5 Tips for Using Content and Social Media to Build an Audience for Your Mobile Game
As a mobile and console game designer, I used to see the marketing department as a meddlesome bother. That is, until I was working in a management position in a big publishing company, *cough* Microsoft *cough*, and I saw firsthand how even the best games needed a strong marketing strategy to find their audience.
Fast forward to my last gig, helping to found Pasadena, Calif.-based Industrial Toys, an independent studio focused on creating mobile games for core gamers. We were a small company, but we had big aspirations. We needed to punch above our weight class to generate the kind of attention that would allow us to make a dent in the crowded App Store market.
But how? For us, “marketing” meant leveraging our blog and social media presence to create an organic audience for our mobile games. Here, a few lessons we learned along the way:
Focus your social activity.
Reddit! Snapchat! Instagram! You probably already use some forms of social media to promote your mobile games. But instead of trying to be everywhere at once, pick a few focused channels and keep them consistently updated. My rec: Start with a blog and Twitter and Facebook accounts.
To ramp up your distribution, take advantage of trends that already exist in the social space. Twitter’s #FF (“Follow Friday”) tradition is still going strong, and it’s smart to attach it to your Friday tweets along with a list of your favorite Twitter users. (Hopefully, they’ll return the favor.) Beginning the week by tweeting a link to a new blog post with the hashtag #MondayBlogs is another great way to make a larger audience aware of new content.
Twitter’s indie game dev community also has #ScreenShotSaturday, when devs post screen grabs of their latest game build, or the #ConceptArt hashtag that’s usually attached to images of development art assets. There are even bots — automatic repeaters — set up on Twitter to re-tweet correctly labeled content. Try adding the hashtag #IndieDev to your next Tweet to get the bots to help you reach a lot of people, fast.
Don’t worry about how far your news travels at first: Your early goal should be to create a content calendar and make sure that you update it consistently. You want your audience to know you’re committed to bringing them fresh, engaging content every week.
Use your experiences to fuel content
You might be thinking that creating unique content for every media channel is way too much work. But you probably have a lot more material than you realize.
Think about all the “stuff” that you generate in the process of bringing your project to life — meeting notes, napkin sketches, white board notes and the like can all make for great content. Keep your smartphone camera handy and grab snapshots around the office, or even if your team is out to lunch or dinner.
One of the best things about your project is the person (or people) behind it. Don’t be shy about showing that off! Putting a face to the name will help you build your brand and help your audience connect with your game.
But don’t be all fun and games: Mixing in frank, transparent, “How-we-did-it” retrospective articles will help build your audience and add credibility to your expertise. Postmortem breakdowns of projects are always popular topics, and the more you can include specific solutions to tricky problems, the more value your content will be to your audience.
Curate content through networking
When it comes to social media, sharing is caring. On your blog, collect the tutorials, studies and other resources you’ve found helpful, repackage them so that you’re adding your own insight and value to the information, and present them to your audience. (All you need is a quick intro explaining how the resources impacted your project.)
Reposting interesting and informative articles from writers you respect delivers valuable content to your audience. When you give someone a nod for their helpful tip or great blog post, you’re building credibility and raising your profile within the developer community.
Find tools to simplify your process
Even if you’re one person working alone, the right digital tools can make it look like you have a full marketing department delivering your message around the clock. There’s a wealth of resources out there for collecting, designing and delivering strong content, and they’re all relatively easy to master.
Start with a good, web-based content-gathering platform like Feedly, Delicious or GatherContent. They’ll allow you to collect interesting and relevant web articles based on search parameters, and present the findings to you in a user-friendly interface.
If you’re not an expert at packaging your own work for public viewing, DIY graphic design tools like Canva or the budget-conscious experts on Fiverr can help take your rough images and turn them into striking content.
Next, pick a content delivery solution that will let you release content on a set schedule. There are several options for this, including high-end systems like Curata, simpler solutions like HootSuite or even more basic tools like the WordPress Editorial Calendar.
Make it interactive
Getting people involved in your project through social media is a great way to build awareness and loyalty. Industrial Toys hit on a winning formula for its company Facebook posts: Every week we would stage a weekly “matchup” by asking followers to pick a winner in a contest between two fictional characters. Who would win in a battle between the Terminator and Robocop? Regardless of the audience’s answers, the biggest winner was Industrial Toys.
There are endless ways to get your audience involved: Hold contests to allow people to name things in your game, arrange polls about proposed features or even allow your audience to give feedback on things like your concept art, your logo or even the name of the game.
Of course, once you’ve put these audience-building processes into place, be sure to monitor what kind of reaction they get — and be prepared to adjust your content plans based on your findings. If a particular type of Facebook post generates a great deal of interest, for example, consider making it a regular feature.
Marketing for an indie mobile game can seem confusing and difficult. But don’t think of it as a separate job. Think of marketing through social media as your chance to introduce yourself to your audience and to make them your friends. Your friends today may become your customers tomorrow.
Hardy LeBel has nearly two decades of creative experience in the gaming industry, with credits on titles like Halo, Halo 2 and FarCry 2. Most recently, he was a founder and executive creative director at Industrial Toys, a Pasadena, Calif.-based mobile gaming studio.