The last time I delved into one of my favorite pastimes for inspiration, I wrote about how much I loved Valve Software’s gamified distribution model. This time, my reasons for bringing up video games are related to expert use of social media and branding. For the past four months I have been watching Gearbox Software implement and maintain what might be the best social media support of a product I have ever seen.

Enter the Borderlands Universe

I have to be frank here; Gearbox’s new Borderlands 2 video game is a game designed for adults. This isn’t your juvenile 13-year old kids game. The company isn’t trying to market to those gamers. They are marketing to people who enjoy games and have been playing them for years. It has been rated mature (for ages 17+) by the ESRB.

With that aside, Gearbox has created a universe out of their original hit game Borderlands which sold over 3 million units since its release in 2009. In September of 2012 they released the sequel and did so with a great deal of hype and support, relying heavily on YouTube and social media. Before we get into that, I’d like to set the stage for the Borderlands universe.

Borderlands is a game about going over the top, pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable, and being hilarious while doing it. Gearbox has created characters with depth and personality in the original and the sequel. They aren’t afraid of including adult language, jokes, innuendo, or being rather offensive. Almost everything goes in Borderlands, and it sets it apart from many games; not to mention the fact that it’s also an extremely well made game. Really, it should be called an entertainment package… if that exists.

If you’re curious for an idea about this universe, see the original trailer announcing the Borderlands 2 release date. After noticing the craziness, at the end of the video you’ll see links to Facebook and Twitter, as well as Gearbox’s homepage. This would be the start of their aggressive social media use.

Gearbox and Social Media

For me, Gearbox’s embrace of social media came out of the blue. I had never seen a gaming company use social media so well, and so consistently well for that matter. They completely embrace the over-the-top insanity of their brand and go wild with it in every way they possibly can. For starters, here’s an infographic seemingly mocking the idea of infographics, and spreading information about the ridiculous claim of having 87 bazillion guns for players to use in the game:

That’s just a taste of what Gearbox has accomplished so far. Let’s check out what they’ve done with YouTube.

Gearbox’s Content on YouTube

Gearbox has been aggressive in their YouTube use with Borderlands 2. A quick search on their channel and you’ll find 21 videos related to the game, which has only been released for four months. What I find awesome about their content is how it’s pulled from their primary product. You’ll notice this pattern throughout their marketing strategy.

An ideal representation of this is creating a commercial for a manufacturer of one of the said “87 bazillion guns” in the game to hype the product pre-release. You can see it here.

Once Borderlands 2 was released, Gearbox started inserting special codes into the final seconds of their promotional and content-driven videos. These so-called “SHiFT codes” could later be used in consumers’ copies of the game to unlock rewards. They act as a way to reward users browsing and consuming their media. Additionally, it incentivizes browsers to become followers and subscribers to all of their social media channels. Giving more stuff for free is a great way to keep your brand on the front of consumers’ social media pages! That’s something any business can learn from.

Gearbox also uses YouTube and their other social media platforms to promote upcoming downloadable content for its game. One of the ways they utilized YouTube for this was to create content telling the story of a new playable character over a series of videos. The first one can be seen here.

To summarize: Gearbox utilizes YouTube as a way to continue to promote and announce information regarding its main product. It infuses the personality of its brand into all of its videos and creates an experience that the user recognizes and enjoys. It is also readily apparent that they have no problem making fun of themselves or anything or anyone else. They enjoy what they do and it comes through in their videos.

Gearbox Has Fun on Twitter

Gearbox’s Twitter use really impresses me. They currently use @GearboxSoftware and @ECHOcasts to tweet their quality content and announcements. Gearbox uses Twitter to share news, thoughts, and responses to customers, critics, and anyone who interacts with them. They aren’t afraid to promote their brand selflessly or be ridiculous, but that’s a part of enjoying the Borderlands universe.

One of the most creative uses I’ve seen is on their @ECHOcasts account. Leading up to every release of additional content for purchase, the account has taken on the persona of a character in the new content. This has led to some absolutely hilarious and frequently retweeted content.

The best example of this is when the account was “hijacked” during the lead up to the second piece of content (a playable area devoted to the corporation that makes explosive weaponry and their crazy, explosion-obsessed-loud-mouthed boss, Mr. Torgue).

Be sure to read these tweets from the bottom up for the proper timeline.

Mr Torgue Tweets

Apologies for this late screen grab, but in consistent fashion, Gearbox is already using the ECHOcasts’ Twitter account to promote their latest downloadable content with a different character, so the name is not MR TORGUE. But, you get the point.

Twitter followers were bombarded with hilarious, explosive, creative, and ridiculously funny tweets every day leading up to and after the release of Gearbox’s latest addition to Borderlands 2.

To summarize: Gearbox humanizes its Twitter content that it pulls from its own product. This brings consumers into the brand even better than passive brand marketing. They provide a more serious, information related account on their corporate Twitter, but then provide entertainment and comedy on the ECHOcasts account.

Gearbox Engages the Community with Facebook

Head on over to Gearbox’s Facebook page devoted to Borderlands. You’ll notice quickly that a video game has received over one million likes, despite only selling 2.21 million copies globally. I’m not a statistician but I would see that as meaning half of my customers are involved in my social media campaign!

Anyway, Gearbox’s use of Facebook incorporates all of the above strategies used on YouTube and Twitter. Gearbox has posted numerous times on Facebook, rewarding fans with the above mentioned SHiFT codes for simple things like holidays. They also promote consumer action by motivating them, with limited time period rewards, to participate in voting for the game in award competitions. Limiting time encourages users who want rewards to pay closer attention to Gearbox’s announcements.

Exhibit A: This SHiFT code post was made to reward fans for helping get the game nominated for Five DICE Awards.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B: This post provided SHiFT rewards to fans for the holiday season – note the urgent call to action, to use the codes before the New Year!

Exhibit B

Exhibit C: This is just a cool example of how Gearbox shows its human side while still promoting its product.

Exhibit C

Exhibit D (OK, OK, I’m almost finished with the exhibits): This was the first time I had ever seen a flipbook album. It worked well. Gearbox nailed their content for the presumed Mayan apocalypse in a funny way that fans loved.

Exhibit D

Exhibit E: Gearbox exhibits their understanding of social media by promoting user-generated content. A Halloween contest was a great way for fans to really dive into their brand!

Exhibit E

To summarize: Gearbox’s use of Facebook integrates a lot of concepts that are missing from many companies’ social media campaigns. They make sure to regularly update, feature and promote user-generated content, regularly provide rewards and incentives, and most importantly, entertain their fans.

Gearbox, You’re My Favorite

To top all of this social media savvy off, Gearbox makes an excellent product. The game has won multiple editor’s choice awards, game of the year, best shooter, best multiplayer game, best character, best performance by a human male, and many more. It shows too in that it’s well on track to selling in five or six months as many copies as the original Borderlands sold in three years.

Gearbox takes pride in providing a product, and the branding that goes with it. You can tell they care about every bit of work they put out. Their attempts at creating and including a community are genuine and it shows, especially on their Facebook. Their approach is relaxed, regular, and focuses on great content, not getting the most likes or shares. That comes naturally with great content!

And so do fans. I’ve enjoyed playing Borderlands 2 more than many games I’ve played in recent memory. Part of the reason is because I know there are thousands of people out there who are just as impressed with the quality of the game they are playing. By using their product and engaging their brand I become part of the community as well. Is there any greater goal of a social media campaign than that?

I don’t know whether Gearbox is capable of this social media professionalism because it’s working with a product that is a video game, or because they are geniuses. Regardless, their creativity should inspire and encourage others who use social media for their products or brands to think outside the box. There are so many ways to reach customers and interact with them in a meaningful while also building your brand.

What do you think of Gearbox Software’s use of social media?