Let’s talk about what is happening at Twitter… Elon Musk is buying it and taking it private. For many indie game developers, marketing is synonymous with Twitter. So this change in ownership might seem Earth shattering! What will I do with my following? Should I move them to TikTok? How will I tell the world about my game now?
First this meme
Wait? Why does everyone think Twitter is good for marketing?
To be honest, I don’t know. My hunch is we accidentally ended up this way:
Here is my best guess… journalists LOVE Twitter. It is a social network centered on writing and the wittiest and most cutting and most ironic comments win. Perfect for journalists. When Twitter launched in the late 2000s, contacting the press and having them write about your game was one of the best ways to market it. So being funny on Twitter and attracting the eye of journalists was an excellent strategy.
For a while, spending a lot of time on Twitter = Marketing your game.
However, getting covered by the press is no longer so vital. Most of your visibility will come from Festivals, Reddit, Streamers and most importantly Steam’s algorithms. The press also realized that covering indies doesn’t really drive much traffic to their articles. So, they decided to stop covering indies and we realized that a good article doesn’t cause much visibility.
At the same time Twitter has really clamped down on visibility so you rarely can go viral. Similarly getting a decent following is very slow and hard to do.
The important details are this. Twitter was never that popular. Take a look at the following graph showing that Twitter is the 17th most popular social network. Basically the only people who use Twitter are Journalists and creatives. The people who don’t use it are the “normals” who buy video games (thus the meme about tweeting to fellow game devs).
Also the best way to get a following is to release a game. Your big Twitter following is a result of launching a hit game, not the cause of it.
The following chart is the weekly new follower count for Fall Guys. That big hump in the middle? That was when Fall Guys released.
Also the click through rate on Twitter is terrible! I have seen multiple examples of developers getting retweeted by HUGE twitter accounts (85,000 followers in one case) and it resulted in just a few wishlists (100 wishlists).
Also ads don’t work on Twitter. Most game developers successfully using paid acquisition they use youtube, facebook or reddit. Twitter isn’t even a consideration because it is expensive and nobody clicks anything on Twitter anyway.
So in summary
- The original use case (talking to the press) doesn’t work any more
- It is slow to build a following
- The click through rate is bad.
- Buying ads on the platform is expensive and doesn’t work.
It can only get better
So I don’t know if having Elon Musk in charge of Twitter is going to help or hurt things. I am terrible at predicting anything. But so is everyone else. Anytime someone says they know what is going to happen in the world of tech, I reread this forum thread that was started when Apple announced the original iPod. Basically everyone thought releasing an MP3 player was the worst idea possible and would bankrupt Apple.
Here is one representative quote
Nobody knows anything.
Twitter doesn’t have to be so sclerotic.
Tiktok is giving away a CRAZY amount of visibility. You can grow a following in the thousands with just a couple great videos. Clickthrough rates are terrible (like all social media) but TikTok gives you so many free views that it is enough to impact visibility on your game. You can read more about how to use TikTok to market your game in my blog post here.
So Twitter is pretty useless right now: click-through-rates are terrible, it takes forever to build a following, and those who do follow you are people in the game industry (not your customers).
So I can’t predict what will happen but best case is some algorithm or change will come in and more “normals” will come back. Maybe they will drastically increase organic visibility and your post will get seen as much as it does on TikTok. Or maybe click-through rates will increase.
Or it will completely crash and burn.
What could happen?
I have worked in corporate America for decades before I went full time into games. Any time a new VP or CEO joined the company they always felt they had to change things up to show that they were worth the hire.
I expect the same to happen at Twitter. Especially since it is Elon.
Option 1: Actual virality?
One thing they could do right away is increase the visibility of posts to try and compete with TikTok in terms of visibility. In the current Twitter algorithm seems to give you visibility in proportion to your following. Also it is hard to get a following. So all of us are stuck in the sclerotic slog. TikTok on the other hand seems to give a better chance at visibility regardless of the following size. So maybe they will unleash the twitter algorithm.
Option 2: Ads that work?
Ads have never worked on Twitter unless you are major brand. I think because Twitter doesn’t collect much personal information about you. On Facebook you can target Steam shoppers who like RPGs and live in the United States. This allows small companies to spend a small amount of money on a very specific audience. It is more cost effective. Twitter on the other hand has almost no targeting. Basically you just shovel money into a sea of people. That is why most ads are big brands with general products. So maybe they will make it practical to actually run ads on Twitter for small folks like us.
Option 3: More clicks?
Click through rate on Twitter is terrible. I don’t know why but it is. If you say “Go wishlist my game <link>” nobody clicks it. Nobody. I doubt they can fix this but one can hope.
How to get off Twitter
Many fellow game devs are now claiming they will get off Twitter because of the toxic behavior of the new owner. And maybe the “free speech” Elon says he will allow means the platform will get taken over by trolls. Whatever it is, you don’t have control over what is happening next.
This scenario is exactly why I wrote this blog post a year ago: Don’t Build Your Castle In Other People’s Kingdoms.
The gist of the post is, if you spend a lot of time and money building a following on a platform that is owned by a corporation, that can be taken away from you very fast not because of anything you did but because of external factors.
It is much safer to build a following on a platform you own. Those platforms are:
- A mailing list
- A website
- Your IP.
Read the post for more details.
But the basics of the strategy are that you should still post to all the social sites, but you should be constantly trying to push your followers to also join your mailing list, or check out your website.
On social media, always act as if the whole thing could get shut down tomorrow.
So if you are leaving Twitter please please please don’t say “I am leaving twitter, please follow me on TikTok or Instagram”
You just jumped from one kingdom you don’t own to another platform you don’t own.
Your call to action should always be to something YOU OWN!! Try this. “Hey I am leaving this platform and would really like to see you follow my progress. I am giving away a free copy of my very first game I ever released to those on my mailing list. So go join it here <link to mailing list>”
I have been begging developers to create a mailing list since at least 2018. Here is my GDC talk where I explain the benefits and JOY of a mailing list:
It doesn’t have to be expensive.
So please, just promise me you will send people to your mailing list and not to another social media site that is not owned by you.