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What I Learned About Community Management for Indies While On the Job For Papo & Yo
In building a reputation for its meaningful and hard-hitting game subject matter, Montreal-based indie developer Minority is also building a reputation for outstanding community management. Former CM Deborah Chantson weighs in on what's important to know.
Did you ever have a job where you just knew you were meant to be there?
I’m a big believer of everything happening for a reason, but it was a sunny September afternoon when Patrick Klepek’s Giant Bomb article When Fantasy and Reality Collide was published, and that’s when I knew. The article was about Papo & Yo concretely affecting fans, but in particular, one with whom Patrick had connected through our Twitter feed. The tweet read:
“Papo & Yo” is the only video game I ever played that made me cry at the end. Children of alcoholics will understand.
If this is the first time you’ve ever heard of Papo & Yo, it’s the story of Quico, a young boy trying to find a cure for his best friend, Monster, who is addicted to poisonous frogs. Upon eating one, the huge, gentle (and often sleepy) creature quickly morphs into a violent, fiery force of rage. It’s an allegory for Minority creative director Vander Caballero’s traumatic childhood with his abusive alcoholic father.
While Patrick’s article made me cry that afternoon, it was cool to know that I’d been able to play a part in how that all worked out. I was also secretly relieved that my choice to retweet the many fan tweets praising the game had been worth quashing my internal debate about bombarding other people’s feeds.
I’ve since had to give up being Writer/Community Manager because of my husband’s job transfer to the Bay Area (you can read my goodbye blog here), but I wanted to share some of the things I learned. I hope it helps, especially if you’re an indie starting from scratch.
Fans take to heart how you respond.
Minority’s main and best tool for communicating with fans is Twitter, because it’s quick and almost instant with notifications on smartphones and the mere seconds it takes to retweet and reply. We’ve built some wonderful relationships with fans this way, and it’s how I found my awesome replacement, Rommel Romero.
Twitter is also useful for setting up feeds so you can watch for keywords relevant to your company (in whatever software/app you use). With discretion, I chimed in when I felt it was appropriate to join conversations about the game that were not directed at us (settling debates, offering to provide hints if necessary, asking people to try the demo to give it a chance, etc.), and often, people seemed genuinely appreciative of our social media awareness. And if it wasn’t appropriate to chime into a particular conversation, I thanked them through #FollowFriday for their kind praise, along with other fans who’d made it a great week. (There is magic in #FF.)
I also found it helpful to be proactive in responding to comment threads in articles if the comment warranted a response. We were overwhelmed at the time of the first launch, but it was much easier to pick up on specific articles later on, especially when our stellar PR teams were helping to keep track of coverage. With the right wording, you can even turn around a complainer and maybe convince them to give you another chance on a different platform.
Fans will surprise you in the most amazing ways.
They’ll do things like buy your game a second time just because it’s bundled with a different theme than the one they first got, or make up the balance for someone who’s short just because they’re buying your game. One of our superfans was getting a Lula birthday cake for his (also superfan) daughter who said, “If it’s not Lula, I don’t want a birthday.” I sent her a Lula birthday card signed by the whole team, and when the family got a dog, guess what she named her?
We received some of the most heart-wrenching and beautiful fan mail in all different forms. People wrote us to tell us how they gained confidence to talk about what had happened to them. Parents told us about how the game changed their lives to make them more aware of how their children could see them as Monster-like when they suddenly became angry. One fan had made an appointment with a therapist that week to get help with anger management. Every day was something new, and I never had a standard response template, because no response was standard. One of my highlights was being able to successfully arrange artwork for a fan wanting a tattoo of Monster, as a reminder to be vigilant of the addictions prevalent in his family. A tattoo!
Social media can be a time vampire, but the rewards are incredible.
For an indie, that one person is managing the company’s public image, all outward-facing communication not managed by the PR companies, brand loyalty, fan base building, customer service, tech support, and of course, marketing. Especially for busy times, like sales and launches (game, soundtrack, merchandise, other platforms, etc.), it can feel like working hours are whenever you are awake and within data roaming range. I found that the best way to counter this was to purposely make myself unavailable (usually sleep or cross-border shop). I’d tweet something like, “Goodnight Twitter, we’ll be back tomorrow” or “Going to be out of signal range for a while. We’ll be delighted to answer questions, provide hints, etc. later on. Have a great day!” And that way, at least there was a visible reason for a delayed response time, as well as a bookmark for where to pick up from the next day.
I’d tried scheduling posts (both on Twitter and Facebook) for a while, but found it didn’t work well for me for several reasons, primarily for link errors, if any, and not being able to respond in real-time to questions based on the post (damn you, time zones!).
Perhaps one of the biggest lessons I learned on the job was that how one engages fans through community management could even positively affect a fan’s experience with the game itself. And especially because Papo & Yo is a game that people need to finish to really “get” it, it was important to be on hand to provide hints to players who got stuck.
Keep your developer team in the loop on social media when you can.
They never really had a choice in the matter, but almost daily, I would forward notable tweets and messages to our core. If I wanted them to see particular conversation threads, or it was something big, like Vander’s Sup Holmes?, through which I had been live-tweeting and talking to fans, I used Storify.com to make tweets easier to read in chronological order and with identifying comments.
Unless you tell them, it’s highly unlikely that your team knows what you’re doing because your interaction is all virtual and external. And even though your work seems to be done at all hours of the day, there’s something key about being in the office so you can yell out and share your excitement when fans do great things, like send you fan art.
Never underestimate the power of photos (and video).
For some reason, our goofy office pictures would always get the most traffic and responses. Maybe it’s because people felt like they knew us if they didn’t already (thanks, developers’ moms). To keep in good graces with my colleagues, I made it a policy of getting their permission before posting photos if they were featured. After office gatherings, my standard practice was to upload a folder of photos to a secure Cloud, send the link to everyone who was in the photos, promise that photos of their children would not be posted unless by express permission, and give them a 24ish-hour deadline to protest. I’m pretty sure that made them more willing for me to whore them out for social media, but the catchphrase around the office was often, “Don’t tweet that!” with big smiles.
Just be a human.
The main principle is to remember that your fan base is comprised of individual humans. If you can publicly appreciate your true fans, especially as noteworthy, unique people, they’ll appreciate you as well, with their encouragement, loyalty, evangelizing for you, and reminding you constantly of why you love what you do.
There’s a lot that I left out because of space, but if you have questions for me, please feel free to get in touch with me via Twitter or LinkedIn.