The Influence of Influencers

The term influencer is something that has become ubiquitous within online marketing over the past few years, particularly with regard to video games, with streaming platforms such as YouTube and Twitch dominating the online space. Any conversations you’ll hear around marketing and PR for games these days will no doubt involve some mention of the benefit of influencers. So, what does that mean if you’re trying to promote an indie game?

Why influencers matter for indie game PR and marketing

With live streaming increasingly becoming a part of people’s everyday life, and the popularity of video content causing a notable shift in media consumption, it seems influencers will become a permanent fixture in marketing strategies moving forward. It’s easy to see the benefits in someone like Markiplier playing your game on his channel in front of millions of viewers. He has an established fan base and has built up a level of trust with his audience, but, in reality, the chance of most indie games making the cut is unlikely.

With hundreds of emails landing in their inboxes each and every day (and most probably filtered out by an agent or manager), there’s a real challenge in managing the relationships you have with influencers and making sure they represent your game in the way you want it to be seen. But an often unspoken challenge is ensuring that the influencers you reach out, and the audiences they possess, to are a genuinely good fit for your game.

Choosing the right influencer

Rockfish Games’ co-founder Michael Schade, recently speaking at the Reboot Develop conference in Croatia, highlighted the dangers of selecting the wrong influencers to promote your work. Schade’s team reportedly paid €5,000 an hour for a prominent streamer to broadcast their game, Everspace who Schade reportedly went on to say was ‘shit at playing the game’. In fact, Schade claimed that only three or five of the 20 YouTubers and influencers that were involved with the game worked out and said the rest were either just ‘OK, or a disaster,”. So, selecting the right influencers from the offset or being involved in that process if you’re using an agency could save you time and money down the line.

Choosing influencers isn’t exactly an easy process. It requires exhaustive research and a deep understanding of how content creators and streamers work. As a start, you’ll want to pick influencers with an audience that fit your game. This seems like a simple step, but as the example laid out above demonstrates, even people with marketing experience don’t always get it right. Watch their videos, look at the previous games they’ve covered and evaluate the kind of reaction you think your game would get on their channel.

Next you’ll want to consider what kind of a following they have. For instance, a YouTuber with 43 subscribers is going to be of little value to you. Similarly, a channel with tens of thousands of subscribers yet very few views per video implies that their audience might not be that dedicated, or even genuine. You’re looking for consistency, in terms of quantity, views and engagement.

The approach

Once you’ve established an influencer you’d like to work with it’s time to approach them with an offer. Getting the correct emails can be a challenge in itself if you don’t have access to a PR list, but, particularly with the mid-range influencers, you may get a response.

It’s at this point you should really know your goals and how they align with your marketing budget. If you have a budget of zero (which isn’t ideal, but, you know, we get it) it’s best to be clear about this from your initial communications. You can simply introduce them to your game and see if they’d be interested in covering it; the rest is in their hands. Alternatively, if you do have a marketing budget you can start looking at your options for reaching influencers through PR channels and even directly paying them for promotional content. Caution is advised here though, as the influencer market is still in its infancy and getting ripped off or misled is unfortunately commonplace. The best advice is to either work through agencies that manage influencers, or only reach out to reputable content creators that have some element of trust in the industry.

The benefits of micro-influencers

It doesn’t just stop at major influencers though. ‘Micro-influencers’ are not huge personalities with millions of followers, but everyday people with small but  highly engaged audiences usually focused on a specific subject, such as indie games. Research on platforms such as Instagram has shown that engagement hits its peak around the 1,000 follower mark and as an account’s followers move beyond the 10,000 point it in fact starts to dramatically decrease. There are also several other benefits of working with micro-influencers you might want to consider, which are especially relevant to indie developers with limited budgets.

First and foremost, the cost is significantly cheaper with micro-influencers generally offering much better engagement levels for the cost. Trust is also an important aspect of what makes micro-influencers so appealing, as it’s generally accepted that there is a close relationship with an audience that relates to an influencer and the effect that has on purchasing decisions. People tend not to trust bigger accounts or celebrities. There are also a lot more accessible lines of contact to less widely known personalities that might not register on a global level but have considerable sway in their particular niche. As have a direct line of contact can often be the hardest step. And finally, they can offer a chance to reach a highly defined audience that, if suitable for your game, can translate into a sales return that greatly exceeds the marketing cost thus offering value for money.

Worth the cost?

This should lay out some of the basic approaches to utilising influencers to promote your indie game. In short, find a content creator that fits your audience, do your research and negotiate an agreement that is mutually beneficial for both parties. Exercise a degree of caution when people start by asking for upfront payments and consult with other people in the industry to get an idea of what is a reasonable price. It’s hard to define a clear cost structure for influencer marketing due in part to a general lack of transparency on the creator’s side and because of the wide variety in scale and scope each campaign presents.

All this said, it’s pretty clear the benefits influencers can offer to indie game developers and PR agencies. The business of influencers is still very much in its infancy and has a lot of room for growth, but the potential it has already shown in promoting games is undeniable. Contrary to popular belief traditional PR still holds a large amount of power in the video game industry, but the influence of influencers is growing year on year and the role they play in indie game PR and marketing campaigns is becoming ever more important.

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