Having an active community of two-million users is a dream for many businesses. But it does pose serious challenges when you’re a company of 20 employees – with only a handful of them working on the front lines of serving a community of customers that size.
Jasmine Elias, Community Manager of gaming company Bubblegum Interactive, shares her experiences in keeping an army of users happy, engaged and on board for the long haul.
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Small Business Trends: Can you give us a little bit of your background and tell us about Bubblegum Interactive in general?
Jasmine Elias: I did not previously work in the game development field. I actually worked in politics and I lectured at one of the local universities here. I was very much into academia and all of that. And I actually wanted a bit of a change.
So I saw Bubblegum was advertising for jobs and I applied. And now I am the Community Manager at Bubblegum Interactive. It’s a small start-up company. We’ve been making games for about three years now. Our flagship game is a virtual universe for kids under twelve.
Employee-wise we have about 20 people worldwide. Our headquarters are located in Sydney, Australia.
Small Business Trends: Do you have a big user community?
Jasmine Elias: Approaching two million users for Space Heroes Universe at the moment.
Small Business Trends: So you have roughly 20 employees and approaching two million users. That’s a pretty interesting ratio there.
Jasmine Elias: It is a very interesting ratio. We very much like to keep it as a tight-knit family at Bubblegum. It’s still very much the atmosphere and pace of a start-up community where we interact quite closely with each other and we have overlapping roles within the company.
Small Business Trends: So as the Community Manager, what kind of special challenges do you have when there’s two million users and a very limited numbers of employees to serve a community of that size?
Jasmine Elias: I would say the most difficult is probably attempting to portray the company line to both parents and children. So in a way, it can be a bit difficult to portray to children the importance of the safety aspects of Space Heroes. Why they can’t do certain things or say certain things but also try to do that in a very fun way.
Then, to take that exact same company policy and apply it to parents. I’ll respond in the same way, but in a very serious manner towards the parents and again, to sort of emphasize the safety, but to show them that it is still a fun game. Obviously, the language has to be a bit different for both people. The approach is slightly different.
Small Business Trends: On a typical day, what are the numbers of interactions or requests that you’re getting from users?
Jasmine Elias: There’s been a massive change in the market in general, specifically our virtual world market where people are no longer interacting with desktop-based games as often. Although our game is playable on tablets, they’re not really engaging with that in the amount of numbers we’d prefer.
Because of that, the numbers that come through Desk.com, the amount of tickets or emails that we receive has substantially changed. I would say that this time last year, we would have had an average of 200 emails a day whereas now we would maybe have about twenty or thirty a day. And that is a considerable shift.
Small Business Trends: Are you seeing a pickup in interactions via the social channels?
Jasmine Elias: We’re seeing users help each other out a lot more. So again, one of the things I do is, even though we have no official capacity to overlook the fan blogs, there are a couple of fan blogs that we have that are quite busy. Kids are always willing to help each other on those fan blogs from what I’ve noticed. I’ve also noticed that kids, it could just be because of their age, a lot of these kids are 13 so they’re actually not allowed to use Facebook.
Those kids tend to talk to each other on a program called XAT, which is a chat program. And they tend to talk to each other on Skype and Tango and all those sort of apps.
I have noticed that there is a fair bit of interaction on social media, specifically Twitter, less so Facebook. I think that’s more to do with their age in general. But what I’ve noticed with those interactions is, there’s a lot more lurking than there is actual interaction. So kids will be quite happy to retweet or favorite one of our tweets or like one of our pictures. But in terms of commenting, in terms of actual engagement, it’s generally quite low.
Small Business Trends: Does having a system like a Desk.com help you to be more effective in your interactions?
Jasmine Elias: I would say that Desk.com gathers everything. The first thing I do when I walk into my office in the morning is actually check it because those emails we receive are the most important emails of the day. The ones where customers have actually gone out of their way to interact. If there’s a trend in those emails, then I know there will be a trend in the community as a whole.
If we have five people emailing us about the same issue, then we know there’s a certain correlation with the greater community as a whole. So it could be two percent of the community is affected by this issue. But there are certain users who will never actually complain or talk we’ve noticed, or care about an issue enough to let us know.
Just knowing that Desk.com allows us to correlate those issues and allows us to make those issues a little bit more actionable so we would then have a chat about whatever the issue may be, and see where we could take it from there.
Small Business Trends: What are some of the expectations that your customer base has when they reach out to you?
Jasmine Elias: We try to respond to them in as timely a manner as possible. We check to see how many cases are pending, how many have recently been resolved and how long they’ve actually been pending and how long it’s been since an agent has actually opened up the case and looked at it. It allows me to see how long it’s been sitting there and how long our response time is.
Small Business Trends: How do you go about creating an active community?
Jasmine Elias: I would personally define “community” as our user-base, our customer-base, because our virtual world is a children’s game so we have a varied community. We have a community of parents, and a community of investors. We have a community of parental guardians and we also have a community of children who are our actual, active users.
The way we approach the community is, a four-pronged approach. We would approach gamer communities and tell them to review the game and to play around with it and see if they think it’s suitable for kids and how much fun they can have on it and so forth. We’ll approach mommy bloggers and we’ll get them to look at the game and review it and get a little home-grown community from them as well.
There are also some websites like Mediaclip which are aggregators of games, so we’ll use them as well. We’ll also side with tech blogs and so forth and advertise Space Heroes in that sense and we’ll go into the existing community of our competitors which is a little bit of a strange thing to do.
We’ll see the issues that are corresponding to them, if there’s something in a market that needs to be filled and so forth. We’ll try to latch onto that and try and transfer the issue into our game and say, ‘Hey, you guys really want this. It’s not in that game, but it is in our game. Check it out.’ And they will. We really do depend on our users. We also attempt to advertise and interact with them using social media.
Small Business Trends: How do you go about getting that kind of information that will help you create the products and services that are going to keep these guys around longer?
Jasmine Elias: In terms of quantity of information, we have some really deep statistics on the game. Every time we link our game to a certain website or a certain advertiser, we’ll have a unique URL where our marketing guys will actually track each specific unique URL every time the user registers on our game. We actually track from where they came. Because it’s a kids game, we have some major safety concerns with capturing specific unique data, so we can exactly know where they are and their age, and through IP-tracking we have a general idea of location.
I would actually go forth and have a really in-depth conversation with whoever was reviewing our game. With the mommy bloggers, or the kids themselves, I actually regularly talk on Skype to our superfans and they’re the ones who’ve actually created blogs. Some of them have been around with us since Beta. We’ll have conversations about the game and what they like and what they don’t like, and what they’ve seen in other games. We just really try to build on that as well.
Small Business Trends: Does the system allow you to manage the growth of support help as opposed to having to bring on more people to help manage this?
Jasmine Elias: Absolutely. If we were just using generic emails we wouldn’t be able to add macros and add notes. For us, the most used aspects of are probably macros and labels. All of our emails are sent through different labels. Currently we’ve got a label running for our apps. We’ve got a label running for our cases. We’ve got help reports, and that’s a label of all the abuse cases sent in from the virtual world.
If someone’s being mean to one kid in the virtual world they can send a little help report and then we’ll take a look at that user and see if they need to be suspended. We’ve also got billing cases and current cases.
When I read an email straight away, after three or four words, I know exactly which macro I need to use in order to respond to that person and it saves me so much time. Instead of spending five minutes on a case, I could literally spend ten seconds.
Small Business Trends: Do you have a knowledge base?
Jasmine Elias: We have FAQ, and it’s actually integrated within our website. But because most of our users who write in are either kids or parents, they’re quite time-restricted and they don’t often want to go through the FAQ. So we’ll have the answer in the FAQ, but also a macro response for them.
Small Business Trends: How do you expect to deliver the kind of service your users are going to want and need going forward?
Jasmine Elias: We are adapting our gaming platform. We’re delving a lot more into the app market. A lot of our Space Heroes users are using our apps, even though they’re not directly targeted at kids. We’ll have apps that are directed at slightly older kids. We’re trying to get them to move across with us.
Small Business Trends: Where can people go to learn more about what you guys are doing?
Jasmine Elias: We’ve got a corporate website, BubbleGumInteractive.
This interview on serving a community of 2 million with just a handful of employees is part of the One on One interview series with thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This transcript has been edited for publication.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.