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On Making it Work in SL

July 2, 2007

Couple of very interesting blog entries on RL companies making or breaking it in Second Life. Grace McDunnough got the ball rolling with this piece and Linda Zimmer takes the baton with her piece on Business Communicators of Second Life.

Their views echo many of my own, although I wouldn’t go as far as saying that ‘all businesses are struggling or failing’ – at this moment in time there is little to judge success against, although it’s fair to say that many business’s efforts are rather lacklustre to say the least.

Grace suggests that there are three simple rules for success in the form of ‘dialogue’, ‘interaction’ and ‘engagement’ which I wholeheartedly agree with. I’ve summarised my own thoughts on them below along with a couple of other issues that I think need debating more.

1 Dialogue:

Grace says that:

“Dialogue often requires that you actually be present, unlike an asynchronous web presence, and many instances of news about corporate presence in Second Life indicate that they are too devoid of people. If dialogue is a requirement, then just getting in the game presents a challenge for large corporation”

Now, there are no perfect examples as yet, but in my frequent visits to Reuters I’ve seen Adam and Eric Reuters there on several occasions. Blenda Twang at the L Word must never sleep she’s there so often and this weekend’s Secondfest is exemplary – Aleks Krotoski herself was present at the opening and numerous members of Rivers Run Red where there throughout the festival giving away freebies and helping lost and confused festival-goers out.

Now, although I’m at an early stage in my research, what’s interesting about sites where there are regular, sociable presences is that people come back. Second Life can be a big empty lonely place, and knowing that there will be chatty people around is a big pull.

2 Interaction:

On this subject Grace says:

“Assuming you’ve cleared the dialogue hurdle, the next question is “Can you walk the talk?”. A few large corporate builds in Second Life seem to think that interaction is achieved by putting in a rollercoaster or a ski slope… Interaction is the process of employing the artifacts of the dialogue practically to affect change”

This is probably the most difficult for element for corporate sites to deal with – the industry model has been focused on the delivery products/services to consumers from its inception, marketers have been trained to think in these terms making very difficult to apply a different business model. The worst offenders on this count are those branded sites that treat their visitors as nothing more than consumers and take no advantage of the 3D environment of Second Life. There are many sites that go some way to providing interactivity, Pontiac and Nissan let you drive cars around, ABC has a sandpit where you can practice building things, The L Word offers avatars cast in the likeness of the TV show characters and access to simulated locations from the show. But there is nothing on the scale of a Wikipedia or Youtube.

The problem lies with lack of imagination and familiarity with the medium as well as Second Life’s current technological limitations. Personally I think an awful lot can be learned from computer game/MMO designers and story writers, but I’ve gone on about this alot in previous posts. The good news is that AI in Second Life is improving and this will surely improve interactivity as well as the overall experience of Second Life.

3 Engagement:

As Grace says if you get the first two right this one should follow, in fact you could describe engagement as the measure of how successful the first two points are. Linda Zimmer comes to the crux of the problem here when she sayd that ‘there is generally no mechanism – and not enough human resources – to be accountable for the quality of a connection point’. The solution of course lies in building a loyal community, that way there doesn’t have to be a 24/7 official presence users will do it for them. Of course the community needs to be not only passionate about the brand, but sociable, friendly and informative, the community can’t develop into a clique, but that’s another post.

By way of conclusion I think there are a couple more points that need to be considered. The first is salience another overused marketing word, but at this point in Second Life’s existence one that is pretty pertinent. Most corporate entities who enter Second Life begin so with a fanfair of PR and press releases, followed by abject silence. It doesn’t take much to get into the headlines where Second Life is concerned, but somehow most brands fail to make the most of this opportunity. Consistent salience is good because it builds awareness and people will visit the site and meet other like-minded people there. The use of community registration portals is one way to guarantee salience and a steady follow of visitors, as are very clear SLURLs, newbies in particular need as much guidance as possible.This leads to the second point and that is innovation (yes, another marketing buzzword). It’s no good if month after month, nothing changes and nothing new is added. Second Life prides itself on freedom ‘to do’ and corporate sites need to exercise that freedom as much as, if not more than, any user. In RL companies are constantly innovating, or at least striving to, and the online world, supposedly more dynamic and up to date, should be a priority here. Innovation also provides a good opportunity to build PR!

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