Building a community can be tough and time-consuming even when you have intimate knowledge of the brand, topic or field that it revolves around. You know the best forums, groups, and influencers to help you get started. You know the lingo and online culture. But it’s still difficult to know if your efforts are succeeding or to set plans based on any timetables of growth. So what happens when you’re really at a disadvantage and you don’t know anything about the community you’re trying to build?
We found ourselves in this situation not so long ago. We were approached by a client who wanted to build a unique community in the gaming market. Sure, we’ve all played a few games here and there, but we’re far from experts on the industry or the culture and we couldn’t be sure where to reach people who might want to join this new community. The real question was, can community building be broken down into a more quantifiable process that follows patterns and rules? If we know how to build a community around a strictly crypto-based brand, could we apply the same logic to a gaming company?
Well, yes and no. Every project is unique, and in that way, there will always be surprises. But there are some general rules that can and should be followed. These actually apply to projects you feel completely prepared for as well. But just to prove how effective they are, this is the story of how we built a gaming community from scratch even though we aren’t gamers ourselves.
Step 1: Research
Every industry has its own main platforms that play host to active communities. Crypto, for example, revolves around Telegram and Twitter. But the situation is slightly different for gamers. In order to make the right decision of where to invest the bulk of our efforts, we pursued two different tactics:
- Internet research: We read, searched and asked questions in all kinds of forums.
- Experts: We contacted people we knew from the gaming industry and asked for their advice (networking is a valuable tool – but more on that in another article).
Eventually, we concluded that Discord was the best place to start.
**TIP – Language is also very important. It turns out that gamers don’t call it the “Discord server” but just “Discord”. It’s critical when working with a specific industry to stick to the appropriate language, otherwise, the community will automatically recognize that you aren’t a native.
So great, now we needed to get set up on Discord. But how do you do that?
Step 2: Finding a community manager from the industry
It’s possible of course to learn everything on the internet from how-to articles and YouTube tutorials, but we wanted to be properly professional. That’s why we set out to find someone from the gaming community to join our team as a community manager on behalf of our client. We looked for someone with intimate knowledge of gaming, who knew others in the industry and was familiar with Discord. This someone also needed to be prepared to accompany us through the early stages and stay on to manage the Discord.
Finding a community manager isn’t always easy, and the qualities you want in a community manager vary from industry to industry. In our case, we decided that the best way to go about our search was to ask for help from another company in the field that isn’t one of our direct competitors. We also asked the administrators of relevant Facebook groups to help us by posting wanted ads. We have a separate article with more tips on the process of finding the right community manager.
So, once we had a community manager to take care of Discord for us, the next question was where would the community members come from?
Step 3: Creating a content plan – choosing content
We then decided that the best way to bring people into this community would be to create something of value for them. This would be accomplished by providing content targeted at gamers. So, we went back to researching. We considered what would interest them and what kind of articles they read before beginning the process of creating content for them with articles like:
How will technology change the future of the gaming industry?
Esports explained – serious gaming for serious gamers
Step 4: What help is content if no one sees it?
This is an issue that any project trying to market itself can relate to: Where do you advertise? Obviously, there are the regular platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and they can all be great places to start if you manage to target your audience properly. But communities exist on all kinds of platforms and it’s worth it at this stage to see if there are other places to take advantage of, even without a marketing budget.
For example, in the case of the gamers, we discovered that they are active on a lot of different subreddits that reach a massive audience of gamers who discuss interesting topics. Because we were trying to provide value before marketing anything, there was no problem posting our articles to these channels. It’s very important to take note of each group’s rules. They don’t always allow certain kinds of posts and new users are sometimes viewed with suspicion.
**TIP: It’s best to develop and nurture your user before trying to post your content, so you don’t get burned right out of the gate. Work your way into the group, make friends and be an active participant so that as soon as you post something it gets more attention and favor.
Step 5: We have friends! What’s next?
We slowly began to see activity in our Discord. The content we provided was interesting for them after all, and they decided to see what we were up to. But we weren’t merely forming a community of people with mutual interests, we had a product to promote. Now, after having proved our capability of providing value, it was time to go ahead with marketing ourselves.
That’s why we added a channel to our Discord about the project explaining who we are, what we do and why it’s of interest to our community members. We decided to base our operations on the recognized 20-80 method.
**TIP: Provide value 80 percent of the time and promote yourself 20 percent of the time.
Step 6: Collecting data
Now we have a home for our community (Discord), we have visitors, we have value and we have a promotion. But that’s not enough. We want to grow. We want more friends and more interest. So how do we move forward? At this stage, we paused for a moment to review everything that we’d already accomplished and we tried to figure out what practices worked the best so far and what didn’t work so well.
What we discovered is that the audience on Discord understands a thing or two. They want to be involved and they live online 24/7. There are so many communities of gamers and competition is so intense that community members have no reason to stay with us if we don’t provide them with the added value that they wouldn’t get anywhere else.
First and foremost, we found that gamers get that value from a community that is very… communal. The group needs to be active, full of discussions, stories and news and its members need to take an interest in one another. We also learned that a significant portion of gamers is young, often too young to have a bunch of money laying around to spend on stuff for games. That’s why game-related prizes and gifts provide excellent motivation for them to complete all kinds of different tasks.
**TIP: A community is made up of people. If you try to understand who the members of your community are, what characterizes them, what motivates them to take action and what they like, it’ll be much easier for you to make decisions and formulate a marketing plan.
Step 7: Gamification
We decided to take the data that we gathered earlier in this process and see how we could use it to meet our goal of growing the community and turning our product into a point of interest for gamers.
gam·i·fi·ca·tion – The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.
Generally speaking, we are true believers in the concept of gamification. We believe that it doesn’t matter what field you’re in, gamification is an amazing tool to push people forward and we use this technique whenever and wherever we can. In the case of gaming, we were dealing with people who we could only assume like games.
We created a few different types of games and tasks based on the two points we learned in the previous stage, encouraging involvement and handing out gift cards as prizes.
**TIP: We won’t reveal all of our methods here (we still need to keep a few secrets to ourselves), but we do advise you to study the concept of gamification in depth. You see it and experience it all around you every day without even knowing it. This is one article that we think will help you understand gamification and how to use it in your communities.
Step 8: Creating a community of ambassadors
Entire books could be written about building strong connections with community members and converting them into ambassadors as an excellent goal for any brand. In short, we can explain that ambassadors are community members who believe in your brand and/or your products. They keep in close contact with you and even get all kinds of bonuses for supporting you publicly. In our case, we decided that it would serve our interests well to have a strong community of gamers surrounding us that loved our product and would get excited ahead of its release.
So, we personally reached out to the more prominent individuals in the community and made efforts to bring them closer to us. We offered them gifts and bonuses for them to continue doing what they were already doing: talking about us in a positive manner. We didn’t even hide it from the community. We gave these individuals their own special roles on Discord to let the community know that these were trusted veterans who could answer questions about the product. This also created an interesting phenomenon in which people approached us and asked how they could become ambassadors as well.
**TIP: “One too many” marketing used to be the name of the game (think of one celebrity posting a photo with a product to reach many). But today, that can be revised to something like “many to many”. Why pay lots of money to one person when you can harness many people to help meet your goal? And that goes even deeper: Ambassadors are usually people who believe in your product before you give them bonuses or perks, making their endorsement far more authentic than a celebrity’s photo. There’s no one right way to do it. The qualities of ambassadors vary from community to community, as do the ways you can support them. What’s certain is that you can’t ignore this technic when building a community.
Step 9: Execute, repeat
At this point, we were confident in our position. Our community had a home and was gathering more and more members. We had supporters and fans and we had an active and vibrant community. But that’s still not enough. You always want to continue growing and drawing more attention. And why fix something that’s not broken? So we went back and repeated step 7, collecting data, looking to see what worked and what didn’t and using this information again to create a plan of action.
For example, we discovered that gamers don’t like it when people post inappropriate or unrelated queries. That led us to add moderators to enforce the rules while opening a channel called “Spam” where community members could chat about whatever they wanted without bothering the others.
**TIP: Listen to the members of your community! The idea to open a spam channel, which turned out to be successful, came from a community member. By listening to his suggestion, we found a great solution to our problem and made him and others see that we listen to the community and accept its suggestions, which in turn pushes its members to continue being active.
***EXTRA TIP: Give them credit! That community member, whose name was proudly included in our announcement of the opening of the spam channel, became an especially loyal community member.
As we’ve found out, and as you can see from our story, building a community is like creating a work of art. Each one is different, but certain techniques and templates give us a solid starting point. You can create really good music without any knowledge of music theory, but the odds of stumbling across something good are slim. We learn music theory for a deeper understanding of how music works that shows in the final production. The same is true of these 9 steps that anyone and everyone should be using to build communities around a brand, product or even a personality, whether you’re familiar with the topic or not.