I joined PlayStation as a community manager to help the company build and grow an online community of like-minded game lovers. The objective was to build up a big Arabic-speaking gaming community, in preparation for the PS4 launch and the new Arabic localization of all PlayStation channels.
From my perspective, I wanted to create a place where users could interact and connect. I believe in the power of technology to bring people together and I love gaming. I'm also third-generation mixed-race, so I’m from all over the place; I grew up between Detroit and Saudi Arabia. My background really helped me in this role because cultural awareness was so important.
Strategic thinking was also crucial for this project. I had to work with a lot of data and think about segmentation. Fortunately, I can easily take a discussion about first-person shooters and derive analytics from it.
My data skills came in real handy here, and as did my experience with social media targeting and advertising. Communities are not an easy thing to build because you have to drag people away from other social media channels. However, they can be incredibly fruitful. They can give you lots of insights and lots of keywords to search through. Users will often talk about their needs on platforms like these in a way they never would in person.
My first step was to engage everybody inside the business and build relationships with the stakeholders. I had to get to know every product inside-out, as well as every gaming studio. I was on the phone a lot in the beginning, getting to know everyone.
I didn't promise anything at this point, but I did sell some of the advantages of the platform to various people in the company. For example, I asked: if we can get 100,000 gamers to subscribe, would we be able to make a special community package for them? I made suggestions like this, then asked them for a slither of the marketing budget. After explaining how online communities work, I had to convince everyone that an online space could be meaningful for people.
I almost had to act as a one-man creative agency at this stage, coming up with some big ideas and pitching them to everyone.
Next, I analyzed social media to identify key influencers. There were people in these communities that were copycats of American and European influencers, so we wanted to reach out and involve them.
Many of the people we talked to were happy that we would be contributing content in their language and offered to help for free. I told them we had a budget and could give them free gaming codes and help them grow their community, or YouTube channel. However, they often just wanted to do it just for the sake of doing it, because there was no other platform for them. They saw the value before we did.
Next, we launched our social media campaign.
We developed a calendar of community activities for our campaigns. We had a Christmas campaign, an Eid campaign, and a back-to-school campaign — it was pretty much like running a toy store.
It was a little bit more complex than regular advertising because I needed people to visit the platform, then register, comment, and find content. I didn't want anyone’s money at this point, I just wanted them to have fun. I wanted people to find friends that loved what they loved.
In addition to managing the social media content calendar and website, I did a lot of content writing and I created press releases for other gaming boards and news websites.
Step four involved building a loyalty program and rallying volunteers. I asked people to help me and asked what they wanted in return but they didn’t want anything — just a little badge, or a nice title. However, I went back to the gaming studios anyway and got them free upgrade codes. I told them if they could post once a week I’d give them a free upgrade, or I’d give them some codes to give to their followers.
For them, it was really product testing. We launched about eight games on the forums before using any other channels and we got feedback for them. That feedback fed back into our advertising spend and official product launch plans.
With communities of over 10,000 users, there can be hundreds of comments so you have to read and respond to a lot of stuff. We really needed our volunteers to help us do that.
At this point, we'd built the platform so we had to deliver on the brand promise. We wanted to make sure that we had created a safe space. A lot of people don't like online gaming because bullying is common, so I needed to identify and remove those bullies. To do that we created a community oath and a community policy for those joining.
We were very sharp on moderation and we kept adult and over eighteen games separate. We didn't want parents to think that this was a bad thing and we didn't want the kids to hesitate knowing their parents were looking at their screen.
The moderators had the right to remove or amend posts and they compiled a list of good, bad, and neutral words, to accommodate gaming banter.
About six months in, around 25% of my time was spent reporting back to the business. I was compiling reports, qualitative and quantitative. The reports covered everything from new product launches, to existing product launches and product extensions.
When building a platform, you need to keep engagement in mind. You need to think about what kind of reporting and touchpoints you're going to be doing. However, it wasn’t really possible to carefully map what I was doing because the users themselves were the trailblazers. They showed us how they wanted us to interact with them and that was better than any plan we could come up with. Kids will tell you when they get their new allowance and want to buy a new game, and they will remind you repeatedly when their birthday is in order to get free games from you.
From launch, the Arabic PlayStation store made over €27 million in its first 12 months, becoming the fourth largest revenue-generating store outside of the US and China. By the end of this project, PlayStation offered me a new job as marketing manager for the Middle East.
PlayStation Network registrations for the new store grew to over 1.5 million accounts in the first 12 months and many PlayStation-owned studios created new Arabic versions of their products to join our localization campaign.
Most importantly, we introduced players to a safe and fun gaming community with regular online activities. Users were now able to find people within their own age group, city, or even their own school. In terms of traffic on the forum, there were about 100,000 message posts per month, with 152 million message views. This provided us with a wealth of data and consumer feedback.
This was the most fun project I have ever done. My favorite achievement by far came when one of the games started localizing their characters. A kid in the forums dressed up a popular PlayStation character “Sackboy”, so we 3D-modeled him in the game. His name was Moe, short for Muhammad, and we launched him just after Eid. He was the number one selling add-on that year.
Customers most likely want to spend more time with other users than with your brand and that's fine. You just have to facilitate it, reward loyalty, and show appreciation.