How we handle our social networks
In the Cinders postmortem, I’ve talked about how social networks completely overshadowed the press when it came to generating traffic.
Of course, the press is still important for igniting that initial spark of interest (which I’m now painfully learning through Bonfire‘s alpha launch), but it looks that it’s the social networks that are critical for the long term success and word of mouth spread. At least for indie games without marketing budget.
I don’t proclaim myself to be a social media guru (shoot me if I ever do), but we strongly believe in the value of sharing knowledge between indie developers. Especially, as there are many great guides on contacting the press, but information on this particular aspect of indie promotion is still quite scarce. So, here’s our experience with each of our dominant networks. Note that I’m linking chapter titles to the respectable pages/accounts if you want to personally check how we run them.
Our homepage isn’t a social network per se, but as it serves as a hub for all our activities, it’s worth a few paragraphs.
When we started out, this website was our main tool for communicating with the players. I posted whenever we had anything interesting to show. In time, the weight of this small-but-frequent updates moved towards social networks. The main page is now a timeline reserved for bigger announcements. A way for a newcomer to learn what we’re up to. We’re also considering removing the possibility to post comments, as people use that option less and less, despite the general growth of traffic.
I think it’s just how modern internet works. Everyone is a member of several networks and forums that serve as the main hub of their online activities. People don’t have the time to visit yet another small website with any regularity. You have to reach out to them yourself.
The blog is a different case. It actually constitutes a significant portion of our overall traffic, with the most popular post at over 25k unique hits and less successful ones ranging from 3k to 10k. However, it’s worth mentioning that these visitors usually aren’t interested in buying our games. The blog is good mainly for raising our overall notoriety as game developers and sharing knowledge.
We also have a forum for more direct communication with our players. It was pretty active 7 years ago, when I released Magi (before MoaCube’s birth). These days, it’s rather quiet and used mainly by people seeking customer support. Again, I think this is just how modern internet works. I know I myself stopped signing for game-specific forums years ago. Gotta draw the line somewhere.
Reddit is by far our most successful traffic source. Additionally, while other networks maintain contact with your existing audience, reddit is the one that draws new people in (87% new traffic ratio for us). On the other hand, the average time spent on the website is significantly shorter compared to Facebook or Twitter. Still, for how little it takes to post a link on Reddit, I can only regret we haven’t started using it earlier.
Word of warning though. Reddit has a pretty strict anti-spam policy and established etiquette. Don’t treat it as a newsfeed to your website — try to link only the really important news and informative blog posts. Things that you yourself would like to read. It’s also in good taste to be an active member of the community, rate and post other links, be active in comments, etc. Nobody likes spammers.
As for where to post, we use these subreddits:
- r/IndieGaming for game releases and indie game related blog posts. It’s also a good place to get feedback.
- r/gamedev for blog posts related to game development, especially postmortems.
- r/games for news and articles that could be interesting to the wider gaming audience.
- Subreddits for specific genres, like r/roguelikes or r/visualnovels are very useful too. They are smaller but more interested in your games. The churn rate on their main page is also slower.
ProTip #1: A good headline is crucial on reddit and should be tailored for the audience. For example: my last blog article was linked as Cinders postmortem: production, marketing, and sales numbers on the business-oriented r/gamedev. But for the more mainstream r/games, I used: If you’ve been wondering how small indie development looks from the backstage and how much it earns, Cinders postmortem is out. It makes a difference.
ProTip #2: If you are linking your own content, be nice and introduce yourself in the comments. Say something about what you are linking, and be open to questions and feedback. It makes people far more welcoming.
Facebook is getting really shitty really fast. But still — it’s our second most powerful network, driving the most interested traffic. Of course, most of it is our existing fans and friends (only 30% of visitors are first timers).
We initially treated Facebook as an alternative newsfeed to our site but eventually gravitated towards more personal communication. It’s much better that way. The most popular posts tend to be photos of our team, short text updates on what we do, work in progress screenshots, and questions for our fans. Everything that reminds the players that we’re real people. That said, bigger news (like game releases) tend to get a lot of attention as well.
So why is Facebook becoming shitty? Take a look at this screenshot:
“Get more likes”, “Boost post”… almost half of the fanpage admin panel is now dedicated to various paid advertising options. To further encourage their use, normal posts are getting shown to less and less people. We actually had more reach back when we only had half the current number of likes. At this point, our posts show mainly to my personal friends and the few most dedicated fans, defeating the purpose of maintaining a fanpage.
Paid posts are cheap, but I can’t imagine our players getting “sponsored” posts from MoaCube next to ads of their bank or mobile operator. That’s not how you build a friendly and personal relationship with your fans. It makes me cautiously pessimistic about Facebook and I think it will become less important for us in the future.
ProTip #1: Write like you talk with friends on your own wall. Post fun, honest, and personal stuff. You are indie, so don’t be official. Official is boring.
ProTip #2: Try to encourage discussion and ask questions. Posts with more likes and comments are seen by more people because of how Facebook algorithms work.
ProTip #3: Post photos. Everyone loves to see how people who make their favorite games look like.
I really like Twitter. Perhaps that’s why we’re relatively successful with it. When we started MoaCube, I decided against setting up a new account specifically for the studio, and simply linked my existing personal one.
Why? At the early days of Twitter, I followed a lot of studios and other companies whose products I enjoy. But when my feed started to consist of tweets looking like this…
So excited!!! #NewProduct from @OurCompany is all over the social media! #PointlessHashtag #PointlessHashtag2 #CompanyIsTheWayOfLife http://linkety.link.link
…I realized it’s not the way to go. There’s already enough spam and adverts online — I don’t want to contribute to it. However, I do want to get to know the actual people behind the things I enjoy.
I just kept using my personal account as I used to. Get into conversations, tweet about the games I play, link cool articles, share my thoughts on the recent events in the indie scene. Sometimes, I drop a link or a development update on our own stuff for those interested, and it seems to work best that way.
Twitter also proved to be very handy for professional networking. It’s an open social network, where talking to people you barely know is not only acceptable but encouraged. It can be a great way to gain new contacts in the press or the scene in general.
ProTip 1: Getting into conversations is the best way to meet new people and gain followers. And it’s fun to boot!
ProTip 2: Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts on things you find interesting. Your personal opinion is precisely why people are following your account.
ProTip 3: If you have some news that you would like to reach more people with, it’s okay to politely ask your followers to retweet. Just don’t overuse it.
ProTip 4: Tweets are short lived. Make sure to post your important news when your audience is actually awake and active. This may help.
Now, that’s something you wouldn’t expect to be a major source of traffic for a game developer. But here it is. And at #4, no less!
There’s really no trick here. Gracjana — our artist — is a popular CG illustrator with an active DeviantArt account and plenty of followers. I asked her to give updates on our work in her journal from time to time. She also posts in-game art to her gallery whenever we have something really nice looking.
Each time she does it, it results in a significant burst of traffic, especially if the work gets featured as a Top Favorite or Daily Deviation. People checking her account for other artwork can also check her journal and see what she’s working on. It takes minimal effort but works really well in the long run.
What’s important, these are usually visitors who haven’t heard of us before, and don’t follow us on other social networks. It’s fresh traffic that’s also surprisingly interested in checking and buying games made by their favorite artist.
ProTip: Nothing special here. If your artist is popular on DA, ask them to occasionally post about your games. And if they don’t have an account, it may be a good idea to setup one for the future.
Our presence on Tumblr is a relatively new thing. The spontaneous birth of a small but dedicated Cinders fandom is what encouraged us to make an account.
We don’t have many followers yet (around 150 at the point of writing this), but Tumblr is quickly becoming one of my favorite social networks. I can see it being a major factor during our future releases.
The best thing about the service is that your posts actually have some lifespan. Twitter and Facebook updates disappear quickly under the stream of new messages. Tumblr works more like an actual micro blog. At any time, someone can go to your page and read it like a normal blog. And if they want to comment on your post, they have to reblog it first, giving it a new life on their own page. We often see increased activity on old postings whenever we publish something new.
As for what works best for for us — pretty work-in-progress screenshots, brief info on what we do, and questions for the fans (like, what they would like to see in a sequel). Again, we post in a casual manner and avoid official tone.
ProTip 1: Follow tags related to your game and studio. It’s good to be on top of what people think of your work. Something may even warrant a reply or a reblog. Especially if it’s gorgeous fanart.
ProTip 2: Pretty images, little text. Tumblr is something between a normal blog and Twitter. People skim through their dashboards quickly and prefer content that’s straight to the point. Keep long articles to your main website.
YouTube brings okay traffic, but we do nothing special there. It’s just a depository of our trailers and other videos. I try to be active in comments, though.
We’ve put more work into IndieDB and tried to keep a constant stream of updates at some point, but the website seems to have very little activity. We still post our games there — because why not — but don’t expect it to show up on our Google Analytics anytime soon.
I’ve also heard that other indies enjoyed success with LinkedIn and Google+, especially for sharing their more business-oriented blog posts. We never tried that, so if you have some experience to share, we would love to see it in the comments.
If you have any other tips to share, don’t hesitate to hit the comment button. And if you’ve found this article helpful, consider following me on twitter for further updates and blog posts. Thanks!