Guild Guide: How to Properly Promote Your Guild
The old adage of "no publicity is bad publicity" is a bald-faced lie. You know it in your heart to be so. Sure, it sounds nice to think that any forms of publicity are equally helpful, but you know that odds are low you're going to join the guild whose members are constantly shouting obscenities in general chat, or the ones who advertise themselves with a regularity usually reserved for atomic clocks.
Of course, you also know you need to promote your guild, even if you're not doing so by swinging a yowling cat over your head and shouting about it on the regular. Sure, you may or may not to be recruiting right at this moment, but you still need people to know you exist or you'll be out of luck when you are recruiting again. This means you have a complex problem on your hand, a need to advertise along with a need to avoid being seen as annoying.
Yes, some of this comes down to managing how your group interacts with others who aren't among your members. But how do you advertise effectively? It probably comes as no surprise that there are tricks to it, and mastering them is well worth the time it takes.
Focus on tangible distinctions
When I play Final Fantasy XIV, I regularly see advertisements for guilds that have a laundry list of features - buffs always on, a stocked guild bank, plenty of players, voice chat servers, and so forth. And I always roll my eyes seeing them, because those things are not features. That's like advertising a car based on the fact that it has a windshield, headlights, and tires. You can argue (convincingly) that all of that is necessary, but you can't argue that it's unique.
When you're advertising your guild, you don't need to advertise things that everyone naturally assumes are present. Those offerings will take care of themselves. Instead, what you need to convince people is that you can offer something above and beyond the normal. Instead of making a four-line advertisement stuffed with the stuff every guild has, a one-line advertisement with one unique feature is more likely to stick with people.
Similarly, advertising a "great community" or "helpful players" isn't really an advertisement in and of itself; what you call a great community might not be what another player sees as great or even acceptable. Those are just words. Saying that you have a community focused on small-group content and scheduled runs for new players? That's an actual thing. That's something that you can check on and provide, something tangible. Just by focusing on actual things instead of buzzwords, you can make some extra impact.
Run open events
If I see a guild telling me "join up with us, we want more members," my eyes frequently glaze over. I can't help it, I see a lot of those. But if I see a guild in World of Warcraft offering sign-ups to people who want to run old Mythic raids for transmogs as an open event? Now my interest is piqued, even if I don't want to join that guild.
Open events are a great form of advertising, in part because you don't actually have to do any advertising. All you have to do is organize and run an event that happens to include strangers. You don't need to tell people about what your guild does, because you're showing them what you can do, welcoming people to take part in something fun while at the same time demonstrating your ability to handle it.
It's important to recognize the distinction here between advertising and recruiting; open events are worthwhile even if your group isn't recruiting at the moment. Indeed, outright ending open events with "now join our guild" is a good way to make the goodwill you earn evaporate quickly; players will feel like they've been held hostage for an advertisement. Instead, just run the event, thank people for coming, do the best you can, and then know that you left a positive impression on people when they are looking for a guild.
Of course, running these events also requires a certain critical mass of people, so it's not always easy to do in the earliest stages of a guild's development. But it is worth the effort put forth.
Be active and visible
Passive advertisement can often be as effective as outright advertisement, if not more so. This is the same principle as the open events mentioned above; if your guild is running something that people attend and like, they're more likely to remember your guild positively. Just being active and helpful in the community of your game can often build up significant word of mouth alone.
Obviously, not everyone can be a top-level theorycrafter or run dozens of events per month, but even just taking part in discussions and being friendly can make a significant impact. Being active on a community site is an excellent way to keep your guild's name out and notable without having to rely on shouting about yourself.
Of course, it comes with a caveat - just like in-game, anyone with your guild tag is representing your guild as a whole. If the people passively advertising your guild are contentious, nasty, or cruel, that's what everyone will assume your guild as a whole is like, even if that's not true. A bit of caution is well-advised, as a result.
If maintaining an active presence is a bit much, many official sites for online games have forums specifically dedicated to advertisements; posting a detailed advertisement that gets edited and bumped for major changes can often be a good form of quiet notification for people who are looking. As with the first point, you should be focusing on things your guild has that are unique rather than universal, but the core remains the same.
When you have to shout, do it quietly
MMORPGs almost always have guilds shouting their advertisements in cities. As discussed above, you want to do so in a way that focuses on what you do rather than generic traits, but there's another important aspect: not trying to shout over anyone.
Place your advertisement in the intended chat channel, and then leave. Don't do that again for another fifteen minutes at least, preferably half an hour to an hour. Enough time so that people are likely to see it, but not so often that it's constantly buried in waves of chat. If the chat is super active, consider waiting and coming back at another time to advertise.
Again, what you want here is for people to know you're around, not to be annoyed with your constant begging for members. Spacing out your advertisements helps accomplish that. It keeps your presence in the minds of those watching, but it does so in a way that suggests you're calm about it. You're not begging, you're just asking people to come over, without any real urgency to it.
There are, of course, no certainties. It can be difficult for advertisements to reach the people you want. But if you're trying to do so the right way, you can at least be certain that you're not alienating the people you're trying to attract.