What are you doing the rest of your Second Life?

Paper Dinosaur, 2015
Sorrow for Paper Dinosaur, 2015; image – Caledonia Skytower

By Caledonia Skytower

Last October 24th’s article in Wired by Rowland Manthorpe, entitled Second Life was just the beginning. Philip Rosedale is back and he’s delving into VR ignited the usual round of reactions from fans and critics of Philip Rosedale, Ebbe Altberg, and virtual worlds in general.  Guaranteed, there would be opinions and plenty of “should-haves”, “could haves”, and speculations about machinations we may never fully understand, and to which uncertain credit can be given.  

Philip Rosedale’s particular dream of virtuality is reflected in Second Life, written as deeply as the original code, which continues thirteen years after the first pixels clicked on for the public.  As such, it seems like a democracy and the term “resident’ only reinforces that. Let’s be clear, residents in virtual worlds are not citizens in democratic societies, we are consumers.  We don’t have any more of a “right to be heard” than any other consumer does by a corporation or creator.  

Smart companies listen to their consumer base – it is called good business. Linden Lab has waxed and waned on that over the years, better more recently I think.  Yet no one will ever know their product the way they do.  No one will understand their finances, their market standing, the pressure of industry innovation and its impact on their company the way they do. As a consumer, with a free account, the Lab doesn’t owe me a vote in their decision-making process.  Virtual worlds are not a public entitlement.  Yet it is surprising how many people disagree with that – passionately, vitriolically disagree. The funny thing is, that state of entitlement has been there as long as I have been in SL.

Invictus by Storm Septimus
Invictus by Storm Septimus; image – Inara Pey

I entered Second Life in 2008, which makes me older than some, not as old as others.  In those eight years I have seen a procession of public doomsday fests boil up to a frenzy, and then cool down.  Always, the perceived calamity is touted as the Lab’s fault. Even at five years old, Second Life was doomed, dying, already deceased. An average of 67,000 users on-line from all over the world at any one moment, which would fill my local “home field”, Centurylink Field in Seattle, to capacity but with a lot fewer parking hassles.  Think of that: a football stadium full to the brim twenty-four hours a day. Here we are in 2016 and the averages have dropped to the low 40,000s. That’s still enough for the food vendors to make a tidy profit on game day! And when I think of the things that have happened in those eight years, doom, death, and extinction are not what come to mind:

  • There have been some fascinating educational studies, my favourite being the National Science Foundation funded study in a collaboration between Texas A & M and the Florida Institute of Technology involving college chemistry students and on-line learning.  
  • There is incredible work ongoing with the disabled and people suffering from different medical conditions.
  • Charitable organizations have benefited from the fund-raising efforts that engage a global volunteer and donor base in one of the most cost-efficient fund-raising endeavours in existence.  Relay for Life in SL has raised 2.7 million U.S. dollars for the American Cancer Society in just a decade.
  • Businesses have grown, with individual content creators stretching their wings and flexing their artistic muscles: everything from publishing to fashion, animations, buildings, and furnishings of all kinds.  
  • There have been some amazing creative achievements using the virtual world as a dimensional palette, too many to name.  

In all cases, some enterprises have endured, and some have termed out.  But there has never been a lack for them.  There is always someone charging the fence of what is possible in the platform. Where the platform limits them, people have found workarounds that are clever and industrious.

Sapphire Mirror Lake, Fantasy Faire 2016
Sapphire Mirror Lake, Fantasy Faire 2016; image – Caledonia Skytower

The Wired article refers to a 2006-ish review of user analytics; “Second Life was a retreat for escapists, an outlet for pent-up creativity – a place, as Rosedale once put it, for ‘smart people in rural areas, the disabled, people looking for companionship.'” Hello!  Just by mentioning rural areas and the disabled you just hit upon a huge under served percentage of the general population.  Virtual worlds break down barriers of proximity, and of ability.  That may not be Rosedale’s vision of egalitarian virtuality, but it is a notable accomplishment nonetheless.

Phillip Rosedale is a sprinter.  He gets excited and he sparks new ideas, opens up the Pandora’s Box of possibilities and lets the creativity flow. He sees things and expresses himself in terms that are limitless. Sprinters are essential to innovation.  But you can’t sprint forever. At some point that spark has to transition into something sustainable, based on something more than enthusiastic creative juices.  

That’s where someone like Ebbe Altberg comes in.  No less creative, Ebbe’s temperament is different. He uses limitations to propel rather than obstruct. He is a distance runner – eyes on the long road, not so dazzled by the big picture that he can’t keep moving forward.  Healthy industries need both those who can sprint, and those who can sustain distances. We need them both, and the future of virtual worlds is more promising for the different directions they are taking.

Nothing lasts forever. In that, Second Life is not unique.  It’s possible that those early delvers into on-line virtuality in 1995 thought that Worlds Chat would last forever. Did they even think about Virtual Reality in those days?  Yet with the bubble of VR expanding before our eyes, people are still feeling threatened in what has been one of the most successful, stable endeavours in the evolution of this form of social engagement.  Even though it still turns a profit for its owners, people are determined that Linden Lab has nothing better to do than throw over its consumer base. In some ways, the very openness and lack of restrictions that we value – the legacy of Rosedale – is our own worst enemy.

Wounded Angel by SistaButta. Image - Caledonia Skytower
Wounded Angel by SistaButta; image – Caledonia Skytower

So, what have you been doing with your virtual life?  Have you been learning? creating? exploring?  Have you used the tool – because that’s what it is – to make your life as a whole enriched?  Because in a free and open community, the quality of life is defined by the creativity and industry of that community.  

We all had that thrilling moment when we got past the initial boggle-ment of functioning in the platform, and discovered that our avatars could be a reflection of our emotional selves.  I could wear high heels and run on the sand! I could fly, walk among ancient ruins, meet and work with people who will never breathe the same salt water, pine-scented air that I do.

I suggest that people get burned out on Second Life for any number of reasons.  Some like to blame it on the Lab, and maybe there is some truth in that.  But people also get bored with the same old thing.  For those who do not see SL as a tool, but as a game, it will always become passé at some point – when something newer, faster, and sexier comes along. Whose fault is that?  Is it really the Lab’s fault that they cannot alter enough decade-old code to keep people’s attention? Especially when you know that the entrenched in SL will squawk loudly and painfully at any change that disrupts their  status quo. So the very stability that we crave works against us, for once the thrill of virtual freedoms are over, those who are consumers only will grid fade.

So, we come back to this: what are you doing the rest of your Second Life? The potential for personal and communal enrichment has not been tapped out. Will virtuality expand to embrace the entire earth’s population as Rosedale envisions? Probably not.  Someday, the ship of Second Life will hit the iceberg.  You get to decide what you’ll do now, and when that happens.  Will you wring your hands and cry out “the end is nigh” as you may well have been doing for years?  Will you lob deck chairs at the lifeboats screaming “I told you so!”?  Or will you take your place with the band and go down profoundly playing “Nearer My God to Thee”?  In an open community, you have a choice about how you conduct your virtual life, and what you make of it.

SS Galaxy; image - Inara Pey
SS Galaxy; image – Inara Pey

Years ago a well-respected teacher and legislator in my community was known for saying “life is like a sack lunch.  If you pack it carefully with all your favourite things, lunchtime with be a joy.  If you just carelessly throw any old thing you find in it, there’s a high probability that something will not be very tasty.”  Your virtual living is no different from the rest of your life.  If you treat it as a recreation, you are destined to get bored with it, grow out of it, have it lose relevance, and you will move on.  That’s no one’s fault.  That’s life. If you treat virtuality as an opportunity, no platform, no grid format, no change in terms of service will get in your way because you will always be questing, always be seeking, always be looking for new challenges.

The one notable difference between corporeal and virtual lives will always be the white X in the red box in the corner of your viewer.  You can always turn your virtual life off, re-invent it, reboot it, or just walk away and let it die.  The repercussions are limited. In the corporeal world, such flexibility of change is much harder to manage, and you only really hit that big X once.

“If you just build it, They won’t come: promoting events in Second Life” (Final)

Tying all the knots together. Credit: public domain

by Caledonia Skytower

Part 6.  Tying it all together (Final)

This series has covered a lot of territory this year, and I am changing the ending of it somewhat, as it feels like we are reaching a point where everything is impacted by the answer to this basic question: what do you want?

This answer is key to how you interpret many of the points made in this series. What you want out of your event promotion is defined by what your long range goals are for your event.   There is no wrong answer to the question. Not all viable paths are exactly the same.

If what you want is a nice, cosy intimate gathering of friends every once in a while, then a lot of the ideas that I have shared are irrelevant and unimportant.  If you want to create a closed community of like-minded, like-interested individuals, similarly some of these practices will be helpful, and some are not for you.  If you want to grow your events or your venue into something more than either of those, then roll up your sleeves and be prepared to get messy and stay messy for a while.  Growth requires consistency, connections, and constant vigilance! (invoking Madeye Moody). I am going to tie a number of these concepts together in this final post.

Are you on the grid, but not on-line?   “On-line” off-world can manifest itself in a number of ways.  Do you have a website or blog presence? Do you post your events in social media – either Facebook or Google+ at the very least?  These are all pathways to furthering your reach and promotional impact.

Social media - an invaluable tool
Social media – an invaluable tool

A website or blog presence.  The more complex your schedule, the more you need something like this to answer the question “who are you, and what do you do?”  Beyond the simplest of operations, it gives you somewhere to send people when they ask for more information.  Remember from the very first post, The Basics – Who? What? Where? When? How?  – always leave people knowing where to find more.  That can be as simple as an event calendar, or a single blog page.  Blogger (by Google) and WordPress make it incredibly easy for the non-html-savvy person to create and maintain a simple blog for free.  Google even offers a domain service for US $12 a year, which is very reasonable.  But don’t take my word for it, look around and see what tools fit best for you.  There are lots of accessible options.

You can’t be in your venue 24/7, or available to answer questions from interested residents all the time.  So make it easier for them to answer basic questions on their own.  Things that you can include on you site/blog could include:

  • Calendar
  • Your grid location  – “SLurl”
  • Additional details on upcoming events or programs
  • Who to contact in-world
  • Links to the web presence of others that you are affiliated with
  • Links to other on-line presences: Facebook, Google+, Flickr, Twitter, Instagram etc.
A blog can help you gain an audience. Credit: public domain

Social media.  It is important to emphasize that social media is not a guaranteed direct promotional source.  It is true that some people have great success with social media event postings, but their common usage is far from wide-spread.  I suspect that some people have gathered around them groups of people who use the same tools, and that is why it works better for some people than for general public recruitment. Both Facebook and Google+ have event functions, and they also both have Groups or Communities for different virtual world enterprises.  Use their search functions to find groups that you can join where it would be appropriate for you to post your information.  Be sure to read group/community guidelines and rules carefully.  More posts are not better if your “singing to the wrong audience.”

This is important: copious posting in social media will not guarantee you a full venue or an SRO event. Why?  Because most standard postings only reach 5% of their potential audience.  Unless you do nothing else but watch social media  and post repeatedly (which I do not recommend), things will get missed.  Do not post about a single event more than once in 24 hours. The 5% who do see your posts will start to ignore you.

On average, social media is not a means of direct promotion (i.e. “butts in seats”), but a way of raising consciousness.  You may get the odd person wander in because they saw you in a Google+ community.  It is more likely that they will have seen your social media posts and then run into some mention of you while logged in and think, “oh yeah, I have heard of them.”  That kind of casual exposure is as crucial as direct promotion.  You need them both.

Get your audience working for you, by regularly encouraging them to use whatever means exists in that social media tool to “like”, “plus”, “share”, “re-tweet” or whatever.  By doing so they assist you in extending the life of the post and keep it higher up on the feed to the greater potential audience.  If it helps, think of these functions like touches.  Plenty of people see your post.  But a post that is seen but not touched sinks to the bottom quickly.  The more your post is touched, the higher it floats.  Likewise, if you want to be helpful for an endeavour you like or support, touch their posts in whatever way the media provides.

blog-post-6-image-4A Basic rubric for social media promotional posting:

  • Text Only Posts (lowest number of views)
  • Post with a link to a site/blog (higher)
  • Post of an image or picture with details (even higher)
  • Post of a video clip (highest number of views)
  • Posts with cute puppies and kittens . . . okay, not even going THERE!

Constant Vigilance!  So you’ve done it all.  You have:

  • Answered (or are answering) the basic questions – Who? What? Where? When? How?
  • You have crafted your message in words, and shared those words with people who can spread your story around.
  • You have created consistent, strong visual images that easily identify your venue and events – created a “brand.”
  • You have built a network of synchronistic enterprises and individuals who share information for mutual benefit.
  • You have established and maintained an on-line presence that informs people of who you are, what you have done, and are doing.

What now?  Sit back and watch all the good people flow in?  No, my friends.  Once you build a promotional machine you not only have to feed and water it, but you have to make sure all the parts are still working to their optimal capacity.  Regularly (minimum every six months) evaluate where you are spending your resources, and how effective the results are.  Give things time to work and develop, but don’t be afraid to stop promoting where there are no measurable results.

Who posts your press releases?  What exposure are you getting outside of your own venue or endeavour? What does your traffic look like in-grid, and on-line? Know how your current audience found you – ask them!  That’s most likely where you’ll find new audiences. What is your ratio of new to returning audience/participants? Empower your existing audience to be “roaring lions” on your behalf. Be creative.  Make it fun!

Be prepared to adjust things, try new things, and always be evaluating.  What worked dependably for years may not work as well any more.  Be prepared to refresh everything at all levels.  Be aware of what others, engaged in similar enterprises, are doing: where are they posting, promoting.  Don’t miss an opportunity to turn the competition into a colleague – developing mutually beneficial relationships where everyone wins.

When things seem to be going nowhere, or you find yourself frustrated, go back to the basics: Who? What? Where? When? How?  And most importantly for you personally, always be able to answer the question “Why?”


My profound thanks to Inara for her support and patience with this series, and to everyone who has enjoyed it, and left such great comments.  I look forward to seeing you all around the grid.

~ Slainté!


Read the Entire Series

If You Just Build It… has been a multi-part guest series this year. To read posts you might have missed, follow the links below.

  1. Blasting the Myths
  2. The Basics: Who? What? Where? When? How?
  3. Words matter. So does how you use and share them
  4. Creating Visual Collateral
  5. Building a network

“If you just build it, They might not come: promoting events in Second Life” (5)

Wassilly Kandinsky - Composition viii, 1923
Wassilly Kandinsky – Composition viii, 1923

 by Caledonia Skytower

Part 5. Building a network

I was reminded recently of the importance, value, and challenges of building a network when trying to conduct any endeavour successfully.  I could drag out the platitudes, “no man is an island” and all that.  The reality is that no one achieves success on solely their own efforts and merits.  No one.  You need connections: internally to support and keep you honest to your intent; externally to extend your reach and maintain a beneficial presence.  Through the relationships you build, your endear establishes its reputation and gains strength.  It becomes a part of the greater community it inhabits, not just a landmark feature of it.

I use the term “build” deliberately.  I know that the term “grow” is more in vogue, and it works to illustrate more organic developments.  Relationships, however, are hard work – constant work – “one bolt at a time” work.  Each one of them is different, and must be handled based on its individual merits. Some are consumers, some are collegial, some are resources.  The list of possibilities continues.

Human Networks - public domain
Human Networks – public domain

Social media and networking gurus like to use neat images of connected concentric circles, or human-like figurines in one-size-fits-all uniformity with orderly straight lines to illustrate networks.  I believe that human networks look less like a circuitry plot, and more like the work of Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky.

In Kandinsky’s abstract work, slashes, circles and other geometric shapes overlay and intersect in what seems like a chaotic clamour.  What really exists is a delicate balance of  colour and geometry – the like with the unlike – the complementary with the contrasting.  Each intersection is totally unique.  I think that’s what a network of relationships really looks like.

A successful network is a wild mixture of all the connections you need to thrive viably, and/or sustainably – whichever you desire.  You need:

  • Black – relationships that are solid and the foundation of your work within, and your presence without.  These are the true believers who “get” what you do, and support you absolutely.
  • Blue – relationships that connect you with valuable resources and people of influence in your area of endeavour.  These are people you can learn from, and go to when you need insight and advice.
  • Yellow – relationships with people who you just like.  They do great things, and you can’t help but want to be around them, or associated with them because you admire their spirit, creativity, energy, whatever.  They make you feel good.
  • Red – relationships that challenge you.  These can be some of the hardest relationships to make and maintain.  None of us does our best unless we are stretched a little.  Establishing a good, respectful working relationships with people whose ideas push us to be more than we might be otherwise are invaluable.

These relationships all look different.  Some will be inscribed boldly, and others will be faint washes across your canvas.  All of these have value, and play a different role in the overall composition of your network.

Wassilly Kandinsky - Circles in a Circle, 1923
Wassilly Kandinsky – Circles in a Circle, 1923

To move from the esoteric to the concrete we need an example, so I’ll use Seanchai Library. When the library was just a kernel of an idea, nine years ago, founder Derry McMahon did not just jump into terraforming a parcel and designing a logo (which we all tend to do when we get excited about an idea – guilty!).  She took time to visit different libraries around the grid, and get to know the people involved with them.  Her connections in her professional life helped this – the person who introduced her to virtual worlds was a friend and colleague.

She also took the time to observe.  She asked herself key questions about what she observed. She specifically asked herself what would serve residents in a manner that was not already being provided for. A library of the spoken word was a gamble, and some days it still is.  It involved all sorts of different relationships inside the library community, and outside of it.

Today, Shandon Loring and I maintain relationships for Seanchai with a wide variety of people and organizations.  Some are ongoing relationships that are engaged all the time, and some come and go as opportunity and mutual needs dictate.  They vary widely from connections in the literary community, the arts, bloggers and media, land developers, educators.  We need each and every one of them to stay dynamic and viable.

These key questions will help you assess a potential relationship:

    1. What do you have in common?
    2. What do you have to offer?
    3. What would benefit you?
    4. What is the risk, if any?

One absolute requirement of these connections, or any relationship for that matter, is that they be 100% genuine and based on mutual respect and benefit. You must have something to offer each other – something to exchange as equals.  Anything less and the connection is one-sided, and ultimately will collapse.

Wassilly Kandinsky - Deepened Impulse (detail), 1928
Wassilly Kandinsky – Deepened Impulse (detail), 1928

Continue reading ““If you just build it, They might not come: promoting events in Second Life” (5)”

“If you just build it, They might not come: promoting events in Second Life” (4)

One of many poster walls at Whole Brain Health’s Cultural Hub. So many images!

by Caledonia Skytower

Part 4. Creating Visual Collateral

“Visual Collateral?  What the heck is that?”  The word “collateral” is used here as an adjective, such as “accompanying; auxiliary.” Another possible interpretation would be “additional; confirming.”

Visual collateral refers to anything visual or graphics related, that you need to promote your event or venue.  It may seem like a real fancy way to say “make a poster”, and perhaps it is.  But as your promotional strategy gains sophistication, and your reach extends beyond the immediacy of your friends list, you will find that you need more than just a single image to get the news of your event out effectively.  You need different versions of your image to fit different uses and promotional formats.  You create a core image, and then collateral!

I couldn’t be more grateful that there was a pause between Part 3 and this post. I was struggling with how to share these ideas without pointing fingers at people’s posters and saying “that sucks!”  The break enabled me to go through an exercise in humility that effectively brought me back to what is really important when you are creating this kind of work: what is the purpose of an image? How and where is it being used?

I have been peripherally involved with a long-standing event in SL that has an established visual brand – an easily recognizable style in their promotional graphics that they use over and over again.  I have been critical of their poster work.  Openly critical.  The graphic design work is beautiful, but to me they failed as functional collateral on several levels.

This year I was more directly involved, and I got to experience the event from an inside perspective. It changed my view entirely. I realized that I had completely misread the application of the images – how they are used.  The event itself is immense even by virtual terms. Individual components of it have to be promoted within the extended event area.  THAT is the primary use of these images.  They are not really for outside use, or social media.  They work effectively on the website because the other basics are taken care of by the page text (see post #2 – The Basics – Who? What? Where? When? How?).   The festival event itself is so large that other brand images (really simple ones) get people into the greater event, and these images help them make decisions on sub-sets of activity. How and where you use your images is important.

So everyone’s first sure-fire reaction to planning an event is “we need a poster” and that’s not a bad reaction.  Next time you find yourself thinking that, try adjusting your thinking to “core image” and grab a notepad and pencil. Start writing down all the possible uses for that visual image and ask yourself if one version of your core image will satisfy all those needs.  Be brutal.

A poster that works well in your in-world venue or at information centres may not look so great on a facebook post, in Google+, or on a website.  If you are sending out images with press releases, not all bloggers or media outlets use the same AR (aspect ratio) for their pages and if you don’t provide images that they can use (both portrait and landscape), they are not going to clog up their posts with what you did send.

There are some missteps that happen when you use a single image for everything. I have been guilty of some of these myself, and some become unpleasant habits.  Be conscious that not every poster/image “fits all”:

  • Don’t use an image that says “click for info/information” in an application where it is not linked to anything.
  • Try not to use a background image so complicated that your basic information is lost against it (Quick test: throw your eyes out of focus – do you still see “what/when/where” easily? effortlessly?)
  • Avoid using a 1:1 image aspect ratio in social media or other applications not designed for that. You end up with a BIG, dominating square image and your accompanying text is diminished and ineffective

Why would size matter? On an in-world poster, residents can move their cameras in close to look at your image.  For your average 19″ monitor screen, that can be quite a large image. I did a quick survey of various SL related blog sites and websites, and the largest images averaged 4″ x 6″ on-screen.  Popular social media such as Facebook and Google+ run to comparable limits of 5″.  Those dimensions are based on my smallest screen (19″) and many people’s screens are even smaller. You should consider that when planning your visual campaign – some people may be seeing your image on a notepad or even a phone.   Keep it strong and simple enough that people want to zoom in to it because it looks interesting, not because they can barely read it.

In all these cases, you can usually click on an image to see an enlargement, but that too can be of limited help. Your objective is to make it easy for people to get to your information.  Adding clicking steps is counter to that intent.  Every click you add, loses the interest of more people.  Social media marketing guru Guy Kawasaki suggests that you keep you images at a max 500 pixels for any kind of post. So, consider those relative sizes when deciding what version of a poster you need based on how and where you intend to use it. Do you intend to promote on social media?  You may need a version of your core image specifically for that.

Lest we forget, the basics! Every choice that you make in promotion has to communicate one of these basic informational objectives.
Lest we forget, the basics! Every choice that you make in promotion has to communicate one of these basic informational objectives.

I have recently seen several posters for prominent events (an awards event and an artistic performance) that had a slew of sponsors, presenters, artists and participants on them. It is great to see that many people pulled together for an event, but you have to be able to actually distinguish their names to appreciate it.  Save such details for a Lobby Card at your event, where you can make it as large as you have room for, or on your website.  In both cases I ran into these images on Facebook and was immediately overwhelmed by their visual clutter.  I couldn’t get them large enough to read all the text. A simplification of the image would have been much more effective. Size does matter! I refer you to the very first post in this series:

“Forget the catchy subtitles, or the extensive explanations.  Distil the essential details into quick bites, simple phrases, and make them prominent.  The other information is just that: “other.”  Once someone’s attention is caught, THEN you can dazzle them with your witty descriptive prose and all the cool people who are making things happen.”

It is easier than ever to create attractive poster images, even for those with layman’s graphic skills.  I myself am a good poster artist, though no one will ever mistake my work for those highly accomplished in the graphics industry. If you don’t have that skill set, make friends with someone who does and treat them well.  You have to start with an image for your background that reflects the activity in some way: it’s theme, or some vision of what it will be like participating (i.e. is it a fun dance party? a lyric poetry event? is it wild? is it serious? are there crowds or is this an intimate experience?).

Choose your image carefully.  Images with people active in them are always the best, but if they are low quality snapshots that scream “SL 2010!” you are better off to go for an image that reinforces your theme even if no avatars appear in them. If you are promoting a musician or DJ, have several different high quality core images of the artist to work from so you can adjust them to fit the venue and the set.  If people see the same image over and over, used for multiple gigs at multiple venues, it can become visual white noise.

One of the most effective posters for a musical event that I have seen is a poster which the musician (who happens also to be a graphic designer) uses for one of the venues he performs at weekly.  He is not pictured in this poster, nor is the venue.  The image base is a silhouette over the heads of a crowd of dancing people.  It’s says “dance” and “fun” without those words ever appearing.  He uses different images for different gigs, all of them good, but that is the most successful one I have seen: a simple message, clearly depicted.

So let’s quickly review:

  1. Choose a strong image for the core
  2. Evaluate where the image will be used and how many different versions you will need to accommodate different uses and formats
  3. Cover your basics: Who? What? When? Where?, and as appropriate How?
Three examples of promotional images I have created that I know they are imperfect by my own stated criteria. Can you identify their individual strengths and weaknesses? Which image do you think is the most successful?
Three examples of promotional images I have created that I know they are imperfect by my own stated criteria. Can you identify their individual strengths and weaknesses? Which image do you think is the most successful?

What’s left?  One final consideration relates to distribution, and I cannot give you clear-cut guidance on this one.  It is something you need to consider as it impacts how and where you intend to distribute your images: are promotional graphics “art” or “marketing”?  It seems like a silly question, yet time and again I receive No Transfer  posters from people (so I cannot push them out to groups I promote to) and No Mod (so if they did not make them the size I have space for, they don’t go up) or otherwise treated as precious.

If you choose to lock down your collateral to No Mod / No Trans, there are some very good reasons why you might.  My personal opinion is that proprietary artwork is counter to the objective of promotion. Yet, while it has been a long time since I heard of anyone abusing someone’s poster or poster art, I can conceive that people have had those experiences and have taken steps to be cautious.  So, I’ll be fair and say the amount of proprietary control you exercise over your collateral pieces is a choice.

If you make the choice to lock-down the work, you need to accept that you will be handing your collateral to one person at a time, and it will go no further than that one person’s immediate sphere of influence.  Sending it out to groups, or getting people to help you promote by enabling them to pass you poster on to other interested persons who might also display it or share its information cannot work locked-down collateral.

The best marketing is always positive word of mouth, or “buzz.”  If you can create buzz without barrier-free distribution, then you can afford to be more proprietary.  Most of venues and events don’t have that luxury. If you have issues around this, especially when working with a volunteer staff, I suggest you include on your list of collateral the need for a “non-precious” version that you can target for wider distribution. Then pass it out like candy.

Sending out images or posters with permission change instructions is not effective either. Once it is out of your hands, you no longer have control over it.  Accept that.  Your time is much better spent focusing on making your event or performance the very best that it can be, not acting as the poster police over use enforcement.

NEXT POST: Building a network.

Catch the Entire Series

If You Just Build It… is a multi-part series. To catch up with everything, follow the links below.

  1. Blasting the Myths
  2. The Basics: Who? What? Where? When? How?
  3. Words matter. So does how you use and share them

“If you just build it, They might not come: promoting events in Second Life” (3)

by Caledonia Skytower

3. Words matter. So does how you use and share them

Every time you begin considering promoting anything you will need what is loosely referred to in the trade as “collateral.”  Promotional collateral comes in two primary forms: words and images.  You need both to successfully draw people to support your efforts.  You them for a number of reasons, the primary one being that people are different and respond to different informational stimuli. (see post #1 – “Blasting the Myths”).  So you want to attract people’s attention by using both appealing images and impactful words.

Think about the advertising you see everyday:  “the promise”, “be curious”, “experience live…”.  Those are just a few that I saw easily from my computer screen just now.  You need words, phrases, even whole paragraphs that help people understand what you are doing and where they might fit into your scheme of things.  It is important to think of these words as variations on a central theme, and one that you command.  You need to be consistent: use concise phrases for social media posts or group IMs, those same phrases should be reflective in larger communications.  The shorter words are relatively easy. This post is focusing on what people trip up on most: the larger words.

In our respective positions as former columnist and present blogger, Inara and I have discussed many times how people will organise something and expect that (because they know you) somehow you know what their plans are and should cover it.  They genuinely get upset when you don’t dig up all their details and whip up a mighty mess of journalistic prose to fulfil their dreams of effective press coverage. In fact, when I started writing for the SL Enquirer back in 2010 I made it a point of letting anyone I knew in the virtual arts know that I was writing, and asking to send me information about what they were doing.  Crickets – that’s what I got.  The sound of crickets.  In over a year of writing that column, only once did anyone ever contact me about what they were doing.  That person was not even someone I knew!

NEWS BLAST: bloggers, reporters, etc only report on information provide for them.  Otherwise, it is far to time consuming to sift through all the possible “what if’s” for news.  It goes farther than that, you also need to make your news easy and interesting to cover.  You need to make your news newsworthy.

“That’s cheating!” you say, “they are supposed to be the journalists. They are supposed to delve into the truths of our time.”  WRONG!  Release the 1950s television illusion of the hard-boiled investigative reporter.  Most contemporary writers and bloggers are just trying to sift through all the dreck that pretends to be news trying to figure out what is really worth the time and coverage.  That is a full-time job itself.

Like the family pet, nothing gets the affection of the media more than showing you care for them
Like the family pet, nothing gets the affection of the media more than showing you care for them

Several years ago I went to a workshop a colleague was hosting for small theatre companies which included several speakers on a number of subjects.  One of them was a member of the local press – an arts reporter, in fact.  He was the first presenter and he came in wearing a full dog costume (not unlike what I am wearing in the photo, sans spiked heels) and sat himself comfortable in an overstuffed chair that had been provided for him, took a big sip of his coffee and set it down before crossing his arms (paws?) and saying, ” If you want me to behave the in way you’d like, you need to take good care of me.”  He went on to enumerate press release formats, timing, the need for images, etc.  His opening comment has never left me.

Your objective is to make the job publishing your information as easy as possible.  Don’t think of it as enticing reporters to write about you; think about it as writing the article for them.  The ease and accessibility of your information increases your likelihood of getting the release picked up.  If someone has the time to delve farther, they will.  If not, your information/message still stands a chance of getting out there and in the very form you designed.  85% of the virtual press coverage I get for the things I do are direct reposts of my press release.  The other 15% liberally mine information, quotes, links from what I provide.

Look at where people are looking for information – blogs, virtual media, information and special interest groups.  I resuscitated my press list a few years ago when a fairly well attended artistic project posted a list of the press they had gotten for that project.  It was big!  I grabbed it, researched it with the help of a friend, and it became the basis of the list that I use now (it’s not about stealing, it’s about recognizing what is worth stealing – that group made it public!).  I update the list every time I send out a release, and you should too because these contacts change rapidly and contacts can become stale faster than you think.  We’ll talk more about building networks and relationships in a later post.

No matter how you choose to communicate your information, whether you choose to adopt a more traditional press release format or not, whatever you send should have this basic information at the very top:

  • Issue date – when it was sent
  • Release date – when it is okay to post it
  • End date – when is it no longer news
  • Who to contact, the sponsoring organization, an email contact (the last is optional, but I assure you that you increase the possibility of additional coverage if you have a contact that is outside of missed IMs and lost note cards)
  • A headline or title … your “What”
  • “{Region or estate where this is happening}, Second Life”
Getting a consistent, easily- understood format for your press release, together with providing the information within it, can go a long way towards getting your news reported
Getting a consistent, easily understood format for your press release, together with providing the information within it, can go a long way towards getting your news reported

Continue reading ““If you just build it, They might not come: promoting events in Second Life” (3)”

“If you just build it, they might not come”: promoting events in SL (2)

Who what where when how

By Caledonia Skytower

Part Two: The Basics – Who? What? Where? When? How?

When promoting any event, you will need to create text and images to aid you in your efforts to attract interested people to your event or venue – to spread the word.  It does not matter whether it is posting or a poster, these five basics should always be front and centre: Who? What? Where? When? followed closely by How?

You have a finger’s snap worth of time to catch someone’s attention.  If a potential participant looks at your material and cannot answer the first four of those five questions in less than 15 seconds, you have lost them.  If you want to attract an audience, people beyond your friends list, don’t make it hard for them.  Forget the catchy subtitles, or the extensive explanations.  Distil the essential details into quick bites, simple phrases, and make them prominent.  The other information is just that: “other.”  Once someone’s attention is caught, THEN you can dazzle them with your witty descriptive prose and all the cool people who are making things happen.

Promoting your event: the Who and What

Who and What. The “What” is the number one single most important detail, and should be the first thing people notice.  It should be concise and precise: Is it music?  Is it live? Is it a DJ? Is it Theatre? Dance? Poetry? Literature? Gallery exhibition? Fund-raiser?  “Keep it simple.”  If you are in doubt, say the words to yourself out loud, “keep it simple!”

It is easy to mistake “Who” as an invitation to laundry list everyone involved. DON’T.  Name the venue, the group behind it, the sponsor; or if none of those apply, don’t put anything at all.  Those people who might get prickly because their name did not get on the poster as someone who is a part of it are not thinking about how successful your event is going to be, they are thinking about the glamour of being on the poster.  If they really were invested on the success of your event, they’d be happily distributing your poster and inviting everyone on their friends list to come instead of wheezing about poster details.

“Who” is always secondary to “What.”  “What” rules.  “What” is supreme.

Examples (with “What” underlined) :

  • Seamus’ Pub brings you DJ Liam McNarry
  • Seanchai Library presents “Tales of Despereaux”
  • Paul Barkley Live, in Concert at the Whoo Doo Lounge

When you have a “Who” that is a specific group or venue, and your operations are on-going (you produce more than one event – ever) then “Who” becomes a critical part of building your audience long-term.  If you produce successful events, you want people to know that it is you behind this one.  You want them to see your “Who” and say, “They do great stuff.  I might go to that.”  So while “What” is always supreme, do not forget “Who” and attach it as closely as you can.  Your objective is for people to think of them together, even though they are two distinct questions.

Promoting events: the Where and When

Where & When. Be specific with your date and time.  Be aware that you are trying to recruit an audience from all over the world – different time zones.  So it is important to be clear.

Don’t assume, as many people do, that everyone thinks about virtual events in SLT (Second Life Time).  True, Linden Labs designated SLT as a means of coming up with a uniform time rubric for the entire grid. However, there are those who still stubbornly stick to the central references used in other world endeavours such as GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). You can’t please everyone. Pick a time zone identifier that is going to be easy for the greatest amount of your audience, existing and potential, to interpret, Stick with it and indicate it clearly.  Don’t get all fancy by listing an array of times in different zones; you’ll just confuse people. Everyone does time maths in Second Life: those outside Pacific time do the maths, and I assure you that those of us who live in Pacific time do the maths when planning for our friends around the world.

Sometimes “Where” will overlap with “Who.” As long as you are conscious of that, and you have answered the question effectively, you are good.  There’s no need to duplicate.

Be sure that you liberally make available either the landmark or the grid address (SLurl) of the place where your event will be taking place.  Pass it out like holiday candy that you bought on clearance.  Most recently I have been including both landmarks and SLurls, whenever possible, to my in-world communication.  Some of the more specialised Third-Party Viewers (like Radegast) deal with location information in different ways to meet the special needs of their users.

Bottom line: everywhere that your “What” is, there your “When” and “Where” should be too; quick and easy to access. (calendar, blog, Facebook, Google+, notecard, poster – everywhere!) Do no assume!

Continue reading ““If you just build it, they might not come”: promoting events in SL (2)”