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Perhaps one of the main difficulties as an indie game developer is to get your game noticed with a limited budget. Traditional marketing techniques (advertisement in magazines, radio and television ads…) are expensive and not so effective. Social media marketing, on the other hand, is pretty low-cost. Other advantages are the viral nature of social media and the customer interaction. Today any indie game studio with low marketing budget can get visibility on social networks.
Based on my experience as community manager at Stormancer
, this guide will present you what you need to know before promoting your indie game. It contains specific tips for each social network and more general ones: having a global vision of social networks, understanding theirs mechanisms, how they work, is a key of efficiency before promoting your game.
Understanding the mechanisms of sharing: what is shared and why
People have an inherent need to express themselves. Social media has transformed the way we interact each other but still responds to this need of communication. Nowadays, it is a profound part of everyday communication: according to Allsop, Bassett, and Hoskins, 59% of people say they frequently share online content with others (2007). Moreover, recent studies show that word-of-mouth affects product adoption and sales.
In that sense, marketers have examined the process of sharing in order to generate viral content. What content get shared the most and why? What are the motivations of sharing? Why are certain pieces of online content more viral than others? Let’s take a look at those results.
Creating viral content: what is shared
People share that are visual and simple
In marketing, simplicity is often more effective. Psychological research on cognitive fluency demonstrates the power of simplicity. If your message is complex, the customer will hesitate to share and will be less likely to remember it. Simple messages are more likely to be shared, and this includes posts with visual.
Indeed, visual content expresses ideas quickly and drives engagement: 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text. Moreover, posts with visuals receive 94% more page visits and engagement than those without.
- Make your messages simple as possible. Be concise.
- Post pictures on what you are working on.
- Use screenshots, trailer videos of your game
Visual content is essential to promote your game! You cannot promote your game without it. A screenshot, a video of your game will always be more attractive and more expressive than text.
People prefer share positive content (than negative content)
There is a strong relationship between emotion and virality on social networks. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have studied the New York Times list of most-e-mailed articles, examining the link between the emotion evoked and whether content is highly shared. Results show that positive content (amusement, joy…) spread faster than negative one, as is content that inspires awe. Awe-inspiring articles were 30% more likely to make the most emailed list, whereas sadder articles were 16% less.
A second study driven by Okdork shows that awe (25%), laughter (17%) and amusement (15%) were the 3 most popular emotions, after analysing the top 10,000 most shared articles across the web. As we can see, humour is a powerful tool to grab attention, which is often used by marketers as a social media tactic. Using humour will help you stay in the minds of your audience and make it easier to connect with it.
- Before publishing online content, it is essential to ask “Why people would share this?”
- Produce and share interesting articles (be useful!)
- Be natural: people want businesses with personalities that they can interact with, not robots.
- Be funny. A touch of humour in your posts will always be welcomed.
- Try to be memorable (in a positive way – again humour is your best weapon).
The psychology of sharing: why we share
Little is known about the motives for sharing on social networks. We pay a lot of attention on what people share, we want to know what kind of content goes viral, what gets shared the most, but we often ignore the question why.
However, knowing why people share remains important to design a successful marketing campaign. Any marketer knows the importance of knowing their customer. Once you understand what motivates people to share, identifying ways to encourage sharing is much easier.
The science behind virality
Psychologists at the University of California Los Angeles identified for the first time the brain regions associated with the successful spread of ideas, also called "buzz." They wanted to determine why we pass some information on, or share it, while other don’t grab our attention.
They found out that we are always on the lookout for interesting, helpful or amusing information, not only for us but also for other people. Indeed, research suggests that the TPJ becomes activated when we decide to share something or not: The TPJ is part of the "mentalizing network," a region of the brain which is involved in thinking what other people think and feel. “Good ideas turn on the mentalizing system," says UCLA researchers. "They make us want to tell other people." We always want to share information with others. This is a sign of the social nature of our human mind, also called “social brain” in neurology.
A narcissistic motivation for sharing
Nevertheless, we may assume that sharing isn’t only motivated by creating social links. It seems reasonable to assert that the motivation can be more narcissistic. Social networks are, after all, a method of self-presentation.
In 1986, Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius developed the self-concept. According to them, people have two selves: the “now self”, an identity established to others (real self), and the “possible self”, an identity unknown to others (ideal self). Possible selves play a significant motivational function in guiding our behaviour on social networks. It is a main motivation of sharing online. We are always controlling what we share, presenting an unrealistic portrait of ourselves (our possible selves). This narcissism is well-known by marketers who often try to appeal it during their marketing campaigns.
Never forget your target audience before sharing on social networks. Think about who they are, what they’d like to share. Appeal to their possible selves. People want to share things that make them, funny, entertaining, etc. in the eyes of others.
Marketing your game on social networks
In this second part, I will focus on how to use social networks to promote your game. As an indie game developer, you need:
A Twitter, Facebook and YouTube account.
A blog (optional - it takes a lot of time and effort to keep it going)
How to manage your Twitter account
The social network the most « viral » and certainly the most efficient to get known as an indie game developer.
Follow / Follow back
An important community of indie game developers is present on twitter. They tend to follow each other; I advise you to do same, but caution – do not « over-follow » (I mean following 10 000 people and having 500 followers…).
Moreover, I suggest you to follow back every follower you receive. It is not a universal rule: others may recommend you not to do so, but I think it is a good way to increase the engagement of your community. Again, don’t follow back blindly.
People see your follower count as a measure of your influence: the more followers you have, the more you'll attract, and the more likely you will appear in the "Who to follow" Twitter section. The more your tweets will be retweeted, too. It’s a virtuous circle.
Use hashtags (cleverly)
#gamedev #indiedev: the most used by the game development community. They are very important, use them in each of your tweets. Retweeted by a lot of bots, they’ll allow you to gain much visibility. But be careful not to overuse hashtags (maximum 3 hashtags per tweet).
The « rituals » of the game development community:
#screenshotsaturday: every Saturday developers tweet a screenshot of their game using the hashtag #screenshotsaturday. A great way to get your game known.
#IndieDevHour: An event created by Twitter’s indie game developers. It takes place every Wednesday night, starting at 7pm (uk timezone). This is probably the moment where the game development community is the most present on twitter. A perfect time to get known (joining conversations, talking about your game, etc.)
Few tips about Facebook
Even if you’re not a Facebook addict in real life, you will need to spend significant time maintaining your Facebook pages. We all know that Facebook is the top social network on the web, with over 1.3 billion active users (June 2014). If you’re not taking advantage of it, it’s time to get involved.
Create a Facebook page for your games and your company. Facebook pages are far more detailed than Twitter accounts. You can put a longer description and add more details about your games. Another advantage of Facebook is the existence of Facebook groups, like Indie Game Developers and Indie Game Promo, which are great to get your games known.
Few tips about YouTube
YouTube can make a huge difference in your online visibility. As we said it previously, people like to share visual content, including videos. Put your trailers, demos, previews, etc. on your YouTube channel.
YouTube provides marketing resources for your Twitter and Facebook account. Tweet and post every video of your channel on your social networks.
Link to your Twitter and Facebook profiles on your channel page and in the description section of your videos. You can also use a watermark or an annotation on your videos to make sure your Twitter username is constantly visible.
Besides that, don’t forget to interconnect all your social accounts, website and blog.
How to tweet on Twitter / post on Facebook
- Don’t spam! (Maximum 8 tweets/ 2 Facebook posts per day)
- Don’t write every word in capitals
- Don’t be too commercial.
- Be natural. Try to make your messages personal; don’t use bots.
Always ask yourself: “Is my content shareable?” “Does this provide value to my audience?” Remember the mechanisms of sharing we exposed previously: simplicity and humour are your best weapons. Put forward the videos, screenshots, and music from your game. In brief, publish quality content about your game. If you write all your messages in capitals or if you sell your game all the time, you will fail at attracting new people. It may, in fact, have the opposite effect.
Be social and friendly
Yes, to get known on social networks and increase your 'sympathy capital’, you have to be social and friendly. In other words: don’t let the most embittered and asocial person of your team manage your social accounts.
Engage conversation with your fans and followers (and even with your non-followers; Twitter makes it particularly suitable for that). Likewise, answer questions from your audience, and if someone compliments your game, don’t forget to thank him.
The strength of social media lies in interaction. Engage others, contribute to conversation. Word-of-mouth is powerful on social networks.
I hope you find this useful and interesting. Good luck!