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Making Influencer Engagement Work - Part 1

Using influential people to promote your brand isn’t a new thing. Celebrity endorsements have been a go-to marketing tactic for as long as there have been celebrities and marketing. However, what we have seen over the course of the last ten years is a democratisation of influence. While footballers, film stars, and Kylie Jenner still hold a massive pulling power, in 2019 social media has allowed anybody to become influential. So brands are increasingly turning to YouTubers, Instagrammers and Twitch streamers to get their products in front of their chosen demographics.

Gaming has been at the forefront of this change. The 30 top gaming influencers have more than 340m subscribers across major gaming platforms (YouTube, Twitch, Caffeine, Facebook), and a recent report found that ‘social media and gaming’ is now the fourth most popular career choice for UK children aged 7-11 (5.7%), trumping the likes of the police, doctors, actors, and musicians.

However, as with most forms of emergent marketing, how to track influencer marketing’s true value effectively and accurately remains somewhat mysterious.

As well as looking more broadly at the influencer marketing sector, this two-part blog will also analyse our Old School RuneScape influencer marketing campaign and how, in conjunction with Google, we learned to accurately measure its outcomes.

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Levelling up – why influencer marketing is the order of the day

While influencer marketing is increasingly becoming one of the most cost-effective ways to reach a huge pool of potential customers, I would argue its most powerful characteristic is its authenticity. This is a broad generalisation, but essentially people trust people more than they trust brands. A recommendation from a friend, family member, or even just someone you’re familiar with will resonate far more than a brand delivered message.

Another great reason for using creators to market a product, particularly for a younger, tech-savvy audience are ad-blockers. One in four US internet users blocked ads in 2018, and that number is only rising – this poses a huge problem for traditional digital marketing. Step forward, influencer marketing. There are very few marketing methods as likely to gain the fixed and sustained attention of their audience. In a world of second-screen experiences where attentions are split, this is a particularly attractive proposition.

Forging a legacy – bringing a classic game to mobile

Our leading titles, medieval fantasy MMORPGs RuneScape and Old School RuneScape, have enjoyed a long and illustrious lifespan and are supported by passionate and incredibly dedicated communities. We’ve renowned for producing high quality PC games, but in October 2018 ventured into the unknown by bringing Old School to mobile. It was one of the first fully-fledged MMORPGs to feature cross-platform functionality and offer the same immersive experience on mobile and desktop.

More than 270 million accounts have been created across our games, but unsurprisingly for an 18-year-old game, many of these players have lapsed. Our task as a social and community team was to use mobile as an opportunity to bring back as many short and long-term lapsed players as possible. Influencer marketing seemed like an obvious choice to spearhead our efforts. We broke out our strategy as follows:

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One advantage our 18-year heritage gave us was the fact that many creators began their careers producing RuneScape content. This gave us the privileged opportunity to tell credible and emotive stories about their history with the game. Building this approach into a realistic timeline was the next step – we eventually decided on three phases to execute: launch, conversion, and re-heat.

  • Launch focused on making as much noise as possible upon the game’s release. We focused heavily on the nostalgia pillar.
  • Conversion aimed to use mid-sized creators with ardent follower-bases to change behaviour of those who may have seen initial messaging but had not yet downloaded the game. We activated these two to four weeks post-launch, and focused on portability and your game, your rules pillars to showcase additional reasons why gamers should get involved.
  • Re-heat used a combination of all the key pillars to keep Old School RuneScape Mobile fresh in the minds of the community. This initially focused on the period between one to six months post-launch, but based on the long-term positive impact of the campaign as a whole, this has been extended to nine months.

Measuring the impact of influencer marketing is a constant thorn in the side of anyone using influencer marketing, and it was no different for us. We attributed two main key performance indicators (KPIs) to our campaign, one focused on reach and brand awareness, and the other on conversion. Whilst we found later in the campaign that these KPIs often ran at odds with each other, these goals formed the basis of our success criteria – a £45 cost per thousand views (CPM) and £4.50 cost per install (CPI). These were comparable to our digital marketing benchmarks, and well within our positive return on investment (ROI) threshold.

Customise your character – choosing the right creators

Once we had a strategy and knew what we wanted to achieve, our focus shifted to the creators themselves.

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of influencer outreach, it’s worth identifying the internal resource you have available. Bear in mind that reviewing content is only part of the process – there are contracts that need to be drawn up and signed, payment plans to put in place, liaison requirements between influencers and their agents… It’s a massive time-drain with some really quire specific knowledge requirements. If you’re looking to create a campaign at scale, the time required to get it right can be a deal breaker for some.

We had the budget, but not the internal resource required to do the job properly, so we employed an agency to help us with outreach (there are also influencer search and liaison platforms for those who perhaps have more internal resource, but not enough to do a campaign all by themselves).

Choosing a creator can be a minefield. It’s important that you know what ‘hard’ characteristics you’re looking for (demographics of audience, viewership, engagement) and ‘soft’ characteristics (tone of audience engagement, game experience, how they present sponsored content) are most important to you. It’s usually best-practice to search by hard characteristics and validate using softer characteristics.

Our demographics were 18-30 year-old males based in English-speaking countries. We wanted influencers who were either playing or had played RuneScape and had an engaged, positive audience.

Once you’ve identified potential partners it’s important to think some things through before you agree to specific creatives and costs:

  • Do your diligence. Whilst someone’s numbers may look impressive, it’s important to pay attention to the right metrics and drill down deeper into their channel. Is their engagement growing, or have they stagnated? How do they present sponsored content, and how does their community react to it? Do they have an engaged, long-term, familiar community, or are their follower-base more transient? Here’s where the softer metrics and extra validation become all-important. Not paying attention to their tone and approach – and, most importantly, their follower relationships – can be fatal.
  • Give offer creative freedom to the creator. As marketers, trained to construct highly-refined messaging and tone, relinquishing creative control can be scary. When you’re stumping up money and the pressure is on, this can be even more difficult. But remember – creators are, by definition, generally highly-creative individuals. They can probably can put a spin on a brief that you’ve not even thought of. This is why they are increasingly successful and your traditional methods are not. Let them do their thing. Creators know their audience much better than you do, so can talk to them in a way that is authentic and doesn’t sound like marketing (even if it is so). To limit your risk, insist on two rounds of feedback in your contract – in case the final product is not quite what you were looking for.
  • Negotiate! As with any content pitch from an agency, there is generally room for manoeuvre from the initial price quoted, from a creator’s agent or the creator themselves. So, to limit your risk, there are multiple approaches you can take. You can get ‘added value’, such as additional social posts to supplement your content, or promotion within future/previous content, or you can try a ‘tiered’ approach based on viewing figures (although generally creators will not accept a fee based on cost-per-action).
  • Align activations with other marketing activities. There can be a temptation to isolate influencer activations from other marketing activities for trackability purposes. However, it is rarely as effective when detached. For mobile gaming in particular, where App and Play Store algorithms are based on downloads over a short space of time, you can massively increase the halo effect and bring in additional (albeit nigh impossible to track) organic downloads by ranking higher as a result of a sudden influx of people playing your game.

Your choice of creators will likely define the success of your campaign, so giving yourself enough time to engage in the process properly will much improve your chances of success. During the course of the Old School RuneScape Mobile initiative, our agency identified a longlist of creators that fitted the bill but even then, validating them took two members of staff around 2-3 days of work each.

In Part 2 of this blog we will look at executing the plan and the challenges of measuring its success.