Ever since I was a wee lass, I dreamed of working in marketing. But, in 2006, a good friend recruited me to the community side. That's when I became the first Community Manager for 2K, a video game developer and publisher.This was pretty much ancient times in the world of community management. To be honest, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. This was me:
That sentiment is still how I navigate my career: I don’t often know what I’m doing, and I certainly don’t subscribe to any notion of How It Should Be Done. Once you jettison that nagging sense that you should do things the “right” way, it becomes easier to find creative solutions simply because we have nothing shackling us to set methods or paths.In the past 11 years, I’ve run Community, Communications, Marketing, and Support Departments. And, to me, they’re all basically the same thing. These departments exist to tell people about a Thing, get them excited about the Thing, give them the tools to use the Thing, and empower them to spread the word so more people use the Thing, too. They also exist to find out what people are saying about the Thing (be it good or bad) and tell the teams making the Thing so they they can fix, improve, and iterate.That's it.All these departments and teams are interconnected, yes: I doubt anyone reading this article would disagree with that sentiment. But interconnected is not synonymous with collaboration. So often these departments are siloed or, worse, at odds with one another when jobs overlap. Let's fix that.Today, I make a case for you to break down the walls between your Marketing, Community, PR, and Support departments. Play nice in the sandbox and stop siloing your work.
My philosophy and career has been shaped by thinking of all of these roles as the same thing, manifested differently, but all driven by the same core purpose. When you reframe your thinking from departments into purpose, you see it's all the same. Our purpose, no matter where we sit as community-minded professionals is this: facilitate a meaningful dialogue between the people who make your products and those that use them.When I started at 2K in 2006, the concept of Community Management was still in its infancy. My mandate was that I had to build a community from scratch. What that meant in practice was up to me.Every step of the way, I went back to my gut: I was a hardcore gamer, after all, and I’d grown up with the Internet. So when in doubt, I did what I would have wanted from a company.It sounds simple, but balancing the needs of your fans and customers with the inevitable madness that’s happening in your office is far from easy.It was this instinct, though, that resulted in me eventually moving from Community Manger to running Customer Service.Using the principle “what would you want a company to do if you were the customer?” as our guide, we tore down everything that didn’t help to make customer interactions awesome.Our reasons behind every tear-down were sound: no one ever says “yeah, I got mediocre service from that company. I had a problem and they dealt with it in a meh fashion.”We needed people who said “2K? They rock. Listen to what they did for me…”And to do that, we needed to go even further than just customer service policies: we had to empower our agents to be our eyes and ears, our early warning system, and clear away the bullshit to give them what they needed to fix the problems.Our goal was not just to close tickets, but to turn people into advocates of our business. Sound familiar? That's because it's community-minded work.In practice, that meant I spent a significant portion of my time in the customer service center, playing the games with the team and teaching them about the potential problems that would arise before a launch, but that knowledge and the personal relationship I built with them made our launches more successful and our customer service more efficient, personal, and effective.
One of the single most successful things I did to help the community at 2K happened while not “technically” doing my job.Around 10 PM one evening (only a couple days before I was switching jobs to become the Director of Community at Trion Worlds, actually), a friend pinged me to say something was “blowing up” on reddit. My husband and I were watching the latest Game of Thrones (You can imagine how pleased he was when I snagged my laptop and said “hold on, something bad is happening on the internet and I have to fix it.”).
This thread took over the rest of the night (have I mentioned my husband is a saint?), but the effort was well worth it (beyond the ridiculous amount of reddit Karma I got). Mashable even covered the post.In one single evening, we took an angry customer and made them a happy one, garnered a ton of goodwill, getting the attention of a huge swath of engaged and vocal community members, hit the “viral marketing” jackpot, and scored an awesome press piece to boot.Now, I’m not claiming that I had any control over any of those results: you can’t make something go viral and getting a press hit on consumer goodwill is awesome but rare. I am saying that having a non-siloed approach to customer communication won the day here. In a siloed organization, a response might have been delayed past the point of being meaningful as the different departments tried to figure out who this work belonged to and what bucket it fit in. Instead, I got to back up my department motto of “meaningful dialogue” with old-fashioned legwork and a healthy dose of talking like a human.
This same philosophy carried over from 2K to Trion Worlds, a studio that makes massively multiplayer online games (aka MMOs.) I began as the Director of Community and, by the end of my tenure there, had taken on the full umbrella department of “Communications.” To us, that meant everything from community and social media all the way through to the press, including the huge grey area in between where bloggers, vloggers, streamers, and everyone else with a following fits in.In fact, when I started at Trion I’d been wary: I reported to the Director of Communications. As someone who wanted to break down as many barriers between the people who made things and those who used them, I was dubious (to say the least) of working for someone in "dastardly Public Relations." Instead, she became the second mentor-figure in my career and brought about the realization that overlapping roles and responsibilities did not have to become a turf war.Both Community and PR talk to people, and the people who they are talking to are more frequently the same people. Instead of fighting over who gets to speak to whom, work together. Your message will be more cohesive and in the end will feel more honest and open than if everyone worked in their separate pockets, never allowing anyone to touch the other’s domain.
From there, the leap to Director of Marketing (where I got to oversee Community and PR as well) seemed like a natural fit for my whole “it’s all the same thing” mantra.That is why when Tumblr offered me the Director of Support gig, I knew I’d not only hit the job jackpot, but I’d also come full circle in everything I’d been trying to tie together in my career. I now get to sit in the middle of all the things I really love and believe in and help get them all to connect to each other to give our users a better experience and make our product even more awesome.In fact, recently I summarized my team as such: “we manage and improve all touch points in the customer’s experience. This includes proactive and reactive outreach, communication, and support as well as liaising with the product and engineering teams on new and established features and processes with a focus on the customer’s desires and feedback to improve the product.”Does that department goal sound familiar to you? If you work in PR, Marketing, Community, or Support, chances are the answer is yes. Want to know why?Because the common denominator for all of these jobs is communication.There’s a communication pipeline, to be sure, but with the advent of the Internet blurring the lines between Regular Joe, VIP, and Press Dude, the key differentiator in all these roles is where they touch someone in the pipeline.And that’s why breaking out of the mold that each of these departments is a distinct and separate entity is so important to success for the whole company and the product they are making. If we can’t play nice in the sandbox together, we’ll never be able to work as a cohesive team, creating streamlined messaging that integrate to create a single, more impactful and fully formed program.And not only that, with this kind of collaboration and knowledge sharing, every team will see the full spectrum of feedback from everyone using the product, enabling those teams in turn to give the product and development folks a complete picture of what’s going on. Because that’s another thing to not lose sight of: we’re all about communication, but at the end of the day, the reason for this communication is because we’re here to support our product and make it better. If everyone is only telling a slice of the story, the product will be fragmented as a result.
So how do you get started breaking down those walls and getting into the collaborative groove? If I say a cup of coffee, you’ll laugh at me. But I’m serious. That’s where you start.People don’t break out of their silos in an afternoon, and I’ve always won the war of fenced-off departments with coffee, cakes, and smiles. As cheesy as it sounds, if the end goal is collaboration, you have to first fully commit to collaboration even to get your foot in the door. Listen (and when I say listen, I mean listen, a lot, before you even think about talking) to what your counterparts in other departments are doing, thinking about, and struggling with.When the time comes that they are strapped for resources or ideas (or both!) offer to help and solve the problem together. By putting yourself and your colleagues in the mindset that they are working on variations on a theme to get to a mutual end goal, teamwork will happen naturally, no trust seminars needed.The end result? You’ll all start working as a single entity, because really, you are all doing the same thing: communicating in order to make a product better. I promise, your product will thank you for it.