The Twitch livestreaming phenomenon: The pinnacle of influencer marketing?
Twitch successes include the popular game Player Unknown's battlegrounds which sold over 20 million copies within 9 months...26 Sep 2018 3574 Views
Written by Kostas Piludis
Livestreaming is nothing new, however, it wasn’t until a few years ago that livestreaming, and especially gamecasting like those on Twitch have started to become popular (Hamilton, et al., 2014). Gamecasting involves a person, playing a video game streaming him/herself live to the internet whilst commentating on their gameplay and interacting with viewers. While this might seem like an odd concept, to some, one tends to forget that video games used to be very social with arcades being very popular in the late 70’s to late 80’s where people often gathered. However, since the introduction of home consoles and computers and the recent increase of single player games shows that part of the social aspect of video gaming has been lost (Walker, 2014; Reiner, 2016)
Twitch: the stream is starting in 5 minutes!
However, the emergence of livestreaming websites like Twitch.tv has created a meeting ground for gamers (Hamilton, et al., 2014). On twitch, this community socializes, participates, learns and interacts in an authentic matter. Twitch combines video with a simple text chat as means of communication (Walker, A. 2014). While simple, the concept has proven to be hugely successful. Since its inception in 2009 as Justin.tv, Twitch has grown rapidly to the extent that Amazon decided to acquire twitch almost to $1 billion (Hamilton, 2014; Wall street journal, 2014). Twitch currently boasts an average of 15 million daily active users, 2.2 unique million content creators and 2+ million peak concurrent site wide viewers (Twitch 2017).
Twitch has become one of the gathering places of the much-coveted demographic of 18 to 34-year-old male’s gamers (Vu, 2015; Twitch, 2017). However, it is well known that millennials don’t respond well to traditional advertising. Millennials are more likely to refer to friends and tend to research products before making a purchasing decision (Syrett & Lamminman, 2004; Newman, 2015).
Therefore, on Twitch many gaming companies, but also other companies which target the same consumer segment, have decided to take another approach. Instead of traditional advertisements, many companies have started to acknowledge the influence many of these Twitch streamers have on their audiences and have recently started shifted towards sponsorship deals (Adweek, 2017). Sponsored content is nothing new, however, and has been common practice on Twitch’s main rival YouTube, especially on gaming channels. There is, however, a big difference between YouTube and Twitch.
The age of Authenticity and Transparency and marketing on twitch: A match made in Heaven?
The difference between Twitch and YouTube is that Twitch offers a truly unfiltered, raw and authentic experience whereas on YouTube videos are starting to become increasingly polished and refined (Vu, 2015). Fournier and Avery (2011) mention in their article that Authenticity is critical in establishing transparency. Being transparent and inauthentic can cause large problems for companies online, as everything a company publishes online can easily be dissected by anyone with an internet connection. This may cause companies that are found to be lying or deforming truth to face huge backlashes online (Fournier & Avery, 2011).
This means that in today’s online environment it is crucial for brands to be authentic and genuine as increases its credibility and is thus less likely to run into these problems. Combine this with the degree of authenticity Twitch streams can offer it is not hard to imagine that a company with authenticity in mind might want to work with influencers on this platform to create an ideal fit. Since the web was created for people and not brands it is crucial for brands to weave themselves into the conversation naturally, and while this can be challenging, the convergence of play communities on a fundamentally authentic platform such as twitch provides great opportunities for brands that identify with these aspects (Hamilton, et al., 2014; Fournier & Avery, 2011).
Live streaming micro–celebrities / Influencers
Many of the medium to large streamers are in, essence, so called micro-celebrities. These streamers, like on other social media often have a distinctive public image either for cultural or economic reasons (Khamis, et al., 2016). This image or character is a large part of many streamers appeals. However, on twitch image or character is not the only driver of success. For example, one of the main reasons people visit the site is to learn from people who are better than them in video games (Hamilton, et al., 2014). Therefore, some of the largest streamers are often professional gamers or have been so in the past. This might not be much of a surprise, however, as most major E-sport competitions are also broadcast on twitch live. Often with tens if not hundreds of thousands of viewers if not more.
In the case of social, media and particularly on Twitch, the term Micro-Celebrity can be seen more as a mindset and a set of practices that allow viewers a glimpse into the streamers private lives, which helps to create a sense of realness and authenticity which helps their both their narratives and self-branding to be both accessible and intimate. (Khamis, et al., 2016).
Marketing on Twitch?
Khamis, Ang and Welling also mention that social media influencers inherently try to build an authentic and trustworthy experience which is something marketers have started to actively look to benefit from (Khamis, et al., 2016). The inherent authentic image of Twitch due to its live nature brings forth the most genuine reactions and impressions of products and brands companies can hope for. If a well-liked, popular streamer genuinely is interested in a game or product this will inherently be picked up on by their viewers which would then be more likely to try the product as well.
On Twitch people engage in so called cultural exchanges, with streamers and viewers exchanging information on various other topics besides gaming. According to the five online marketing paradigms this would mean that on Twitch marketers should primarily try to create a buzz around their products to maximize their success (Deighton & Leora, 2009).
It is therefore crucial for marketers to find streamers that will be a good fit for their brand. When the influencer or streamer is not a good fit for the company it is all the much harder to leverage the authentic nature of livestreaming which in turn makes it that much harder to create a positive buzz. Reason being that people will eventually see the difference between a streamer genuinely liking something or being paid to like something, especially in livestreaming as there is no editing or polishing of videos and all reactions are as genuine as they can possibly get. As authenticity and intimacy is increasingly important to millennials it is crucial to strike the right balance between wanting to sell products and wanting to be part of the conversation (Tyson, 2016; Syrett & Lamminman, 2004)
Twitch success stories
As one might expect, the industry that has gained most for advertising and sponsoring on twitch is the gaming industry. While sponsorships are growing on Twitch. Some of Twitch’s largest success didn’t involve much or any sponsoring at all.
It comes as no surprise that Twitch’s most astonishing successes come in the form of video games. The most recent example is a video game called Player Unknown’s battlegrounds. By the beginning of November of this year, the game has managed to sell a whopping 20 million copies within a 9-month period (Barret, 2017). This success has been mostly attributed to Twitch, where the game was picked up by several streamers after which the game became one of the most popular on the platform to date (Barret, 2017). If marketers can position themselves on this program in a natural, engaging and authentic manner, there is no limit to the potential successes on can achieve on the platform.
Ultimately, as the previous example shows us, Twitch is a huge buzz marketing machine. Where streamers often play together with other streamers, after which other smaller streamers try to hitch rides by playing the same video games or using the same products as some of the larger streamers as to gain more viewers. Player unknown’s battleground is a prime example of this as the game spent virtually no money on advertising at all.
With Twitch recently also offering the option to stream different kinds of content, such as art, music, cooking, sewing and more, marketers would be wise to seriously consider the platform for future marketing campaigns (Twitch, 2017). With millennials increasingly looking for intimate and authentic experiences, there are real opportunities on platforms, like Twitch, that can potentially provide a perfect ecosystem for brands to thrive in (Syrett & Lamminman, 2004; Tyson, 2016).
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Students from the International Marketing and Brand Management program at Lund University are the contributing authors for the BrandBase blog.