Social Networking and the rise of free play slots and casino games

We recently came across the UK Gambling Commissions report on social gaming. This is a very interesting area for us, primarily because as social media experts, the impact of regulation and legislation within this field is of critical importance to us. However, it’s also important as we have seen a dramatic increase in the popularity of social gaming in recent years. A number of major social networks now allow the use of social gaming across their platforms, and there has been a considerable amount of growth and interest within this area, particularly by casino operators interested in creating a new marketing vertical for their products.

Yet, it’s clear that there has been a considerable amount of concern about the growth of social gaming, and we completely understand why that is the case. It was this concern that led to a the UK Gambling Commission undertaking significant research into the filed in order to learn more about it and the potential issues that this sector may pose.

Whilst social gaming is a relatively new phenomenon, it’s apparent that free play slots and casino games have been around for some time. Yet it’s the social nature of social networking sites, and their massive popularity that have driven the growth in social gaming. Yet the key issue with social gaming, and one that the Gambling Commission has clearly identified, is that the boundaries between social gaming and traditional commercial gaming have become somewhat blurred.

It’s this blurring of the boundaries of social gaming that is a real concern and one that drove the Gambling Commission’s motives in commissioning a scoping review about the impact of social gaming. This review makes interesting reading, and whilst there is some concern it looks as if the Commission will continue with a ‘watching brief’ rather than introduce legislation to regulate this sector at this stage.

But what does this mean for stakeholders that work within the social gaming field? It’s clear that operators need to ensure that they operate responsibly and communicate clearly in respect to any social games that they promote on social networking platforms. There appears to be a place for social gaming, but as with most things, this needs to be moderated with the key concept of ‘responsibility’ being at the heart of any marketing efforts in respect to social gaming. It’s certainly clear that social gaming is big business and not just talk – as shown by Aristocrat’s recent acquisition of the US based social gaming company Big Fish, for $1.3 billion. That’s no loose change in anyone’s books, and clearly indicates that social gaming is likely to play a significant role in the future. It will be interesting to see whether there is a spate of other acquisitions in the social gaming sector following the announcement of this deal.

What is clear is that social gaming represents a new marketing avenue for operators within the online gambling field. It also offers an avenue for those experts and social media consultants that specialise in social gaming. Yet, one thing remains clear – a responsible and coherent approach to social gaming is required from all stakeholders.

Social Media within the E-Gaming Sector

A number of industries have been early adopters of social media, and consequently have managed over the years to not only identify what works, but also how best to ensure that their brand message is consistent across both traditional off line marketing avenues and online social media channels.   One such industry is the online gambling and casino sector, where companies such as Paddy Power and Sportingbet have not only recognised the significance of social media marketing, but have also become benchmark cases which other companies in other sectors aspire to. free pokiesWhat is clear is that marketing functions within many businesses I have worked with have a constant battle with senior management over the issue of social networking.  It’s not surprising either, as probably around 80% of blue chip companies I have worked with have either no social networking strategy in place or have such a stringent policy that their social networking efforts appear stagnant and fails collectively to connect with their existing and potential customers.

My advice in these situations is always direct and to the point.  Companies interested in social networking must embrace social networking fully, and have a clear yet flexible strategy.  If senior management can’t agree to this then it’s best for the business to ignore social networking completely.  Yet, within the online casino sector social networking has worked, as seen first hand in a recent free pokies promotion that was run successfully within the Australian market by a major casino operator last year. The most simple advice when attempting to formulate a social strategy is to keep it simple.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel and don’t hesitate to look at other business sectors such as online gambling, where blue chip online casino operators such as Paddy Power, William Hill, Ladbrokes and Australia’s Sportingbet, continue to connect with their customer with highly effective social media strategies, particularly with promoting the latest iPad pokies games. I’ve only just returned from a trip to Australia to assist a major Australian firm formulate their social media strategy for a planned launch of a new online casino promoting some of the latest online pokies Australia.  In preparation for these meetings, I spent some time researching Social Media strategies devised by consultants such as James Hanson, in addition to reviewing what has and hasn’t worked for online casino operators within both the UK and European gambling markets.  What is clear is that the approach used by the various casino operators changes depending on their geographical market.

Facebook posts that work for Paddy Power in the UK market don’t have the same impact in Europe, where a more local approach appears to be the norm. This was probably the most important message I had for my Aussie clients, who were keen to use a similar strategy as Paddy Power to push and promote free pokies via a concerted and aggressive social media strategy.  Their aim was to make Australian’s aware of their new brand through the promotion of free cash prizes and no deposit pokie bonuses.   What is clear is that Aussie’s really do enjoy playing the pokies, and judging by a recent article in the Guardian newspaper, Australian’s appear to be the world’s biggest punters. Yet what is really exciting about social media within the e-gaming sector, is the ability of casino and gambling operators to swiftly and dynamically alter their strategy to reflect technological advances, and a change in consumer behavior.  This can be no better shown with the growth in tablet devices such as the iPad.

Gambling operators have been quick off the mark in recognising the move away from desktop and laptops towards tablet devices, and in doing so have been able to launch a new breed games built on the latest web standard (HTML5) that have proved incredibly popular with players.  The online casino sector certainly offers a number of best in breed operators when it comes to social media, and they are certainly a good starting point in attempting to devise a suitable social strategy for your business.