The relationship between brands and their audiences has drastically changed in recent years, and 2019 will force gaming companies to adapt and grow in new ways. However, the ultimate goal of directly reaching consumers has not shifted, which demands the question: in the digital age, how can your company foster a direct relationship with consumers?

One way is to build an online community. Not only is this an easy way to engage users with your brand or product, but it also encourages users to communicate with one another, creating a passionate and loyal fanbase. Even better — there are no sizable monetary investments required, making community building an especially advantageous tool for startups across the games industry.

At Seriously, we’ve built an active online community around our Best Fiends franchise, starting with a mobile game. This community is our direct line to serve as a springboard for new concept testing, feedback, and even artwork creation. In turn, Seriously is able to provide its fans with the best user experience possible. Below are the best practices for helping to build and successfully maintain your online gaming community for better user engagement and retention, with organic visibility through word-of-mouth.

Establishing your community

Establishing a community online is easy, but growing and fostering it takes tremendous time and effort. The first step is to go to the social platforms where your audiences already are: create accounts on social platforms that make sense such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and Snapchat. With this, establish a clear brand purpose on each channel and invite your audience to go behind the scenes and be part of the company’s process. Give your audience something tangible to do or engage with on each social channel; this will add value to your fans through a bit of fun and entertainment each day.

Additionally, promote open, active communication between your company and its users to turn fans into superfans — it’s about a two-way dialogue. Communities expect reactions to their point of view, so be sure to try and respond to everything on every platform and make this the front line of your marketing strategy. Private Facebook groups, for instance, are a great way to organically create conversation about your brand. Having a group with like-minded superfans not only provides a platform for discussion, but it encourages fans to meet each other and feel like they are members of an exclusive club. This technique allows a company to leverage low-cost access to users’ ideas while still proving to fans that their voices create an impact.

Varying your content across social channels

Regularly posting across all brand social channels simply isn’t enough. Treat each channel uniquely rather than copy-and-pasting identical content across platforms and develop an authentic story. This requires adequate time to understand your audience on each platform, and use what you learn to inform what, and how, you post. While content should vary from platform to platform, your content strategy should tie into your IP, community, and brand experience.

Similar to how Rovio has built fandom and engagement around its Angry Birds IP (even a feature film!), and Supercell has maintained a community around its various games, we have worked to capture the Best Fiends community outside of our game as well. Because Best Fiends is a mobile puzzle game, we have found success inserting fun mini-puzzles into social newsfeeds for fans to complete and share with friends. On Pinterest, sharing Best Fiends screensavers that people can conveniently save and upload reaches those users well. YouTube is a concrete home for longform content, so that is where we tend to post our original videos including featuring powerful stories about community members.

On each channel, we embrace our most engaged fans by re-posting their creative projects with our brand and celebrating how our brand impacts their lives. We try to weave in current events, viral memes, and social trends into our voice wherever possible to stay on-trend.

Leveraging your customer service to problem-solve

A great customer service interaction goes a long way in any industry, including gaming. Your customer service team should be the first to know new product launches or company updates; they know your consumers the best. While your growth team is focused on acquiring new users, your customer service team is focused on re-engagement and keeping your current users happy. This is often where companies don’t focus enough of their attention or mistakenly outsource this important function.

Though your customer service team is the most accessible point of contact for users, a strong brand should guarantee that consumers’ feedback is heard by making sure the appropriate management is aware of any customer issues. And in today’s digital space, all channels, and especially social channels, should be treated like public customer support channels. Work to reply to all consumers that reach out to the brand, no matter what the request, and use public responses as opportunities to showcase brand voice and integrity to anyone who sees your comments. Positioning your company as responsive and receptive to inquiries remains the strongest way to up customer satisfaction, and ultimately positive brand footprint overall.

Your community will translate to brand success

You’d be hard-pressed to find a truly successful brand that does not have an engaged, dedicated following behind it. Achieving this is no easy task, and all companies must rely in part on organic connections between a brand and its fans to pull this off, but also putting in the hard work and elevating the community as the backbone of your IP, product, or service.

With gaming communities primarily living as global, online entities, it is difficult to maintain active relationships with fans. As companies often have to work to find methods to engage fans in every timezone, presenting a unique challenge for the market, the  “secret sauce” is fostering your own community — and an extra dose of digital creativity, transparency, and two-way communication will lead to brand success in 2019.

Andrew Stalbow is co-founder and CEO of Seriously, a mobile first entertainment company and maker of Best Fiends mobile game.