Sam Dalsimer, Senior PR Manager, offers advice collected from industry experts about why independent game developers need to learn about influencer marketing and how they can get started.

If you’re an independent mobile game developer, the deck is stacked against you. It is becoming more difficult than ever to stand out and succeed in the mobile market. You face steep competition and heavy spending on marketing from well-funded publishers. User acquisition (UA) costs have risen to an unsustainable level. That’s why it is very important for developers to explore new avenues of marketing in an arena where you can compete without a multi-million dollar marketing budget.

So what can an independent mobile game developer do now to make sure they give their game the best shot at success? Get familiar with influencer marketing. For game developers, this means working with streamers and content creators on YouTube, Twitch, and Mobcrush. We talked to some of the industry’s leading experts about working with influencers to find out what you need to know.

Andy Rosenberg

Why Do I Need to Think About Influencers?

The audience you’re targeting with a mobile game has expanded dramatically beyond the old conception of a gamer. If you want to be an effective marketer you need to understand who this audience is, where they find information, and how they consume content. The next generation of gamers gets their information from social media more than they do from traditional media.

“[Influencer marketing] shouldn’t just be part of your plans, it should be at the top of your plans. YouTube, Twitch, and now Mobcrush and Kamcord are the first destination gamers go to now to get their information on games,” said Andy Rosenberg, Head of Marketing and Partner Relations at Roostr, a performance-based influencer marketing network for mobile games.

This change in content consumption habits has led to the rise of influencers that mobile game marketers now need to adapt to. Famebit is an influencer marketing network that understands this shift as a youth-driven movement. Matt Bruen, Famebit’s Head of Brand Partnerships said, “If you look at the general trends in content digestion, the younger audience is more frequently not watching TV and not active on Facebook. YouTubers and influencers on Instagram and Snapchat are the new micro-celebrities and influencer marketing allows advertisers to tap into these audiences.”

How Do I Start Working with Influencers?

It starts by getting your feet wet in the content. Pick a few YouTubers and Twitch streamers that play games you like or games that are similar to your own and start watching their videos. Browse the comments on their videos and the chat logs on their streams. This will give you a sense of how their audience thinks, what they like about the creator, and what kind of content they respond to. It is important to pair the right content (your game) with the right influencer and the only way to do this well is to spend time getting to know their style.

AndyLunique

Andy Lunique

Andy Lunique is the former Influencer Relations Manager at Sandbox Strategies. His advice is to “Look for content that matches the genre of the game you are looking to promote… recognize that there are literally thousands of options to go with. Ignore the top tier influencers at first. The moment you only focus on the “Top 20″ YouTube creators or streamers, you’re in the wrong state of mind.”

Networks like Famebit and others can help you go beyond looking for content fit and give you demographic data of a YouTube channel’s audience, which allows you to select partners to work with based on their audience’s gender and age breakdown. If you know what market your game is targeted to, this type of data makes the process of choosing influencers much easier.

Once you’ve identified a short list of content creators you want to work with, the next step is to approach them. There is a wide range of influencers from the top tier who have managers and a listed business contact email you can use, to the semi-professionals who handle their own negotiations, down to the amateurs who may not list any contact info or have any experience working with game developers.

Lunique advises, “Learn the correct approach to influencers… Twitter, Discord, email, and Skype are all methods you might use in order to speak with an influencer. Respect their preferred method without being invasive. Avoid speaking in open chat on a stream or in the comments section. You’ll find more success approaching them with opportunities in private.”

To Pay or Not to Pay: Organic vs. Sponsored Content

A key decision you will have to make is whether to pursue organic (earned) or sponsored (paid) content. This comes down to whether you have a marketing budget to allocate to influencers, and what reach you want to achieve. How much you have to spend depends on what you’re asking for and the size of their audience. It’s a two-way street – you’re giving them content they can monetize and they’re giving you the exposure you need. Larger influencers demand higher prices and may only consider sponsored content deals, while smaller streamers may be more open to streaming your game in exchange for early success.

When it comes to mobile games, it doesn’t make sense to spend marketing dollars on sponsored content before a game is live globally. But it does make sense to pursue organic influencer coverage during your game’s development and especially during your soft launch phase. This allows you to build awareness and community at low cost (with high effort). Lunique warns, “Many people assume they have to open up their wallets right away to get involved; this isn’t always the case.”

Remember that you’re not just asking the influencer for something. You have something to offer them besides money. You’re giving them content their audience will enjoy, you’re giving them early access that others don’t have, and you’re giving them a direct line of communication with the developers for any questions or support needs. What else can you offer that gives them value? Custom in-game content? Prizes for their audience?

Eventually there will come a time when you will have to consider opening the wallet and paying for sponsored content, especially if you want to work with larger influencers with massive reach. At this point it is advisable to consider working with an established influencer network like Famebit or Roostr. These networks provide value by giving you access to their existing relationships and handling the length process of negotiation and contract agreements. They know the influencers, they know the rates and they will help ensure things go smoothly. You can try to arrange sponsored content on your own, but this depends on the size of your team and how much time you can devote to the process. The time-saving advantage of working with a network allows you to focus more on making your game great.

Measuring Results

In this UA-driven, data-minded mobile economy, marketers and game developers will wonder how effective their influencer marketing really is. If you care deeply about measuring ROI of every marketing dollar you spend, influencer marketing may not be for you. Think about influencer marketing as a mix of performance marketing and brand marketing. Your goal is to generate downloads but you also benefit from brand awareness and association with the influencer. An interstitial ad from your UA campaign has little to no emotional impact on the viewer, but a viewer watching their favorite YouTuber play your game can make a lasting emotional connection. There is also long tail value in a YouTube video because it’s permanent and remains visible in search results over time.

With sponsored content, the most common arrangement is a flat fee model where you pay a fixed amount of money. What you get in return is negotiable and can range from a series of dedicated videos all about your game, to a single segment within a longer video. It’s important to work with the creator to come up with content that will appeal to their audience. Not all sponsored content is equal. It works best when it feels organic and natural because the creator plays similar games and has advised you on what will resonate with their viewers. Of course all sponsored content must be clearly noted as such and the sponsor must be disclosed.

If you’re not comfortable paying  flat fee to the creator, there are alternatives. Roostr works with creators on a CPI model, where they get paid for each install they generate for your game. This aligns interests well between sponsor and creator while giving them an incentive to create great content. This method allows greater tracking and accountability for the ROI of your influencer budget and is more like paid UA.

Generally you will want to pay attention to a few metrics including:

  • subscriber/follower totals
  • video views
  • likes/thumbs up
  • engagement via comments and clicks
Matt Bruen

Matt Bruen

Use a unique tracking URL in the video description so that you get some sense of how many clicks and downloads your video or stream is getting. But keep in mind that not everything is captured. Viewers may hear about your game from a YouTuber and then decide to download it a few days later. Famebit’s Matt Bruen offers this comparison: “YouTube in particular is a bit of a blend between traditional TV advertising and digital marketing. Advertisers can obtain some attribution by using trackable links… but there will always be non-attributable value provided by the campaign. Companies spend millions of dollars on TV commercials with no attribution. At least with YouTube, there is some visibility into performance.”

Succeeding Long-Term

These days you frequently see mainstream society confounded by the rise of YouTubers and streamers. “Get a real job,” is a frequent reaction to seeing these folks make a living off playing games. If you start from that viewpoint, you’re already at a disadvantage. Roostr’s Rosenberg emphasizes this point which is critical for those who are new to this space: “Get with the times, or fall drastically behind. Developers must understand that creators on YouTube and streamers on Twitch go to great lengths to build up successful channels. Their hard work is reflected in the content they produce. Influencer marketing is the most authentic form of mobile game marketing because creators are not only entertainers, but players first.”

Game developers, now is the time to start preparing your influencer marketing strategy. Dedicate time and staff to this effort. Treat it as a critical part of your long-term success. The relationships you build and the knowledge you acquire in this process will improve your game’s chances of success and help separate you from the competition.

This post originally appeared on Pocketgamer.biz