Recently, LL put out a call for bloggers (I’m linking to my own post, as that contains the full text of the original LL forum post – and I get tired of forum stuff vanishing down a plug hole and invalidating links over time).
Yet there is a serious side to this – and in part, it is something I should hold up my hand to and say mea culpa to some degree.
There is an ongoing malaise at Linden Lab. It started several years ago (some might say with the arrival of Catherine Smith and grew steadily through the tenure of her various successors (all women, to my shame), wherein constructive and an open communication with the SL community has increasingly become anathema to the company as a whole. In fairness to Kim Salzer, who departed in November last year, things haven’t improved at all since she left the company – so one assume any unwillingness to constructively engage with users at a corporate is an illness that lies deep in the roots of the company.
Certainly, as Tateru has noted, it is one of the things that has become decidedly worse since Rod Humble took over the reins.
When seen against this background, the recent call to bloggers becomes a little less funny and a little more indicative of a company that seemingly is at a complete loss as to how to communicate about its primary (currently only) product and / or its brand. Don’t get me wrong – many in LL do take time out to communicate publicly, through User Groups and the like (Oz, Charlar, Oskar, Runitai, et al), and Rodvik himself does still take plunges into Twitter as well as posting to his SL Feed – and all of their efforts are appreciated greatly, as is the fact that LL staff have personally taken time out to contact me directly and provide feedback, pointers and other assistance (again, thanks to Rodvik, Charlar, Pete and Viale).
But none of this forms a part of an overall communications strategy. There is no cohesiveness in the approach. The result is that the SL blog in particular languishes to the point of irrelevancy – as demonstrated by the fact that out of 5 blog categories, three carry “front page news” nigh-on a year old or more (Land & Business (which even carries a post relating to Jack Linden – and he’s been gone from that Lab more than a year!), Tips & Tricks, Tools & Technology), while the 4th (“Inworld”) is only “up-to-date” large due to the “Flickr Pic of the Day”.
Of course, as I’ve pointed out myself, when discussing the likes of marketing (and here’s where I hold up my hand in admission), the finest resource LL have at its disposal is the user community when it comes to formulating a potential message to send to the world at large. So am I not being a little two-faced when promoting the idea of using the community, and then rounding on LL when they try to do so?
Well, no, I’m not. I absolutely have no problem with the Lab turning to the community for assistance – providing it is willing to play fair. Machinima is an excellent marketing tool, and it is probably fair to say that the best machinimatographers for SL are involved in SL – so as long as LL recognises this and offers suitable remuneration (a cash prize competition, for example), then why not seek to leverage the expertise in order to promote the platform.
The same rule applies to blogging about SL – and frankly, LL should be employing someone to take the time to blog about the platform on an ongoing basis. They don’t need to be an expert in all things server, viewer and what have you (in fact, better that they’re not). But simply paying someone to do the rounds, talk to the various project teams, gain quotes, publish articles on what is going on in-house, what is coming down the road, what is being done to fix X, Y or Z, and so on, as well as getting out and about as time allows within SL to produce articles, would enormously benefit LL in terms of how the company is perceived by its users.
It’s not, after all, rocket science (or “rocket engineering”, as my father always insists on correcting that quote). It is simple. Common. Sense.
Obviously, keeping abreast of the wider community is somewhat harder – there is much that is going on around the grid and much that can be easily missed. So again, actually making use of the community, getting people to engage with the company is not that unreasonable – providing that effort is met with suitable reward – say, through commissioned pieces.
Communications are a hoary old chestnut with me – there are times when I feel that I’m banging on about it every other week. But the fact is that LL seem to have comprehensively lost the plot here when it come to speaking with a corporate (rather than individual) voice to the community as a whole, and to the wider marketplace. And that is hurting them, and it is hurting SL (might it not also speak to why, despite routinely high user sign-up rates, actual user retention isn’t growing as steadily as one might expect?).
If the problem is going to be solved, it’s not going to be through dangling blog enticements in front of people (or indeed, locking-off the forum post carrying the enticement and deleting replies simply because people are having fun at your expense). It’s about being outward and professional and having a plan.
It’s actually hard to believe there is not someone at LL who is capable of carrying out the kind of role I’ve described above.
And if there isn’t, well, Rod – I’m willing to relocate to San Francisco for the right price and incentives, and you know where to find me: details are on file with you :).