Linden Lab seek a “guru”

It seems that Linden Lab is looking for a “Social Media Marketing Guru“. Why, oh why, is it “guru” and not something professional-sounding? I’m pretty sure that whoever gets the position, they won’t find themselves sitting in a Battery Street pod with their name and the word “guru” pinned on the outside; and while terms like this may sound super-cool and west-coast “hip”, they actually come across as a combination of trite, clichéd and outright cringe-worthy.

Or is that just my English sensibilities?

When you get past the hip-speak, the post looks to be a mix of both strategic marketing via social media tools to gather new users, and something of a communications manager responsible for Lab / user (resident) interactions.

The former, I can understand. social networks do have a potential to bring-in users to Second Life, providing it is handled correctly. As I mentioned in Tell me a story… the manner in which LL are currently attempting to leverage Facebook has “fail” written all over it. The entire approach is arse-backwards and as such needs to be redefined.

The latter has me a little worried; we’ve already had Amanda Linden proudly announcing the coming on the new Community Platform – and then promptly pointing at Facebook as “the” way to stay abreast of all the latest news on SL (sure a case of “foot, meet mouth” if ever there was one). Now it seems that we’re going to possibly see a further push of LL-to-resident communications away from their own platform.

I’m not entirely sure that if this is the case, it’s a good idea. Certainly, it is very, very gratifying to be able to Tweet to Linden Lab employees and get a genuine response; it’s genuinely appreciated when someone requests something or raises an issue and sees a positive response, coupled with action from Linden Lab. However, the fact remains that the vast majority of company / user communications should be taking place within the framework of LL’s own platform; the fact that figures show support of the new community platform is declining rapidly among SL users (some are predicting it’ll be as the Dodo within a month, although I personally think the decline will stabilise well before then – but will represent a very low-level of engagement from users) is worrying. However, this should not be interpreted in terms of users all being busy elsewhere. Rather, it is symptomatic of the fact that Linden Lab don’t have the courage or the skill set in-house required to manage a vibrant forum community.

Which is a shame; but it’s no reason to keep pushing communications channels elsewhere.

Returning to the more strategic side of the new position, I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do hope that whoever comes in will take a look at Tell me a story… and will be savvy enough to understand Jonathan Baskin’s piece on “silly social media” and ineffective social media marketing campaigns. Certainly I hope whoever comes in will be allowed the opportunity to spend a lot of time in-world to understand the platform and the rich diversity of activities that go on in Second Life  – and will be able to gather stories from the user base that can more effectively help shape the message to the rest of the world.

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Amazing talent

Pop Art Lab have announced the winner of their Machinima Expo music video, and the video is amazing. Edits are so precise and worthy of the best today’s video editors can offer via pop and music videos, and the attention to detail is incredible – just look at the way the dancers throughout are on-beat to the music.

Superb.

Check out the Pop Art Lab website for more.

Tell me a story: marketing Second Life

Grace McDunnough pointed me (via Twitter) at an interesting little tidbit of thought by Jonathan Baskin about the possible end of “silly social media”.

Before anyone gets too excited, it’s not a piece proposing the end of thing like Facebook; rather it is an examination of various efforts to use social media as a tool for marketing – and why, like-as-not, they fail.

Elsewhere, Tateru Nino offers up a post that starts to examine the new user experience. Leaving aside the fact she’s now gazumped me on two topics I’ve been wanting to blog about; Tateru makes a very valid argument that indirectly ties into the article Grace pointed me to. That observation is this:

“Linden Lab is rubbish at telling its story.”

Rather than constructing any form of consistent marketing strategy, LL seems to jump from idea to idea, randomly seeking something that will somehow, magically work and bring in new users. Along the way, they give the impression they don’t understand either their own product or those that use it.

The SL Facebook page is symptomatic of this – and a clear example of Baskin’s critique on blindly trying to leverage social media spaces as advertising mediums. Slapping supposedly feel-good items on a Facebook page and getting people to “like” it isn’t going to generate a noticeable upswing of new users entering SL; nor is boasting the “like” count – not when it largely comprises people already using SL. This is not to say I think having a presence on Facebook is “wrong” or not worthwhile. Rather, I find using Facebook in this way is akin to preaching to the converted rather than marketing to potential new users.

“A tale in everything” – William Wordsworth

In Business, Collaboration and Creative Growth I suggested there needs to be a renewal of collaboration between Lab and user community; that such collaboration could be used in diverse ways – including PR and marketing. This can be done through the use of a technique called narrative marketing – and it can be used to significantly improve the manner in which LL could leverage a presence on Facebook (and elsewhere).

Simply put, narrative marketing is using stories to promote and market a product – stories drawn from customer experiences, from situations, which can be drawn together into a narrative that engages the audience and draws them into the product; they reach into the heart of human interest and experience. Narrative marketing recognises that marketing is a two-way street, and that engagement with the consumer can be more effective than simply preaching to them or bombarding them with images and text or sending them hither and thither. It resonates with the audience because stories:

  • Are more memorable, evocative and interesting: they engage the audience
  • Generate identification and empathy
  • Are perceived as more unique and personal, thus generating greater acceptance and a sense of believability
  • Are more viral – we all tell and repeat stories.

The power of narrative marketing is that it is open to developing themes and ideas that can be easily repeated across a marketing strategy incorporating diverse mediums, almost like stringing a necklace. When placed within a common context, many different stories can be gathered and then strung together in any order, like the beads on a necklace, to create a range of experiences that attract several audiences while maintaining the same underpinning message.

The narrative approach can be linked directly with traditional means of brand development (strategy, identification and management), drawing them together into a narrative that focuses on communications and activities. It allows a company to say, “This is me”, with strategy, values and positioning defined by the narrative and channelled as stories that trigger memories, associations, experiences and expectations in the potential customer / user that cause them to say, “I like you. Tell me / show me more!”

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today” – Robert McAfee Brown

Second Life is a story-rich environment which can be woven into a broad tapestry of narrative and ideas that can reach many audiences, simultaneously.  Narrative marketing provides the means by which tools like Facebook might be used more effectively and potentially generate the kind of response Linden Lab is seeking far more effectively than a count of “likes”.

Consider what is more effective:

  • A page full of likes and a list of past events with a vague link to an even vaguer sign-up webpage (the current FB-to-SL.com situation), or
  • A series of stories, drawn from the rich diversity of the SL user community, that illustrate how Second Life is being actively used by role players, gamers, students, teachers, companies, entertainers, etc., the narrative naturally drawing the reader into a strong linking page on the SL website that further encourages them to sign-up and experience things for themselves.

Obviously, quantifying the narrative isn’t easy; let’s be clear on that. It requires a whole new approach to both the platform and the wider market. In this regard, Dusan Writer hit the nail squarely on the head when he stated at the top of his recent interview with Tom Boellstorff:

“During my recent interview with Rod Humble, the new CEO of Linden Lab, I had one major piece of advice: reach out to Tom and spend some time with him (and while you’re at it, hire an ethnographer to work at the Lab!).”

Hire an ethnographer to work at the Lab! Perhaps one of the most insightful suggestions ever given to the management at Battery Street. Hire a “corporate anthropologist” who can plumb the depths of diverse SL communities and activities, drawing out genuine stories which can be drawn into a narrative theme to market Second Life and persuade people to discard any preconceived notions of what SL might be about and come and see what it is about.

Part of the power of Second Life lies in its ability to be “anything you want it to be”; but unless this is quantified in some way, captured in a manner that people outside of Second Life can identify with, then it’s going to remain a nebulous concept. Rather than generating curiosity, it tends to result in a feeling of, “Yeah, so?” Quantify the fact people can be “anything they want to be” in terms of stories from SL itself, and you transform “Yeah, so?” into “Yeah! I want some of that!”

This isn’t actually rocket science; the fact is most people engaged in SL have been drawn into it through stories from others: friends and colleagues who have been a part of SL, or glossy pieces of journalism that have glamorised SL as the place to be. Stories, personal tales of what excites and engages, resonates far more strongly than a wall of miscellaneous photos or out-of-context videos; so why not use them?

“The answer is always in the entire story, not a piece of it” – Jim Harrison

Right now, the process of trying to attract new users, bring them to the SL website and get them to sign up is a series of mismatched steps that can lead to frustration long before the user sets foot in-world. Worse, some of the steps are either misleading in their presentation or – boring.

Tateru Nino, in her article, observes:

“Crafting an effective new-user experience for Second Life starts long before the user logs in for the first time. The Second Life viewer user-interface is not the most important part of a new user’s story.”

Simply put, there is no flow between, say, the Second Life Facebook page and the Second Life website sign-up process. There are no themes or threads that naturally lead from one to the other. The SL sign-up process is devoid of any charm: What is Second Life is at best meaningless as it doesn’t actually fulfil its title. Of the two videos supplied, one is misleading – much of what is shown doesn’t happen in SL, period; while the other (the Welcome Island walk-through) is boring; combined. Neither tells a desirable story; neither encourages someone to click on JOIN NOW.

Developing a narrative flow that runs seamlessly from Facebook to a restructured “What is” page that clearly and succinctly informs and which in turn integrates with the sign-up process could achieve so much more. The stories are the means by which people become intrigued by the potential of SL has to offer; leading people to want to know more, allowing them to be further hooked into wanting to sign-up, enticed by what they learn in What is Second Life. Everything becomes integrated, focused on the single purpose of translating interest into in-world footfalls.

“My major allegiance has been to storytelling, not to history” – Russell Banks

Narrative techniques can be utilised in other areas as well. Gathering stories from both staff and customers can give a clearer understanding of any disconnect in specific customer-facing functions in a company, such as customer services.  The use of stories from customers and staff alike removes the inevitable bias and preconceptions inherent in more traditional tools such as surveys, which tend to suffer from interpretations that find what is being looked for, rather than identifying where the issues lay.

The development of narrative requires engagement between an organisation and its users. As such it can clarify where and why communications are going wrong. Want to know why Second Life users are negatively concerned about how Linden Lab goes about implementing changes to the platform? Listen to their stories, and use those stories to build a process of engagement to ensure future changes are properly communicated alongside a means be which feedback can be given and demonstrate it is being heard and addressed. Help them through future implementation dips by letting them illustrate in their own words why it happened before.

Randal Ringer headlines 2011 as the start of the decade of narrative marketing. Second Life is ideally suited for a narrative marketing campaign that encompasses Linden Lab and the positive experiences that have grown out of direct user participation in the platform. Narrative marketing can naturally lead to better and more responsive engagement and collaboration with the user base as a whole; beyond this, it can provide pointers to how Linden Lab itself can better structure itself to deliver the services and support that the users can understand and appreciate.

Further Reading

A look at Firestorm Preview 2.4.2

A little under two months ago, Firestorm, the Viewer 2-based offering from the Phoenix team made its initial appearance, and I gave a brief overview of it then, with a follow-up a few days later. Overall, the Viewer was impressive, despite being a pre-release, and hinted that while there was obviously a lot missing, the Phoenix team were well on the way to delivering a first-rate product.

Today, the “Beta” of Firestorm made its appearance, and it substantially builds on the initial release very positively. A list of key changes has been provided by the Phoenix team, but I’d thought I’d take a little more of a closer look at for myself.

Again, this isn’t intended as an in-depth review; it’s more a personal look at what I like in particular in this release – and what I hope to see down the road!

The installation was as expected: smooth and precise. Once loaded for the first time, Firestorm displays a Viewer 1-style COMMUNICATIONS window and has the Sidebar open – both of which I’ll return to in a moment.

Media Filter

Media Filter pop-up

However, it is on clicking the option to enable media that one will notice the first major change. As soon as you confirm you wish to enable media, (and assuming  a media stream is being directed at you), the Media Filter will pop-up a request asking you if you wish to accept the incoming stream.

For those unfamiliar with the Media Filter, I strongly recommend you read the available Tutorials on it – I have one in this blog, and there is also one available on the SL Wiki. Suffice it to say here that the Media Filter helps you to safeguard your privacy when using Second Life.

If there is no media stream available when you first start Firestorm, the Media Filter pop-up will be displayed the first time you click on the media PLAY button, (top right of your screen) and a stream is available.

Sidebar and Tool bar Options

One thing that may confuse Viewer 2 users in trying-out Firestorm is that the default Firestorm skin doesn’t have the familiar Sidebar tabs. It also has a substantially different toolbar at the foot of the Viewer Window.

Both are because the Sidebar options can now be directly accessed from the toolbar. Simply hover the mouse pointer over the available buttons to see a tool tip description of their functions.

The Firestorm toolbar

The more familiar buttons of MOVE, VIEW and GESTURE can be enabled by right-clicking the toolbar and selecting them from the pop-up menu – from which buttons can also be disabled as required.  Note that in addition, the Camera controls (VIEW) can be displayed by enabling AVATAR -> CAMERA CONTROLS.

For those who still prefer the Sidebar, AVATAR -> PREFERENCES – > SKINS provides you with access to alternative UI skins that include the Sidebar. Simply re-start the Viewer after selecting your preferred skin.

A nice touch with the Camera (VIEW) controls is that the floater panel can be resized to suit your needs – and is actually a lot more compact than the Viewer 2 floater to start with.

Conversations Window

This is a nice carry-over from Viewer 1.x, and was actually in the pre-release version of Firestorm, although I didn’t mention it in my first post. By default, IM tabs are vertically placed (as opposed to horizontally, as with Phoenix). This gets a big tick from me, as I find the vertical tabs make incoming calls easier to track, and so it’s one less preference to have to set & then restart the Viewer.

The Conversations window is open by default on first starting Firestorm, and thereafter can be opened by clicking the ^ button to the right of the text entry box in the tool bar.

The Nearby Chat tab of Conversations also dispenses with the Viewer 2.x-style headers to chat items by default, again saving one the need to fiddle with preferences, while streamlining the chat tab’s display.

Radar

This release of Firestorm sees an initial implementation of the Phoenix radar functionality. While many see this as a curse, I have to say that from a sim management point-of-view, I’ve always found the radar functionality a great boon when trying to help people in a hurry. As such, it is something I sorely missed in the initial release of Firestorm – and partly what stopped me using it full time.

In the Beta, some Radar functionality has been included – and hopefully it will be built upon over the next few releases. Bullet items regarding it are:

  • The Radar is limited to a 400m range at present
  • The Radar information is included in the PEOPLE tab / window and includes an option to teleport to someone as well as the standard Viewer 2.x options displayed when right-clicking on a name
  • Announcements from the Radar are limited to people entering chat range and / or draw distance, and are set separately via AVATAR -> PREFERENCES -> FIRESTORM -> CHAT.

I’d personally like to see the range of the radar increased – and I know this is being worked on. I’d also like an option to announce when people enter / leave a sim; this again can be useful when monitoring a sim where there has been trouble, but not enough to warrant an outright ban as yet.

Profiles

In a major move away from Viewer 2, Firestorm does not utilise web-based profiles.

Instead, it uses a two-tier approach to displaying Profiles:

Personal Profile

Selecting your own Profile takes you to a modified Viewer 2 Profile tab in the Sidebar. This displays your “1st Life” and “2nd Life” information under two tabs called “Avatar” and “More Info” (which also includes a web link field as well).  Currently, there is no PICKS tab, nor does there appear to be a way of getting “out” to your web profile from the display (other than getting to Partner information).

I presume additional functionality will be added here – and that the functionality will include the ability to get out to the web-based version of one’s Profile, should one wish. Not everyone is opposed to web-based Profiles, and as such, the flexibility to choose should be included for those wanting to go in that direction.

Other Avatar Profile

When it comes to other people’s Profile information, a window somewhat similar to those from Viewer 1.x pops-up. This is a huge improvement over Viewer 2.x for two very good reasons:

  • It’s actually a lot faster – twice as fast on my PC – when loading a profile
  • It takes up much less screen real estate

There are some very nice touches in this Profile display as well. Take Groups, for example; when you highlight one, a little “I” for information appears, together with a right-point arrow. Click on the “i” and you are given the option of joining the Group, or displaying the Group information. Click on the right-pointing arrow, and the Group information (Profile) is displayed in the PEOPLE tab of the Sidebar.

Other Little Bits

  • Role players have been further catered to, with MU* poses and OOC options being added
  • There is now a first pass at a persistent de-render (change Group tags to re-render, although you may need to re-log as well)
  • Phoenix-style commands are now supported in chat
  • “Always rez under land group” is a pre-set default
  • Starlight skin support has been improved
  • Additional preferences ported from Phoenix
  • In-chat on-line / off-line notifications for friends.

Under the hood there are a number of bug fixes and various performance improvements as well, giving Firestorm even more polish even at this stage.

Opinion

The pre-release version of Firestorm was impressive. This is even more impressive. Clear inroads have been made into a lot of the functionality that has made Phoenix such a success, and while there is still more to do, that Firestorm has reached this level of capability and functionality in just two releases is remarkable.

For me, the big wins with Firestorm are:

  • First pass at the inclusion of radar functionality
  • The Viewer-based profiles for other avatars
  • The in-chat online/offline notifications for friends
  • The Media Filter.
Web browser warning

As well as the media filter, use security has been enhanced with the addition of an optional prompt that is displayed when you are using an external browser rather than the viewer’s in-built browser. This gives a reminder of the possible risks involved in visiting other websites directly with your browser. The warning can be disabled, and will turn off automatically if you switch to using the in-built browser in the Viewer itself.

There are some additional elements from Phoenix I’d personally like to see pop-up in a future Firestorm release. For example, right now, Outfits still remains something of a royal pain in the rear bumpers.

  • There is no means of ADDing clothing / attachments from an OUTFITS folder in Inventory – the only option is REPLACE, and this DOES knock-off pre-existing attachments. The only way to add items is via the OUTFITS tab of the Sidebar
  • There is no means of adding subfolders (or even displaying subfolders) in the OUTFITS tab of the Sidebar – this can only be done through Inventory.

To be fair, both of these are long-standing issues with Viewer 2, rather than anything specific to Firestorm – but both are bloody inconvenient and need sorting out.

I did notice the text overlay issue remains as well; if you scroll up a chat tab in Conversations and a message comes in for that tab, the text tends to overwrite anything you are trying to read until you scroll back to the bottom of the screen once more. Not a show-stopper, but it would be nice to see someone sort this out.

But, these niggles aside – which are, as I said, more to do with Viewer 2 than Firestorm – it is fair to say that this release moves Firestorm a stage closer to being ready for prime time and potentially becoming the most popular Viewer 2 variant on the grid. While there is still a good way to go before this is the case, Firestorm Beta 2 is pretty much usable right now.

Kudos to Jessica and the team!