Successful Community Managers are experts in facilitating conversations, and we’re all learning best practices on seeding new discussions, responding warmly, etc. These topics are the bread-and-butter of Community Management. In this article, we want to explore special projects or initiatives that add to the community mix.
Our goals are twofold. We hope to:
- Generate discussion on the projects we did; what else should we have considered?
- Learn about special projects you’ve done or are contemplating? Our projects were for the consumer Internet space. What segment are you in and how do your circumstances change things?
A year ago, in the summer of 2012, we started a new community from scratch for Simraceway (SRW), a PC-based racing simulation game. Our customers were passionate enthusiasts, so it was not long before the community buzzed with activity, providing customer-to-customer support, lots of feedback for the SRW Product team, and new business via SEO-tuned threads.
Customers are recognized for extra contributions to the community or the company. Champions were handpicked, not system-generated. They often earned their designation by being especially helpful in the forums or live chats. Others helped with outreach or hardware/software troubleshooting. SRW had about 18 Champions after one year. Champions appeared online with a special badge and markings.
You vs. SRW:
Every Friday for one year, various SRW employees were available in-game to race customers. The morning featured a one-hour session for experts, with big bragging rights up for grabs. Three hours in the afternoon were for casual racers. The chat conversations that occurred between these races helped humanize our company and foster personal (emotional/loyal) relationships with customers.
Conversations with SRW:
We held several live Google Hangouts, each with about 7 customers and 3-4 SRW Product people. The discussions lasted for one hour and were focused on what ideas and feedback the customers had for our company. Our internal plan was to do a lot of listening and much less talking. The first few sessions included highly-skilled players. Before the initiative was stopped, we next planned to involve less-skilled players, and to use Hangouts-On-Air to broadcast the sessions to a much wider audience.
Simraceway was very good at taking customer ideas from our (asynchronous) community and implementing them into our product. However, these live sessions were transformative for both customers and internal Product staff in the immediacy and intimacy of the session.
About 40 customers (in various locations and with various system configurations) were organized to help test our releases, both game code and car/track assets. After software updates cleared our internal QA department, the Testers received a copy one week before General Release. In this week, bugs and issues could be surfaced and corrected before problems affected our worldwide audience. The Testers were excited to have the first crack at things, generating early buzz in the community. As of this writing, the Testers are organized but have not yet been used for a release.
Desafio América Latina:
Simraceway (game and web) was not localized and only appeared in English. This hurt us in some key racing markets like Brazil. A customer we called “Rock-star” came forth with an idea to organize a series of events where the title and descriptions were in Portuguese, and on the day of the event, the in-game chats were filled with Portuguese speakers. Rock-star recruited other Brazilians to help, and involved the community in choosing the event specifics. This team of Brazilian sim-racers was also responsible for marketing the event widely. Over time, the idea grew to also include Spanish speakers in Latin America and Spain.
While we loved the idea, the implementation did not go so well. The customers were ineffective at bringing in many Portuguese and Spanish racers. Besides language, a localized payment scheme was another pitfall. SRW did not have a good mechanism to allow common Brazilians to easily put money into the game.
Simraceway is a game of skill, where players improve by practicing, by better understanding racing theory (racing line, corner apex), and by studying faster racers. We recruited a group of elite racers to add their unique touches to a pre-designed curriculum and teach vital racing techniques to others. Currently, this Masterclass has not yet gone operational, but we have recruited 5 customers who have personalized both Beginner and Intermediate curriculums and who will serve as Instructors. The Beginner class will be primarily canned videos watched anytime, and then augmented with live Q&A sessions. The Intermediate class is done in-game, with one volunteer Instructor doing lead-follow laps with a small (~4) group of lesser skilled racers. For the first few sessions, SRW’s professional drivers will review footage of the lead-follow sessions to coach our Instructors and ensure the class is meeting high standards. Leveraging customers to teach customers allows for community management resources to be utilized more creatively.
These are the special programs we have organized. We’d love to discuss your thoughts on these initiatives or your own.
About The Authors:
Ojan Namvar, Simraceway Community Manager - Ojan Namvar, a 24-year old with an overpriced B.A. of Philosophy from the University of Redlands, will be relocating back to the Bay Area shortly. A lover of all things tech, he has been given a great introduction to the world of startups by his current endeavors with the free-to-play simulation racing game Simraceway. A licensed EMT, bedroom musician, and craft beer dilettante, Ojan hopes to one day combine his interests into something that could pay the rent. Until then, his passion for building computers and communities has satisfyingly served as his creative outlets. You can email him at email@example.com.
Marc Siegel, (former) Simraceway Manager of Community and Customer Service - Marc Siegel lives in San Jose with one wife, two daughters, and various pumpkins. He’s been doing online community since before the web existed for NASA, IBM, and several startups, both in consumer and B2B, including developer relations. Marc’s passion is helping companies get close to their customers, especially for product ideas. When people think they’ve helped build something, they’ll be loyal as puppies. He has built several support communities where customers help one another solve problems, offloading paid support. Marc is currently looking for fulltime or contract/temp work opportunities. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.