Influencers have become a key part of the games industry in a very short amount of time.
The PR industry has evolved dramatically in the past 10 years and online marketing and distribution has become more favourable than ever.
With an array of free tools, a huge concentration of content creators and a saturation of social influencers, a new game - or indeed any product - could be the recipient of a huge buzz without you having to spend a penny.
Journalist and industry stalwart Stuart Dredge has written a comprehensive introduction to influencer marketing, explaining how to do it, how much to spend, and the tools you should be using to create an effective campaign.
What is influencer marketing and why are people doing it?
The easiest definition of influencer marketing is that it’s brands paying popular users of social networks, apps and online-video services to promote their products.
That may be as simple as paying a few YouTubers or Instagrammers to attend a press launch and post about it, through to sponsoring their videos or commissioning them to create videos for the brand’s own social-media channels, and on to launching co-branded products together – from games to makeup.
The roots of this come from the advertising industry’s concerns that fewer people – and specifically fewer young people – are seeing traditional advertising. They’re listening to less radio and watching less broadcast television, and they’re either tuning out or actively blocking ads on the internet.
But they ARE spending a lot of time watching, commenting and sharing content on service like YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter, where a new generation of gamers, vloggers and beauty/lifestyle experts have been building significant followings.
These social stars’ post and videos won’t get blocked by ad-blocking tools, but brands’ desire to channel marketing through them isn’t just about that. These ‘influencers’ really are influential in their spheres.
This is not a new realisation for the media industry. In August 2014, Hollywood bible Variety reported on a survey of 13 to 18 year-old Americans about the celebrities who were most influential for them. The top five were all YouTube stars: Smosh, the Fine Brothers, PewDiePie, KSI and Ryan Higa ranking ahead of the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Katy Perry and Vin Diesel.
A year later, when the survey was repeated, YouTubers made up eight of the top 10 in Variety’s rankings, with gamers hogging the top three slots: KSI, PewDiePie and VanossGaming. Also in 2015, a survey commissioned by digital-video firm Defy Media claimed that 63% of 13 to 24 year-olds would try a product or brand recommended by a YouTube star, compared to 48% who said they’d try one recommended by a TV or film star.
(As a caveat, this shows one of the other notable characteristics of the influencer marketing world: that many of the positive studies about it have been commissioned by companies who are very much part of that space. That doesn’t mean they’re useless if conducted properly, but a healthy pinch of salt when parsing the results can come in handy.)
In any case, the driving factors behind the growth of influencer marketing are the suspicion that younger ‘millennials’ aren’t seeing and/or aren’t as receptive to traditional advertising; that the stars they look up to are more likely to be on YouTube and social apps than on TV; and that their spending power – more than $600bn a year in the US alone according to Accenture – makes it worth funnelling marketing spend towards those digital influencers.
What are the key platforms for influencer marketing?
In short, any online-video service or social network / app where people have significant followings.
The key platforms in the west right now are YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. In fact, the vast majority of social stars will have a presence on all of these, meaning that influencer marketing campaigns increasingly stretch across several platforms, rather than focusing on just one.
The dynamics of which platform is most in favour are constantly changing, according to their attitude towards influencers, and the features that they launch. In 2017, for example, one trend appears to be Snapchat losing its lustre for influencers, who are gravitating towards Instagram instead.
In May, AdWeek surveyed 600 social influencers about their platform preferences, finding that almost every one had a blog plus active Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest accounts. 55% had a YouTube channel while 30% were on Snapchat.
Yet 70% of the influencers said they’d put at least one platform “on pause” to focus on others – with 46% saying Snapchat would be their first choice to pause in this way.
There is no single dominant platform though. 28% of the influencers said Instagram is their most important platform for their personal brands; 26% said Pinterest; 24% said their own blog; and 14% said Facebook. Nobody said Snapchat.
Meanwhile, 86% said that blogging was their top way to make money, with 50% saying Instagram was their second-biggest source of income, and 43% saying Facebook.
For brands, effective influencer marketing is increasingly about choosing the right stars to work with across several platforms, rather than focusing on just one service.
How much is being spent on influencer marketing?
Hard stats on the size of the global influencer marketing market are hard to come by, especially if you have that pinch of salt handy for bold estimates provided by companies within the industry.
For example, influencer marketing agency Mediakix was saying in late 2015 that the annual spend on this area was already $500m, with the prospect of growing to between $5bn and $10bn within the next five years.
The company has since estimated that in 2017, Instagram influencer marketing alone will be a $1.07bn market.
In the independent research sector, eMarketer has estimated that Instagram influencer spend was more than $570m in 2016, while declining to make an estimate for overall influencer marketing revenues bar suggesting that “the space is likely a multibillion-dollar industry – and growing”.
The ‘growing’ part is a theme taken up by other studies. Marketing firm Linqia surveyed 170 American marketers in November 2016, and found that 48% of them were planning to increase heir influencer marketing budgets in 2017, while only 4% were planning to spend less on this channel.
How much does the average influencer marketing campaign cost?
How long is a piece of string? There is a huge variety of campaigns and relationships in this world already, meaning that boiling things down to average spends doesn’t tell that useful a story.
It depends on the influencers, the campaign, and the sector the brand is from, and the dynamics are changing all the time.
Some figures are available to provide snapshots. In March 2017, research firm Econsultancy surveyed fashion and beauty brands, finding that they spent between £20k and £40k per influencer marketing campaign in 2016.
In July 2017, Rakuten Marketing released the results of a study of influencer marketing costs in the UK, noting that on average, an influencer with at least 1m followers on Facebook can command just over £75k per post, compared to £67.2k for YouTube, £64.8k on Twitter, £60.5k on Instagram and £52.7k on Snapchat.
These figures may be optimistic: in June, Digiday suggested that it’s reasonable to pay around $1k per 100,000 followers on Instagram, with Snapchat’s lack of public follower metrics meaning campaigns are more likely to be price by active video views – from $500 for 1k to 5k views through to $10k to $30k for 50k to 100k views.
eMarketer has pointed out that some premium fashion brands have paid celebrity influencers more than £160k per post. Yet there is a parallel market here for “micro-influencers” with smaller followings, and more affordable rates.
The Rakuten study found average per-post costs for influencers with up to 10,000 followers on those platforms ranging from just over £1k on Snapchat to more than £1.5k on Facebook.
How do brands and companies choose influencers to work with?
If there’s a science to influencer marketing, it’s increasingly in how to identify the right stars to work with: particularly in campaigns using a patchwork of influencers.
In the early days of the industry, the methods were often rudimentary: Econsultancy found in 2016 that 84% of brands’ research was “carried out manually searching social media platforms and forums”. It was no surprise to find 73% of respondents to that survey admitting that identifying the right influencers was their biggest challenge.
It’s equally unsurprising that tools and companies have been emerging to help with that challenge. Social Blade, for example, tracks user statistics for YouTube, Twitch, Instagram and Twitter, enabling brands to enter an influencer name and get analytics on their social presence and even their estimated earnings.
Social marketing agency Social Circle has a platform called Social Valuation, which analyses the stats for more than 50,000 influencers and assigns each a value based on their engagement across the various channels, and their potential worth in marketing campaigns. This summer it opened up the platform to the wider industry.
British company Instrumental has developed a tool called TalentAI which sucks in data from YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, then uses machine-learning to identify influencers who are building engaged followings quickly, so that it can help brands get the most out of their influencer marketing spend.
Those are just three examples though. From Keymailer (which connects YouTubers and Twitch streamers with games publishers) to Fashion Monitor (which tracks fashion and beauty influencers) and platforms like Klear, BuzzSumo and Traackr, there are now a plethora of tools for identifying and filtering influencers by category and audience size.
Who are the other middlemen in the influencer marketing world?
For the first wave of YouTube stars, multi-channel networks (MCNs) were the key middlemen in relationships between brands and the social talent.
But over the last couple of years, many of the MCNs have gravitated towards being more digital producers, pitching shows and films with their roster of stars, rather than doubling down on the marketing side.
The large traditional talent agencies all have digital teams working with social stars – albeit at the most-popular end of the market – while lower down the management companies handling individual stars now often play a key role in negotiating the terms of relationships with brands.
2016 and 2017 has seen notable growth in the number of dedicated influencer marketing agencies promising to broker deals that give brands the best return on their investment.
The larger advertising industries are, sensibly, also eyeing this world with growing interest. Denstsu Aegis recently acquired a stake in Gleam Futures, the agency that works with British star like Zoella, while Havas has its own in-house influencer marketing division called Socialyse.
The network of relationships for an individual influencer can be an increasingly-complex diagram. Social star Caspar Lee has long been a client of Gleam Futures, but is also on the roster of Hollywood talent agency WME, and in August 2017 took a personal stake in influencer marketing agency Influencer, where he now holds the title of ‘chief innovation officer’.
What are the potential pitfalls with influencer marketing?
The most obvious is failing to get a decent return on investment: brands splashing money on an influencer marketing campaign with poorly-chosen stars, or (just as harmful) not having a strategy to turn the views and engagement of a campaign into a measurable impact for the brand, whether that be sales, awareness or another metric. But this is a familiar marketing challenge.
One of the pitfalls of influencer marketing that’s being discussed publicly in 2017 is the concern about ‘fake’ influencers using bots to inflate their followings, and thus secure marketing campaigns that their actual fanbases are not large enough to support.
Marketing firm Mediakix published results of an investigation in August that saw it create two fake accounts on Instagram, buying up to 15k followers at a time for a price of $3 to $8 per thousand followers. Both accounts then managed to secure paid deals with brans including a swimsuit company, an alcohol brand and a food/beverage firm.
The biggest concern around influencer marketing as it stands, though, is around regulation and disclosure. Influencer marketing may be an enticing alternative to other forms of advertising, but it does not sit outside the existing regulatory structures for that industry.
Boiling it down: any post or video that is being commercially supported by a brand must have that disclosed prominently, so that viewers understand that relationship. To put it politely, such disclosures have not always been made, or have been made in such a way – burying them below the ‘fold’ in a YouTube video’s description for example, or using a brand’s slogan as a hashtag – that it is not entirely clear that there’s a commercial relationship involved.
Advertising regulators are on the case, and have been for some time. In March 2017, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published new guidelines telling social influencers that “the content should make it obvious that it’s advertising as well as sticking to the general rules that require ads to be truthful, responsible and avoid causing harm or offence”.
In the US, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the relevant authority, having already settled a case with Warner Bros Home Entertainment over a campaign for its Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor game, where it failed to “adequately disclose that it paid online ‘influencers’ thousands of dollars to post positive gameplay videos on YouTube and social media”.
In April 2017, the FTC wrote to more than 90 influencers and brands reminding them of their responsibilities to disclose commercial relationships – and to do that prominently in posts and videos, rather than doing it towards the end of a post description (which may not be seen unless the viewer taps ‘more’) or as part of a long string of hashtags.
Stuart is a freelance journalist and blogger who's been getting paid to write stuff since 1998. In that time, he's focused on topics ranging from Sega's Dreamcast console to robots. That's what you call versatility. (Or a short attention span.)