Instagram Growth Techniques for Indie Games

I’m going to be writing a series of intro to Instagram posts focused on utilizing the platform for indie game development. This first one will be on growth techniques, the second will be on posting successful content, and the third will be on whether or not I’ve found Instagram to be useful to our goals. Our Instagram can be found here: dreamsailgames.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been heavily focused on growing our following. I gave myself the goal to grow our Instagram following from 165 followers to 1k followers in a short period of time using majority organic methods. Since 7/18, I’ve grown our follower count to around 430, which is a gain of +265 or roughly +88 followers per week. At this pace we’ll have 1k followers in a little under 6 weeks from now — not taking into account the conventions we have upcoming or our game demo release.

The only inorganic (paid) methods I use are Instagram ads, which I’ve found useful to keep engagement up on old, well-received content as I push new content. We spend roughly $15–20/wk on $5/5 day compaigns. This has the added effect of heavily increasing traffic to our site.

What’s the purpose of all of this? Well, Twitter and Facebook are highly saturated with game developers, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of beautiful and interesting indie game projects. I’ve found Instagram to be less used, perhaps because it’s less understood how it can be used well. That being said, there are a lot of important people on Instagram who you probably want to connect with, and due to it being less saturated you may have more luck reaching their eyes. Give growing your audience on IG a shot.

Our Goals

  • Increase traffic to our website
  • Connect with VR Arcades all over the world (we’re a VR game studio)
  • Connect with other developers, publishers, etc
  • (In the future) Increase traffic to our steam page

I’ll let you know in a few weeks if I think it was worth it.

Methods:

1. Liking

Find relevant hashtags (in my case: #vr #virtualreality #unrealengine #gamedev to name a few) and scroll through the feed, liking everything that is appropriate for your brand. In my case, I liked just about every image except for obviously pornographic content or content I found distasteful.

I started using Hootsuite about a week or so into my process. It’s been a lifesaver. Hootsuite allows you to throw up a few “streams” of content (such as each hashtag) next to each other — so I could like and comment on multiple hashtags worth of content at once. Saves a lot of time, and it’s more comfortable for me to use a mouse than scroll through my phone double tapping.

Why do this? In hopes that the account whose content you’ve liked will be intrigued and check out your profile, I’ve mentally coined it “reactive interaction.” A very small percentage of people do this, and once they’re on your profile the hope is that they will either engage with your content, or follow your account (or both!)

There are a few “liking techniques” I’ve found that have increased the small percentage of reactive interactors. Liking a full row or multiple photos on their profile increases the amount your account name will show in their notifications — it’s the “notice me senpai-technique.” Another technique I use is finding relevant events or places to find accounts that have a high chance of being interested in our content, such as tech conferences or people checked into VR Arcades.

2. Comments

Liking can only get you so far. You get into a game of like-tag (back and forth liking ad infinitum), or an account you’d like to connect with gets hundreds of likes per post. A way to get around this is to throw a simple comment on the post. Commenting is much more rare than liking on Instagram, you’ll see posts with hundreds of likes and only a few comments. Stand out from the crowd by writing a few words.

Now, there are a lot of bots out there that sweep through a hashtag and comment the same thing (Good Job! :thumbs up emoji:) on every photo. If you’re really trying to grow your count with your own human sweat and blood, don’t get lazy and end up being mistaken for a bot by writing a lazy comment. I make sure to throw in a reference to exactly what it is that’s being shared and maybe a simple more specific comment. For example, on concept art of a demonic dog, I’d write “Great work! That’s not a pup I’d want to run into in a dark alley.” Doesn’t take much effort, and it separates you from the bots so people know you’re making the effort. I’ve found people follow me with much greater frequency once I comment. It does take more effort than liking, so it’s more time consuming, but from what I’ve seen hitting fewer accounts with comments returns better interaction than hitting more accounts with likes.

3. Following

Ah, the end goal of all of this. That sweet, coveted high follower count coupled with a high engagement percentage. I’ve personally had limited success with following en masse in order to get follow-backs. A certain number do, but not that many and you end up having to clear out your following list every few days which is a pain. It’s also really obvious when someone does this unsuccessfully: they have a large number of following to a smaller number of followers which is reverse the ideal ratio. To keep things neat on our account I clean out our following list once or twice a week and unfollow any account that’s either dead (hasn’t posted in months) and/or doesn’t follow us back.

Why do people care so much about the “ratio” of followers to following? Well, it shows how interested people are in you naturally versus a more quid pro quo interest. High followers+low following means that people want to see what you’ve got and you don’t need to convince them by following them first. It’s not a bad thing, per se, and as long as you get the engagement you want, or fulfill your goals, it’s doesn’t really matter. To be honest I didn’t think I’d care about it, and then I got absorbed into the psychology of Instagram and now I absolutely do — I try to keep my ratio around 2:1.

In Summary

Growing your following organically is time consuming and obsessive. It’s also game-like and weirdly enjoyable. We’ve had some great success so far with the techniques I’ve laid out above, and I’m excited to see how our audience grows as we release our demo and attend public events.

The most important thing to remember is that good content trumps all. Create an account you’d be interested in following as an indie dev or VR content creator, and others with similar interests will gravitate towards it — WITH some gentle prodding aka likes, comments, and follows, of course. What kind of content works best? That’s a post for next time.

I hope you’ve found this helpful. Let me know if you have any questions about using Instagram for your studio, and I’ll do my best to answer.

@dreamsailgames