It’s been a while since I’ve had chance to post on here – so I thought I’d drop in a summary from the conclusion of my final year dissertation on the topic – ‘How has the role of a PR practitioner in the video games industry chance since the advent of social media?’
The role of a PR communicator has had to adapt to embrace the challenges social media presents; it could be argued that the role of a PR practitioner is very different to how it was perceived two years ago, as audiences, communications channels and the individuals that require influencing have evolved dramatically. This dissertation’s research proved that nowhere is this truer than in the video games industry.
Video gaming is an industry that has had to adapt particularly quickly to the development of the social customer; the secondary research of my dissertation demonstrated that the average gamer is much more aware of technological advancements, and also is much more dependent on and attached to the Internet. The video games industry also experienced rapid growth at the same time as social media, inviting an influx of these technology adept customers into a new arena. The industry has had the chance to learn from the mistakes made by other industries, such as the hesitance to embrace new technology and fear of the ‘amateur publisher’ as displayed by the music and film industries.
Interviews with individuals working within in industry have shown that large organisations are embracing the change to communications, and are already developing strategies to make use of the new emerging influencers, whose audience does not read magazines or broadsheets, but instead consumes video, news feeds, blogs and social channels. These online influencers have a symbiotic relationship with games publishers, and are given content, titles and access to events in return for exposure of the brand they have built up a connection with. The relationship of an influencer is seen as just as powerful as that of a journalist; these individuals are therefore just as important to the communicators working within the industry, who now have to recognise that their tactics and outreach strategy has changed from simply accessing a journalist database, to connecting with individuals online.
Channel management has also begun to form a large part of the role of the video games PR practitioner. Facebook and YouTube provide companies with an effective way of engaging and building up a relationship with a huge audience of both existing and potential communicators, and also provide the brand with a way of putting across a more local and personal front, as well are providing a creative and engaging way of allowing consumers to engage with campaigns.
These channels have also provided ways for companies to combat the issues of the ‘pre-owned market’ as discussed in the literature review. Rather than being viewed exclusively as a threat to the industry, these consumers can now be engaged on social channels and relationships can be formed, increasing brand loyalty and turning a one off ‘trade-in’ customer into a long-term high value customer.
Each channel also presents its own potential outcomes, each with advantages and disadvantages; research showed that though Twitter was more time consuming and required more constant monitoring, it also was the most successful form of communicating with fans and journalists for video games PR practitioners.
With the importance of channel management comes the role of online monitoring and measurement, vital to proving the business value of social media. Whereas offline media measures coverage pieces and AVE, social media measurement has had to create a new way to validate its use within a company and demonstrate that it adds value to the bottom line. Secondary research demonstrated the reasons for social media monitoring, including reputation management for a brand, tracking campaigns, audience insights, business insights and identifying the ever important influencers discussed above. The quantitative and qualitative primary research identified the methods those within the industry used for measuring social media; quality was seen as more important that quantity, and individual metrics included sentiment, growth and effectiveness.
Research has also demonstrated that social media can bring huge benefits to both large titles and smaller indie developer games too. Though those in the industry said both types of games stand to gain from social media support, it is the smaller lower budget titles such as Katherine, the ‘long tail’ as discussed in the literature review, that can truly reap the rewards of social media.
The benefits of social media also bring the potential challenges and threats to brand reputation. Research demonstrated that a strong crisis communications plan is paramount to companies hoping to build strong online reputation; social channels are the first place the online community will turn to air their opinions and launch attacks. However, with the right brief and a strong strategy in place, an online communications crisis can be turned into a platform to demonstrate to customers that the organisation is listening to customer opinion and doing everything in its power to address their concerns and answer their feedback and fears in real time, something that was never possible before.
Overall, social media is seen as adding to the responsibility and role of a communicator in the video games industry, but at the same time giving a level of one-to-one engagement with customers not previously possible, providing a higher level of feedback and customer service. Though the field is still relatively new, robust measurement systems have already been developed to demonstrate how social media engagement translates into sales, proving its business worth. As online media becomes increasingly important, it is likely the amount of time a PR communicator in the video games industry dedicates to social media will increase, bringing with it the increasing value of two-way communication and a new model of conversation with the target audience.