Involving the community in newsletters / Email Blasts

Community involvement is key in growth for new prospective customers and no less, customer retention. Especially more so with keeping the wider community in the loop with smaller-scale community events. As always, not everyone will subscribe to an email/newsletter, but it will provide an incentive for users to subscribe!

Fast forward many months, or years down the road, not only do you have a subscriber base that can be quite large, you will likely retain a rather high percentage of users, new and old, that will still read the newsletter. Such will be extremely beneficial on upselling current customers’ new DLC/Digital Content when large content updates are released.

When I assisted with the Elite Dangerous newsletter content, on a week to week basis for the better part of two years, I pieced together a small segment known as Comms Chatter. This content was sourced from various communities, primarily our forums and the community subreddit – sometimes, other smaller Reddit communities to help spur growth and interest. There were many times where Twitter and Facebook content was added to the comms chatter. Many other times, Comms Chatter also bumped into Community Events segments. While we didn’t always have a title or category named for community events on our email blasts, we commonly included such items above Comms Chatter.

On a week to week basis, I and other employees collected around 15 to 20 items to be considered and decided upon for addition to the Comms Chatter segment. We generally reduced the number of items down to three or four items on the email and four to ten items on the community website… otherwise, the newsletter wouldn’t be much news, but more so community events and news – which well, would not fit the spirit of our newsletters :-).

During extremely active weeks, primarily during major updates to Elite Dangerous, all of the newsletter content, including Comms Chatter and Community Events were directly or mostly related to the pending update. This overall helped spread grass-roots community hype, hype at the core of the community, and passively, a well-geared newsletter generated news on gaming news subreddits and websites. Media, customers, and prospective customers back in 2015 to 2017 kept close tabs on our newsletters, not due to upselling marketing “buy this, buy that”, but because we involved our community, kept our subscribers interested in what we have rolling through the pipes for the game, in turn, this generated customer trust, a positive vibe within the community, and further boasted paint-job (paint jobs are custom design packs and coloring for player ships) and expansion pack sales on our store.

Involving our community was key – I state that strongly as well. Elite Dangerous’s market is vertical/niche when it comes to games based in space, especially so in the MMO/MMOG realm. Our primary competition at the time (and still is – I’m no longer with Frontier Developments) was Star Citizen, fast forward a couple of years later, we had another game enter our bubble, No Man’s Sky. Both games are bringing/brought something different to the table when it comes to competing against Elite Dangerous, and looking at consuming market space. However, both lacked one key item: community & community involvement in newsletter/emailed content. The majority of email blasts were “look at what we made, wanna buy (into) it? Here’s the link” – this generally will add a layer of distrust to the email sent out to customers and potential customers. When you smash that layer under community involvement, you get the byproduct of users buying your content, reading your content more. People don’t like seeing a rotted carrot on a twine-laced stick – they want to see substance on why they should consider buying X or Y items listed on a newsletter.

While both companies (Hello Games and Robert Space Industries) had their newsletters and associated content there within, both lacked community involvement when it comes to email blasts. It is no doubt that it is difficult to find content from a community when a game is in development. However, it’s easy to find talking-points and making that a focal point for folks to “jump in” and discuss a key issue or reinforcing a discussion to become a key-topic.

One of the largest conundrums that I faced when it came to involving our community was on the mindset of “is the time right to add this to the newsletter?” Many times, it was a resounding “Nah, save it for a future week”, sometimes had the mindset of “Let’s see what happens during this lull”, and then other times “This seems to fit the flow, or acts as a segway to the games evolving content/development”. There were a few instances where we used Comms Chatter to passively advertise paint jobs, along with acting as a bridge to upselling folks on paint jobs – sometimes it worked well, other times, not so much. And again, that all comes down to 1) “was it shiny?“, 2) “is it priced right?”, 3) “it the timing right?”, 4) does the community want/desire something like X item?. If one to four on that options list was all ticked, then it’d sell like hotcakes. Granted, things like “will it sell, will it not sell” generally should be kept to the BI and Marketing leads to judging the atmosphere and if the time is right. For the dev team back then, we didn’t really have a fully built out team of individuals doing things like Business Intelligence and Big Data Intelligence. 🙂

Oddly enough, during development release cycle lulls, we found that content posted in just about every corner of our community increased substantially. Sometimes it was ‘dank memes’, with the added poke at folks. Many times, we had amazing art made by the community posted. Much of the time, comms chatter and other community content consisted of screenshots from the game world – and boy, Elite Dangerous planet/star design sure is something! More often than not, the PVP community did antagonize the PVE crowd, primarily on Reddit and the Forums, there have been times where we did include PVP content on our newsletters, not because it polarized the community (well, it did because of PVP v PVE debate) but because of the fact that PVP is highly dynamic compared against instanced, semi-static content. A few times throughout the years, we highly promoted large-scale game world events organized by the community. Not because we knew this would create news on game sites, but large scale events tend to create the best memories, and thus – more content to post on a newsletter! Overall, we always had content, and always attempted to involve all aspects of our community. From ‘explorers’ to PVP, to ‘Thargoids’, to the world (lore) of Elite itself – we covered it while involving the community.

At a couple of points in 2016 and 2017, I had many of our players messaging me on Discord, the forums, and some contacted me via my work email address. All of them made something unique that we could post to the email newsletter, and sometimes to our social media channels. Much of the time, our lists were filled, back to back, week after week. We began posting many of the community items to our social media channels.

To this day, I recall our marketing lead stating that our newsletter had astoundingly high readership (Open Rate) and retention (Growth Rate) values. Something that is supposed to be in the 10-15% or less category, was substantially higher. Unfortunately, our mail analytics used at the time did not include granular data, such as how far content was scrolled down and read. I am sure that Comms Chatter, Community Events, and other community involvement content on our newsletters kept readership retention high, and kept a steady positive growth of our newsletters during the time between 2015 to 2018. The addition of “here’s what we’re working on” also helped keep folks interested in our newsletters. Overall, with Google Analytics, we could see an extremely high click-through rate from our newsletter blasts, especially on update days with users hitting the forums (guests and logged in users) via an email linking to the patch notes. There have been a few instances where an email blast crashed out the forums due to so much community hype beforehand (the F5 mashing was strong on those days!).

TLDR version: Involve your community early on, don’t let them become jaded and feel like a money-bag. Gain trust, build upon the basics, get them to bandwagon the news without making it obvious.