Sometimes getting something very publicly (and very badly) wrong can turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

When Games Workshop closed its disastrous Facebook page in February 2013, no-one would have dreamed that just six months later it would be back and delivering an exemplary community experience.

‘We ought to be on Facebook’

Games Workshop’s original Facebook page felt as if it had been created from of a sense of duty, rather than as part of an integrated digital and social strategy.

There was a decent feed of high quality product images (Games Workshop make and sell fantasy and sci-fi games and miniatures), but from what I remember, topics were led by the page owners.

Customers couldn’t post or start their own topics, resulting in an overwhelmingly ‘one-sided’ feeling to the content. ’Here’s what we have to tell you’ rather than ’Let’s have a conversation’.

Rebellion and retreat

In February 2013, Games Workshop became involved in a heated debate about the ownership of the phrase ‘space marine’.

Unable (or unwilling?) to respond to the volume of Facebook comments that poured in as a result (largely negative), Games Workshop took the decision to close the page.

The official reason was given as:

Many thanks for your email. The Games Workshop Facebook page has been removed so that the customer interaction goes through our retail stores. This will be via face-to-face contact with customers while they are visiting the stores, or by using the individual Facebook pages each store has.

The difficult online conversations and debating points then simply moved to an alternative universe of independent blogs and forums, and therefore outside Games Workshop’s sphere of influence. For example:

Games Workshop tries to act like both the internet and globalization never happened.

It´s not new that Games Workshop hates feedback… especially the negative ones. It´s true that sometimes people get more angry and brutal than necessary, but cutting the feedback channels only gets things worse.

So was this a strange way for a high street retailer to behave? Had it genuinely pulled out of social media? Or was GW regrouping, and ready to make some significant digital marketing advances?

Regeneration

On August 31 2013 Games Workshop returned to Facebook: https://www.Facebook.com/GamesWorkshopDigitalEditions.  

It’s now nominally meant to have a digital product focus (rather than feature the entire product line-up), but nonetheless it’s a centrally managed Facebook community page under an official Games Workshop banner. And it’s good.

In just less than three months it has grown from nothing to over 7,200 followers,  about 200 have joined even as I write this.  Word is getting around the fan base that the Games Workshop page has become a great place to ask questions and get official answers.

Customer posts are full of praise:

This page is awesome. Thanks for all the art, and extra stuff. 

First of all let me say you are going a great job with this page, very friendly and responsive!

Revelation

Here’s how Games Workshop transformed a social media liability into a successful community page:

  1. Conversational. Customers can post new topics. The page owner(s) also post customer content that has been submitted to them – along with a nice compliment and explanation of what it is. There is a genuine two-way dialogue between customers and Games Workshop.
  2. Responsive. Customer questions are answered in good time. Almost all receive a response within a few hours.
  3. Engaging. The page manager engages with customers in a respectful language and tone. Official responses come from ‘Eddie’ so they feel personal.

    Eddie uses good humour with genuine respect for the question. There is a sense that he is a fan of the products too, so the community feels like a fan page run by a peer, with the added bonus that it’s 100% official news rather than unofficial rumours.

  4. Informative. Eddie’s a delightful tease, regularly releasing snippets of information about upcoming products. It’s somewhere to repeat visit and delivers content customers want to see in their Facebook feed.
  5. Socially driven. Fans are encouraged to recruit other fans. For example, on 17 November, Eddie promised to release more teaser content when there were 7,000 page likes.

    This spread virally across gaming communities’ independent blogs and forums – within days the magic number was reached, and Eddie made good on his promise.

Reflection

I haven’t been able to find any other examples of multinationals that have pulled the plug on a corporate Facebook page (if you know of any, please share!), let alone returned as triumphantly as Games Workshop. 

Yet it seems as if brave decisions can pay off. Removing the old page was a smart move, and eliminated the need to spend time and effort on flogging a horse that was dying on its feet. The break gave GW time to revisit its Facebook strategy with fresh eyes, and to find an excellent community page manager.

Yes, they have to start the recruiting battle again to reclaim their former numbers of followers and likes (I think the old page had somewhere around 100,000), but it’s off to a good start. My bet is that if the quality and engagement levels are sustained, this will be achieved.

Games Workshop has also proved that supporting ongoing customer engagement on Facebook takes nothing more scientifically advanced than good old fashioned service skills and good content to share. Eddie deserves a gold star for his work so far!