MatPat: We Work with Brands to Help Them Achieve Their Goals Through the Creative

Creativity is one of the most underrated and taken for granted components of advertising. This is where influencer marketing can provide the most value when done right. Its use of talent-driven creative means that the content has the highest potential to be useful, funny, inspiring, relatable, emotional and—most importantly—engaging.

WHOSAY CEO Steve Ellis will be addressing the subject during a Social Media Week New York (SMWNYC) panel titled “Creativity Meets Brand Outcomes: There is Where the Magic Happens” on Wednesday, April 25 at 10:20 AM ET. The venue is the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel.

Ellis will be joined by Matthew Patrick, the internet personality,  best known as the creator and narrator of the YouTube web series Game Theory, where he comments on topics such as the logic, scientific accuracy, and lore of various video games and the gaming industry.

We sat with MatPat before his SMWNYC 2018 panel to get his insights on engaging audiences and what he looks for when partnering with a brand among other topics.

WHOSAY: What's your favorite way to engage your followers?
MatPat: Our channels are all about learning, which has always been a huge passion of mine. Because of that, the best interactions or engagements I have with followers tend to be the ones where I learn something about them or they have a chance to learn about each other. Asking a direct question on Instagram or through YouTube comments is fine for this, but a lot of times I try to take it a step further. There have been several instances over the years with the channel where I've run major surveys on our audience to better understand their personality types, likes, dislikes, or preferences when it comes to stuff they do online. Usually, I put together that kind of survey to help me with an episode of Game/Film Theory where I need real-world data. For example, last year I ran a survey asking viewers to take a Myers-Briggs style personality quiz, then separately asked them about major moral/gameplay choices they made in a popular video game. We used the data to understand whether certain personality types were more likely to make specific moral judgements in a game, then did a Game Theory episode about personality types and gameplay choices. We had over 40,000 people participate in the survey in under a week and all of them were able to say that they materially contributed to the episode of Game Theory when it came out. We just finished another survey like this on PUBG and Fortnite players, which we’re still parsing through at the moment. This survey had 300,000 respondents in under a week and asked questions about their social habits in online games. We can mention this if you’d like because it’s particularly topical at the moment.

These kinds of interactions are fascinating because it lets us understand a significant subset of our audience in a totally new way. It also allows them to compare survey results with each other, helping them connect with other members of the community over shared interests and perspectives they didn't even know they had. On our end, the information we get helps us better program the channel to make more episodes people will like, talk about topics that interest specific groups, or relate to them in a way we weren't able to before.

WS: What metrics/analytics do you usually look at?
MP: The short answer is: as many as we possibly can. We're huge data nerds and not only do we spend a ton of time in our own analytics across platforms, but we actively run experiments on all our channels to better understand what our data is telling us. We've been doing this for so long that now we also teach other channels (as well as bigger companies) how to get the most out of their analytics and data.

Our passion for data goes back to the earliest days of Game Theory. The episodes took so long to create (about 100 hours each) that we wanted to make sure we were getting every last view possible out of each upload to maximize our ROI. In doing this, we started testing everything from thumbnails and metadata to things like color patterns, speaking cadence, and calls-to-action. There's almost nothing on our own channels we haven't tested and we use the data we get back to constantly refine our creative strategy. Over the years, our constant focus on the data has (*knock-on-wood*) allowed us to adapt to changes in various platforms' algorithms and helped sustain high growth and high engagement on the channels for a lot longer than we would have been able to otherwise.

Last, we also have a well-established relationship with YouTube at this point that allows us to be early adopters and beta testers for a lot of new features that roll out, giving us the chance to provide direct feedback to the Product and Engineering teams that I don't think a lot of other creators get to. This is a responsibility that we take seriously on our end so that whenever we see opportunities for new metrics or improvements, we're communicating that back to the people who can implement change the fastest.

WS: What gets more engagement on your channels?
MP: There are a few things that we consider when we think about "engagement" on YouTube.

First, on YouTube, engagement is measured more through implicit signals rather than explicit signals. What this means is that YouTube's algorithm cares a lot less about explicit engagements like likes and comments and a lot more about implicit engagements, namely views and watch time. With that in mind, the engagements we care about all revolve around views and watch time on the platform. Likes and comments are fine, but they won't move the needle in terms of your channel's growth, so we place a lot less emphasis on these.

On each channel, we have "wheelhouse" topics that we know (and our audience knows) will bring in the highest viewership and the most watch time. For example, on Game Theory, our wheelhouse topics are anything Super Mario related (we have a huge retro and Nintendo fanbase) and episodes about the game "Five Nights At Freddy's." While obviously every episode can't and shouldn't be about these topics, we make sure that we sprinkle in an episode related to these every month or so to activate the largest segments of our fanbase and ensure that we have episodes bringing in big views and watch minutes. On Film Theory, our wheelhouse episodes are Disney/animation topics and Marvel superhero theories, so the same thing applies over there.

In between big tentpole uploads on both channels, our strategy shifts to covering smaller, more niche topics to target and highlight viewers who might have never seen one of our episodes or who we think we can convert to subscribers. It's equally important to experiment with content, so we monitor how our experimental content goes and occasionally we stumble across something that's so successful we can move it into "wheelhouse" territory.

WS: Are there topics you stay away from?
MP: As a rule, we try to cover as many topics as possible, so I wouldn't say there's anything we rule out as a hard line. That being said, we always try to frame all our episodes in a way that's non-political and acknowledges multiple viewpoints where they exist. We're also an educational show to some extent, so if we're covering topics we think will be more sensitive, we'll try to cover them from an angle that's not inflammatory and rely on things that everyone can agree on, like proven scientific research and math. With that in mind, we've been able to tackle a pretty wide range of topics over the years--everything from Pewdiepie's scandal on YouTube to LGBTQ+ representation in gaming to the history of fake news. The most important thing when we're considering covering a topic isn't necessarily whether it's controversial but whether we have something to say about it that we think hasn't been well-represented and adds to the discussion in a constructive (and not offensive) way.

WS: What do you look for when partnering with brands?
MP: Over the years we've had the opportunity to work with a lot of brands and there are a couple big things we really value in those partnerships:

1) Organization and transparency: Brand partnerships become really frustrating when expectations change at the last minute. The best brands we work with know what their campaign goals are going in and can communicate that to us and other partners up front. Do they want to drive views? Click-throughs? The best scenario is that we know what the goals are so we can proactively work with the brand to achieve them through the creative. In the most ideal scenario, the brand is also willing to share performance information with us in a post mortem call or email to let us know if we over or under delivered, where we measured up in relation to their goals, etc. This helps us improve our creative and partnerships moving forward as well.

2) Creative freedom: This is the one that all creators seem to talk about but it really is important. We've had to turn down deals in the past that we would otherwise loved to do because of rigid creative restrictions. These involve not being able to talk about a product in our own words, but also involves not being able to say anything negative about a product or make fun of it in any way. If you can't make jokes or talk realistically about a brand, it usually reads poorly with the audience, so ultimately no one wins in those scenarios.

Matthew Patrick, also known by screen name MatPat, is best known as the creator and narrator of the YouTube webseries Game Theory, where he comments on topics such as the logic, scientific accuracy, and lore of various video games and the gaming industry. He is also known for creating the spinoff Film Theory, centering around cinema and internet filmography.