming communities are where brands see a lot of marketing potential now. He says that building a strong community ”isn’t the silver bullet of marketing,” but that it’s an incredible thing to have. ”Vast amounts of the marketing budget is spent on user-acquisition and what better than an engaged and positive community to welcome those newly-acquired players into your world – and to make sure they stick around?”

Of course, as with any community, there will always be negative aspects and over the years the gaming industry has weathered a few media storms, including allegations of misogyny and racism. Removing the physical identity of a person online will unfortunately always leave room for dubious behavior and social media teams need to be equipped for this.

I asked Kussabi for his take on this. He notes that it is ”a huge part of the world we work in”, but that there are few conversations about it outside of the community professionals.

”Having a protocol to deal with that is really important – especially in raising it upwards. To deal with it, I find that communication and an internal support network is key.”

Opelova’s suggestion, meanwhile, is: ”Don’t feed the trolls, be respectful, transparent and honest whenever possible, and don’t promise things unless you are 1000% sure they will happen.”

The potential for brands to tap into the gaming space is huge – with the right tactics, that is. Getting gamers on your side can be tricky. Opelova has some sound advice for marketers wanting to explore this area too. ”The truth is that even the best community management can’t save a bad product, but it can help a great game have a better future,” she says. ”Putting all your hopes into community is not a winning strategy either though. You need to make sure that all your other activities, such as digital advertising, brand and PR, are all lined up and talking to each other as well.”

It’s clear that the crux of gaming communities is transparency, passion and communication – which, in reality, is the basis for good brand marketing. Knowing an audience well allows community managers to converse in a way that is relatable and in a tone that resonates. Leveraging that level of genuine community spirit isn’t easy, but the benefits are endless. As the gaming sector continues to grow, and with community management at the heart of it, it will be interesting to see how brands continue to navigate this space.

From more on what the gaming sector’s pandemic-propelled popularity means for marketers, head to The Drum’s gaming hub.

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