Online gamers can provide brands with access to hard-to-reach audiences who no longer watch linear television and who actively use software to block online advertising. But how can you tap into this influence?
Felix Avrid Ulf Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie, is a Swedish gamer. He is also the most followed YouTuber in the world boasting 88 million subscribers.
He’s famed for his Let's Play videos - screen recordings of himself playing video games while providing voice-over commentary. And it pays well. Five of the top 10 highest paid YouTube stars in 2018 are gamers according to the business title, Forbes.
The 2018 global games market report by Newzoo sizes the gaming market at $137.9 billion (£107bn) revenue a year. Once considered the epitome of uncool today celebrities are keen to be seen playing games online. When Canadian rapper Drake played Fortnite against online gamer Ninja the Twitch-streamed battle attracted nearly a quarter of a million viewers. But, this audience size is small beer in comparison with the 7.8m YouTube views Ninja & Marshmello earned through their celebrity Pro-Am charity Fortnite battle.
Brands are capitalising on the popularity of these gamers. They provide access to hard-to-reach audiences who no longer watch linear television and who actively use software to block online advertising.
Best practice PR practitioners use a blend of third-party tools, individual know-how and shared experience to identify, vet and select the most appropriate gamers to work with on brand collaborations.
The process follows the 4S Filter of Search, Surface, Screen and Select. It starts with knowing where and why you are searching. This forms part of the planning phase - understanding who your audience is, what you want them to do, and how you are going to measure whether you have achieved your objectives.
“PR professionals identify gamers by searching who is talking online about relevant games or related terms, either via YouTube or Twitch, or by looking at who is streaming the game based on audience, ” says Evy Wilkins, VP of marketing at Traackr an influencer marketing platform.
Third party tools are used to search for then surface relevant influencers based on audience appeal, size of following and engagement levels. But, warns David Bryan director of partnerships at Fourth Floor - an influencer marketing agency specialising in the gamer industry - “third party tools should be used in parallel with your own expertise and judgement.”
The personal and collective contextual intelligence of the PR practitioner is particularly needed during the screen phase of the 4S Filter. This is the step where influencers are vetted against hard and soft measures including best-fit with clients in terms of values, tone-of-voice, adherence to disclosure rules, and any previous tie-ins with competitors.
Ultimately you can not ever completely remove the threat of reputational risk when working with any content creator. Influencers are humans and we all have tendencies to act dumb from time to time. Brands cannot immunise themselves from the chances of influencers making poor decisions. Brands can, however, greatly reduce the risk of such fracas fomenting.
“It’s essential for PR professionals to do their homework when evaluating an influencer by checking a gamer's previous posts to determine their style, assess their content and identify red flags. The more access to data and historical content you have, the stronger your analysis will be and the lower the risk,” explains Wilkins.
Agreeing on terms through an influencer agreement is an invaluable part of the process. This key document lays down important considerations such as the:
Michael Lister, Partner at law firm Harbottle & Lewis explains the contractual protections that brands can use:
"It’s important for brands who are engaging influencers to consider what contractual protections are available to them, as well as being careful to ensure that the applicable laws and regulations are complied with (e.g. ensuring that ads are identifiable as such) and that any content produced will be original and not infringing copyright.
"Allowing influencers the freedom to be creative and authentic needs to be balanced against the risk of reputational damage to the brand if the influencer ends up offending people or otherwise behaves in a way which creates liability for the brand or negative PR.
"Specific and detailed termination rights and the ability to suspend payment can be helpful, not just to provide the brand with a remedy to minimise potential harm to the brand image, but also to act as a deterrent in the mind of the influencer, ensuring that they think twice before taking risks with the brand.
"Take down rights will also be useful in minimising the impact of any negative or damaging posts and other content. Selection of influencers (and suitable agencies) is also important as it’s vital to understand the character and public persona of the relevant influencer and their track record. We find that a degree of due diligence and careful analysis of your contractual rights at the outset goes a long way to ensuring that issues won’t arise further down the line."
Gamers become influential through their ability to consistently create compelling content which resonates with their audience. When it comes to selecting which games to feature in their videos and live streams content creators know the type of content their followers like - and the sort they don’t care for. They do this by listening to feedback, responding to comments and by taking note of the analytics for each video. “Influencers have a decent sense of the market and about what games are going to be big” explains Bryan continuing “They then cross-reference this against what's going to work for their audience and their channel brand.”
Gamers also seek out trending keywords on Google to discover what games people are searching for. Directories offer another way to track games on the rise. “Networks like Twitch publish directories where you can see all of the games being streamed ranked by popularity where you can discover new up and coming or indie games,” offers Wilkins.
PR practitioners can achieve overwhelmingly positive sentiment for their clients from the influencers’ audience when the brand collaboration is handled in the right way. Return on investment is not confined to tracking sentiment, though.
There remains a pre-occupation with counting theoretical reach and engagement rates within the industry. This should give way to the more substantive metrics of intent and impact - tracking Indicators like click-through rates, the number of downloads achieved or sales made.
A version of this article first appeared in Influence magazine Q1 2019. Influence is the members' magazine of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).
Scott Guthrie is an influencer marketing strategist, event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.