It won’t take a journalist-in-training long to understand that social media is very important. The content you produce is the most important thing, of course, but the internet is saturated with gaming media. It’s therefore important for gaming websites to have a social presence, but for individual journalists, too. Poynter reports that Justin McIlroy, the managing editor of Polygon, told them that the video game industry lacks known personalities. Audio and video are infinitely more personal than text, and games journalists should use them to communicate with their audience online.
IGN is an example of a website whose social media presence is clearly working, with around 1.6 million Facebook followers at the time of writing. This is a hefty chunk of its estimated unique monthly visitors of 17.5 million (January-December 2012, eBizMBA). It appears that the number of Facebook followers is 11% of its monthly traffic. The followers on social media are very important, as they are people who are almost guaranteed to visit the site again and again.
However, IGN has it comparatively easy when stood alongside some of the smaller gaming websites that can’t trade off of reputation. In this case, it is important their journalists make themselves known. Twitter is a necessity, and you are certainly the odd one out if you don’t have a presence there. There are visual alternatives that aren’t always considered, such as Instagram, YouTube, Twitch – there are plenty of options out there – which should be also be used.
One of the most famous, if not indeed the most famous, video games journalists is Geoff Keighley, and that’s because he is a broadcast journalist. He’s not just hosted web shows, but has also appeared on American channel Spike TV. Most journalists don’t have Spike as a platform, and some mightn’t even have the confidence to feel like hosting a web show. But guess what? You don’t have to be a broadcast journalist. You just have to be yourself.
Being yourself is the way that you can gain an audience. You do want to promote your articles, of course, but you’re not going to entertain existing fans of works or appear that exciting to people who’ve just stumbled across you by being a PR machine. Indeed, when I attended the ExPlay games conference this November, indie game developer Simon Roth stated that to be yourself on social media – an opinion that carries weight considering image is much more important for someone whose sales are undoubtedly significantly lower than AAA releases.
It could be argued that it’s a waste of time to try to broaden your social media profile. Why get onto YouTube when there are far more successful Vloggers such as Charlie McDonnell? Why get onto Instagram when IGN has less than 30,000 followers of their account (as of 17/12/13)? Well, you’re not in direct competition with Charlie, and IGN is a brand, not an individual. Especially on websites such as Instagram, you have the potential to reach that large percentage of the population who game but don’t consider themselves ‘gamers’.
You will have to do a bit of research to understand genre conventions. For vlogging, you’ll have to be familiar with the jump-cut editing style; on photo-blogging sites, you’ll need to be aware of the use of hashtags; for game streaming, you’ll have to decide on the format of your streams (length, structure, etc.). Take a look at the TotalBiscuit vlog below, which interestingly combines gameplay with unrelated discussion.
Bear in mind that high quality content comes first; there’s a reason why the VGX awards are mocked and Polygon is well respected. Unless a temporary monetary fix is all you want – which isn’t going to happen online – then your content is the most important aspect of your work. Just don’t forget that you have a face and a voice that an audience wants to see and listen to, and that there’s a whole other audience out there that wants to but just doesn’t know it.
UPDATE: You might disagree with my referral to the likes of YouTube and Twitch as visual social media. However, I believe it is appropriate to deem them as such based on your usage of those platforms. If it is about communicating with your audience, not just broadly through a video but through engaging in chat, perhaps even creating video responses to comments and to other videos, then they take on characteristics of social media.