Bad Influence – Social Media Personalities as Marketers?
There’s a growing trend in the board game world at the moment. We’re seeing more and more Personalities being employed by board game publishers to act as marketing co-ordinators, social media gurus, or any one of a load more nondescript fluffy job titles. What these jobs encompass is usually the same sort of thing – using these peoples’ popularity and influence in board game social media to push their brand. At first glance, this looks like a clever, maybe even natural, decision to make. The question is – is it the right thing to do?
Under the influence
We live in a world now, where Influencer is a career. People build up huge numbers of followers on the various social media platforms, and have become honest-to-goodness celebrities. Every hobby and interest you can imagine has its own army of influencers and celebrities, and legions of devotees trailing behind them, hanging on their every word, waiting for them for to tell us what’s hot, what we should be wearing, eating, drinking – and playing. Board game Twitter and Instagram have huge numbers of followers, Tiktok is gathering steam, and even the stalwart of video game streaming – Twitch – is seeing huge growth in board gamers.
It’s always been the case that publishers gift copies of games to prominent names in return for reviews, previews, how-to-plays, and just general exposure. Over the last couple of years however, some publishers have taken it a step further, and are now hiring these same people to act as a presence for them. Organising their social media posts, drumming up support for Kickstarters, and liaising with their public and media contacts too.
It sounds like a match made in heaven. A fan-base with an already familiar face telling the world how good the games are. What could possibly go wrong?
There’s a real danger inherent in this approach, and it lies with the influencers themselves. If you spend any amount of time following any of the prominent names on board game Twitter, you’re likely to see tempers flare, and lines drawn in the sand. There’s established bad blood between some people, and as is the case with human nature, people like to take sides. This leads to block-lists being created, and people actively ensuring they can never interact with people, just because of their implied association with others.
This isn’t just anecdotal either, I know this from experience. There are at least two very high profile names in the board game Twitterverse who have blocked me. I have never interacted with either of them. I can only assume that I’ve followed or replied to someone that’s on their hitlist, and I’ve been pre-emptively blocked. While it’s like water off a duck’s back to me, it’s just a small example of the type of division that exists. People disagree with others’ views, they fall out with other people, and some people just aren’t very nice. That’s life. But what does it mean for the people their employers want to reach?
People on Twitter and Instagram are told to curate their followers, often by these self-same influencers. “Make sure you don’t associate with these people, they are bad eggs”. Responsible calls-to-action like this add evidence of some kind, but I’ve seen plenty of occasions where die-hard fans will block anyone and everyone they’re told to, just because they’re told to. When it comes to people interacting with other people, this is fine. It is what it is, you’re never going to change human nature, so you either like it or lump it. When these people become the public faces of businesses though, that’s another matter. Does this famous face accurately represent their company, their ethics, and their ideals?
A case in point
The names here aren’t real, but the situation is. I do some review work with a publisher who has a social media personality organising their relationships with the media and the public. Let’s call this person Steve. I was talking to a good friend (Bob), who also does board game review work and is a much bigger deal than me, who had a eureka moment when we were talking. You see, Bob used to work very closely with this publisher, and had a long-standing, good relationship with them. However, in the distant past, Influencer Steve took a dislike to Bob, and caused them a great deal of trouble and upset. This same publisher more recently has had no contact with Bob, and Bob hasn’t been invited to preview The Big New Game. Coincidence?
Of course, it could just be coincidence. Maybe they want to move on with other people now instead, but even my spidey-senses are tingling in this situation. It certainly doesn’t feel like a coincidence. This is just one example, which I happened to stumble upon during an unrelated conversation. But it got me to wondering – how many other examples of situations like this must be happening all the time now? Do the publishers even realise it’s happening? Do they care?
Perhaps a better question is – How can this be made safer for publishers? I don’t know what’s involved with the hiring of a Bright Young Thing to represent them on social media, but I wonder how much vetting takes place. How far back in the person’s posting history do they go? Have they been involved in controversy in the past? Do they share their ethics and values? Do they ask them to openly declare any current problems or issues they have with any particular creators, influencers, other publishers? Maybe they do, and this was just an isolated incident, but a part of me doubts it.
I think there’s a real risk for this blowing up in a publisher’s face, and I don’t think it’s far off happening. Of course, the situation could be reversed and it turns out someone at the publisher turns out to be a bad actor, but it’s easier for an Influencer to cut ties without bad financial and reputational damage being done. For them, it’s usually a side-gig, but for a publisher, there’s a real risk of a bigger impact. People will always come with baggage, we just need to make sure that baggage doesn’t prevent them from working in their new employer’s best interests.
I’ll end this by saying I know this isn’t the case across the board. I know some really good people who have roles like these, and they do an excellent job. When it works, it’s fantastic. My worry is for the people making our games, working against a worldwide pandemic, a global shipping crisis, wood shortages, increased costs at every step of the way. My worry is someone with their own agenda could alienate a group of people to such an extent that it sinks a publisher, or damages them irreparably. How much influence is too much influence?