The Quest for Community

It’s Saturday night and I’m watching five friends eagerly arrange their dice and characters. A blank grid is set in front of us, with endless possibilities to be found. We’re gearing up to play Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), a scene familiar to over 10 million players world wide. Our Dungeon Master (DM) dims the lights and begins our quest as we listen with rapt attention.

Yet, I have a confession to make.

I have never been a Dungeon Master in a D&D group. I sit comfortably as a player and adventurer, enjoying the puzzles, combat and loot awaiting us, but its never been my job to look behind the screen. The experience unfolds in front of me just for showing up at the door.

However the idea of the DM as akin to my experience as a Community Manager dawned on me a few weeks ago and I keep coming back to the cross-over. DM’s manage their players, enforce rules, and learn with the adventure. They support, gently challenge, and create new pathways of connections. The best of the best make lasting memories with just a blank grid. Community Managers do the very same within their Community. Below are three ways that Community Managers and DMs share their role.

  1. They set the stage.

“You walk into to a town square that is well lit, lively, and jovial”/”Hi, welcome to Widget Community! Here is how to get started…”. The role of DM is to paint a scene for your players. Should they be worried? Excited? On edge? Similarly- your role as Community Manager is to illustrate the experience for your members. What type of Community are they coming into? Is it full of artifacts and resources they can dig through? Or more about supporting and challenging the best ideas to rise to the top? If your adventurers are unaware if they’re walking into a friendly tavern or a rough-and-tumble part of town, they may step on a few toes. Community members, without guidance and a warm welcome, may shy away from engaging further in your Community.

 2 . They know the rules, the math, and the crystal ball of outcomes.

“You deal 4 damage to a monster ten feet away”/ “Here are our Community metrics for FY18” . As a DM preps for their games (a process that can take days) they get up close and personal with all the gritty bits of the system. How damage is taken, how it’s dealt, move speed, and the world norms. Community Managers have a pulse on the inner mechanisms of their data. Equally, both groups use a mix of exact science and fuzzy numbers (ever try calculating the monetary value of connection?) to get a picture of where they need to go.

3. They revisit/ rework/ revise/ revamp.

“The goblin you interrogated five months ago has come out of hiding with ten of his friends and now has some questions for you”/ “Hey team, let’s try a new landing page layout to see if we can drive more traffic to our forums.” The role of DM and Community Manager is ever-evolving. Maybe your group has collectively decided that finding a town lumber is more important than saving the king (spoken from actual campaign experience). In Community, perhaps your wonderful member onboarding is leading members to the platform but not helping them engage, or your account creation process is so long that people are giving up halfway through. Both scenarios require quick thinking to get the job done, and leave the encounter excited for the next challenge.

As a player, I have learned to respect and admire the myriad work our DM does (by the way, this month just so happens to be DM appreciation month). Hopefully in your role, your Community recognizes the same work and dedication you bring.