Finally, social media has taken its place at the marketing table and will continue to grow in importance for the gaming market. Because social media allows your network to easily identify as brand advocates and share your message on behalf of the property, marketers cannot ignore the value of an engaged social media audience. Evidence is mounting that highly engaged social media customers are more likely to make a purchase, more likely to make repeat visits, and more likely to promote your brand to their network. Gaming marketers need to explore different ways to engage with social media inf luencers and measure the return on these efforts. There are numerous campaigns already underway in the United Kingdom and the United States that indicate the gaming market is eager to engage socially and reap the benefits of being brand advocates.
RS: The '4Rs' of social media—reputation, relationships, recommendations, and reach— are important to casino marketing. The gaming industry needs to be active in the same technology that our guests are using. Social media platforms allow casinos to join and influence the conversation and turn social data into meaningful and usable information. The gaming industry can utilize social media to shape their offerings, improve service, and increase guest spending.
SD: Social media is an important part of developing brand character and increasing recognition and relevance within the gaming industry. It’s a tool that provides the opportunity to show the personality of our brand in an informal setting within a variety of our networks. It also allows players to interact with us using platforms they use regularly. For BCLC, social media is a way to engage within our communities, locations, industry, audiences, media, players, staff, stakeholders, etc.
How do you use social media?
GM: We got our feet wet with Twitter. It was primarily used as another tool for media outreach by corporate communications, and still is. We also now have an HR-managed account that focuses on employee engagement and recruitment. Recently, we’ve increased our presence on other social channels like Facebook and LinkedIn where the interaction is currently employee-centric. We’re always mindful of the regulations around communications in the gaming business, so as we continue to ensure that relevant policies and procedures are in place, I anticipate our social efforts will grow.
RS: The first thing we do is form a social media plan. We need to insure our social media aligns with company goals, strategies, and tactics. We then determine what we are going to say in our posts, the tone, who will manage it, and how frequently we'll post. Next, we establish social media goals, the resources that will be allocated, and how to measure success. Then we join the social media conversation, ensure that we allocate resources to stay engaged and respond to customer questions, issues, and concerns. We establish employee social media guidelines and provide clear guidance on the use of social media.
SD: Social media is a good place to attract interaction as many of our players are already using these tools. At BCLC, our primary social media platform is Twitter. We have a corporate Twitter account as well as several brand accounts and a customer service account. On a corporate level, Twitter is an easy way to disseminate news, updates, and events to all of our networks at once. By using hashtags, we can follow themes and events related to our business. Twitter also gives us the opportunity to correct misinformation, contribute to conversations, educate, and share information and updates on our games, products, and corporate news.
Many of our products have unique audiences and brand personalities, and different social media platforms allow us to interact in different ways. Having a Facebook page for LottoMax allows fans to interact, learn about, and discuss one product. A LinkedIn page represents our BCLC brand at a corporate level where job opportunities, professional development, and corporate news are the focus. We can also run product- specific contests and promotions though some of our branded social media pages.
What are some common pitfalls or mistakes that companies make when using social media?
GM: Posting for the sake of posting—I find this to be a nuisance. You can’t be all things to all people, and if you try, you run the risk of turning off followers and diluting your message along with its authenticity. Consequently, when there’s something to say that really matters, it’s ignored. Sometimes this reflects an attempt to grow audience numbers quickly; and while I believe that having a critical mass on the other end is important, follower and fan count don’t matter if you’re not engaging the right people.
Every year, we read about the top social media mishaps and inevitably one involves an inexperienced staffer managing a brand’s social media presence. The viral nature of social media can be daunting for a company, so every interaction needs to be regarded as important to a brand’s reputation.
You can’t opt out of social media. Whether a company is using social platforms or not, its customers are, and that also includes older generations. Research is showing that the impact and reach of social media isn’t just for the young; its usage continues to grow in the older adult market as well.
KM: The single biggest mistake is engaging in social media without having a compelling, strategic reason to be on the social networks. Social media is a commitment to building a relationship with your audience. Marketers need to have a clear objective as to what that relationship should look like and then formulate a set of tactics online to fulfill that goal. Social media is, in many ways, a persistent campaign. You must have a plan for your intended audience, understand what messaging and themes you are going to share, and prepare to engage with your audience if you are going to be successful.
Other common pitfalls seen in the marketplace include failing to plan for the organizational impact of social media; applying traditional unidirectional communications to social networks; not listening to or engaging with your audience; not being transparent with the audience; and failing to analyze or understand the performance metrics that indicate success in social media.
RS: First, companies generally do not establish a Social Media Crisis Plan. In the world of social media, word of mouth is now a global conversation where opinions travel with incredible speed. Good or bad, accurate or misinformed, customers opinions are broadcast on social networks for the world to see. Companies need to pay attention to the online conversation because their reputation, their relationships with customers, and their bottom lines are at stake.
Secondly, my belief is that companies fail to analyze the content that folks are paying attention to in the social conversation. An example of this might be that a person that happens to be a concert fan and 'likes' a page for that reason and then starts receiving information that has no bearing on concerts. We tend to think that because a person appreciates concert music that they are also interested in dining out, and so we bombard them with restaurant offers.
SD: Transparency and authenticity are key to social media success. Social media users are savvy, and lack of these two elements can be a detriment to your online credibility. Given social media is meant to be short and concise, adding links to documentation or websites is a good way to support statements with facts.
Timely response and consistent tracking are also key elements to successful social media relationships within your online community. Your audience must feel you’re reliable; if questions go unanswered they will look elsewhere. Social media gives players a way to provide feedback directly to us, but we need to be ready to respond. It’s important to have a strong social media team responsible for monitoring; some make the mistake of considering social media as something that can be done 'off the side of the desk', but they run the risk of appearing unreliable or inconsistent.
What insights about today's demographic have you learned through social media?
GM: There’s no question that today’s social media users expect information anytime and anywhere, and they want it fast. This can prove challenging for companies as they balance business priorities and resources. Users are also not afraid to voice their opinions online whether positive or negative. They trust their network of friends and followers to gain the feedback they value versus marketing messages from a company.
KM: Social media users have an expectation that gaming properties will not only have a social media presence, but that they will find unique content, special offers, and incentives for connecting with the property in a social network. This particularly extends to service related issues, where the social audience expects to be able to raise questions and issues and have the property respond. This customer service aspect of social media will continue to put pressure on the gaming industry to extend their existing service arms into the social media realm. This prospect raises a number of new challenges to the industry.
Ultimately, the engaged social audience is looking for a deeper relationship with the property and gaming marketers will be challenged with managing more complex communications channels going forward.
RS: The main lesson that we have learned is not to believe that social media is restricted to any particular demographic. We tend to think that social media is the purview of the 18 to 36 year old. Since this fits with what is generally the target demographic for radio and television advertising, it is easy to believe. Today, with the advent of multiple forms of social media—including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, and others—it is difficult to be specific as to who is taking part in the social strata.
SD: On social media platforms, information travels quickly; our communities like to be responded to in a timely fashion. This requires consistent monitoring and a strategy to ensure we are always able to respond informatively and promptly. We must be transparent, approachable, and authentic in order to earn the trust of our online community.
Conversations about brands are happening all around us, whether we are part of them or not. We find out where these conversations are taking place and go there, otherwise we might miss out on key opportunities to inform players, gather support for our business, and answer questions.
How do you see social media evolving, and what are your plans to keep pace?
GM: In the near future, I foresee changes in how companies engage with media, especially as social channels gain more clout as the first port of call for media to source news over other traditional tools such as media releases. I also agree that smartphones are the future of social networking, trumping PCs as the primary access point to social networks. We recognize the benefits of social media and will continue to leverage social platforms that fit strategically with our business goals.
KM: Where will the next hurricane land? It is impossible to predict, but we can make some educated guesses based on current trends.
Visual content will continue to grow in importance. Facebook grew initially based on the ease with which members could share photos. Today that phenomenon, driven by the market saturation with smartphones, continues with new social networks like Instagram (purchased by Facebook in 2012) and, most recently, Vine. Photo and video sharing, whether in standalone networks (YouTube, Facebook, etc.) or integrated with the major players (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), will continue to grow as social media users choose to document their emotions and experiences in a medium richer than text-based posts.
We will continue to see integration between the social networks that blurs the lines. As the social platforms fight for our attention and spare time, they will continue to integrate with and acquire each other in order to grow the functionality and user experience. Users will have more options for sharing, and as a result, more powerful tools within the social networks to share information more broadly (i.e. to a more expanded audience) than ever before. The result is a more powerful customer and greater importance of the inf luencers.
Finally, we are going to see further extension of 'gamification' in the customer experience in digital channels. We are already seeing Las Vegas properties experiment with new ways for their customers to take the experience outside of the casino through mobile apps. This includes augmented loyalty programs just for this audience and smartphone gaming applications where customers can gain rewards that can be redeemed onsite. Casinos will need to find ways to be more closely tied to their customer and provide greater value in the overall digital experience to be successful.
RS: Social media is replacing a variety of different conversations. Talk radio is an example of a way in which many people felt they were able to get their opinion heard. Today, we can have an opinion, place it on a particular social media site, and 2.5 million people will read and comment on it in an hour. Anything that gets out now has a key to share and several different options of where to share it to. We need to be a part of that conversation and the way to be involved is to be in the conversation as a participant and not as an advertiser. We need to contribute to the conversation through many different ways that make our side of the conversation relevant to the social strata that is taking place. It doesn't make sense to be on a site like Reddit talking about crocheting or paint by numbers when the conversation is about snowboarding.
SD: Social media is a quickly developing industry. Tools and behaviours are constantly evolving; to keep pace, we must be willing to evolve as this industry does—both from a software perspective and a user perspective. We will continue to be authentic by setting goals and putting strategies in place to achieve them. We will strive to be relevant and entertaining, contributing as much to our online communities as we expect to get back. We will continue to strengthen brand character by connecting with players and evolving our strategies to continue to meet their changing needs.