How Gaming Companies Overvalue Large Influencers

Influencer. It’s a term we seem to hear daily now and, as it relates to gaming, it can be a large portion of what you interact with on social media sites, YouTube, Twitch, and more. In some cases, companies have begun to rely on influencers even more than traditional marketing campaigns. This is due to the initial return on investment that was realized as the segment grew. But is that still the case? How does relying on influencers impact a gaming brand, and how does that influencer’s audience affect that impact? I dove into the data, and reached out to several statistical contacts to try and unravel it all.

Before diving into the research, it’s good to understand the details around the term influencer. An influencer is simply someone who can influence others’ buying behavior (via social media platforms in this case). As is all too common in today’s gaming industry, you’ll see major brands, developers, and publishers utilizing influencers to spread awareness of a product. This could be a console, a game, or a piece of merchandise. Diving deeper into the term influencer, there are classifications to be aware of. They typically break down into three categories.

  • Mega influencer. This is typically a celebrity who actively engages with more than one million followers.
  • Macro influencer. This is typically a very popular member of a specific community or niche.
  • Micro influencer. This is typically a member of a community who has gained notoriety for having knowledge on a specific topic. These can be as small as someone having one-thousand followers.

Though, even the above is evolving. British Agency, PMYB, has trademarked the named “Chromo-Influencers” for people who have become influencers purely through “social media” means which can include blog posts, YouTube videos, streams, and podcasts. “Nano Influencers” are also beginning to be researched as despite typically having less than 1,000 followers on a specific platform, they drive extremely high levels of engagement on a particular topic.

Influencer marketing is growing year over year, and when combined with the growth of the gaming industry, they go hand-in-hand. The value of influencer marketing in a particular industry or segment is designated by the acronym IMV (Influencer Media Value), and generally speaking the IMV of gaming influencers is very high. In a recent poll, 89% of marketing companies saw a higher ROI with influencer marketing than traditional campaigns, and overall influencer spend is expected to grow to nearly $14 billion in 2021. That would represent an 800%+ increase in just five years.

The key with influencer marketing is engagement. And generally speaking, engagement with influencers is higher than traditional marketing campaigns. Though the data is in its relative infancy, companies have found upwards of 11 times the ROI with influencers as they have with traditional marketing. Thus for marketing leaders with set budgets, it goes without saying that a larger percentage of their budget is being allocated towards influencers than ever before.

As it relates to the gaming community, mega influencers are few and far between. While we’ve certainly seen a fair share of celebrity endorsements and marketing campaigns for major titles, it’s not nearly as prevalent as other industries. For every Ninja, there are tens of thousands of smaller influencers which are a broader focus for gaming companies today as they generally engage with a more specific audience. With that in mind, I want to focus on the macro and micro influencer segments.

Macro influencers have become all the rage, particularly on platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch. It’s difficult to even visit these sites without running into countless videos and/or posts speaking to product viability or brand promotion. And at first glance, this is an obvious choice for companies as the analytics seemingly back up the investment, with macro influencers generating more engagement (likes, comments, etc…) simply due to their larger following.

What’s most interesting though, as the data on this segment matures, is that macro-influencers positive impact has often been overstated. While it’s rather easy to follow the higher follower numbers and presume a greater initial impact, in reality micro-influencers tend to generate far higher levels of engagement per interaction, while also being considered more trustworthy. The data on this is exceedingly clear and can be found in many areas (though here is one reference).

  • 82% of micro influencers are considered trustworthy versus only 30% for macro influencers.
  • Micro influencers on average generate 47% more engagement.
  • 72% of people “prefer” micro influencers.
  • Along these same lines, a survey by Uproar, found that the majority of respondents’ favorite influencer had less than 30,000 followers, with 30% having less than 10,000 followers.

A study conducted by came to the following conclusion when determining where a company’s investment is best made:

It’s clear that the benefits of working with micro-influencers outweigh those of macro-influencers. Based on this comparison, you can see that micro-influencers are the rising stars of the influencer marketing space. They are more cost-effective to work with, generate more engagement, are more relevant, and are seen as authentic and trustworthy.

All of these qualities make up for their low reach. You can always partner with a greater number of micro-influencers if you want to generate more reach and also engage users at the same time.

Generally speaking, the larger the audience, the lower the engagement

In doing this analysis, I reached out to several marketing companies to attempt to gain further insight. While a few responded, only one representative was willing to speak to me without any sort of paid promotion (which goes against our beliefs here at Seasoned Gaming). Though they chose to remain anonymous likely for obvious reasons. Regardless, I posed two specific questions to them.

First, do they agree with the data and conclusions I had arrived at on micro and macro influencers? And second, are there any other interesting insights they could provide that I hadn’t touched on? Their feedback made me think broader on how the data applied specifically to gaming. Here are their curated responses.

When it comes to micro influencers compared against macro influencers, the data continues to bear it out. Micro influencers are far more effective; both in terms of cost and downstream impact.

This was good as it reassured me that I was on the right track. But it was their second answer which really began to make me think about the gaming industry.

Perhaps what is most surprising about more recent data, is that it’s possible for influencers to have a negative impact on a brand.

I asked for them to elaborate and to provide as much clarity as possible.

For instance, if a brand works with an influencer who is a known proponent of that brand, it is often seen as a positive by marketing leads. However, there are examples we’ve found where that relationship can erode consumer trust, as well as degrade opinions of others who may not already be engaged with the brand.

To understand why that is so important, you must first understand how important trust is to a brand. It is often recognized as the single most important attribute a brand can have. Trust builds loyalty, and loyalty fosters revenue. And at the end of the day, everything I’ve highlighted so far is aimed at increasing a company’s revenue.

As it relates to gaming, I found the above fascinating. Obviously definitive correlations are very challenging to find in this aspect. But it occurred to me that even personally, I have seen gaming brands I love work with particular influencers that caused me to ask “Why?“.

More importantly though, is the fact that if the influencer is known for being “biased and untrustworthy” by those who are not already engaged with a brand, it is likely to push them further away according to my source. This is an exceedingly important point in the gaming industry where we’ve seen not only developers and publishers, but Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo work directly with influencers.

When you break down the data in this fashion, it stands to reason that some consumers who engage with brand-specific influencers would engage in that brand’s ecosystem regardless of the influencer (thus equating to no additional revenue for the brand). Meanwhile, due to potentially being viewed as “biased and untrustworthy“, the brand’s association with said influencer may discourage new consumers from engaging with it.

While the data surrounding influencers continues to evolve, it should be clear by now that influencers aren’t going away. Rather, companies are continuing to invest more into influencer marketing year over year. However, what is becoming more clear is that companies should change how they invest in the space. Immediately courting known brand personalities can not only be less effective overall, it could possibly be damaging to the brand in the long-term. While it takes more time and resources, curating micro influencers who are known in the segment to be trustworthy is the far superior investment.

By Ains

Founder and Editor-In-Chief: Seasoned Gaming. Avid gamer and collector. Plays a lot of Halo and Diablo. Find me on Twitter @Porshapwr.

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