Casino marketers have been utilizing social media for more than a decade, but 2020 illuminated the channel’s value. We tried to maintain engagement with guests and prepare them for reopening that would quickly follow.

As social media’s role continued to grow, operators soon saw the value of influencers – pop culture icons of the new age.

However, while some casinos dipped their proverbial toes into the influencer pool, some held off judgment in the hopes of understanding how to utilize this new tool best.

In a conversation with Justin Shank of Shank Marketing, we quickly realized this was a great opportunity to provide casino marketers with some basic building blocks and introduce them to the influencers growing their audiences of slot enthusiasts.

The Winning Influencer Marketing series was designed to allow marketers from across the country (and some outside of the US) to ask the questions (and get the answers) that keep coming up in conversations as they debate implementation.

  • How do we get started?
  • How do we measure ROI?
  • How do we find the right fit and still protect the brand?

The biggest question I seem to be getting is how did this all get started. Shank explains it best when he reminds us that we have always had influencers in our midst, but we used to call them “tastemakers.” As a former publicist, he recalls using them for many of his past movie projects. 

“It was somebody to whom you could send a product, and they would talk about it,” he explains. “Maybe they were a media personality or some other celebrity. Influencers started to really come up into the mainstream with the widespread adoption of YouTube.  And the term ‘influencer’ came about when people started to notice these YouTubers starting trends and making an impact on society as a whole and gaining followers at surprising rates.”

There are people such as travel bloggers, food writers, and others interested in travel-related topics. These people have gained large followings. The slot influencer emerged over the past few years. Their playing sessions, both live and recorded, have grown in popularity on YouTube and Twitch, and other live streaming services.

Many marketers may be seeing a new trend. Uber popular YouTubers are starting to utilize TikTok as well, and although the platform currently seems incongruent with our core audiences, there is still an opportunity for short-form videos. This trend adds another question to the ones already spinning in our heads.

Getting Started with Social Influencer Marketing

Shank says the easiest way to start is to start watching what influencers are doing and how their audiences respond.  Pay attention to creators, both large and small. Personalities develop over a period of time. So, it is important to stay connected and not automatically disqualify Or conversely, qualify) someone right from the start.

Many experienced headline-making influencers are creating multiple revenue streams, but slot influencers are still relatively new. Many of them started filming their own personal experiences. Soon people were discovering these videos and commenting. Eventually, these videos became more deliberate. 

The influencer was born as they gathered more and more followers. 

Moreover, these secret videos became more conspicuous as operators began updating rules and controls that previously forbade filming on the casino floor.

These everyday slot players are becoming real celebrities. They are not pseudo-celebrities. They are real people, recognized by their fans. They have huge followings and wildly loyal fans. It is pretty cool to see them on the gaming floor,

Shank associate Courtney Carr recalls having to hire extra security during one appearance “because there were throngs of people going in between the banks of machines,” she recalls. “That looks great on the floor. It’s entertaining, but we had to get more security to make sure that no one would interrupt the filming and the experience for those who just wanted to play and be left alone.”

“In the end, everything was fine, and the fans that wanted to get a little closer were able to,” concludes Carr.

Carr brings a unique perspective for getting started. As a former property social media specialist, she launched a successful influencer program at the Golden Nugget Las Vegas. Like most casinos at the time, the property had a firm policy that prevented general filming on the floor. “That meant either with a digital camera or your phone,” says Carr. “However, with influencers, they’re coming in with tripod or with monopods. Bigger influencers may have an assistant, perhaps a crew, depending on their needs.”

“We wanted to be welcoming to influencers,” she continues. “So, we looked at our filming policy. We realized we had way more to gain than we did to lose by updating the policy to meet the current trends and what was going on in the pop culture. We became much more open. Anyone could come in and film their experiences. You didn’t have to be an influencer.”

Along with reviewing and updating your policies, you should start looking at what influencers are talking about. 

Start with YouTube as it seems to be the most popular channel for slot influencers. Type your property name into the search. There is likely already existing content posted by influencers or enthusiasts. They have filmed on your property, and you may not even know it. 

There might have even been an awkward encounter or two. Get ahead of it. Watch the video and determine what could have been done differently. From that point, share your discoveries and recommendations.  Once you have connected, consider contacting the influencer and inviting them to return to the property.

I strongly recommend identifying influencers in the industry and start following them. Get to know their personalities and the kind of properties they are going to and the kind of messages they are sending. That will tell you a great deal about who might be a good fit for your brand, which will be consistent with your strategy. You want to find someone that aligns with your values, with your property’s belief, and obviously the mission statement.

“But Social Influencers Don’t Represent Our Core Target.”

There may be many assumptions that social influencers are like Kylie Jenner or Charlie Demilio, or some other well-known name making millions off social. Some may go into an influencer project thinking they need somebody with a million or more followers.

Yes, that will make an impact. When super influencers post, many are watching, but the key to starting your own program is to start local and start smaller. There are a growing number of influencers in the casino space. There is an opportunity for almost any operator today.

There is an opportunity for almost any operator today.

Search for your property. Look for the keywords your customers may be using. That will help you to identify the best influencer fit for your property. They may have even already played there. They may have filmed without you even knowing it. There may be existing content you can easily share today with your customers.

“And if they did a good job,” adds Shank, “ask them if they can come back for another visit.”

You may want to consider giving them more opportunities to film, perhaps in the restaurant or the golf course, whatever fits them and you. Some of them may choose to stick with pure gaming. Some may welcome the opportunity to feature your amenities. The key is to open a dialogue with your existing influencer fans.

Shank ads, “If you don’t have a presence on YouTube currently, you may want to take a look at some of the other casino properties out there and see what they’re doing.”  There are already many excellent examples of casinos creating their own gaming videos and developing a YouTube series of their own.

A Question of Authenticity

One of the big questions on the minds of casino marketers is authenticity. How do you use influencer marketing so that it comes off as being authentic?

If you start looking around social media, you will see that your own customers are sharing their experiences. You cannot get more authentic than someone who chooses to spend their dollars at your property!

You cannot get more authentic than someone who chooses to spend their dollars at your property!

A quick test is to search existing content, share it and see what the comments tell you. The insights help you build a case for extending an official invitation.

Contracting with Social Influencers

Once you have identified the influencer that is best going to mesh with your brand and communicate with your audience, it is time to get others involved — lawyers.

While we are finding that some of the local influencers are willing to stop by for a quick shoot, needing nothing more than the freedom to do so. Some influencers are much more established. They are paid to travel all over the world to visit various casinos, even having agents. Ultimately, they are business people, and many are starting to structure agreements that cover financial agreements and even riders, like entertainers. And like those entertainers, they may require certain things like hotel rooms and food and beverage. In some cases, they may have specific travel requirements that you will need to pay for.

Shank says they have not found a situation where the influencer is unwilling to work with the property — adding some things and subtracting others from the contract.

It is such a new industry, and we are all in the infant stages of what this will become. Some influencers have thousands, maybe millions, of views. They are getting the attention of major agents (like CSA.) They are starting to become more professional, not only with their filming but their careers as well.

Impact of Slot Influencers on the Casino Floor

Those whom we can categorize as “influencer” probably started as a player simply recording their experience. So, while you need processes in place for “official” visits, you should be prepared to handle ad hoc influencers.

A published policy is probably your best bet. You will get questions from other patrons wondering why they may not be allowed to film. Treating influencers like contracted partners is the surest way to make it clear. You are not going to bring someone off the street with a camera crew. The reality is most influencers are not coming in with a crew. It might just be an assistant and a tripod.

Carr established a preproduction process complete with a pre-arrival checklist (email us if you want your copy) indicating the number of cameras and assistance. Information like this is easily shared with all departments. She also asks for information about specific areas the influencer wants to play in or any favorite games that should be available.

Wide area release signage might also be a part of your influencer arrival kit.

Shank is seeing significant improvements in how properties are working with influencers and their up-and-coming influential players. Due diligence is the key to being prepared for their arrival and managing the floor and guests’ impact.

Carr adds, “Getting as much information as you can that can be shared with your internal team is one of the best tips I can share. Talk to your casino team – from your executives to attendants. Chances are they will love this idea because you’re bringing attention to their floor. And with that, hopefully, you’re also bringing revenue.”

Once everyone is on board, start small, inviting one influencer. You may not even have to pay them if they are one of those growing influencers in your local or regional market. They may appreciate the freedom to film! 

Then, share those videos with your audience, read the comments, and understand the engagement level. Armed with data, you can start building toward more well-known influencers with larger, more established audiences.

Integrating Social Influencers into Existing Media Efforts

Utilizing influencers cannot be in a vacuum, separate from your other marketing efforts. It should be integrated, particularly with your social media efforts, to enhance your channel strategies.

Additionally, there has to be a plan that is not short term. If you are going to give up after one try, you may want to focus on other efforts. It would be best if you also were open to using channels that are not your norm.

Many influencers use multiple channels rather than being exclusive to only one. One influencer may be more successful on Facebook. At the same time, another finds their fame on YouTube or Twitch. Casino marketers are (in general) fans of Facebook over YouTube. Still, while Facebook may be the most important channel for engaging with your fan base, YouTube draws many slot fans for the ease of live-streaming.

It may be time to consider revisiting your channel strategies to capture the influencer audiences.

If, for instance, you discover an influencer on Instagram that you believe may be a fit for your brand, you should take a look at what you are projecting on Instagram. What does it look like when somebody visits your Instagram profile or sees your posts for the first time?

You should take a good look at the total picture of all your social channels (and those you are absent from) before you start using influencer marketing.

YouTube might be the most crucial of the channels you should fold into your marketing, but there is still an opportunity for you if you are intimidated by video.  Create or revive your account and complete your profile. Then upload something as simple as your sales presentation. An existing Powerpoint can easily be made into a quick video.

Once you have a profile, start searching for mentions and then interact with people commenting on any videos created at your property. Often, commenters are asking questions that influencers may not have answers for, but you do.

The key, according to Carr, is to be present wherever content about you exists. She adds you should be doing the same on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Additionally, you may discover content you would love to reshare. Just remember to give them credit. They own that content. If you would like to have more flexibility, consider including usage in your contracts.

I think that we have a tool that everybody really wants to use, and now it is a matter of using it wisely and effectively and ultimately creating revenue for our properties.

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