Authenticity has become a highly desirable feature of brands’ marketing to millennials and Generation Z, and influencer marketing and user-generated content (UGC) are increasingly vital bowstrings in the quest to achieve it.
The gaming world offers an interesting microcosm. Streamers and video producers have become hugely important partners for publishers and brands looking to reach large, engaged, often affluent audiences. Take Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. Still in Early Access, it’s hit the very top of the Steam charts with over 1.5m concurrent players. The rise has been meteoric, and – best of all – it feels organic. Sure, Bluehole will have made sure important creators had access to the game early on, but beyond that the best thing it’s done is ensure the game plays well.
On the other hand, influential content creators can be liable to faux pas, particularly when livestreaming. This can be a brand safety danger across the board – to their sponsors, to the publishers of the games they play and to the brands whose adverts are shown alongside their content. So how can brands reduce the risks of UGC without watering down the rewards?
Firstly, watch and learn. There’s really no substitute for knowing your influencers. Are they liable to get angry under pressure? Do they switch between different types of game or create ‘IRL’ content as well as gaming? What are their plans to grow their brand? All of this is need-to-know information for publishers and advertisers.
"I’d argue that the best UGC is so tantalisingly effective because it’s human."Adam Simmons, Level Up Media
Secondly, crunch the numbers. Don’t assume that the biggest numbers are the best fit for your brand or game. Some influencers with huge numbers of visits use clickbait techniques or deliberately create controversies and hostilities that drive traffic. Get a good understanding for the level, quality and frequency of engagement.
Likewise, pick trusted partners. Programmatic advertisers don’t have direct control of the content they appear alongside. They need to know their agency partners are spending their ad budget judiciously and appropriately. They must also understand content platforms’ ways of working. Level Up Media’s sites, DingIt.TV and TheGamer.TV, employ human moderators who ensure brand safety. Others use algorithmic moderation. Many take a Wild West approach. Think about what you’re happy for your brand to be shown next to.
Finally, know your boundaries. Content that’s broadcast live will never be without an element of risk; whether it’s on the BBC or a streaming platform. If swearing or anger are malware to your brand, it might be best to steer clear. If authenticity is your USP, they might be tolerated.
The relentless evolution of technology will shift the ways brands interact with UGC. The algorithms used in programmatic advertising and content moderation will continue to improve. But could this cause aversion amongst audiences who are voracious in their demands for more and more authentic content? Could unsafe content that does slip through the net cause greater brand damage in future than it does now?
I’d argue that the best UGC is so tantalisingly effective because it’s human. It therefore cannot be fully understood, leveraged or de-risked with a tech-only strategy.
Adam Simmons is VP of content and marketing at Level Up Media and a gaming and esports enthusiast. Before joining Level Up Media, he was both a GB Paralympic athlete and a professional esports commentator