Twitter, Facebook and other online networks are a part of our daily lives, but is the games industry taking full advantage of these direct connections to fans?
James Batchelor asks experts about the best way to build a community with social media
The fence is down.
Publishers need no longer research what gamers thought of their latest titles – they can ask them on Facebook. And stores don’t have to hope deals get spotted by passers-by – they can just tweet about it.
Social media has connected the games industry with consumers in a way that was barely possible five years ago, but using these channels for advertising is no longer enough.
“People are turned off very quickly if they feel they are being marketed to. It’s important to have conversations and build a relationship,” says Codemasters’ director of community relations Samantha Russell.
“Consumers feel a need to be connected to others with whom they share an affinity. They want to share experiences with friends, so we’re seeing an explosion in platforms that facilitate interaction.”
Building a community of fans creates a two-way discourse, where publishers can promote their products directly to their audience and consumers can establish a greater connection with the firm behind their games they love. And naturally, the latter has its benefits.
“Advocacy radiates from core fans – they give a franchise legitimacy and deliver far more value revenue-wise than they spend themselves,” explains Ubisoft’s Alan Dykes, UK head of digital marketing.
“We don’t think of marketing to fans as preaching to the converted: we think about how we can reinforce their conviction and get them to spread the word.”
Social networks – such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and even publisher-run services such as CoD Elite and PlayStation Access – are the most effective means of growing communities, if used well.
“Interaction with fans is key, but it is something to be earned,” says Activision’s senior digital marketing manager Shane Bellamy. “You must engage across all channels, as fans exist in multiple places and what they’re looking for can change depending on many factors.”
The recently closed Inside Xbox is a prime example of how loyal a fanbase can become. Millions of gamers worldwide petitioned Microsoft to save the video show that drove the community – a testament to its success.
“Key to that was us talking to the audience as an individual, not a corporation” says former host Dan Maher, founder of the newly-formed Explosive Alan Productions.
“The important thing for me as an ex-Xboxer is that the honesty and passion that I was able to convey through my work at Inside Xbox remains, as does the following I’ve accumulated as a result.
“Ultimately, there’s no substitute for being genuine.”
THE METRICS SYSTEM
But it is important not to rely on pure numbers when using social media. Millions of Likes and Followers do not equate to sales.
“These are somewhat nice quantitative indicators but definitely not a tool to measure how good or bad you’re doing,” explains Konami’s European director of online and social media Florian Stronk.
“I rather see those as an installed base that you’re able to expose your assets to from the beginning. We’re putting a much stronger focus on qualitative metrics to see how well we actually reach and interact with this installed base.”
Sony’s PlayStation Access community manager Michael Shillingford says there are plenty of metrics out there to help companies see how much gamers are talking about their products.
“We look to see how many people actually interact with our posts – the number of comments, shares, retweets and replies are the stats that get us excited,” he says.
“When we see those numbers go sky high, we know that whatever we just posted was awesome and that our audience want more of it.”
UK marketing director Rich Keen says IGN’s priorities have changed as it has learned more about social media: “When we launched our Facebook and Twitter channels our goal was simple – acquire the most followers. But after spending time on these platforms we completely redefined our goals.
“We saw that having a large number of Followers or Likes doesn’t mean that the same number of people are actively visiting and engaging, so we refocused on metrics that measured interaction.”
Once you’ve found the right balance, and the best ways to maintain interaction – even during quiet periods when there are no new products to releases – the avid fanbase that is constantly discussing your brand will be invaluable to your next launch.
“Get the right people at the helm, and community management and social media can be an extraordinarily cost-effective but powerful weapon in your marketing arsenal,” concludes Russell.