When the predominant social media platforms of today began their rise to prominence 10, 15, or in some cases 20 years ago, they were fashioned with the purpose of connecting people from around the world on a personal level and sharing information in a timely, creative and purposeful fashion.
Though that ethos has largely remained the same, everything else from the content itself to the way users interact has evolved innumerable times, to the extent that the platforms have become the primary drivers of pop culture. What used to be headlines are now hashtags; conversations that used to take place at water coolers and gatherings have become keystrokes and notifications, and even the most passionate detractors have turned into active participants.
As such, it’s no surprise that the adoption and utilization of social media has become a critical component of marketing and communications for all industries, with gaming certainly among them.
Casino operators, suppliers, bookmakers and everyone in between can present relevant and engaging content that customers and players can access anytime and anywhere—the challenge now is to decide where to start and how to grow a consistent brand that aligns with company values and goals.
Social media in many ways is like the economy—it’s difficult to paint under a single definition, but the collective public agrees that it’s important, and that it should be followed closely. Moving forward, it’s impossible to tell whether the existing platforms and the names behind them will remain in vogue. However, by now it feels safe to say that our appetite for content will remain consistent, meaning there will be endless opportunities for gaming companies to post, re-post, pin, poke, like, comment and subscribe their way to the top.
From Tongue-in-Cheek to Suit and Tie
Early iterations of social media were nostalgic and organic. Much like a middle school dance, nobody really knew what to do or where to step, and the content that did become successful was often random with a hint of innocence, like when Charlie bit his brother’s finger (and it really hurt).
As platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and TikTok enter their second and third decades, however, the age of innocence is long gone. Data analysis and similar processes have largely cracked the code on what people think is entertaining and engaging, which means that the days of nephews and interns doing social media to fill time are long gone, replaced by professional teams of content creators and storytellers.
“Social media is a must in 2023,” says Rich Sullivan, CEO of Good Giant, a gaming-focused creative agency. “The great thing about casinos is that there is always something fun and exciting happening. This provides an abundance of raw material for clients to post, but it’s also a bit of a double-edged sword.
“With so much day-to-day content available and every department wanting visibility, we find that most properties need a clear social strategy that defines their goals, how they are going to measure success and how to prioritize all the competing interests to ensure their audience gets the most impactful content.”
Now that the range of content and platforms is at its widest point, it’s impossible for operators and suppliers to build a successful social media presence by trying to do everything. Instead, the goal is to come up with a strategy that puts targeted content on the right platforms, for it to find the right audience.
Sullivan explains that over the years, he and his team have learned that “in practice, each and every client has their own sweet spot in terms of post timing, frequency and media type,” which means it’s best to let the pros decipher the performance data and make adjustments as necessary.
Jess Scott, an account director for the Las Vegas-based agency The Firm Public Relations and Marketing, has seen operators gradually understand that they can dictate their own brand effectively on their own, irrespective of outside trends.
“People are realizing the various options that are out there,” Scott says. “So it’s not necessarily everyone having the need to flock to a singular platform or be more open to a specific platform; it’s just a broader realization of, ‘Hey, there are numerous platforms that we can explore and be strategic and mindful and figure out what works for us.’ That is the general mindset for social media in gaming and beyond that we’ve certainly noticed.”
Despite their monetization, social platforms are still extremely personal, and Scott notes that the best content for operators almost always “showcases human or business elements that may otherwise not be fully grasped on the casino floor or through other channels.”
Users want to be taken behind the curtain, but that brings a sense of vulnerability, and we all know how dangerous that can be in a digital world. According to Scott, this also highlights the importance of social savants who can “provide feedback on various aspects of the business” and “be timely and strategic” when it’s time to take action.
Keep the Cameras Rolling
By and large, social media follows the same principles as any other business. Competition is the name of the game—if a certain type of content shows itself to be successful, it gets replicated and parodied until proven otherwise.
As the director of marketing and communications for Konami Gaming, Tashina Lazcano has followed these trends for years, and in 2023, she says that regardless of which platform operators prefer to use, video content is king.
“Now we have video content on all the different platforms that we participate in, be it LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook,” Lazcano says. “They all host video content, and they all have different video content needs. In addition, audiences will look for different types of video content based on which platform they’re engaging with.
“So there’s been a greater diversification on the types of video content needs that we have across our different social media channels. On YouTube, we’ll still have a lot of game demos and tutorials, as a kind of longer-format video. Whereas on Twitter or Instagram, it’s more of a short format.”
That said, video is also the most difficult medium to learn how to produce, and not every company may have the resources or the knowledge to consistently promote their games and products effectively.
One strategy that Konami has adopted to help market their products is to create their own content that they then give to customers for them to use in conjunction with product launches, which Lazcano refers to as “B2B2C marketing,” or “business-to-business-to-consumer.” She says that in the case of Konami, that “package of assets includes social media materials like product images, video content, GIFs, and ad mats, which can also be formatted to social media.”
Of course, part of the video revolution involves the actual platforms themselves. As Lazcano says, they all are capable of hosting video, but one above all is optimized specifically for it: TikTok.
Though the platform has drawn scrutiny in recent years for its privacy policies and ties to Chinese parent company ByteDance, it’s clear to see that its short looping videos, silly dance moves and simple audio blurbs are striking a chord in pop culture, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. Other apps have since raced to create similar interfaces, such as Instagram’s REELS feature and YouTube’s Shorts spin-off.
Back in September 2021, the app announced that it had eclipsed 1 billion active monthly users worldwide, vaulting it into the upper stratosphere of social sites. Legacy platforms like Facebook and YouTube still tout more, but the key factor behind TikTok’s influence is its popularity with younger demographics: according to data from App Ape, a whopping 53 percent of TikTok users are between the ages of 20 and 39, which is prime territory for gaming companies as they try to entice the next generation of players.
“TikTok is certainly a force,” says Scott. “And from what we’re watching in 2023, I think TikTok is certainly something we should all keep an eye on as it gains popularity, as there are certain regulations and international news headlines impacting that platform. It’s something that has clearly gained popularity, but it’s also something we really need to keep an eye on.”
If the customer is always right, as Sullivan notes, then “casinos really do need to have a TikTok strategy in 2023.” And if more suppliers follow the likes of Konami and start producing their own content, this proposition can become a lot less intimidating. To highlight the potential of the app, Lazcano gives a recent example of a post used to promote one of Konami’s latest games, “America’s Rich Life.”
“America’s Rich Life has an eagle hero character who does a lot of dance moves to the tune of the song ‘Living in America’ by James Brown,” she says. “So in these TikTok videos, we’re showing the eagle character doing his dance moves on different American landmarks like on top of a skyscraper in New York City or on top of a cable car in San Francisco… These are the types of digital assets that we package together for a lot of our high-profile game releases.”
Under the Influence
Third-party endorsements have been a marketing staple for decades, if not centuries, and so it should come as no surprise that another rising trend in gaming social media is the use of influencers.
In simplest terms, influencers are online celebrities, or users who have cultivated a following related to a certain field of interest. Merriam-Webster describes them as people who are “able to generate interest in something (such as a consumer product) by posting about it on social media.”
They serve as a way to diversify audiences and connect different groups who share similar interests, and anyone who thinks that it’s impossible to make a career out of gambling on the internet is, well, wrong.
Of all the online gaming celebrities, none have proved more potent than one Brian Christopher. Originally from Toronto, the former actor has risen to fame in the gaming space by posting frequent live streams of himself playing a wide variety of slots in casinos all over the country, with YouTube being his platform of choice given its ability to handle longer videos. As it turns out, people love to follow the excitement of the game without having to deal with the stress associated with losses. This phenomenon extends to esports as well, which is also increasingly carving out its own space within the industry.
As of this writing, Christopher boasts 566,000 followers on his Brian Christopher Slots YouTube channel and 156,000 followers on TikTok, which has led to a bevy of promotional deals. This includes his own slot game, Brian Christopher’s Pop’N Pays More, which was released in collaboration with Gaming Arts in August 2022, as well as the dedicated BCSlots section of the casino floor at the Plaza in Downtown Las Vegas.
“In terms of a particular style of post that is appealing at the moment, influencers continue to be a force,” Scott says. “Regardless of what type of casino entity you are, it’s one thing to have a static photo of a new machine or an attraction or technology, and it’s another thing to have a face that’s familiar with your audience, engaging with your company firsthand.
“There’s enough negativity in the world to go around, and people love and engage with the content where real people are having fun with technology or on property winning jackpots, exploring food and beverage options, and making the most of what a company may offer. It’s a valuable third-party endorsement in many ways that so many different gaming companies can use to their advantage.”
With regards to gaming specifically, influencers can also bleed into pop culture, given the fact that the industry hasn’t had many homegrown figures. As Sullivan notes, previous campaigns “were limited to gaming-specific influencers for events and activations,” but now companies are “working with lifestyle influencers to reach audiences that match our clients’ target audiences,” allowing them to effectively expand their brand.
In a December 2022 interview with GGB, Erica Kosemund, senior director of gaming brand and partnerships for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, said that the number of various influencers she works with is “well over 75.” Lisa Melmed, marketing manager for the Plaza, said that she deals with 20 to 30 such folks, in addition to the aforementioned Christopher partnership.
Sportsbook operators have especially embodied this tactic as well, as more partnerships are being forged with players, leagues and media members than ever before. Almost all of these deals primarily revolve around social media promotion.
For example, Caesars Sportsbook has enlisted comedian J.B. Smoove and actor Vince Vaughn to be the front-facing spokesmen for its content, both online and in its traditional advertising. FanDuel sponsors Bill Simmons, the leading sports podcaster in the U.S., whose deal includes weekly promotional parlay picks that are posted to Twitter and boosted with better odds than they would feature otherwise. Before it shut down in November of last year, MaximBet was especially experimental in this niche, signing deals with MLB outfielder Charlie Blackmon and rapper Nicki Minaj.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from these developments is that there’s no right answer when it comes to building social presence, especially in gaming. Given that posts are free and timelines refresh automatically, there’s never been more freedom to tell the stories that are unique to each operator, supplier or bookmaker.
Make no mistake, creativity and innovation are rewarded, but high-quality content comes in many forms and evolves at the speed of light, and as more users come online, the odds of achieving active engagement are higher than ever before. This is especially true as gaming expands into new markets and more people are exposed to the numerous local and national brands across the industry.
“I think the beautiful thing about social media and many communication mechanisms is that there’s so many different stories to tell,” Scott says. “So if you are a business entity, digging deep into the technology or even your people, which are such a valuable asset to so many different companies, can be incredibly appealing if executed in the correct way. Certainly with casino properties, the properties are so multifaceted and there are so many different engaging visuals and stories that you can tell on a property and beyond a property itself.”