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An interview with Roberto Kusabbi: Director of Community and Social Marketing at King

Roberto has had an extraordinary Social Media career. Starting his journey at the British Heart Foundation he then became Global Social Media & Digital Manager at Spurs. After that he went on to PlayStation where he was the Senior Social & Content Manager. I worked with him at Sky where we were both Controllers working on social marketing of over 200 TV shows including Game of Thrones. After his time at Sky he went on to work as Creative Marketing Director at Roborace and now is the Social & Community Marketing Director at King where his focus is on influencer content and community marketing strategy. He oversees the execution of all King games including Candy Crush Saga, Crash Bandicoot: On the Run!

What does a normal day at work involve for you?

Pleasure to talk to you! My day is never the same which is probably a cliche in creative industries but it really isn't! There are always challenges and solutions to be found. Obviously the pandemic has taken away a big part of my work which is face to face engagement but I have been fortunate to feel connected to teams and partners via Zoom and I am a big fan of Slack, growing up on MSN will do that to you!

In terms of my day to day broadly, it will go from planning and strategy days or hours, be that for a campaign or launch, to talking to partners and internal teams on best practice or a creative idea my team have thought of, to execution sign off and then to giving viewpoints on where we should be headed.

I try to make time to take in some reading and every morning will look at what’s trending. We do a lot of influencer work so that it’s important to see what’s going on in that world. I have a Twitter List of ‘Internet people’ that I follow who are always on the pulse so that gives me a digest.

I’ve tried to carve out more time to think and plan, problem with back to back meetings is you don’t think as much, so I try to find time, not to email but to actually think and put that to paper - literally paper - or more often than not decks.

Ultimately, my job is to lead the team and add context but also to drive best practice internally within social and influencers.

King has a reputation for having a great working culture. Your role there started during lockdown. What was that like for you and how did they keep that culture?

I think I was quite fortunate, King is a digital company and so from a basic technology basis, which is important my unboarding was seamless. I was lucky again that I had an ex-colleague from my PlayStation days already working at King and that helped too. The people at King are fantastic and I was welcomed like I was part of the team. To keep the culture is tough, we have to be honest that the last 19 months have been tough mentally. I think Slack helps (I can hear those saying it hinders too) but it allows more informal conversations that are *maybe* a bit more like a normal chat. Zoom, for all it’s faults can be useful. We had team moments too. I think the important part of keeping culture is respect and reiterating our values when the time is right and in our decision making.

Your career has spanned a really transformative time for brands and their relationship with social media. How does this experience inform your creative choices? What engagement metrics do you focus on when analysing the success of a particular activation, campaign or ongoing work with an influencer?

I have been around the block that’s for sure! I think for me, my creative direction of preference is creator led and often low-fi in style or hue. I do love a polished ad or trailer too and I’m a bit of an ad geek but what I see that I really love style wise is often being done by creators using tools on their phones and making incredible content that is just a handful of people. It feels genuine. I often look at Tik Tok and think wow, these folks are making some insanely cool content and the app allows so much creativity. Same with YouTube. I think the public is used to gloss and there is a place for that kind of content but I think people see through it more.

Engagement wise, it depends. Engagement during a new product launch is different to engagement on BAU content for example. Ultimately, we want people to engage with us positivity and be advocates for our games and have fun doing so. Sometimes that may mean a great view through rate, or shares. So no one data point is key. Installs of course are pretty important!

I cringe now at some of the terrible influencers I paid to promote products when I was a Social Media Director. I learned very quickly that all reach isn’t created equal and whether you are trying to engage a new market or connect with your current customer base the pool of authentic influencers to your brand or product is actually very small. At King what are your considerations when choosing who’s right to represent your brand and engage with your customers?

We’ve all been there! For us, when working with influencers we try to be laser focused. What audience are we after? What audience does the influencer have and does that align? How do influencer audiences overlap or not and is that important? Of course there are also brand questions here that need to align with ours and that’s key too.

King games are of course hugely popular across a broad audience. Just simply playing the mobile games is like a master class in keeping a person engaged. Do those in-game rewards and creative choices cross over into your community marketing strategies or your creative content choices?

For us, we want to make sure that people are being entertained, we try to focus our community and social activities on key beats where we can bring excitement and entertain and also expand the narrative from in-game to outside. When you and I worked at Sky on Thrones or WestWorld, that was super easy in a way as we had so much to play with narratively in the show. So I try to bring that thinking to our game content too.

I can imagine King has a well established organic and very well connected audience with its own influencers. Do you focus on being part of those communities or on building your own spaces? Are there pros and cons to both?

Generally there are pros and cons to either approach and I think you need to do both when you’re a bigger brand with more resource. We have our own spaces and we also build communities on other platforms. What’s interesting and exciting about games more so than any other medium is that we can build communities and experiences within the product, some do this amazingly well already and that’s where we want to be. Not always easy or possible but for some genres it’s key. Again though, we need to think about where the audience is and what they want and how any experience we build actually makes their experience better.

I remember how difficult it was getting engagement at a high level for TV shows that no one’s heard of yet vs something like Game of Thrones. It’s not exactly the same for an established IP like Crash Bandicoot but when you recently launched your new game “Crash Bandicoot: On the Run!” What strategies did you consider in the influencer and community space to engage a new audience?

There’s absolutely a similarity. When you have an established IP, like we did with Thrones you have a buy in from the audience and fans, the opposite side of that coin is that you have to be fully respectful to the IP and to the fans. With a newer IP there’s a different strategy to be planned, no less exciting but you’re building and setting that world and lore. For Crash, it’s quite similar to how you and I worked on Thrones, there is a world that the fans love and have, with Crash a 25 year history with, you absolutely have to respect that and you have to show that same passion, respect and love for that story and IP. With our community and influencer work, we wanted to show our passion, our personal love and how we’d been formed as players by the game and then work with influencers who felt the same. Luckily Crash has such a loving fanbase and place in so many people’s hearts we were able to find people who shared our vision.

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