If you’re plugged into movie news and/or gaming fandoms, you’ve probably seen the internet’s reaction to the new Sonic the Hedgehog trailer this week. Suffice to say, it was not what Paramount was hoping for.

In particular, people focused on Sonic’s creepily realistic human teeth. It quickly became a meme with various iterations, while artists rapidly churned out their own improvements to Sonic’s design. Responding to this, news outlets took the opportunity to cash in on some quick and easy content, with sites like Vulture interviewing a dentist for their thoughts on Sonic’s new teeth.

But the meaningful development is that yesterday, director Jeff Fowler publicly stated on Twitter that there would be revisions to Sonic’s design before the movie’s targeted release in November.

Regardless of what you or I think of the decision, it is certainly a terrible idea to make this deicision public.

I’ve seen this kind of behaviour before: a “higher up” gets wind of something trending in the community which has a negative bent, and they over-react.

This is where a Community Manager can help filter what is relevant information, and what is indirect, or otherwise unhelpful information.

The Power of Community Managers

Community Managers are in the wonderful position of having “context”. Not only are they aware of what is happening in their community and social media following, but they also understand their community wants, desires and what their priorities are. In addition, they are on top of what is happening in other communities, fandoms, the news and internet culture at large.

This means that a good Community Manager has perspective. They can explain the difference between outrage and real concerns, what is significant and what shouldn’t be worried about, and they can also percieve the underlying issue fans or users are truly upset about. This gives them excellent judgement as to when critical changes are neccessary, or whether people just want to felt heard.

A Community Manager could tell you that the proverbial can of worms has been opened, but they also could have told you not to worry.

Without a Community Manager to properly contextually the Sonic Teeth Meme, Jeff Fowler and Paramount have rushed into a decision, and are now in an awful prediciment:

  1. Now that fans know that they can get want they want by complaining or otherwise criticizing the movie en mass, they are likely to try again. Perhaps with more targeted requests and more organised action.
  2. By caving into community feedback within 2 days of the trailer launching, a precident has been set for a very, very rapid response time.
  3. By making the decision to change Sonic’s design public, a promise has been made to fans to not only deliver a better design, but a design that aligns with what they personally want. Adjustments could have easily been made behind the scenes, but now that fans know about the discussion at Paramount that they have started, they will continue to involve themselves in debate and try to shape it (See points 1. & 2.).
  4. Fans will inherently have a high expectation of the new design that will be hard to meet.

My suspicion, is that Jeff Fowler’s tweet comes as a result of himself or Execs at Paramount who caught wind of the meme specifically relating to Sonic’s teeth, and panicked. I also suspect he was only referring to redesigning Sonic’s teeth, as that is an achievable goal and on the surface level, is what fans were criticizing.

However, Twitter was equally quick to criticize the first images of Live-Action Sonic earlier this year. The lackluster fan response to this version of Sonic is a broader problem, and it won’t be fixed so easily.

Now an expectation has been set for a flawless redesign of Sonic’s appearance that Jeff Fowler is unlikely to ever meet. He might, and he might be heralded as genius for doing so, but the bar has been raised in the minds of fans.

A Community Manager could tell you that the proverbial can of worms has been opened, but they also could have told you not to worry.

Leaked early images of "live-action" Sonic came from a Film Style Guide

Die-hard Sonic fans are going to see the movie anyway quite frankly, and for many people, they do not spend a lot of time on social media staying on top of the latest memes. They would presumably go see a Sonic movie based on brand recognition, and not be aware of the “drama” that led up to its release.

In addition, just because something is being mocked, doesn’t mean that it’s being hated. There can be a tendency to see negative criticism as outright digust, but any Brit like myself will tell you that “Banter” isn’t necessarily hurtful. There was great opportunity here to be “in on the joke”.

And for many people this has been nothing more than a joke. People have had fun making memes out of Sonic’s creepily human teeth. A collective in-joke has been made, and so people feel part of that in-group. That can be great for branding and engagement, even if the humour is partly at Sonic’s expense. The trailer dropping with no engagement at all would surely be a worse thing.

That’s the wonderful thing about Community Managers: they can ingest all of this information for you, process it, contextualize it, and advise you on the best step forward. Relieving you of stress and anxiety, and allowing you to focus on what really matters.

In Getting Things Done by David Allen, he talks about how we are overwhelmed by both the abundance information in our daily lives and the speed at which we receive it. This creates stress and anxiety, and causes people to make rash decisions or otherwise be unproductive.

A lot of people working on the new Sonic movie have just been through that, and they will continue to experience this stress as the problem has not been solved. Instead it has only been escalated by making a public promise to achieve an unrealistic goal: a perfect Sonic that suits everyone.

So if you are concerned about user feedback, fan reaction, or are just unsure how to properly assess the impact of new meme, think about hiring a Community Manager. They can process all of that information for you, allowing you to make any decision with a clear head.

Categories: Blog


Eliot Miller is a Community Manager, who has previously worked for a mix of B2B and B2C clients, from video streaming technologies to Virtual Reality games. In his free time he designs games, runs community events and watches a lot of esports.