What is a Community Manager?
I’m going, to be honest here. When I first joined the gaming industry, I had no idea what a community manager did.
And now that it’s almost three years later and I’m in a Discord full of other community managers, I can still comfortably say I wouldn’t be able to guess what another community manager does exactly.
As far as jobs go, the role of “community manager” is pretty new, so maybe it’s not a surprise that we don’t really seem to have a consensus on what the responsibilities or skills are. Community manager roles feel like fingerprints in that none of them seem identical. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a community manager who has the exact same job that I do, and my current role is so incredibly different than my last one.
So before we dive into what I think a community manager (CM) is and the various different things that we might do, let me start off by saying that I’ll be sticking to the context of a community manager role within a gaming studio/publisher. This post is already long enough without talking about how different this would be in other industries or even within other parts of the games industry such as esports or content creators.
Community Manager — A Definition
At the core of it, a community manager is to engage with and moderate a community. (Here’s a really great thread about why this is so important).
Who is in this community that needs to be managed? It could be people who are playing your game, people who are interested in your game, people who’ve played your past games, people interested in game development, other game developers, media, content creators, people who just like your content, and so much more.
These communities can exist on multiple platforms, but community managers operate on a limited selection of said platforms. For example, if a bunch of folks are talking about their game on a notorious clover forum, a community manager is not obliged to go in there and be a part of that conversation (but it may be good for them to have some kind of “listening” platform in place to track such conversations).
But it’s not just about engaging with the community, it’s about filtering constructive feedback and community trends back to the developers to help inform current or future development decisions. It’s also important for community managers to be at the table to provide feedback on development as they can provide insight into how things are likely to be perceived by the community, how they impact the community growth, and any appropriate measures or messaging needed to supplement such changes.
Since there isn’t a cookie-cutter or “standard” community manager set of responsibilities, let’s go over some of the more common things we do and the potential overlaps they have with other fields.
External (Community Facing)
Creating and posting social content
Something a lot of community managers do is create the text you see on brand social accounts. The amount of freedom folks get in writing these posts comes from other aspects of the business, but the actual writing of them usually lands on a community manager’s shoulders.
Community managers are also usually in charge of posting or scheduling the posts themselves. This could be done directly on social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram or they can be scheduled through third-party software like SproutSocial or Sprinklr.
These posts can range from announcements to sales, and my personal favourite, memes.
Might be covered by: Social Media Managers
Creating visual assets
Some community managers get everything from screenshots to GIFs to gameplay videos provided to them by internal or external teams so they only need to create text for it. Others will be expected to grab screenshots for store pages, edit sales assets from business partners, and make their own memes.
Most community managers won’t be expected to come up with full trailers or fancy graphics but some basic levels of Photoshop and Premiere, or knowing how to make a killer GIF, can be extremely useful skills to have.
Might be covered by: Video Editor/Producer, Marketing Artist, Graphic Designer, Content Manager
Responding to community comments or inquiries
The thing about posting content and having a community is that folks respond to it! (At least, that’s what we hope for…)
Responding to Twitter comments, chatting on Discord, or answering emails from the community can take up a pretty decent chunk of a community manager's day.
For supporting technical issues, community managers might try to share solutions for common easy issues, but it’s unlikely they need to know the technical intricacies of programming or the game engine. Most of the time community managers will pass off more technical questions to developers or dedicated customer support staff.
Might be covered by: Social Media Managers, Customer Support
Overall strategy and future planning
Alright, let’s say your studio is about to announce a new game. What does the announcement rollout look like? Throughout the campaign, what are you showing? When are you showing it off? How are you showing it off? Where are you going to show it?
Or on the other end, maybe you’re working on a legacy title and support is sunsetting on it. How do you message that to players and when? Are there any ways you can soften the blow?
These are just a couple of examples of what community planning can look like, but it can be so much more. It could be as intense as planning out two years' worth of activities or it could just be looking at trying out a new social platform in the next month or two.
While the day-to-day of a community manager may be atypical, many try their best to plan ahead in some capacity. Strategies or planning might be brought on just by the community manager’s need to have structure, due to external party needs (it takes time to make business deals and plan events), or due to insights brought in by other parties (such as sales or data scientists).
Honestly, anyone who looks at overall community strategies, ESPECIALLY growth strategies, SHOULD have the title of community developer (I delve into this a little more later on in the post), but many folks with the title of community manager still end up doing this.
Might be covered by: Community Developer, Marketing, Brand Manager
External (Press/Content Creators)
If there isn’t an internal team or external partner to handle PR, then some CMs may be in charge of handling press and content creator inquiries. This can range from active outreach (IE. Trying to identify folks who would be a good fit for the game and asking if they want to play) to responding to folks who are reaching out to the studio asking for keys (more times than not it means politely denying Steam curators). It’s not as simple as just sending emails though as a decent amount of time is spent making sure requests are legit.
Usually, when CMs are dealing with press and content creators, it means there isn’t a PR rep, so they may also have to write press releases and update press kits.
I’d say these responsibilities are more common for smaller dev teams.
Might be covered by: Public Relations (PR), Influencer Relations, Communications
Game development is rarely made in a bubble. There’s often a ton of external partners: gaming platforms, publishers, merchandising, investors, etc.
From taking part in sales to negotiating important storefront placements, who handles these incredibly important relationships could land on any number of folks at the studio.
I’d say this one isn’t as common for community managers, but those on smaller teams or in senior roles may take this on.
Might be covered by: Sales, Communications, Marketing/Brand Manager, Public Relations (PR), BizDev
Internal (Development Team)
I know there are players out there that truly believe feedback dies at the hand of community managers, but this is rarely true.
A good portion of the community manager's job is finding ways to summarize reactions and constructive criticism back to the developers and other internal stakeholders. This could be just for visibility or it could be to address future development.
This is often easier said than done as feedback is often unclear or irrelevant (we’re not going to relay “YOUR GAME IS TRASH” to our dev team, but we WILL relay “hey, this particular part of your game frustrates me”). There’s also a delicate balance of figuring out what is relevant feedback that has a chance of being acted on while still sharing other things if there’s enough volume of it (ex. If there’s a lot of people asking for a Switch port and it’s currently not being planned, community managers may bring this up as possible venues for the future).
Relaying info to the team could be as simple as a quick 10-minute chat in daily stand-up meetings, or it could be a more formal report which is sent to various teams and executives. How intense reporting is, everyone say this together with me, depends on your studio situation.
Community representatives should also be brought to the table when relevant development decisions are being made as they’ll be able to provide some valuable insight as to how certain decisions will impact communities down the road. An example of this could be CMs asking about reporting systems or in-game chat features in multiplayer games or even introducing new characters. CMs will have unique insights into these types of decisions, but that doesn’t mean we need to be around for the everyday technical chats.
Overall it would be incredibly rare to find a community manager who doesn’t have to report to someone!
Might be covered by: Sales, Communications, Data Scientist, Marketing/Brand Manager
Contrary to popular opinion, community managers aren’t just posting memes on Twitter all day. They could be monitoring a bunch of platforms, but the most common ones are Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, Discord, and Reddit. This is often on top of writing newsletters, answering emails, maybe handling internal platforms for things like bug reporting and some kind of platform for chatting with coworkers.
How many platforms a single CM works on can depend on:
- Team size
- Volume of community interactions
- Where the community tends to reside naturally
- How much other work they have to do
- Various other things (stakeholders' interests, community manager familiarity with platforms, overall trends, because it’s the site your mother’s dog uses, etc.).
All that’s certain is that many of us have eyes in multiple places at any given time.
Levels of Freedom
Another thing to keep in mind is the varying level of control and freedom community managers have. Some CMs may have to go through multiple levels of approvals with various stakeholders before something gets posted. This may mean having content prepared weeks or months in advance and they may also be limited to replying to comments with approved canned responses or instructed not to reply at all.
Others might have 100% freedom with little oversight from anyone else and post as they see fit with a brand voice that they set themselves.
So before you claim a community manager is bad at their job or yell at them that your feedback wasn’t implemented, just know that more times than not the community manager is doing their job just fine but might be hitting internal roadblocks for any variety of reasons.
There are a ton of community managers who take on additional responsibilities. Some contribute to art, UI, narrative, programming, 3D modeling, music, or just about anything else.
These responsibilities are much rarer though and it usually comes down to the discretion of the studio and the community manager. It can be a cool way to branch off into other areas of interest, but shouldn’t be considered the norm for the community manager role.
Community Manager vs. Community Developer
As the community role has aged, there have been some moves to create a clearer career path. One such role and distinction that’s starting to be made is the community developer role. (There are also community directors and community leads, but these are much rarer titles).
Community developers tend to be folks who look at bigger, long-term community strategies and goals rather than directly interacting with the community in their day-to-day tasks.
Community developers are likely to set overall goals for a campaign, make overall strategy calls, and set the general direction and tone which community managers then act on. They are also more likely to be the ones involved in the game development decisions that were mentioned earlier and the ones to put in research into whether a new platform (such as TikTok) is worth the time investment.
On paper, this distinction between community managers and community developers seems well and good, but in practice, there are a lot of community managers who also develop communities. And there are community developers who also manage communities.
At the end of the day, what’s in a name? But I would say generally community developers are starting to be seen as a more senior role.
Community Manager vs. Social Media Manager
Social media managers seem to have the most overlap with community managers in terms of responsibilities.
While both roles are expected to manage social media competently, community managers will have additional responsibilities and expectations outside of social media while social media managers are more likely to be focused on specific content going out on social platforms.
Community managers might be expected to represent the brand at events such as operating demos, whereas a social media manager might be expected to make content about the event but not necessarily represent the brand in front of community members. Social media managers may face fewer expectations of community interaction, especially on platforms such as Discord where you represent yourself as an individual, and more focused on the content going out on social platforms.
My personal feeling is that the gaming industry tends to prefer having community managers compared to other industries. It’s certainly a lot harder to find social media manager roles on game job boards compared to community manager positions, but social media manager roles certainly exist at large studios like Pokemon or Xbox!
So what do I do with this information?
That entirely depends on why you’re here.
If you’re a community manager like me and you were here because you were curious what I had to say, hopefully I made you feel less alone if you felt like you didn’t 100% know what you were doing, especially when comparing yourself to your peers. I also hope it helps you identify whether or not you should be asking for the community developer role at your next review if you qualify.
If you want to become a community manager, I hope this post doesn’t intimidate you! A lot of us didn’t really know what we were getting into when we started, and a lot of us are still figuring it out. A good place to start is to look at positions at companies you’re interested in to get an idea of what they’re looking for in a community manager. Look at the requirements for community coordinators or community managers and see how many of those things you have experience in (it doesn’t necessarily need to be working experience, modding for streamer chats is a form of community management, so is modding Reddits. If you stream then you’re also in charge of building and managing your community!). There are lots of different ways to get the experience needed for a community management role.
If you’re looking to hire a community manager, I hope you keep the community manager vs community developer part in mind! I also hope you take some time to measure the scope of responsibilities you’re looking at for your CM and pay them respectively.
IDK HOW TO CONCLUDE THIS, HELP
All in all, the community management role is a highly fluid role for better or for worse and it isn’t just a stepping stone into the industry. It is very much a unique role, so those who take its path must make sure that it’s something they’re truly passionate about before taking up the mantle. Being a CM means being extremely flexible and there can be a pretty significant learning curve when moving into another community role at a different studio.
The good news is many companies and individuals are investing into community roles right now, and I’ve seen more moves to really establish what a longstanding career in community looks like! It’s an exciting time to be a community manager and if you ever have any questions, feel free to send me a DM on Twitter!