Sunday, September 2, 2007

OOPS - What happened to our strategist?

Lately, Second Life (SL) has received negative press about its ineffectiveness for business. The much discussed and publicized SL version of Starwood Hotels is closing its doors. I have been to Starwood Hotels in SL many times. The builds are gorgeous and the space is beautifully designed. The problem is, there is nothing to do. It’s like a big empty palace where you can look but can’t touch. That gets boring.

In order for companies to experience any kind of ROI whether it’s involvement and investment, it needs to consider how it will engage its target audience. Second Life and virtual worlds are new and companies aren't sure what to do with it. It’s not much different from the web in the early 90’s. Virtual worlds will be like the web in a few years – people will not be able to imagine a world without this technology.

Instead of bashing Second Life, get real for what it is and the possibilities it creates. Since I first created an account in 2005, I have attended the most interesting and educational conferences, interfaced with people from all over the world, studied foreign languages, and attended countless art shows hosted by New Media Consortium and other groups. And that’s not all.

As it relates to education, SL is also a powerful tool. Countless universities have virtual campuses in SL. It eliminates distance and creates an entirely different layer of interaction that would otherwise not be possible in the real world. The problem is so many companies rush in without thinking how to effectively use this technology. If I rush to open a restaurant just because I can, what are the chances of being successful, especially if I lack any significant understanding of the restaurant business?

I would think marketing strategists would know better and I am disappointed in my colleagues for being seduced by the wow factor and not considering how to properly use this technology.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Traditional Marketing in Second Life doesn't work

I recently attended a conference in Second Life (SL) led by Macarthur Foundation president, Jonathan Fanton, and CEO of Linden Lab and founder of SL, Philip Rosedale. They had an engaging conversation about opportunities for philanthropy, education and business in SL. Someone asked Philip Rosedale to comment on the lack of measurable success real life businesses experience by redeploying its brands in SL.

He said to be successful businesses need to adapt to the culture in SL. He cited Amazon as an example of a company that adapted to internet culture and found great success. Before a company decides to do business in a foreign country, it studies social mores and customs to encourage effective communication. Why should SL be any different?

I recommend to companies thinking of colonizing SL with its brand to engage the community and encourage participation, both asynchronously and synchronously. One of my favorite corporate islands is Mercedes-Benz.

The dealership and grounds are well designed and interactive. Visitors can test drive cars as well change colors of the showroom models. There are multimedia features such as movies and music. My favorite features are the driving course and interactivity. Touching certain objects prompted pop-up windows containing links to specific areas of the company website.

I could also buy a Mercedes to drive in Second Life but regrettably, will pass on that one; I’m a terrible SL driver and why drive when I can fly?

We live in a culture of pro-consumerism. It’s about giving people what they want when they want it. Maybe it’s information; maybe it’s products or services. Whatever it is, be prepared to provide it now and on the residents’ terms. If a brand is already prolific in the real life marketplace, it isn’t going to be well received in SL. According to Philip Rosedale, companies need to be “able to contribute to the world itself or give people tools to make their experience powerful.” Companies can accomplish this by empowering the community.
Here are some ideas:

- Set up internships
- Set up focus groups
- Involve the community in helping to build your presence such as content development contests
- Think education and collaboration – what could a company do to educate its particular public and encourage collaboration?
- Involve the community!

I have been consulting with many companies who want to take the traditional approach to marketing its products in SL. One of them suggested an avatar walking around in a t-shirt with the company logo. Giving those cool t-shirts away including a landmark to the company SL headquarters is a better approach and more effective.

Lastly, real people manage avatars and are most likely consumers of popular brands. So instead of trying to repeat real life marketing strategies in SL, introduce existing customers to a whole new level of interaction by inviting them to the company island. A SL url or Slurl, on a website is a way for people to access the company island. Customer service island can be a great feature for customers waiting to speak to a customer service representative. Maybe even interact with a customer service rep in SL.

Second Life can be a powerful tool for companies if they are willing to adapt to the environment, are patient and experiment.

Recently, Wagner James Au published a great article on marketing in SL for GigaOM.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Say What?? I need an invitation to use your service!?!

I have noticed many Web 2.0 companies like Pownce, Joost, Skitch and probably dozens more, requiring potential consumers to obtain an invitation from users to download its software. I think this is a misuse of social networking, especially in a pro-sumer age where products and services are on-demand and immediate gratification is expected. I would not have signed up for Twitter and Jaiku if I needed an invitation. Nor would I have created accounts on MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn Me.dium, Flickr,, and others if I needed an invitation. I appreciate getting invitations from friends to join their networks once in but to download the software before the invitation arrives? Pleeeeeeeeeeeezzzzzz!

If you are Apple and releasing the iPhone today, that’s different. Apple has a reputation based on years of creating products that people love, so Apple hype is legitimate and the people standing in line have an idea of what they are in for. But for a new company? It’s transparent and misguided. What criteria are they using to select people requesting invitations directly from the company? Are they checking out applicants? I highly doubt it. So, the invitation thing is nothing but a gimmick.

I have such a problem with new companies creating false hype around products and services. It’s definitely a clever marketing strategy for entering an increasingly saturated Web 2.0 market. But how effective is it? Creating buzz is great and I am all for it. I am, after all, a marketing person and generating excitement is something I am familiar with and rather good at. But making people jump through hoops to use products and services is risky. Are these companies banking on sneezers and early adopters? What if the sneezers and early adopters have to wait too long for an invitation? Disingenuous doesn't work.

It reminds me of the poor peeps standing in line to get into a nightclub while others are granted immediate access. Moreover, why are people standing in line to get into a club in the first place? That club is using the people standing in line for the benefit of people looking for a place to party. They are pawns used to generate excitement. And the people in line are buying into it for that brief moment of validation that comes when they are finally let in. Are we that much in need of acceptance? It’s so obvious. The invitation thing feeds into people’s need to be part of an exclusive group. And it doesn’t create community if others have a hard time getting in. Didn't Rodney Dangerfield say something about wanting to be a member of a club that doesn't want him? Well, Rodney is dead and the way we do business has changed.

I don’t like to wait to try products and services, especially if it’s available! If I want to test-drive a car, I want to test drive that car when I want to test-drive it. I am not going to wait for an invitation. If I have to get one, then I will go somewhere else. Period. And NO ONE is doing anything THAT unique that warrants an invitation. Maybe Linden Lab but they make it easy for users to traverse their world.

I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way and for us impatient types, this strategy just won’t work. I’ll stick to what I can use immediately, on-demand and on my terms.

Sorry – I just don’t get the whole invitation thing. If you have some thoughts, let me know.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Online Woes: My Challenges with teaching in Second Life

I teach Supervision and Leadership online to second-year college students. I designed a management role-play simulation to deploy in Second Life (SL) for my students. Out of 25 students, only three signed up. Out of the three, only one had a computer robust enough to handle SL. What surprised me most was their full-blown indifference to the project indicated by the lack of questions and comments. Even more curious is that my students are digital natives! I thought for sure my students would get excited. I promoted the heck out of this project, posted screen shots, provided links to the SL website and SL resources, and told them how cool it is, ad infinitum. Not one of my students ever made it beyond Orientation Island.

I sensed that they didn't want more work and I was disappointed by their reaction or rather, lack thereof. I’m aware of many educators and universities who use SL quite successfully as a teaching tool. In fact, I attend their many conferences in SL to learn more. Most of the educators I meet who use SL, teach at traditional brick and mortar institutions. I am starting to wonder if my lack of success can be attributed to online course delivery.

A few students reported that SL computer requirements were incompatible with their systems. The college I teach for, Axia College, established Second Campus in SL for students and faculty to interact and to supplement curricula. They haven't opened it yet because they can't figure out how to effectively solve the technology limitations. This goes back to my question of the college being exclusively online. There is no way for administrators to control what sorts of computers students use. If it’s a traditional campus, computer labs solve this problem (assuming, of course, the computers in the labs aren’t antiques).

I met with the Dean of the college to discuss my experiences with launching the activity (apparently, I was the first instructor at my college to attempt learning activities in SL). He mentioned that the college is figuring out how to overcome this issue and mentioned the possibility of either providing students with laptops when they enroll or collaborate with a computer company to help students with major cost breaks.

Using Second Life as an accompaniment to online education seems to be a great way to enhance distance learning. I certainly didn’t expect my first attempt to yield such dismal results. I’ll keep trying.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Friday, June 15, 2007

Free to post your avatar pic?

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Second Life Best Practices in Education conference, which was informative, educational and a major undertaking. Hats off to the people who organized this conference: Marlene Brooks (SL Zana Kohime), Chris Collins (SL Fleep Tuque), Doreen Pugh (SL Veritas Variscan), Beth Ritter-Guth (SL Desideria Stockton). They did a phenomenal job as evidenced by the 1,000 educators and distinguished keynote speakers from all over the world who attended this 24-hour event! Tell me Second Life isn’t a powerful collaboration and distance education tool! Remarkably, I really felt like I was at a regular conference. It was surreal but at the same time, it was just as educational and valuable as any other well planned conference I’ve attended in real life.

While there, I took a lot of pics to post online and for the dedicated Flickr page. As I was getting ready to do so, I stopped. When you photograph groups of people in RL, it isn’t necessary to gather model release forms. It is necessary if you use an individual’s image for a particular purpose. Can you post pictures of avatars without previous consent from the person behind the avatar? This issue has me wondering especially after hearing of a builder getting upset about someone posting pics of her builds.

I think it’s a good practice to ask permission or at least inform that individual that their image will be used in an ad, editorial, or promotional piece.

I am curious if it’s a big deal or not.