I have written several times how social game companies need to improve their marketing to encompass more than performance advertising (ads purchased on a CPC or CPI basis). It is frustrating that old school companies like Ford and Unilever are so much better at leveraging their community and social media for brand building than many companies whose products live on social media.
A recent article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, Enhancing Relationships With Customers Through Online Brand Communities, does a wonderful job of showing what strategies companies (e.g., social game companies) can use to build their business through communication with players. In the article, the authors research showed that effective communication would improve customer confidence, which in turn should lead to higher sales (especially in a free-to-play environment). The article showed four ways companies can improve the quality of communications with their customers.
Enhance the relevance of information posted
You need to communicate information relevant to the topic your users and community is interested in, not the information you want to push. Some techniques to achieve better relevancy include:
- Keep the focus on the topic. In forums or other targeted message boards, moderators can steer or delete messages and comments not on topic. If you are concerned about alienating the users, you can start new discussion threads in appropriate boards.
- Divide the forum into categories. You can create forums with detailed category frameworks for topics, including higher and lower headings to allow for precise posting of questions. You can have monetization as a higher heading, with sub-categories such as not getting credits, credit card not working, premium currency incorrect, etc.
- Encourage users to preselect interests. You can also increase the relevance of information shown to users is by allowing them to pre-select topics when they register then directing them to these topics when they log in.
Enhance the timeliness of information exchanged
Increasing the timeliness of message posting can significantly improve communication quality. Quickly responding to the community’s concerns and updating people about the status of your games will create a stronger bond with your customers. I personally get very frustrated when a social game I play is down and there is no explanation on their Facebook page or in their forums. There are three effective ways that a company can improve the timeliness of its communications:
- Rewards. Giving consumers a bonus for responding to other people’s questions and concerns encourages members to post replies in a timely manner. For example, the first person who posts a response to another player’s progression blocker could be rewarded with premium currency or a limited-edition virtual item. Such a system encourages your community to provide timely responses issues that arise even when you cannot.
- Appointments. Forum or community managers can set special hours on various topics, moderated by experts or “stars” within your company. A periodic game hints hour moderated by your creative director might draw even mild fans of your game.
- Increase access points. Timeliness can also be improved by offering multiple access points to the community. A web game can offer additional access through mobile devices and conversely a mobile game can also nurture a strong Facebook community.
Extend the conversation
Consumers are more satisfied with lengthy, descriptive and detailed replies or interactions. You can reduce uncertainties or concerns about your game (and drive revenue) by making it easier for posters to express themselves as much as they want. Some techniques include:
- Make it easy for users to express themselves. Maximizing the ease of use of the forum, particularly for people who are expressive and detail-oriented, is a powerful way to extend interactions.
- Do not set limits. A simple way to encourage expressive individuals is simply not to set any limits on message or post length.
- Allow evaluation. You can enhance the relevance of posted information by allowing others to evaluate the replies to a question. By allowing readers to up-vote or down-vote responses (or just up-vote if you do not want to offend) draws attention to meaningful comments and refocuses and extends the conversation.
Increase the frequency of information exchanges
An increase in the volume of communications is directly associated with higher levels of communication quality, which reduces uncertainty and leads eventually to higher sales and better monetization. Among the best schemes to encourage frequency are:
- Launch contests. Increasing the traffic to the form by organizing contests and other rewards (again, giving out premium currency or limited-edition items) specifically for the most recent posters can enhance the frequency with which members post on the board.
- Create special opportunities. Another technique to motivate forum members to post messages frequently is to create special opportunities for forum visitors. You can enhance new features in the game or new games coming out. You can also offer discounts or coupons for in-app purchases at different intervals.
- Acknowledge helpful members. Acknowledge people who provide a high volume of replies (your reply whales) may enhance how often forum members post replies.
By following the above strategies, you not only engage your community but will grow it and eventually monetize your games better.