Six Tips for Community Site Leaders
I spend a lot of my time talking with gaming community site leaders outside of my work roles, and more often than not, I get asked questions from folks about what they can do to make their site better. I’ve been on both sides of the community fence, so I try to take every opportunity to share the things I wish I knew back when I was starting my site. To that end, here’s a list of six tips for running a better community site.
1. Make Yourself Available
Being on the developer side of the fence, I start every new job by building up a list of contacts, or adding to the list I already have. What this essentially boils down to is me doing a ton of web searching for new sites that may be interested in information on the game I’m working on. Once I open up a bunch of tabs, I start digging through the sites to find contact information that I can reach out to. You’d be amazed at how often this task takes more than a few seconds.
Making yourself available is one of the most important things you can do if you’re running a community site, particularly if you are hoping for a publisher or developer to make a connection with you. You can use a contact form on your website, but I often find those off-puting and impersonal. I’m looking for a person, and a contact form is little more than a wishing well – maybe someone will write back, maybe not. Even if this means creating site-only email accounts for you and any staff you have, you should post direct contact information on your site, and post it less than 2 clicks away from your home page. If you make it too hard to find, or not obvious enough, you could be sending the message that you simply aren’t that interested in being contacted.
2. Give to your Community
I get a lot of requests for things like swag and review copies of games, and I have no problem with that. That’s what I’m here for, to help out community sites. I’ll tell you what really impresses me, though. I’m always looking for people who are using the things I send them for interesting community give-aways or something similar. When you’re running a community site, you generally end up in a place where you have access to a lot more cool stuff than the average Joe, and I personally love to see those community leaders pay it forward to the communities that helped to get them there. Got a bag full of E3 swag? Share it with your forum members. Done with that review copy of the new hot-shit game? Give it away in a contest on your site. I’m personally much more inclined to help out a community site leader that I know is paying it forward to the community members of her site.
3. Focus on Your Strengths
With all of the mega-press sites out there offering up massive plates of content and features, it’s really tempting to try to broaden your scope and cover more of everything. I know, I’ve done it and failed. Find the one or two things that makes your site unique, the things you’re best at, and invest heavily in those. If you’re great at podcasting, then make that your focus. If you’re terrible at gathering news but great at discussing it, then maybe a forum is all your site needs. Do you really only care about FPS games? Then it’s okay to just focus on that. The temptation to cover everything can lead to a homogenous community, with dozens of sites all essentially covering the exact same things in the exact same ways. Not everyone has to have a podcast, or a blog, or even a forum to be successful. Focus on what you’re good at and stand out in the crowd for being good at it.
4. Team Up, But Team Up Smart
Networks and Partnerships can be a valuable tool in the community site arsenal. As Aesop (and later Patrick Henry) said, “United we stand. Divided we fall.” But there’s a trick to teaming up – find sites that are complimentary to yours, not duplicative. If you cover Xbox360 games, partner with sites that cover PS3 games and Nintendo games. If you are a podcast, partner with a text-only blog. This is an extension of number 3 above, knowing your strengths, and being able to identify them in other sites. Having several sites in a partnership that all cover the same content in similar ways is simply not interesting. But building a network of gaming community sites that each focus on gaming in a unique and individual way can build up a strong Network of sites with much more opportunity for bringing each other new members they might not otherwise have encountered.
5. Be Squeaky
When I was running a community site, one of the best pieces of advice I got was to “Be squeaky,” as in “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Now that I’m on the other side of things, I get it even more. Generally speaking, a Community Manager has no way of knowing if you’re hoping for a piece of swag for a contest, or a review copy of game – unless you ask them. I have a good friend who runs a relatively small gaming site, and he never asks for anything because he doesn’t want to impose. I hate to admit it, but in a sea of emails, blog comments, and forum posts, I can sometimes miss people like this friend of mine. However, a simple email with a request in it is easy to write, and is a great way to let someone know that you want or need something. Maybe they’ll say no to your request for an interview with Cliff Bleszinski, and your no worse off than before you wrote the email. But maybe, just maybe, they’ll say yes, and the only way they’ll know you want to do the interview is if you squeak a little.
6. Don’t Try To Be Everywhere At Once
Everyone’s telling you that you’ve got to be on social networks X, Y, and Z, but do you? It certainly helps to reach out to as broad an audience as you can through sites like Twitter and Facebook, but be sure that you have the time to commit to your presence in those places. If your Facebook page is just an auto-populated feed from your site’s RSS, then are you really getting anything valuable out of that Facebook page? Is it broadening your community, or is it just making you look like you don’t care enough to personalize the conversation for your Facebook followers?
Running a community site is an exceptionally time-consuming endeavour, so be sure that the time you’re spending on all of it’s many faces is quality time. If you’re going to have lots of little arms reaching out from your site into the social networking world, make sure that you’re tailoring your presence on those sites to the unique tools, habits, languages, and audiences at those sites. People on Facebook are looking for things in a different way than people on Twitter. Be mindful of that, and if you aren’t in a position to deliver everywhere all at once, I’m telling you that it’s okay to pull back and focus on an appropriate scale for your specific site and community.
Lastly, if you feel like you just have to be on all of these sites, but don’t have all the time to customize things for every one, consider enlisting some of your community members. Perhaps there are some super-fans who would love to post for your Facebook page, or to run your Twitter outreach. Be smart about it, but don’t be afraid to delegate out to people that have the time, passion, and desire to see your community site put it’s best face forward.
I’d love your feedback in the comments. Was this list useful to you? Is there anything specific you’d like to hear more about? Let me know!