How to structure an indie influencer campaign

Over the last few years, influencers have radically changed the marketing space for video games. Although traditional gaming media is far from obsolete, the power of influencers has proven to be a dominant force in an industry that continues to grow year on year. If you’re marketing a game in 2019 it’s certainly recommended you considered the impact and implementation of influencers in your strategy.

That’s not to suggest that every game needs to be supported by an influencer marketing campaign. For some games, this approach might not be suitable. But any robust marketing plan should be taking influencer marketing into account – even to simply analyse the impact of user-generated coverage, which you might have no control over.

Paid or gained

Once you’ve decided that an influencer campaign would work well for your game, you should begin to plan out the structure that campaign will take. One of the first things you need to consider is the budget. You could run a purely paid influencer campaign, an earned media campaign, or a combined approach that utilises both styles.

Each of these approaches has its benefits, the most obvious difference being cost. A paid campaign means the influencers are given money in exchange for a guarantee of coverage. This works by setting a budget and then either enlisting the help of an influencer agency or directly approaching influencers with offers yourself. Most developers would need to use an influencer agency to make this work as legal contracts may be involved.

The best thing about a paid campaign is that you can make the content highly targeted and it’s guaranteed to happen. That way you can focus on making the game and rest assured that everything will be planned for you. The downside is, of course, cost – influencer campaigns can range anywhere between a couple of thousand to tens of thousands depending on what level of coverage you’re looking for.

Alternatively, you could run an earned media campaign, which would involve identifying potential influencers, sending them your game, and encouraging people to cover it over a period of time. The upside of this is that it’s probably cheaper, in a monetary sense at least. Although you’re not paying anyone to play your game, it is going to be immensely time-consuming to try and encourage people to cover it for free. This approach would also require some skill in PR communications as well.

Of course, there’s also the option of utilising a combination of the two approaches – maybe opting to pay an agency to run a primary campaign and doing some work towards securing earned media yourself. Ultimately, designing a robust strategy within the confines of your budget is going to be the most effective process. It’s in the strategy phase where a PR and marketing specialist is invaluable, for a both paid or earned campaign. If you don’t have someone with this specialist knowledge on your team already, and have budget constraints, you may find this step difficult.

Join the queue

Time is paramount in an influencer campaign, more so than most other forms of marketing in the video game space. With that in mind, one thing you are going to need before you begin to structure an influencer campaign is a clear timeline that takes content creators’ availability into account. Many influencers work months in advance due to busy schedules, so if you want your game to be featured on their channels you need to start discussing it as early as possible. Three months would be ideal, but having at least two to find and approach influencers is a minimum. Whether that be through an agency or direct. If there’s one thing you’ll always hear marketers say it’s ‘start early’, and they’re right.

Of course, this means you’ll have to factor in when you’ll be able to get a playable build over to any influencers. If you want coverage to coincide with the launch of your game, then most influencers are going to need at least two months to plan, create and schedule that content. Sending them your game the day it comes out asking them to play it is generally not going to work. Paid or earned, start the conversation early.

Should you set an embargo?

This is an area that indie developers often struggle with, but it’s a crucial part of an influencer strategy. Although an embargo isn’t essential, it’s going to help you control the promotion of your game so you can focus the impact. You might have heard the argument against embargos proclaiming that content creators are going to be a lot more likely to cover your game if they have fewer restrictions. There’s no evidence to support this but it’s obviously going to be easier to set an embargo in place with a paid campaign. With an earned media approach you may struggle to coordinate content as rigorously.

Ultimately, this is about setting the goals of your campaign to align with your overall strategy. If you’re working on a launch campaign, then it seems logical that you’re going to want to focus exposure around when the game releases. Setting an embargo, or a period for outreach to begin is going to help you do that.

The notion of promotion

An influencer campaign doesn’t stop the day the content goes out. No matter whether it is a paid or earned media campaign you have to go beyond the content itself and take advantage of the opportunities at hand. Influencer campaigns are more than just promotional videos, or streams; many are specifically targeted at a community interested in a particular genre or product. With an engaged community watching your game be played, it would make sense to engage them further. Liaise with content creators to share their videos through social media channels and promote the content in a similar fashion yourself. Give the influencers you work with game codes and merchandise to share with their audience. Set up competitions and make the most of the engaged social communities that support the majority of content creators.

Overall, paid or earned, structuring an influencer campaign is all about exposing a key target audience to your game in an entertainment-based setting. The campaign should strive to find the right influencers that fit your niche and a target audience that will be interested at a time that offers maximum opportunity in your strategy. The ideal situation, of course, is that a video goes viral and other content creators pick up the game. That rarely happens organically, though, and often, behind the latest YouTube or Twitch sensation, there’s a robust marketing strategy at work.