How-to: build an audience for your game as an Indie developer on social media.

Hey there, I’m Jordan! A few weeks ago, I raised $39,000 on Kickstarter for my solo developed Metroidvania, Haiku, the Robot. I wanted to write a series of articles to help other indie game developers succeed on Kickstarter.

If you are a solo dev thinking about launching a Kickstarter then I hope this encourages you to know that it is completely possible to do it all by yourself.

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A screengrab of a boss from Haiku, the Robot

Building an audience as early as possible is supercritical to the success of your game or a Kickstarter campaign. You want as many eyeballs as you can get. Luckily, in today’s world, independent game developers can use social media to help reach potential players, and the best part is they can do this organically — not through advertising.

How to build an audience is probably the question I get asked the most, so I will go into it with quite some depth before touching on topics more specific to Kickstarter. I think it differs from platform to platform, and I will talk about Instagram and Twitter, which are my preferred platforms.

The topics I go into below can actually be used for any social media account, but I’ll try to keep the focus on game development and my two preferred platforms. Although I’ve separated the two, I think the learnings can still be applied to both, and remember, I’m writing this article based on my experiences and what I’ve learned.

Instagram

People on Instagram like polished content. It’s a very visual platform where the images/videos are huge and the captions are quite small so keep this in mind while making your posts.

In order to grow on the platform, you need to understand the flow a user takes from seeing something they like to following someone. Think of the flow that you would go through: you find a post through a hashtag or a share > you view the post and you like what you see > you then view their profile to see what else that person posts > you see that they consistently post good content (that you like) and you follow for more. This is a good benchmark because it’s probably the exact same flow other users are taking as well.

Number 1: Post good content.

This is the most important thing to do in order to grow on Instagram: post good quality content. People will want to check it out if it interests them when they see your post from a hashtag or a share — if they find it through a share, that means people already in your following like it so much that they are sharing with their following which is a great sign. Your posts are essentially the gateway to your account, so I can’t stress how important this is! Make them great.

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Your feed is going to be the first thing people see when they visit your profile, so keep it clean and packed with quality content. People are more likely to follow if they know that they can rely on you to post similar content in the future, and you can prove this to them by having a consistent feed. A good way to think of it is that you have to earn their trust to earn their follow.

With that said, avoid spamming and making low-quality posts. Make sure you put special thought and effort into every single post, I hardly ever repeat any posts and I try to keep a visually clean profile feed. I think it’s good to go through your feed and archive a few posts occasionally.

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Posts that I’ve seen do well on my account are progress updates, the start, middle, and end of something you’ve been working on. Like a new boss fight, for example. Character designs, enemy designs, environment designs, small details that you’ve added to the game, just basically anything visual that a person browsing through Instagram can quickly consume and enjoy — keep in mind that Instagram is a visual platform!

Other posts that do quite well for me are posts of a collection of items you’ve been working on. This could be a bunch of destroyable objects or a bunch of new enemies. If you’re working on this sort of stuff all the time for the game, then why not reorganize the sprites into a nice square Instagram post. Be resourceful.

And lastly, the ones that I’ve seen get the most engagement are polls. If you’re really stuck on a decision, and you have a few mockups which you can’t decide upon, edit them into a square Instagram post and see what your following thinks. As a game designer/developer, I think social media is an awesome way of testing the water with some ideas. Just make sure you are genuinely looking for people’s input and not spamming polls because people will see right through it. They will start noticing that their say has no impact on the final game and that all you’re trying to do is game the algorithm. Be genuine.

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I was playing around with different health bar designs, I picked my favorites and then asked the community what did they think.

Number 2. Hashtags are your main discovery mechanism.

Instagram allows you to put 30 hashtags on a single post, I usually find it difficult to come up with 30 hashtags related to what I’m posting, so I add roughly between 15 and 20. I think it’s very important to make sure that you are using hashtags that relate to the post. There’s nothing worse than looking up a hashtag that interests you and finding something completely unrelated — these are usually selfies of people using some hashtag app that just happened to recommend #pixelart for some reason.

A good tip for coming up with hashtags is to think of what you’d search for in Instagram’s search bar where you would expect your post to show up. Instagram’s search results sometimes offer you other hashtag suggestions so this can also give you some ideas. Just make sure you use hashtags that are related to the post.

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I had to Google this image. It seems like Instagram has just removed the related hashtags feature.

Also, I think it’s good to experiment with hashtags. Your goal isn’t to build a following overnight but instead to build it up as your game grows. I haven’t found a way to track what hashtags work and which don’t but I think it’s good to occasionally throw in some variety. Otherwise, you’ll always be targeting the same group of people.

Number 3. How frequently should I post and at what time?

Firstly, I think that you should be posting at a time that suits you best. This way, you can be readily available to respond to comments and engage with your following. It’s okay to be aware of when your audience is online, and you can check this with the Instagram insights feature. If you can post comfortably in this timeframe, then great. If not, then you’ll be better off posting at a time where you can interact with people and build relationships — I’ve met so many cool people on social media thanks to this approach that now I consider friends.

Lastly, I would like to say that I have noticed a direct correlation between the frequency of posting and the growth in follower count. I post 3 times a week and try to keep to a schedule of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I can only, and will only, do this if I have enough quality content to post. If not, then I would reduce it to Tuesday and Thursday (2 days a week). One of the reasons why I think this works is because you will consistently have one of your posts in the search results of a specific hashtag that you are targeting. I don’t like this because, in my opinion, it forces creators to post more frequently and puts more stress on them. But if you find a balance between posting frequently and managing to maintain a consistent level of quality, then this is useful to know — just don’t burnout, find a schedule that works for you, and take breaks!

Number 4. Ignore the likes and follows. Look at comments, saves, and shares.

I know it’s hard, but it will be so much easier for you if you don’t track likes and follows. It happens frequently that a post you put a lot of effort into won’t do well in terms of likes, or your follower count spikes, then drops and people start unfollowing. So in my opinion, ignore all of that and just focus on what people engage with. What are people commenting, is it meaningful and does it spark discussion? If so, then that is a successful post in my books. Did you make a tutorial type post and it got a bunch of saves? Great, that means people saved it so they can easily find it later. These sorts of factors are much better indicators that you tell if you’re on the right track for long-term growth vs. the short-term buzz of getting likes.

If a post doesn’t do well at all but you feel like it fits nicely into your profile feed, keep it there. Don’t feel like you need to remove it because it didn’t hit a certain threshold. It’s still important for the first point I made in this list, having a clean, consistent feed. Not every post is going to do super well, and let’s be honest, no one is going to go through every post, get to one that didn’t do so well, and think “I’m not going to follow now because this post doesn’t have enough likes” — that’s plain silly.

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It may seem like not many people care about me taking a vacation and having pizza (in comparison to my normal posts), but visually it looks nice and it adds personality to my feed so I decided to keep it.

Bonus. I’ve tried gaming the algorithm. It doesn’t work.

I like to try things, to experiment, and then analyze. In the past, I’ve tried making giveaway posts, ingenuine polls, and competitions, where if you tag friends, you get this and that only to see it have little to no impact. What this taught me is that there is no easy “hack” to grow your account. Hard work and consistency is what pays off.

Twitter

Twitter feels a lot different from Instagram. To me, it feels more raw. It’s more about tweeting short but timely text snippets with the occasional video or image. (Be careful of Twitter’s evil image cropping system). I’ve been enjoying it a bit more recently and I think it’s because it‘s just so easy to post your thoughts or short updates there, and even though it’s a smaller platform compared to Instagram, getting discovered feels a lot easier.

Number 1. Experiment with tweets.

While it’s better to post polished content on Instagram, I think it’s better to just experiment on Twitter and have fun with it. I’ve seen all sorts of posts to do well, screengrabs of bugs in production, shower-thoughts, polls, polished and unpolished video scenes from the game, even memes (related to your game in some way). However, I would recommend that you stay away from political, religious topics and any other sensitive subject for that matter. You want people to follow you for your game.

Keep your tweets around a consistent theme, aka, your game and you as an indie developer. Similar to Instagram, people who like your tweets will check out your profile, so make sure you’ve got your best tweet pinned at the top and a good profile description. One thing you want to be mindful of is the little media box in the top right corner, ideally, you should try and have mainly images or videos that are related to your game. I think it’s okay to occasionally clean up that little media box as well by removing tweets.

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Most importantly, and this applies to any social media platform, just be yourself. People love to see that you are also just a regular joe and that you like the same things as they do.

Number 2. Again, don’t focus on the likes and follows.

This is the same point as before, from the Instagram section of this post. Don’t look at the likes and follows, focus on what people engage with. Twitter is a bit more forgiving as you don’t really need to have this curated visual feed apart from your pinned tweet and the little media box. So my suggestion is to go wild, you’ll soon figure what people enjoy and interact with more.

Number 3. Use hashtags occasionally.

To be honest, I bearly use hashtags. Mainly because Twitter does an amazing job of showing you content other people have liked or retweeted, which helps immensely with discoverability.

However, using hashtags can be good to reach new audiences. Twitter’s discoverability system is good but it puts you into a bubble. Therefore hashtags can help you break out from that bubble. I wouldn’t go crazy with using hashtags on Twitter. I keep it to a maximum of 3 super relevant hashtags in a single tweet, and that’s it — you’ve got to be careful of that character limit after all.

For indie game developers, especially, here are some really good hashtags to look out for.

#screenshotsaturday: post a screenshot of the game’s progress on Saturdays.

#pitchYaGame: a monthly event that challenges you to pitch your game in a single tweet and then get feedback from experts in the industry. Honestly, I personally love this one, reiterating on your pitch month after month and getting feedback. You see real progress in your pitch after a few months.

#madeWithUnity: if you use Unity, you just might get featured in a “Best of Made With Unity” YouTube video by GameDevHQ.

#throwbackThursday: just try experimenting with different things.

These hashtags are very game developer orientated. In order to reach actual players then I suggest experimenting with different hashtags.

Number 4. Use Twitter as a testing ground for Instagram.

Seeing as I like to experiment more on Twitter with things, then I almost use it to test certain post ideas for Instagram. I’d post something with less effort on Twitter, if it gets a good response, then make something a bit more polished and suited for Instagram.

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This tweet did quite well compared to normal tweets and now I have a good post idea for Instagram!

Bonus. Pick one link for your tweet.

I see this happen way too often with game developer accounts. Someone would make a tweet and include 3 links, usually something along the lines of; wishlist the game, join the discord, get notified on my Kickstarter, and on top of that add a few hashtags (which are also colored blue, the same color as links). All of a sudden, you’ve given your potential audience 5 things to click on (excluding your profile), and it’s overwhelming — this actually has a name and it’s called choice paralysis, too many options often lead to no action, that’s why restaurant menus are usually kept short.

You will always want to boost wishlists or get more people to Discord, but you need to pick the one thing that is most important to you right now and add that. If you’re running a Kickstarter soon, forget about those wishlists, get people to follow the project in order to get notified on launch. Later you can add a button to wishlist the game from your Kickstarter page. You need to prioritize what’s important for you and go with that.

The same thing applies to your Twitter profile description. Pick your most important link and add it to the website section of your profile. Just in case, I recommend adding the same link in the actual description but keep it to one!

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The relevant people section on the right only displays your profile description. Not your website link.

If you have a very good reason to add a second link to your profile description, then I think it’s okay. Just be mindful of what is most important for you right now and where you want to direct any potential traffic without being too overwhelming. Some people will call this marketing, but let’s be honest, it’s just common sense.

No no’s

There are a few more things that I’d like to bring to your attention that I think are big no no’s on social media.

Number 1. Commenting for the sake of commenting.

I see a lot of videos and people suggesting that you need to interact with your community, and that’s totally true. I even mention it in this article. But more and more frequently, I see people just posting meaningless comments in an attempt to get closer to the community. You’re better off ignoring the one emoji comment and focusing on giving a good reply to someone who actually asked a good question.

I would say that this also applies to you. If you see something cool, and it genuinely brings up a feeling that you want to share with the creator, then go ahead and leave a meaningful comment. Just don’t spam comments in an attempt to look like your part of a community. People will see it through.

Also, in regards to the one emoji comment above, if you have long-time fans just posting a heart emoji, then I’d reply to them with another cute emoji. I was trying to give an example — emojis aren’t all that bad ❤

Number 2. Constantly asking questions or polls.

I touched upon this briefly before, but I want to expand on it a little more. The same as the previous point, I see this mentioned in a lot of videos, and it infuriates me.

Polls and questions are fine. Just make sure you are genuinely looking for people’s input and not spamming because people will see right through it. They will start noticing that their say has no impact on the final game and that all you’re trying to do is game the algorithm.

Also, be careful if you have a small following. It’s quite disheartening to see no one react to a question that you posted. It might be worth trying other things until your following gets big enough to ask questions and get meaningful feedback. Don’t worry though, you will get there!

A recap and what I want you to take away from this

The most important thing for any social media account is to be genuine and to be yourself, so try to enjoy it more than anything else. Your enjoyment and happiness for the project you’re working on will show through.

For Instagram, post highly visual and good quality content.

For Twitter, I’d say give yourself a bit more freedom but still be mindful.

And don’t focus on the likes and follows. Focus on other things such as comments, the types of comments, saves, shares, retweets, and the rest.

Lastly, be genuine.

Thank you for making it this far! I hope this helps shed some light on what goes on inside my brain when managing my social media accounts, and more importantly, I hope it gives you some good insight and direction.

Remember, life is a constant learning process, so I would encourage you just to try things out and learn for yourself!

This series is to encourage you to know that it is completely possible to run a successful Kickstarter campaign all by yourself.

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If you would like me to look into your Kickstarter project personally, then I do offer 1-on-1 consultations. You can find more information here: mistermorris.games/consultations — thank you!

Written by

Independent Game Developer. Pixel Artist. Video Game Marketeer. Crowdfunding Consultant.

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