WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm Jeff Rubenstein, and I'm social media manager for Sony Computer Entertainment America.
WP: That big title basically means that you're in charge of the PlayStation blog, Twitter, and all the other fun stuff.
JR: That's exactly true. I run the social media program for PlayStation, which encompasses the PlayStation blog, most notably, but also our industry-leading Facebook account, which has passed 1 million Facebook fans, and Twitter, which has about a quarter of a million people following our tweets, in addition to other things going on, such as Foursquare — a constantly evolving landscape, basically.
WP: So how long has Sony had an official social media department, where you guys are officially in charge of this, versus having PR and marketing sort of handling things?
JR: Well, the blog launched in June of 2007, so we're coming up on three years, and I've been here pretty much the entire time.
WP: How did you get started doing this?
JR: I used to, among other things, report on video games for the Orlando Sentinel, and I sort of was plucked from obscurity, if you will, to come and work for Sony. It was a dream job — it still is a dream job — it's just amazing how these things work. I couldn't plan it again if I tried, but I'm really happy to be here, and I'm coming up on three years, and I love it every bit as much as I did on day one.
WP: Great. Facebook. We have just enough trouble keeping up with the newsfeeds from our couple of hundred friends. How do you guys keep up with having so many people talking to you on Twitter and so many people responding to your Facebook posts? It's got to be information overload.
JR: It is, and it's something that I think not everybody understands. You can't just make a Facebook page and you're done. That's only the first step, and that's the easiest thing. Anybody can jump on Facebook and make a page in five minutes, and you haven't really done anything. It's all about the engagement. So we hired someone whose job it is to specifically handle and talk with people, one to one, via Facebook and Twitter. It's Sid Shuman, former GamePro editor, and he's fantastic at it. He's someone who lived in social media anyway, and now he's doing that for us, and I've got to tell you, ever since he started about a month ago, he's really been able to engage with the readers, even if it's just talking about something like, "What did you play over the weekend?" or "Have you seen this ending on this game?" People are excited about games, obviously, and they want someone to talk with, and sometimes that person isn't living with them. I know that's the case for me. My little daughter doesn't know anything about games yet. You want to talk about these things. It's an experience that you sometimes have individually, especially on a single-player game, but sometimes you want to share it with your friends or you want to just share it with somebody, and social media is such a great way to do that. It's something that Sid especially has been able to do for us, speaking from PlayStation, but really, people come to us because we're PlayStation, but they want to talk about games. We've sort of created the platform or created the forum through which a lot of people have enjoyed communicating with us and with each other.
WP: Coming from a journalistic background, you're probably very familiar with not just how Sony, but all game companies, PR and marketing, love to control the conversation. Everything has to be approved, and nobody says anything without getting it cleared. How does that work with the social media side? Do you guys have to get everything approved before you say it? Are you allowed to have free conversations? What kind of flexibility do you have when responding to customers on Facebook, Twitter and the blog?
JR: I think there's a bit of a miscommunication where people think that, "Oh, there's all this really cool stuff and marketing and PR don't want you to know it." At least at Sony, that's not how it works. We're not sitting on a treasure trove of facts, and we decide, "We're going to let you know this nugget today." Really, as soon as things are determined, really locked down, then we go ahead and tell you. If we go out with half-baked sort-of facts — "This is probably going to come out around June" — if you throw out an off-hand comment like that, people take that and run with it. Then when it doesn't come out in June, they're going to say, "Where is it? You said it was probably going to come out in June." "Probably" doesn't exist in the world of games. If you say "probably June," people interpret that as, "It's definitely coming in June."
So we have a lot of freedom to really explore avenues in the game. Obviously, PR and marketing have their plans, and let's say if you're talking about a specific game, they may want to talk about the amount of players that are going to be involved with it or the release date or the plot or whatever other features. Something that we like to do is just look and see what other aspects are there. The way I look at it is that our job is to connect the people who are going to be playing the game with the people who make the game. We put them together in live chats, we put them together in Q & As, we put them together in person, and they can ask whatever they want to ask.
WP: Communicating good, positive information is always fun, but how do you handle negative consumer reaction? For example, the recent PlayStation 3 update removed other OSes, and there was a very mixed reaction among consumers. How do you guys approach something like that, when you know that some consumers who don't have a problem with it but there's a sizeable contingent who thinks that it's a bad thing and they're coming Twitter and Facebook to complain directly to you?
JR: Well, first of all, we listen. That's something that I think is really important. I think not every company does it. We actually listen. We read all these comments. We launched PlayStation Blog Share about a month ago, and what you can do is submit ideas about anything regarding PlayStation, and then other people can see those ideas and vote on them. We're looking at them, and we'll see what we can do about it. If there's something that somebody or a group of people don't like about PlayStation or think that PlayStation should be doing, we've given them this forum where they can submit that idea and let us know and then if it's something that a lot of people want, it's going to show up in the voting. If it's something that not a lot of people care about or just one person cares about, it's going to become very obvious.
We've gotten tremendous feedback. We received over a million votes over the first three weeks, which really impressed us. The thing that I love about working at PlayStation is that our readers are so vocal and they tell you what they like and don't like. They don't say it necessarily just to be a troll; they say it because they want that product to be improved.
I think you've seen PlayStation react, and if you were to look at where the PS3 was when it launched versus the functionality that's available now — we just launched a firmware update that incorporated some new Trophy functionality so you can pair with your friends — we clearly listen. We've significantly improved the system since it launched, and that's what we'll continue to do.
WP: How does your job change from the average day-to-day basis when it's just games releasing and talking with consumers versus event coverage? For instance, when Tokyo Game Show is going on or E3 is going on, everybody is looking for that last little nugget. Are you working 24/7? Are you going to the shows? Are you just getting the information fed to you? How does that happen when there's something really big?
JR: There's a little bit of both. We sort of function both as PR and as a news outlet when we have an event like E3 or TGS. We're getting ready for E3, so what I'm going to do is find out what we're going to be announcing, and I'm going to prepare a series of blog posts that are more in-depth about the specifics of whatever games we're going to be showing and whatever other things might be happening.
Then when we get to the actual show, those things will fire off as the actual press conference is going on. You know, Jack Tretton will be up there saying whatever he says, and then we'll have, "Jack mentioned this. Here are more details on it." That's what we do with the blog.
Once the show floor opens, we're going to run over to the show floor, and we're going to have appointments, just like any other Web site or magazine is going to have that's covering all this stuff. We're going to be meeting up with the Square Enixes of the world and the Capcoms of the world, etc. The tactic that we're going to take is, "How does this affect PlayStation owners? What's in it for them? What do they want to know?" We're going to ask them. I might just take a screen grab of my appointments as I start to book the appointments. Here's where we'll be talking to and when. What do you want to know? We'll just go ahead and ask them.
WP: A lot of your readers — and a lot of our readers — have their own personal blogs. What suggestions would you give them to get their blogs noticed out there in the vast sea of the Internet?
JR: I would say that you have to have a unique voice and say something that is not being said by everyone else. Don't try to go ahead with a Kotaku or IGN or GameSpot because you know what, they've got the resources and the manpower and the experience and the name brand, so you're not going to beat them. But there are a lot of smaller sites out there that have a different tact. One that I tend to mention when people ask this question is Siliconera. They're not necessarily the biggest site out there, but they are not posting the same stuff that I'm reading on every other site every day, and I read somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 stories a day. Bitmob is another one, where it's not going to be the same stuff. If you're doing unique stuff, if you have a unique viewpoint, if you're a good writer, first of all, don't rehash the news. We're getting that news from somewhere else. Look at something a little bit different. That's easy to say. The tough part is actually being able to do it. The cream does rise to the top, and I feel that the best writers do get noticed, and maybe they can bring that interesting viewpoint or skill to an established site and really get some attention.
WP: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?JR: I really enjoy what we do, and everything we do is because of the readers and because of the gamers. I'm one of you. I'm in there in the meetings, asking the questions that I think you're going to ask. We're doing our best whenever we're getting a blog post up there to make sure that we address those first of all, but of course, no matter how well I think we got it covered, comments number one, two and three will ask something that will make us say, "Oh, man. That's a really good point. We need to address that," and so that's why we built ways for people to continue the conversation after the blog post. The conversation just needs to continue on and on, and that's basically what we've done and the type of thing I've created. I don't do anything. I enable other people to communicate and talk. It's kind of fun.