Q&A | Talking Twitter

Talking Twitter with Dom Gardner from Sentinels

Each month, Talking Twitter takes you behind the scenes of some of Twitter’s most interesting accounts with the social media professionals responsible for some of the platform’s standout Tweets and viral moments. This month, we sat down with Dom Gardner, social media manager for Sentinels, to talk about playing the bad guy and developing a distinctive brand voice.


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What makes @Sentinels worth following on Twitter? 
Our brand voice has a touch of arrogance, sort of punchy, like the kid at the lunch table who always has a snarky remark or something to say. It’s not necessarily like a bully, but someone who always has an opinion. For example, in Valorant, we made ourselves out to be the bad guy because we feel like everyone in esports always wants to be the good guy. We asked ourselves, “okay, so if everybody wants to be buddies, how easy is it to be the opposite of that?” Some people love it, some people hate it.

When I started with the Sentinels, the popularity of our players was already through the roof because they were the best Valorant team in North America. It’s our job to find ways to maximize the engagement they get and help them to solidify their brands, too. For instance, if ShahZaM is a leader, what piece of media can we put out to further the narrative that he’s the brains of the operation and in control?

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What does it mean to be a social media manager in 2022?
[A social media manager] is someone that has to always be tapped in. Your social listening is always of the utmost importance. It's your job to be able to navigate different communities that you have to work in, and then understand how your brand fits within them. To me, a social media manager is the bridge between what the C-suite wants for their brand and what the fans want out of a brand that they want to support. You need to find a way for those two sets of people to meet in the middle, and everyone's happy. You’re a modern-day interviewer/news anchor/video producer, all these things wrapped up in one.


How long have you been in social media? How has the industry changed since you started?
Before I got involved in esports, I was one of those people who would post memes on Twitter. I was pretty involved in the League of Legends community. I knew a lot of lead players back in like 2015-2016, and around 2017, I officially got started in esports. 


A friend of mine pointed out that I understood how to generate a conversation on Twitter. She said, “You're always posting memes. You know how to get reactions out of people. You might as well get paid for doing what you’re doing anyway.” She introduced me to a couple people that worked at Misfits Gaming, and I went there for a trial period right before they ended up going to Worlds — which is at the height of a team's career, so I really hit the ground running. From there, they got into Overwatch League so I was handling the Florida Mayhem for them and then they got into Call of Duty League so I was running the Mutineers, as well.


[The industry] has definitely changed recently. It feels more personal and I feel like esports has become so much more inclusive. We don't shy away from having those conversations that can be a little more difficult, like mental health awareness. These issues are pretty important to us and the gaming community and just people as a whole. It feels like esports is now so much more comfortable embracing these topics and sharing information on it. 


In the beginning, it felt like [esports] were just trying to replicate everything that traditional sports was doing [on social media], but now we're starting to separate ourselves and we're able to connect with our audiences a little bit deeper because of it.


Describe your relationship with Twitter.
Personally, I use my own Twitter to be, more or less, a Sentinels Retweet timeline I want people to truly understand the effort, time, revisions that go into the final product because all they see is what comes out in the end. I think it’s important to take a second and tag people who worked on things specifically and redistribute credit where credit is due for my team.


For the brand, our floor for what we think is a successful Tweet is about 10,000 Likes. Anything under that, we consider unsuccessful so there’s a lot of analysis of individual Tweets and what other brands in the world have a voice that resonates with us, how do their fans react to it, and what might translate to our followers. The thought process is always, what's gonna get us to 10K? And then if it didn't get us there, why? We stay focused on the brand  and we always want to make sure everything that we're doing is telling a cohesive story because we want you to be able to scroll through our account and know exactly where we were as a team at that exact moment in time.

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What's the most underrated Twitter feature?
I like the ability to switch back and forth between accounts so easily — by just clicking on my profile picture on mobile, I can see all the accounts that I have to work on and it only takes two seconds. I don't have to log out, log back in, put in my two-factor authentication and things like that.


And if we could grant wishes, with the exception of the edit button, what’s the one feature you’d ask for?
I would love to be able to either add my own thumbnail to a video post on Twitter natively or choose it from a scene within the video.


Twitter is all about the conversation. How do you decide what conversations or replies to engage with?
Our contribution to the conversation should either open it up to more people or add some sort of value to it. For example, if we get involved in two other teams bantering with each other, but we know it might steal all the momentum from that conversation. Like during the most recent Champions Tour for Valorant, we had a strategy where we would hold all of our posts for the moments when another team would win. There’s a definite balance between adding momentum to some things and taking the wind out of other people's sails during other things.

Quick-fire round: 

Throwing friendly shade at other accounts — yay or nay? 

Including more than one hashtag — yay or nay?
No, sometimes no hashtags.

Using emojis to replace words — yay or nay?
If it's only one or two, then yes, but if you're going beyond that, then I feel like you're just doing a little too much.

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How do you prioritize the different functions of your Twitter account? 
Our number one priority is to be up to the minute with everything that is going on. Social media is an always-on kind of thing, because if you miss a day or two worth of news, then you're just way behind on it. You've missed a moment and the community is pretty unforgiving when it comes to that because if you're there too late, they will not hesitate to let you know how late you were to that party. So we have to be as current as possible — if it happened 45 seconds ago, we need to have a response within the next 20 seconds.


Tell us about a Tweet so good, you wish you'd written it.
It was actually a post that was made by the Sentinels account before I joined. There was a meme going around with Mike Wazowski and Boo [from “Monsters, Inc.”], where he was doing the little screaming face and then she was behind the corner scared. There was a part of one of the Valorant maps that looked similar, so one of the previous Sentinel social guys put together a meme for it. It actually got so popular that Riot made a player banner for it and put it into the game. That would have been really, really cool to be part of that creative process.


What accounts are a must-follow for you right now?
In esports, I would say G2 Esports is definitely up there for me, if not number one in my book then number two. Cloud9 is also up there for me. My previous teams, of course, Misfits Mayhem, Mutineers, I like to see how they’ve progressed as I've moved on.

Outside of esports, there's Jess Smith. She goes through traditional sports media and scans all the different teams from hockey, football, basketball, college football, college basketball, and she looks at the content that they've made across different platforms. She explains why it works, in her opinion. Since I don't pay much attention to all those other sports teams, it's cool to see, “Oh, this was a great piece that came out from this baseball team and this was the impact that it had on the audience.” It helps me think of what we could do to generate the same sentiment or creative style.

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We also like the way Discord crafts some of their Tweets to make it feel like a random one-off thought. What we've done to achieve the same thing is to Tweet all lowercase with no punctuation, and we want people to understand that those Tweets are not serious. They’re like satire, and it’s meant to signal, don't give this any additional thought, just laugh and move on. But if there's capitalization, proper punctuation, and everything like that in a Tweet, then it’s supposed to be more informative and serious. There’s a difference between a playful tone and what we deem to be more serious.

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