Joe Biden and Donald Trump playing video games together. Donald Trump is losing.

Campaigns have slowly, finally caught on to what it means to produce live events for an all-virtual audience. Because of the pandemic, more and more candidates are holding virtual town halls and live conversations online. But there’s one corner of the internet that has been doing this for quite a while that campaigns are still ignoring: live gaming. 

Let’s start with some numbers. Twitch, the popular live streaming platform primarily occupied by gamers, has more than 15 million daily active users that consume content from millions of streamers. And with 4.9 billion hours of live-streamed content watched during Q1 2020 alone, the streaming industry as a whole has seen a 70% increase in viewership compared to 2019 in large part because of COVID-19. Twitch actually accounts for 65% of that viewership market, YouTube has 22%, and Facebook now has 11%, up from 0% in Q1 of 2019.

Thousands of viewers flock to these channels every day for 5-8 hours of non-stop exhilarating, engaging, and authentic content. These creators are not just playing video games – they’re fundraising for charities, they’re connecting with individual viewers via donations and a live chat, and they’re running committed and devout communities online. 

Many are entrepreneurs that actively listen to their viewers in real time and they go where their viewers are (sound familiar?). They play what their viewers play, and watch what their viewers watch. The rest of the world has taken notice of this medium that keeps viewers not only highly entertained but also highly engaged. Even DJs and musicians seem to be flocking to gaming platforms absent a live stage to perform on.

As more and more campaigns jump into the world of live streaming and remote production, there are a few things they can learn from the people who’ve been doing this for years to reach and engage a huge new swath of audiences.

Fundraise openly

Courage JD, a popular YouTube gamer, recently lost his grandmother due to complications caused by COVID-19. In response, a week later, he held an eight-hour charity stream with a $250,000 goal to raise money for the CDC Foundation. Within the first hour, Courage JD raised $100,000, and the streamer reached his goal of $250k in just four hours and ultimately raised over $500k over the course of the day. 

Viewers want a cause to rally behind. They want something to donate to. And they LOVE a good progress bar/fundraising goal. Campaigns: give the people what they want!

Set a fundraising goal at the beginning of a stream and give your viewers and fans the opportunity to take credit for their support of your campaign. Streamers, for example, treat subscriptions and donations as their source of income outside of charity streams. Often when a viewer donates, an animation pops up showing the donation to the stream along with the username of the person that made the donation. Different donation amounts have different animations and often, the bigger a donation, the more exciting the animation and sound effect. 

In addition, try adding goals and giveaways to your fundraising goals. Offer a campaign swag giveaway once $1,000 has been raised. Set actual benchmarks that your viewers can help you meet and give them an incentive for helping you get there. Good streamers provide ladders of incentives; for example, if the stream raises $125,000, the host dyes their hair pink + blue. These simple tactics encourage the slow build-up of hype around your streams and create a snowball effect that leads to even more donations, wider engagement, and higher viewership.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been a huge proponent of personal interactions via social media since before she was elected. So it wasn’t surprising that a politician who regularly live streams mundane activities on Instagram to share different life updates and once crashed a Twitch stream raising money for trans youth jumped at the chance to connect with constituents online through the insanely popular Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

To be frank, if Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden picked up a controller and started playing Fortnite it would probably more closely resemble an SNL skit rather than a genuine attempt to connect with voters. While some, myself included, would be happy to pay money to watch that stream, you can be sure that the internet will work hard to call a campaign on something that’s easily perceived as a disingenuine gimmick. 

If live gaming doesn’t mesh with your principal’s brand, put this type of work in the hands of staffers, influencers, or surrogates that can handle being in the limelight, can connect with all different communities online, and act as mouthpieces for the campaign. They probably have more time to spend with this particular audience and, if done correctly, can develop a unique rapport and online personality that these viewers specifically tune in for – much like an actual gaming streamer. 

If it can work for Lara Trump and her misinformation streams, it can work for you and your campaign.

Have a little fun!

If your campaign has the room for it, feel free to actually have fun playing video games on your streams. Boot up the Nintendo Switch and throw down with some Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or Mario Kart in between your regular programming. Your audience is far more likely to tune into a long stream if there’s some genuine entertainment sprinkled in. 

Zach Raknerud, a congressional candidate for North Dakota’s at-large congressional district, understood the need for something different. 

Several months ago, he held what he called a “Town Hall in Virtual Reality.” In it, Zach took turns between playing a virtual reality game and taking questions, talking about his priorities, and expanding on his platform. In between taking questions, though, he would play “Beat Saber” – essentially a VR version of Rock Band – and viewers had the option to become donors to the campaign by using their donation to request a song for Zach to play. Additionally, while Zach played the requested song, the donors’ names would scroll down the side of the page, giving everyone watching a chance to be featured donors themselves during the stream.

Engage with your live chat

A lot of live streams that we’ve been watching, especially from left-leaning political organizations and campaigns, don’t seem to engage with the live chats. Sometimes it can be because a lot of the content that is being “live-streamed” are actually pre-recorded, and sometimes it’s because chat can be toxic and engaging with them is seen as counterproductive. Fair enough.

But to ignore your live chat is to ignore one of the integral aspects of live streaming. This goes back to the first point I made about fundraising openly: viewers want to be a part of something. They want to see themselves in what they’re interacting with. To ignore them is to quickly lose their attention. 

To use AOC as an example again, the congresswoman recently started a “Coffee and Conversation” series on her YouTube channel where she just chills with her constituents and fans and answers their questions. There are no crazy formalities, there’s no intense backdrop – it’s just her taking calls from viewers. Taking questions from viewers via phone call is a bit clunky since that doesn’t fully embrace the organic back-and-forth with a live chat – it’s still a good way to engage.

Look, stepping up a campaign’s streaming strategy isn’t singlehandedly going to win an election. But, as candidates and causes consider which audiences they are trying to reach online – especially for fundraising and grassroots engagement – I argue they should look to the gaming world to see if they can integrate these tips, tricks, and best practices into their work. 

Alex Vassiliadis is a Content Producer for ACRONYM.

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Alex Vassiliadis

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