Twitter basics for online games

twitterbirdIf you’re doing community work or marketing on behalf of an MMO or other type of online game, you’ve probably already discovered twitter as a tool for reaching your players. Whether you’re just starting out or already managing an account, we’ve come up with a short list of things to think about when planning a twitter strategy for your game. Off we go…

1. Plan a twitter strategy for your game. (See what we did there?) Twitter is just one tool in the toolbox for interacting with players, and in order to ensure that the time you spend there brings maximum value, you need to have a plan. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Think about what you want to achieve, and establish some specific goals: for example, do you want to acquire 100 followers, get >25 followers to participate in a contest, or maybe get 50 followers to take up a trial? If you’re just starting out, one of your initial goals should be to establish your game’s ‘starting reputation’ — that is, what twitter users have been saying about your game.

The next step is to determine the mechanisms and timeline for measuring those goals. You don’t have to get too fancy here, either — all you really need for basic tracking is a spreadsheet, but you may find that you need additional help to trace certain types of activity back to your game or its website. Find out who can provide the relevant internal data for you, and rope them into your plans early. As your projects progress, think about how you’d like to present and share your results.

2. Design your approach thoughtfully. Your twitter output should support your goals without overstraining your resources. There’s no cookie-cutter model that will work for everyone, and it’s fine to change over time (in fact, it should!). One key consideration to bear in mind is consistency: regular activity brings the best results from twitter, but you won’t want to set precedents early on that are too difficult to maintain over the longer term. As you progress, effectiveness also becomes important: is your output a good match for your input? Are you responding to incoming information in the most appropriate way?

If you’re managing the primary twitter stream on behalf of your game (not a stream personal to you), it’s a good to identify and consider potential pitfalls with different approaches, like:

  • Automatic content: Common where ‘we have to be on twitter’ without dedicated resources. The stream consists of RSS feed content from the official site and not much else. While this is a valid way of providing info to followers who prefer to receive your game news through twitter, your stream won’t be valuable to players who receive news directly from your site or from other sources. The potential to build further interest in your game and learn more about players is wasted.
  • Diarizing: Often used in pre-launch phases and other times when the level of game news is low. Point-of-view commentary can be entertaining, but it’s also pretty narrow; most followers will expect a broader range of content from a game’s official stream.
  • Dribbling: Tends to happen by default when there’s no Twitter strategy; otherwise it might indicate problems with workload balance. Activity in the stream is sporadic and unpredictable. Momentum and followers are lost during periods of inactivity.
  • Flooding: Rare, and often event-based within lower-activity streams. Very frequent updates spam followers and provoke some of them to leave. (Fortunately, @replies are seen only by that person and mutual followers, so you can @reply to your heart’s content without spamming your entire followbase.)

3. Pick your tools and start tracking immediately. Once you’re tweeting in an official capacity, you’ll start to receive a range of input and enquiries. Keeping track of all that information can be a challenge, but it’s crucial to measuring progress against your goals. If you collect data from the very beginning, you have more time to practice working with small chunks of information; however, if your stream is already well-established be reassured that it’s never too late to start!

The tools you choose should be appropriate to your goals: you’ll certainly want the convenience of a dashboard application like TweetDeck or Seesmic, and there are plenty of monitoring options now, from Google Alerts to comprehensive platform tools like Radian6. There are lots of free tools available, so it’s quite possible to put together a suite to fit your needs without cost being an issue. We’ll go into this in more depth in a future post.

4. Evolve your activity in line with your resources. It’s easy to hold concurrent conversations with a small number of people; however, as your follower count increases your capacity for holding conversations doesn’t scale. If your goal is to build a large group of followers, it’s wise to think ahead about how you’ll need to change your approach to tweeting as your listener base grows. Bringing in others to help you becomes easier with tools such as cotweet, which allow several people to manage a single twitter account.

If you’re in a position to offer a variety of content via twitter, that’s the way to go. We like to see a mixed bag of information and goodies, including:

  • emergency messaging (unscheduled outages and critical issues)
  • game content updates
  • events (in-game and irl)
  • contests and competitions
  • official and partner promotions
  • photo and video links
  • survey questions

5. Remember, you’re a follower too. Budget time to find and follow other streams that are interesting or useful to you and your players. Your follow pool is public and will be scrutinized, so choose wisely! Twitter has also just launched lists, which enable you to integrate up to 500 streams, so they’re useful for grouping together relevant tweets. We noticed that Jagex (@OfficialJagex), developer of RuneScape, uses twitter lists to collect fansites and clans associated with its games.

That’s all for now (whew) — we’ll follow up with more twitter tips and tactics later. Happy tweeting!

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