At a panel at Triangle Game Conference 2010, some experts on social media's influence on PR and videogames essentially concluded that if you're doing PR and aren't using Twitter or Facebook, you're probably doing it wrong.
Moderated by IGN's Steve Butts, the panel consisted of four people in the middle of social media and gaming: Dave Murray, the president of ClearImage, a company in charge of "strategic business development and marketing" for interactive entertainment companies (aka game makers); Lloyd Melnick, the Chief Customer Officer of casual/downloadable game developer Merscom; TriplePoint PR account manager Wendy Beasley; and Newton Grant - the VP of business development at Themis Media (aka the publisher of The Escapist, a site I hope you're all familiar with).
Though Ms. Beasley said that the goal of social media marketing and PR was the same as traditional methods - to get your product out in front of as many people as possible - and only the tactics had changed, Mr. Melnick wasn't so sure. While he agreed that it was also a vehicle for the goals of traditional marketing, its immediacy and inherent two-way nature also offered his company a way to gauge where consumers were at in order to focus the development of its games - in a way, it was almost preparatory marketing: "You get to have a conversation instead of just being one-way."
However, that very immediacy could be a double-edged sword, argued Mr. Murray, pointing to the example of Activision, which had jumped on social media very early - but which had since left its Twitter and Facebook accounts to languish. Nowadays, the only regular Activision-branded presence on Twitter is a fan-run Twitter account called Activision Sucks - hardly the image Bobby Kotick & Co. want to be promoting.
Either way, social media marketing shouldn't be the only avenue you pursue, said Newton Grant, but rather an additional tool. "It doesn't replace traditional marketing," he said. "It supplements and magnifies." The conversation then turned to the relationship between social media marketing - direct from publishers and developers to fans - and the hype built through more traditional gaming venues and enthusiast press like magazines and game sites.
"Companies that use social media are in an ongoing dialogue, and as people ask questions you don't want to answer, it looks like you're obviously avoiding them," and that just doesn't look good, said Mr. Murray - it was important for developers to own up to their mistakes and "take their lumps." Mr. Grant agreed, saying that while consumers often appreciate being engaged in a direct relationship by their favorite developer or publisher, they know that it is a source pushing an agenda, and they want it balanced out with other sources and opinions from established media websites that they trust.
At times, though, the immediate nature of Twitter and Facebook could also sometimes work in the favor of a PR team, said Ms. Beasley, pointing to a recent example where Sega had refused to engage temporary outrage in its direction (probably from angry Sonic fans) - and the uproar had died down within hours.
Despite the dangers involved, though, all four agreed that social media was well worth it, since it humanized the brand and the company in a way that normal advertising simply couldn't. Furthermore, even without the possibility of any given social media ad "going viral," it could offer significantly more return on investment than traditional advertising. Newton drew the example of The Escapist's very own March Mayhem tournament, which saw over 60,000 hits from Twitter clickthroughs, at the rate of 30-40 clicks per Tweet.
"You'd have to have over 120 million banner ads on a website to get a similar effect there."