Social Media Marketing

Pixels & Profits: Chapter 6

If you’ve followed this series from the beginning, you’re now actively researching your target audience, and you’re armed with insights and strategies that can transform your game’s success trajectory. But the journey is far from over…

Understanding Socials

In this chapter, we will discuss social media, and why it isn’t a marketing strategy itself, but a tactic within it — and a powerful one at that.

In order to place that subject in its proper context, we need to first take a closer look at another foundational component of the marketing craft: your traction channels.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

What is Traction?

For our purposes, I want you to think of “traction” as a measure of how well something resonates with any given group of people.

Traction “channels” are specific avenues or methods which can reach or engage those people. 

For instance, if you’re promoting a new puzzle game, your traction channel might be an online community of puzzle game enthusiasts.

What matters most here, is that social media (ie online communities), as an entire category — encompassing all social platforms — is but one of around twenty possible traction channels. Television is another, as are email, radio, search, and so on…

So, rather than focusing on the correct channel, it’s crucial to understand the importance of building strong relationships first — and not just with our audience, but also with peers, journalists and media outlets. 

And you’ll need to accept that doing so may require the use of other (non-social) channels, because…

Your game exists within a much broader ecosystem.

Social media just happens to be an effective platform to engage with all stakeholders within this specific ecosystem, right now — but it would be a mistake to assume that its effectiveness is guaranteed long-term.

The one constant in the world is change.

(That’s why I repeat, and will keep repeating that socials are a tactic, not a complete strategy.)

In a moment I’ll talk about choosing the right platform, but first, it’s essential to broaden your definition of social media. While the behemoths like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter might spring to mind first, social media as a category also includes forums, message boards, real-time chat communities like Discord, and sites like Reddit, and more.

Each platform offers unique opportunities for reaching and engaging with your target audience.

In a moment, I’ll explain how to decide between them.

The Importance of Social Media as a Marketing Tool

The primary benefits of social media are reach and community-building — it not only enables you to access a larger audience for less investment than any other platform but also provides you the opportunity to build a dedicated community around your game.

Think of socials like a word-of-mouth megaphone that can organically amplify your message across the digital landscape.

(FYI, one of the many problems with behemoth social platforms is they limit your organic reach to force you to pay for the attention you used to get for free from your network.)

Aside from reach, the other major benefit of social media is engagement. You can use it to interact with both current and potential players. Encourage conversations, answer questions, and even handle criticism when it inevitably arrives.

A responsive brand is a brand players can trust.

Your social presence is more than just a platform for you to sell yourself; it’s a community where you can genuinely engage with your audience and industry peers. From journalists and bloggers to influencers, your interaction and timely response to their queries or criticisms can go a long way in amplifying your game’s presence.

Finally, social media provides valuable feedback. Your audience can easily share their thoughts and opinions about your game, allowing you to make necessary adjustments and improvements. 

You will leverage that feedback to refine your game and your marketing strategy.

To date, the relationship between gaming and social media is still as perfect as peanut butter and jelly — they just work together. Meaning that leveraging these platforms is crucial to connecting with your audience, building relationships, and promoting your game.

So make sure you’re set up.

By the time you’re ready to launch your game, you should have your marketing materials ready, social media profiles up and running, and collaborations or partnerships in place. Remember, the first impression counts, so make sure it’s a memorable one.

But which platform(s) do you pick?

Choosing the Platform

Not all social media platforms are created equal, especially when it comes to game marketing. 

The key to discovering which is right for you is to understand where your target audience spends their time, and the kind of media they engage with.

For instance, platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and Reddit are hotspots for a wide range of gamers because they’re ideal for sharing gameplay videos, hosting Q&A sessions, and engaging in discussions.

Instagram and Twitter, on the other hand, are tailored to sharing shorter, snappier content like game teasers, updates, or behind-the-scenes peeks.

I’m going to stop there, because it wouldn’t make sense to do an exhaustive analysis of every platform available to you. There are too many, and the landscape changes too frequently. 

What you need to internalize here is that every social media platform has its pros and cons, and the best one for your game depends solely on your target audience.

Analyze where your audience spends the most time and concentrate your efforts there.

I’ll assume that you’ve read Volume 1; so you’ll know by now how vital it is to do that. 

As you’re going through the process of discovering where your audience hangs out, and paying attention to what they’re saying; write down as many notes as you can.

You will use those captured notes and social listening insights to inform which platforms you use, as well as how you speak to your audience once you’re there.

Don’t forget about niche platforms for specific audiences, these can be goldmines for targeted marketing. 

(If you’re confused by what I mean, ask yourself where the diehard fans of Dwarf Fortress hang out.)

It’s not about being everywhere. 

It’s about being where your audience is.

Remember, social media isn’t just a broadcast platform; it’s a two-way street. Genuine engagement is key. 

You’re not just talking to your audience; you’re building a relationship with them.

Players appreciate developers who are honest, transparent, and passionate about their games. So, whether you’re sharing a success or addressing a hiccup, always strive to be genuine.

Hold Q&A sessions, respond to comments, ask for feedback, host contests or giveaways. Make your audience feel valued and part of your game’s journey. 

The more you interact with your audience, the more invested they become in your game.

Interaction doesn’t always have to be a 1-1 chat either. Look at what I’m doing in this series…

I began the series telling you that posting this content on Reddit would be inefficient.

It would be a more direct, personal conversation but, it would be tragically inefficient if my goal is to help as many people as possible… which it is.

The point is, those community interactions can also look like what you’re reading here.

The challenge is keeping interactions engaging.

Creating Engaging Content

Having a presence on social media isn’t enough—you need to create content that resonates with your audience. 

I know I’m stating the obvious here but, I’m saying it anyway: By creating engaging content, you increase social shares, encourage conversations, and ultimately, increase the potential of attracting more players to your game.

If you’re thinking “yeah, but how do I make engaging content?” it means you don’t quite understand your target audience enough yet.

I can’t reiterate that point enough.

When you understand your people, those questions answer themselves.

I can write these long deep-dives for you because I know that a huge part of being a developer is reading.

I can also use that length to filter out those who don’t have the stamina to make it to the finish line of their goals.

You’ve been reading this series for a while, right?

And you’re hungry to hit that finish line, so I bet you’ve already started your research.

Why not begin putting that data into practice now?

Here’s a quick assignment:

Draft a week’s worth of social media posts for your game, each catering to a different aspect of it. For example: 

  • Monday, share a sneak peek of a new level
  • Wednesday, introduce a new character with a catchy backstory
  • Friday, share a snippet from the game’s soundtrack with a fun trivia about its creation.

Try to maintain a consistent and authentic voice across the content you draft. 

This stuff may not be easy work but, it really is that simple, if you know who you’re talking to.

We’ll discuss branding and storytelling in more depth later in the series. For now, just know that consistency in your communication helps to reinforce trust.

On the subject of trust, in just a moment we are going to open the can of worms that is “paid advertising.” 

Utilizing Paid Advertising

As an indie, you may be (almost certainly are) working on a tight budget, but you still don’t want to dismiss the power of paid social media advertising. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit offer targeted advertising options that allow you to reach specific demographics with an incredible degree of granularity.

If used wisely, these facts can help you squeeze the most value out of minimal advertising budgets. 

Meaning, this traction channel can provide a significant boost to your game’s visibility and downloads, for far less investment than most any other.

Even with a small budget, don’t be afraid to experiment. Skip that $5 whatever you buy, and put the cash into a small test with a hyper-specific audience. 

Run a few small campaigns targeting different user groups and see which garners the best response.

This will not be a waste, so long as you understand your goal here: you’re buying information, not leads.

You’re buying data.

That data needs to be as noise-free as possible so… 

Start small.

Test different ad creatives and audiences, and closely monitor your results. 

By operating in that way, you will begin to understand what works best for your game and adjust your advertising strategy accordingly.

There’s a lot to say on this subject, and we already have a 10-part series dedicated to building awareness with paid traffic. I highly recommend reading it before beginning any paid campaign. It will help connect some dots.

Let’s keep going…

Monitoring and Optimizing Strategy

Your social media strategy isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’ plan. It’s a dynamic, ongoing process that requires your consistent attention. This means you will want to regularly monitor your engagement metrics, evaluate the performance of different posts, and don’t hesitate to tweak your strategy based on the feedback you’re receiving. 

Remember, the goal is continuous improvement.

Use each platform’s built-in analytics tools to track key metrics such as likes, shares, comments, and follower growth. If you hook this into your larger web analytics system, these insights will (at minimum) help you understand where your content resonates with your audience, and where it doesn’t.

It should go without saying, but, respond (professionally) to your audience’s feedback and interactions. 

Don’t argue with them.

Instead, take notes on what you’re hearing.

These are priceless opportunities.

Use these conversations to improve your game, refine your marketing strategy, build stronger relationships with your community, and ultimately to grow your dream business if that’s what you’re after.

Contingency Planning:
The RuneScape Lockout

In any business, it’s essential to prepare for unforeseen circumstances. It is especially so for games, which are prone to breaking, either on the client or server side.

Technical glitches might crop up, negative publicity could arise, or there could be abrupt changes in the market.

Having a contingency plan (or plans) prepares you to handle such situations effectively. 

Social media is the perfect way to address such issues when they arise.

As a general guideline, be transparent and communicate with your audience regularly, whether it’s to address negative reviews or inform your tribe about an unexpected delay.

Most importantly, be prepared to actually do right by your audience when they’re unhappy. A good example of this is “RuneScape” with the Login Lockout issues of 2021.

In 2021, “RuneScape” was hit with server downtime that also resulted in members being unable to access their accounts. A critical error in the system had affected thousands of accounts. It took four weeks for these accounts to be made available again.

To compensate its users, “RuneScape” offered affected players the following:

  • Two months of free membership
  • A discount for Premier Club, which offers players quieter worlds to play in
  • Double daily Treasure Keys for a month
  • Tons of items to help across the different skills players can rank up in-game
  • Access to XP-boosting events that these users had originally missed out on due to the lockout issues

While the Login Lockout issue impacted “RuneScape” and led to a portion of players quitting for good, the majority of the affected users felt fairly compensated by the end.

Social media was critical in facilitating communication between the devs at Jagex and its disgruntled users, but it wasn’t the only channel they used.

Not the Only Option

At this point in the digital landscape, it would be a feat to find a game community that isn’t active on at least one social platform.

So social is important. There’s no arguing that.

But it’s not the sole option.

And the Wabbits have proven that fact from day one.

Remember back when I mentioned how many different traction channels there are?

Well, back in the early days of Wabbit, we noticed something: Too many entrepreneurs were getting caught up in the semantics of the platforms and posting cadence, and as a result they forgot that marketing existed long before social media, and will likely exist long after.

So the Wabbits chose to deliberately ignore social media as a traction channel in order to prove that success could still be had without it.

Yes, the chances that you found this article through social media (probably Reddit) are incredibly high. 

That is by design.

We waited until we crossed the 5-year threshold. 

Why? To prove a point.

Over 80% of small businesses fail within the first 5 years.

We are still here, and we did it while deliberately ignoring every social media platform in existence.

I won’t lie to you, it has made the road significantly more challenging in virtually every respect.

But it matters that we prove, and keep proving the point.

Because you don’t actually own anything you do on social platforms, it can all be taken from you in a flash. That’s a topic for another time but, think about this:

If your entire marketing focus is TikTok… and let’s say the largest government in the world is thinking they might ban TikTok for all its citizens…

What happens to your marketing (and that community you built) if they do?

It may not be the big “Game Over” for your business but it’s still scary shit.

Look at what happened on Reddit in June of 2023 when, due to a controversial API change, a tremendous portion of the site’s subReddits shut themselves down in protest.

(Ask yourself: How do you reach a community who is primarily active on Reddit, when every one of their subReddits suddenly become completely inaccessible?)

These occurrences are all the more reason to recognize social media as a tactic within your marketing strategy, not the strategy itself. 

The ancient adage about putting all your eggs in one basket is critically relevant here.

Embrace Diversification

Sure, when done right, social media can help you build strong relationships with your community, boost your game’s visibility, and ultimately, drive more downloads. 

These are all positive things.

You can also quickly blow your own foot off by handling criticism (and trolls) poorly.

If you listen to folks like the incredibly popular entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck, he’ll tell you that omitting socials from your marketing strategy is idiocy. 

He says this because of the compelling combo of socials low cost, and tremendous reach — and he’s right.

But, it would be a mistake to limit this traction channel to the behemoth platforms and no others.

As you embark on your marketing journey, remember this: Your big, counter-intuitive goal is to first create an engaged audience — and then later, a memorable gaming experience that resonates with that audience.

Social media is a fantastic platform to build that engaged audience but, you need to remember it is not the only option — and in some cases, it may not be the best.

Up next, have you ever daydreamed about getting picked up by your favorite streamer or influencer?

If so, you won’t want to miss the next chapter…

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