I always find that the hardest part of a blog post is the 1st and the last line, so I always end up writing something completely random. Now that is out of the way, I can start sharing my journey through community management—it’s a long one, but one I am passionate about. If by any chance you are too busy to read, let’s just stay is started off with me being a forum nerd to them become a fan community leader, then I did some research on online communities for my master’s degree and managed to land a job in the videogames industry for a few years. Now I help brands build and grow their own on–domain communities for a living, and it’s awesome.
So here, let’s have the long version now.
Forums were my own playground
I was a socially awkward teenager. I was “one of those” who listened to hard rock and heavy metal and didn’t have a lot of friends in the day. And I am not joking when I am saying that online forums actually changed my life—they did. My forum of choice was the French-speaking forums of a band called Nighwish (that I still absolutely fan-girl over today). These forums were amazing, not only did we talk about Nightwish, but about LOADS of other bands of the same genre, and needless to say: most of the activity happened in the “social” area of the boards. We would talk about politics, relationships, play games and even meetup. And it warms my heart to realise that some of my best friends today originated from that time on the forums.
It’s on these forums that I also discovered another band: Epica. They were small, just starting off in the Netherlands, and were counting on existing communities around similar bands to get their name across to fans of the genre. One of my forum–friends was close to the band and wanted to launch their French-speaking website, and since I LOVE getting my teeth into new projects, and I also spoke English and French I decided to get onboard.
Fan-clubs are not THAT lame, you know
Epica absolutely adored the work we did for them and decided to recognize our website: we became the OFFICIAL French–speaking website for Epica. Woop!
But our work didn’t stop there: the band was growing in popularity from our preaching and love sharing among other similar communities. We wanted for the fans a great experience with Epica: not only through their music, but by getting to know the band and seeing them on tour. With the band’s blessing, we launch their Official French Fanclub: The French Crusade.
Through this fan–club we would offer a magazine 2x a year with interviews, reports, photos and also put forward new bands from the scene. Epica’s popularity grew from that, it only seemed fair that we used our growing notoriety to help other bands get discovered. Our website also had a member–only area where they could access various assets, pictures and contests.
But the magic happened on tour. We would ALWAYS give out some tickets, have meet and greets with the band, either before or after (and to be fair, after often ended up at the local bar anyway), we would be doing raffles to give away swag and of course: spend time with some amazing people we met throughout the journey.
A couple of years into this adventure, the leader of the fan-club had to leave and appointed me as the new president. Role I took on for about 3 years. It was a fantastic experience as I was interfacing with the band directly (MSN conversations, yo!), their manager, but also tour organisers and promoters and of course: the french-speaking Epica community. I kinda was a hybrid between a community manager and community leader. Note: I was doing this in my spare time while being a law and business student.
Sadly things went a bit sour when the band changed label and management—they would let people buy “VIP Tickets” to their show, which basically nullified all of our efforts. The new management also started asking us to pay to remain official and pay for the swag. It felt unfair: we were doing this because we loved it, in our spare time, never asking anything in return. This went against my principles, so I decided to withdraw from the fan-club.
Before “community management”, there was tribal marketing
I was in the middle of my marketing degree when I decided to quit the fan–club. Funnily enough, it seems that the theme of “community” followed me throughout my student life as well.
We had a class around tribal marketing: tribal marketing is a marketing strategy that is centered around an existing social group or community of individuals with a common and strong interest and a sense of belonging to that interest. Some brands that were already used as cases studies over 10 years ago were Nikon, Rollerblade, but also Cancer-related charities.
That is when I had an epiphany: I wanted to do THAT. All my time and experience being a forum nerd would finally pay off!
So at the end of my Master’s, I decided to write a dissertation on that exact subject: How can brands leverage online communities for their marketing strategies? Luckily, still having a foot into the forums I was involved with at the time, I managed to organise a focus group as well as survey over 400 forum members about their behaviors and relationships with brands online. Key learning that come out of this? People want an honest dialog and relationship with brands. And if they are not willing to do so, then they shouldn’t even consider community management.
It seems trivial now since we’re all community professionals here, but I still remember my mentor and marketing teachers telling me “Why the hell would anyone help a brand for free? You’re crazy Charlotte!”. Probably, but I did it. And I know I am not alone, and I managed to prove it had value.
Trial by fire: the videogame industry is both awesome and soul eating
I’ve always been a gamer. A lot of the other communities I was involved in were videogame related, and realised that after the music industry, videogames was an area I wanted to discover more of.
I got hired at the end of my masters at the EMEA HQ of a large Japanese game publisher (they do Pac–Man and Tekken). They had just launched their digital department and wanted someone who could help set various things up. My manager then was probably the best mentor I have ever had: he trusted me, and pushed me out of my comfort zone.
And with the help of the rest of the team we did some amazing things over nearly 4 years: we created a social media strategy and grew our social presence, and we completely revamped the whole digital customer experience.
My main focus was to own and develop the on-domain engagement: over the years I launched and managed our loyalty program (with in-game leaflets, online loyalty store, all of it!), our email marketing strategy and I also owned the on-domain EMEA communities. Over time, some parts of digital customer support also trickled into my remit as well.
I learned a lot during those years, a few key ones:
- You need to have a holistic approach to your community strategy. If you are amazing on social but poop at support, your social efforts are worth nothing.
- You need to measure EVERYTHING. Getting a budget is hard, but important to do great things. Only way you are going to get more money: SHOW NUMBERS.
- Young gamers full of hormones can be vile. You need thick skin, and also see yourself as an educator. It’s important not to condemn or ignore some behaviours that are happening within your communities.
Although I absolutely adored my job, and still missed it today, I felt that I needed to step out of the industry to grow my expertise in the field. Okay, there might have also been SOMEONE I wanted to be with in another country as well. 🙂
Discovering community management through different cultures and industries
I joined Lithium in September 2013 as a Community Consultant: subject matter expert in community and social customer care. Let’s be honest, I have never really wanted to work for a software publisher, but the guys at Lithium were different. Yes, there is the technology, but there is also the expertise—I would have hour–long discussions during the interview process about the magic of community management: it just felt right. And cherry on top? I would get to work with communities across countries, cultures and industries to get a wide perspective and view of the practice.
My job mainly consists in working with some of our customers to either launch or grow their on–domain communities (who obviously run on the Lithium platforms). Our help goes from configuring the platform to helping them build a full–bull blown change management program. I have also more recently been delivering our Certification programs alongside some of our thought leaders.
There are a few things I absolutely adore about this job:
- People who work in community are consistently awesome and passionate. It’s a pleasure to share this passion with peers.
- Going from launching a community in Qatar to launching a community in Finland is eye opening: culture has SUCH an influence on how communities need to be managed.
- The practice is shifting. It’s no longer a siloed hub for mega nerds, it’s becoming an important value driver for businesses if efficiently leveraged. I feel that our team of consultants and experts is actually helping and being part of that shift—it’s really exciting!
It’s hard to tell where the future will take me. Let’s be realistic; we are in the awkward phase of the practice. Community management is still a buzzword that struggles to prove value, brands that are willing to make a real investment in the practice are still relatively limited. On the other side, there is an increasing number of people who “become community managers” who guess it’s all about being cocky on Twitter for the lolz and have no sense of business or leadership.
I feel that we are still in an era of exploration and education: all of us—and this is why CMAD is an important day. I do feel honoured to be part of this and share my experience through this blog post.
Fancy having a chat? Asking me questions? Having a rant about community management or even talk about how The Witcher 3 was unequivocally the best game of 2015? Feel free to ping me on Twitter: @Tyzaa_.