Six More Tips for Community Site Leaders
Last week, I posted six tips for community site leaders, and the response from you guys was great. To that end, I’ve decided to try to make this a weekly feature. For the uninitiated, here’s the jist: 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. Enlist Your Community
Number six in my last Six Tips blog started to touch on this idea a bit. Once you’ve got a community site going, don’t be afraid to ask your community for help. If you need forum moderators, writers for your blog, co-hosts for your podcast, or someone to post news and questions to your Facebook page, you don’t have to look any further than your community. Sitting right there in front of you is a fanbase that cares immensely about the same things that you do, and has a vested interest in the site you’re running. You couldn’t ask for a more loyal, interested pool of people from which to get help.
All of that said, always make sure you’ve had plenty of time to talk to a person both on your forums and off (trade instant messenger names) before you hand anyone the keys to the front page. Ensure they understand your philosophies for how any why you run the site, and any rules or guidelines you have about posting. When you talk, ask them a lot of questions, instead of giving them all the answers. It’s kind of like a job interview, so treat it that way and you’ll make sure you’re pulling the best your community has to offer.
2. Ask Questions
The big news and conglomerate sites will always have an advantage over smaller community sites when it comes to viewers. They pull in people by the millions, and most community sites are talking in the thousands. Far too often, I see community sites get caught up in that numbers game. Large sites have enough visitation that they can throw out some really impressive quantitative data (Hey Publisher! Your trailer was seen by 75,000 people!). Community sites are likely not going to ever be able to compete with that, but they can deliver a ton of value to PR reps in qualitative data.
The nature of a community site is that it’s a bunch of people coming together to talk about stuff. Use that to your advantage. When a new trailer comes out, ask your community what they think of it. Ask them how they would reboot the quintessential female action hero. Ask them what classic game they want next on XBLA. And when you’re done with all that asking, share the info you get with publishers and developers. I’m willing to bet that if you return this kind of info to a PR person who just sent you screenshots or a trailer, they’ll make sure you’re on their next distribution, too.
3. Have An Opinion
I see a ton of community sites that post the news as it comes along, and then rarely think anything more of it. I think that this is a lost opportunity. I personally love to see speculation and opinions coming from community sites. Leave the hard news to the news sites. For example, when I heard the news several months back about Lara Croft getting the reboot treatment, the first place I went was to all the girl-gaming sites on my list to see what they were saying about this news. I was somewhat saddened to find very little editorial on the subject. If you’re running a niche community site, the going theory is that you have some special insights into that area you focus on. Use those insights and that focused expertise to form strong opinions about games and express them on your site or forums.
4. Be a Good Guest
This tip is specifically with regards to attending community and press events. I know this seems like it should go without saying, but when you get invited to an event by someone, be on your best behavior. This means a couple of things. First and foremost, don’t dig. These events are not the place to try to dig out the next major gaming scoop. Usually you’ve been invited to preview some new game, and you should focus on the reason you’re there. Snooping around for interesting info is a great way to make sure you don’t get invited again.
Another way to get yourself uninvited is to come to a community event looking for a job. When you’re at community events, you’re likely going to meet a ton of awesome developers – producers, artists, programmers, and more. If this were on the floor of a gaming convention, those guys are all possible industry connections and future job prospects, but when you’re at a community event, keep the business cards in your pocket. If someone asks you for a card, have them handy, but don’t go around handing them out to everyone you meet. Remember, you’re here for a reason, and that reason isn’t job hunting. And before you ask, yes. Both of these things have happened at community events I’ve run, and the folks in question weren’t invited back.
5. Respect Your NDA
This is another one that seems to go without saying, but always respect your NDA. I’m not going to go too far into this one, but if you’ve been given information or assets from a company, and they’ve got you under an NDA, don’t post things early. Sure, you may get a 30 minute scoop on everyone else, but ultimately you’re risking any future coverage you might have gotten, and coverage can be hard to get when you’re a community site.
6. Be Better at Being Critical
So this may sound a lot like “Have an Opinion” up above, but that’s not quite what I mean. It does go along with having an opinion though. Far too often, I see gaming community sites trashing on games, publishers, or developers. It can be something as simple as their wording – “This game sucks.” Maybe it makes you seem more “of the people” or something, but in my book, that kind of criticism is completely counter productive. There can be a real sense of adversarial rivalry between publishers and community sites sometimes, and it’s important to remember that you all want the same thing.
Find better ways to be critical of games. If you think the art style is lacking in some respect, explain why. If the game mechanics left something to be desired, write about what specifically felt off to you. There are a ton of ways to talk about things you don’t like without explicitly trashing a developer. It’s really easy to understand that people don’t respond well when someone’s yelling at them about how stupid they are, and behind all those publisher and developer logos are a bunch of people. Find smarter ways to be critical of things and your conversations will go a lot further. In fact, you may even find yourself in better, longer-term conversations with developers.
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!