Social Media Community Management: An Interview with Kathryn Peck of EA SPORTS

Almost exactly a year ago, I observed Kathryn Peck represent EA SPORTS on Twitter. Her community outreach on behalf of Electronic Arts was amazing and her engagement with customers gives all of us lessons to live by. I knew that as a community manager myself, I had to ask her about her own experiences with social media within a company that seemed to have been an early adopter of sorts in the social media community management realm. Here’s what I’ve learned from her.

1. What’s a typical day like for you as the EA SPORTS Active Community Manager?

I would say that a typical day is very busy :) . There are a number of channels (Facebook, Twitter, forums, etc.) that we manage, and conversing with colleagues, fans, and customers is something that takes up a lot of time. We use the channels not only to post content and messages to our consumers but we converse with them there as well. There are also meetings with the members of the communications and marketing teams and members of the game development team. One of our biggest goals is to consistently be aligned with our content and messaging so we meet regularly to ensure that we are all on the same page. I also have calls and emails with external partners or people that work with outside of EA SPORTS as we discuss upcoming conferences, events, how we can partner, etc. Needless to say, there’s never a dull moment.

2. How (and when) did you get to be the Community Manager for EA Sports Active?

I started in the role unofficially around October of 2008. EASA hadn’t been launched yet (the original product came out in May of 2009) but we knew that it was coming and that it was going to need some focus and attention. I was working in PR at the time and even though we had community managers with EA SPORTS, this was a different title and we initially targeted women. I think we felt that it would be best to have a female act as the community manager for this product. We knew we had to approach things very differently so I basically started acting as the community manager for EASA before it was out the door. We made a point to create “communications” plans as opposed to separate PR and community plans. It seemed to only make sense to work closely and help with our vision and alignment. So yes, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time ;)

3. Where I’m standing, it looks like EA was smart enough to get into the game early by empowering staff with the exciting role of Community Manager. What kind of culture do you have at your office that made that happen so early, and do you have any suggestions for companies trying to consider employing their own Community Manager?

Even though it’s a big company, everyone seems to have ownership over specific areas. This is definitely empowering and makes for better, and I would argue, happier, employees. The role of the community manager has only grown and expanded over the last couple of years. It tended to quite specific in the past – community managers were meant to discuss games within the forums on different gaming sites to get a sense of the loyal community. That’s still something that is necessary and important, but with all of the ways that people communicate now, it’s become easier for the general public to jump online and discuss/comment on a product, game, experience, etc. We had to ensure that community managers remained the main point of contact for these people but also needed to ensure that we were talking to these people wherever they were – which clearly doesn’t just include forums anymore. I think you have to trust your colleagues. People are going to make mistakes, we are human afterall. But assuming you have thoughtful colleagues, you have to trust that they will communicate with the public in an appropriate manner. EA is very aware how important this role is and is also aware of how vocal the community can be. The gaming community can be an extremely passionate bunch who love and who hate. We embrace them all :)

4. Out of curiosity, given EA’s vast reach, how many community managers manage the Electronic Arts various brands and products?

I can only speak for EA SPORTS, and at this time, we have about 5 full time community managers. They cover a variety of games and needless to say have a very full schedule. The communities that they manage vary in size but they are all extremely engaged and the conversation doesn’t ever seem to stop.

5. Do you personally think a Community Manager is the same as a Social Media Manager? Does EA treat them differently? If so, what distinguishes the two roles?

I would say that they are close to one of the same. The community manager tends to be responsible for the majority of the social channels. It’s semantics really – I’m sure they could be called either. As we know, social media isn’t really something that’s closed anymore. What I mean is that everything, in essence, is social. Yes, we still refer to the area as social media, but it really touches all aspects of what we do. Community managers just happen to be communicating through those channels.

6. Do you think any particular skill sets are important for Community Managers in general?

Patience is definitely important. In this day and age, you have to be able to multi task. Having thick skin wouldn’t be a bad idea either – you tend to be the first line of defense so people go to you with their problems. It can also be very rewarding as people will also come to you with their excitement and praise.

7. What are your favorite tools for doing what you do?

We all know how important it is to keep up to speed as to what is going on not only within our own areas but also with other companies and competitors. I use Google Alerts for this. It’s a great way to not only have your finger on what’s happening but it can inspire your own work. I subscribe to a number of feeds and newsletters as well. I’m always looking to my colleagues from around the industry for ideas and info. As for monitoring, there are a number of ways in which we do this at EA. Some people send out insights and I also look to Facebook for our pages. We are also looking into more organized monitoring systems where we can keep track of all of our franchises. I’m not a huge fan of having a million different tools in play. I try and keep it to a minimum – I have enough distractions as it is.

8. Is there anything else you want readers to know?

Just how demanding it can be and how much we truly value the community. We get emails and messages from people who are really really angry. Some are warranted while others are not at all. We read them. We aren’t always able to respond right away or at all but we see them. If the community wasn’t important, then we wouldn’t have community managers. The community managers that I know (so mainly at EA) truly love what they do and are passionate about it. Many of them have close relationships with members of their respective communities. In short, we give a shit. Remember that we’re consumers and fans too. We know that people have high expectations – so do we.

Thanks so much Kathryn for taking the time and giving us a peek of the EA SPORTS process!

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