Timeframe: October 2008- ongoing
The video-gaming community has always been characterized by its members’ enthusiasm for technology, and by their desire to connect and interact with fellow fans. The proliferation of social media platforms has only enhanced these traits, as it facilitates interactivity via the very medium in which this audiences “plays” every day.
For video game developers like SEGA, the emergence of social media presents a variety of challenges and opportunities. On the plus side, online communities are ideal for finding brand evangelists, generating buzz and engaging with fans. The flip side: There is an unlimited universe of content. Plus, individuals can host their own fan sites and, in turn, represent the brand without ever establishing an official relationship with the company itself.
This is the environment SEGA executives faced when they initiated a campaign to develop a cohesive online community that would leverage multiple social media platforms and, in turn, help the team:
• Promote the SEGA brand and its games;
• Create buzz around SEGA;
• Communicate with fans;
• Find and create brand evangelists and influencers; and,
• Develop relationships with fan-run gaming sites for hosting contests, posting reviews, giving away merchandise and running other promotions.
Beyond just building the brand and engaging with fans, the SEGA team wanted to establish metrics to measure each component of the overall social media initiative—no small task by any means, and just one more to-do on an ever-growing list of tasks.
Having spelled out the campaign’s objectives, the execs had to follow up with a list of the social media tools they would integrate into the overall program, which would ultimately include blogs, forums, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, GameTrailers and fan sites.
Some of these tools/platforms were preexisting digital properties owned and operated by SEGA, while others were public forums populated by user-generated content. The team had to develop strategies for leveraging each platform individually, and then for bringing everything back to the overall SEGA brand.
Then, they had to put tracking systems in place to generate the metrics that would be required to measure and evaluate success. The tools in their arsenal would include: Omniture (for blogs, forums and fan site referrals); Brandwatch (for social media/Web sentiment); Facebook, Flickr and YouTube stats; Twitter followers and referrers; and StreamStats (for GameTrailers).
“Each [platform] has its own tracking system, so our approach to metrics is consequently a little scattered,” says Kellie Parker, community manager of Sega of America. “Some [tools] are traditional, such as Omniture and Facebook stats. Some are less traditional, like social media monitoring. And some are industry-specific, like StreamStats. We aggregate data from all of these places manually, as we’ve not found any one service that can meet all of our metric needs.”
Given the absence of a single umbrella service or platform, analyzing the strategies and subsequent outcomes of the campaign’s many components is best done one channel at a time.
|SEGA’s Twitter account actively engages the brand’s fan base and drives users to its diverse network of social media platforms.|
BLOG, MEASURE, REPEAT
SEGA has four corporate blogs (U.S., Europe, Sonic and Total War), but this particular effort focused solely on the U.S. site.
“SEGA U.S. has had a blog for some time, but has not really leveraged it to its [fullest] advantage,” Parker says. “Prior to my arrival in November 2008, the blog was posted to only a few times per month and generally was parroting what PR was doing. There was almost no original content.”
Corporate Blogging 101 dictates that infrequent updates and PR-heavy content are kryptonite for blogs, so Parker’s team set out to reinvigorate the platform with dynamic information that would generate buzz among fans.
“We cover trade shows and conferences, we hold contests, we post fan art that people send us and we post links to external reviews of our games,” Parker says. “But while we’ve done a lot with the content, we still need to attack some problems with our metrics.”
To measure and evaluate blog traffic, SEGA execs use Omniture, a Web analytics and online business optimization platform. Though in an early phase of implementation, the analytics have granted the execs insight into the areas with the most room for improvement.
“Almost 100% of our referrals come from bookmarks or [visitors typing in the URL directly]. We’re getting no referrals from search engines, other blogs or social media,” Parker says. “We need to do a better job of promoting our blogs to others and getting them to link back to us. We also need to do better SEO so we’re listed on the first page of search results. We are starting to do some of this—for example, our blog auto-feeds post to our Twitter feed. But, clearly, we have a ways to go.”
Parker’s honesty is indicative of the team’s focus on improving results and engaging more actively with online influencers. In March 2009, she says, the SEGA U.S. blog had 29,332 page views, and traffic was higher on days that new content was posted.
“We look at this to gauge our overall improvement as well as to look for patterns to know when the best time to post items is,” Parker says. “We monitor [individual pages and features] regularly to know what we should do more of and also what didn’t do well.”
This information continues to shape the team’s blogging strategy, especially in the context of two key focuses:
• Increasing referrals from search engines, social media platforms and fan sites; and,
• Posting content that draws in readers, including conference coverage, announcements and fan art.
SOCIALIZING WITH FACEBOOK’S FAN BASE
The SEGA brand has about a dozen Facebook pages, but Parker’s team most recently focused on four: Sonic the Hedgehog, Empire: Total War, SEGA and Football Manager 2009.
In terms of tracking user activity, Parker says Facebook’s built-in metrics effectively measure page views, unique visitors, fans and more. But, in terms gauging the level of engagement, “Wall posts are something that we track very carefully,” Parker says. “We also look closely at the acquisition of new fans to our page.”
Another online platform that generates significant activity for SEGA is the collection of forums hosted on Sega.com, which account for eight of the top 10 pages across the whole site. However, due to the original system of tagging content in these pages, the company’s current measurement system can’t provide metrics for total forum traffic. The team is in the process of transitioning to a new forum platform, which will be equipped with advanced tracking capabilities.
“I will be able to see overall numbers, and to drill down to the category and forum level to get those statistics as well,” Parker says. “Eventually, we’ll have a clear understanding of the hot spots in our forums and will be able to provide more detailed reporting to brand managers and executives on how their particular titles are performing within the SEGA-internal community.”
TWEET IF YOU LIKE SEGA
Twitter’s surge in popularity has been advantageous for SEGA executives, who have used this channel to integrate brand-building efforts, and to drive users to other branded platforms. With 30 to 50 new followers every day, the account is very busy.
“Twitter has been a great tool for reaching out to fans on a personal level, but also to help us form better relationships with the fan sites we work with. We can get news and information from them quickly, and we can help them promote their links about our products,” Parker says.
In terms of monitoring Twitter activity, Parker uses the site’s search function to keep a running tab of all mentions of SEGA. “I can occasionally find people talking about trouble with our products, and reach out to them,” she says. “They are impressed that I have done that and this generally yields a follow-up positive response. The search also helps me keep on top of breaking trends, both positive and negative, so we can respond quickly.”
WEB VIDEO PLAYS TO WIN
Video-sharing platforms are natural conduits for branding a company like SEGA, as they are perfect for building buzz around games via trailers. Plus, YouTube has its own built-in metrics that identify viewer behaviors, which can then be used to shape future messaging or to revise the storylines of new games.
“YouTube has some interesting stats associated with it. Available to everyone are statistics about sites linking to the video, which makes it easy to see who is best promoting our videos,” Parker says. “One of the coolest things YouTube metrics offer is a real-time attention meter. The video plays next to the meter, with a moving timeline. This allows you to see the most popular parts of the video, including the “sticky spots.”
These features make YouTube a valuable piece of SEGA’s online community initiative, but there are inherent disadvantages to contend with.
“One of the major hurdles we face in the gaming industry is restrictions from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, which rates video games like the MPAA rates movies,” Parker says. “If a title is rated M for Mature, all content related to that game must be behind an age gate and not accessible to anyone under 17 years of age. Some social media has caught up with this—Facebook allows us to age gate our pages. However, YouTube doesn’t. We can’t put trailers for M-rated games on YouTube at all.”
For M-rated games, then, the team uses GameTrailers, a site specifically for the gaming industry that has age gates for sensitive content.
PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER
Clearly, there is no shortage of social media platforms SEGA execs can use to build relationships with current and potential fans. But, without an over-arching plan for integrating platform-specific efforts and metrics, each strategy would be executed in a vacuum. To make the initiative cohesive, Parker says, the community and PR departments divvy up responsibility for various Web properties, and then execs create monthly reports to keep everyone up-to-date on progress (for more on the collaboration with PR, see sidebar).
“My team and I pull together monthly reports using all of these stats for SEGA and any games we are currently tracking,” Parker says. “We also pull together on-demand reporting as needed. For example, managers and executives are often eager to know how a particular trailer is performing. In this instance, we will include a manual sentiment analysis of comments from users.” PRN
Kellie Parker, firstname.lastname@example.org