Three years have come and gone, and Second Life appears to be doing quite well. Twas not always the case. When I paid $160 for a lifetime account back in June 2003, money was tight at Linden Lab. That $160 was considered a bit of a risk. But I know all lifetime account holders felt it was worth it, felt there was something special about our little (see Fig. 1) virtual world. I don’t want to spend a lot of time reminiscing about the “good old days” because either you remember them or you don’t, and if you don’t, you probably don’t care. Suffice it to say that first year was special, and I’m sorry most of you didn’t get to experience it. There was a sense we were a tight-knit creative community building a world together free from the inevitable commercial interests. I didn’t do much socializing after that first year — indeed most of my Calling Cards are pre-2004 and I’m always happy to see how many oldies are logged in, even if we haven’t spoken in ages.
The truth is I rarely spend any time in-world. The bulk of my Second Life experience takes place in my imagination, my sketchpad, and Photoshop. I like being a content provider as opposed to consumer. Enhancing someone else’s virtual experience is very rewarding. My biggest thrill nowadays is when I receive an IM from a stranger saying how much they like my creations.
What will the future bring? Hopefully with LL’s rapid growth we’ll start to see some more features and a revamped client user interface. Given Linden Lab’s track record so far, it’s safe to say I won’t be holding my breath.
My pal Fallingwater Cellardoor has been slaving away creating wonderful things in her secret lab and has posted some great information on creating sculptie shoes in Maya. If you’re a more technicaly inclined designer, head over to her Shiny Things weblog.
Sabrina did a really nice write-up on SL marketing today. It is a good list of all the things a successful SL entrepreneur should do. But I would caution would-be merchants that this list will in no way ensure your success.
The two most important tactics on the list are probably Fashion Shows and Classified ads, because of their in-world nature, and even then, as marketing tools, they’re hit or miss. But they are definitely part of what has to be a multi-pronged effort to market your product.
Currently a very small percentage of SL users use the forums (2-3%, probably lower given recent population numbers) and a small percentage uses Web-based SL outlets (SLB, SLX, Snapzilla, blogs, etc). I’m not saying don’t bother with them. In fact, one section I think you left out, Sabrina, is one on:
Grab those eyeballs with advertising on key SL-related Web sites, weblogs, and perdiodicals. For my money I would do banners/skyscrapers on Snapzilla and SLX (I don’t see any adverts on the new SLB). Ads in Metaverse Messenger and Second Style might generate some interest as well. Then check out some blogs your feel might have readership that matches your brand.
That said, don’t expect a lot of conversion from the above methods. I’ve been struggling for a while now trying to figure out the best way to convert those eyeballs into paying customers, and unfortunately it’s a long leap from SL user browsing a Web site at work to purchasing your product. Brand-awareness is nice, but conversion pays the bills.
The crux of my post is: don’t underestimate in-world marketing and promotion. I’m convinced the most important marketing you can do are things you do in-world. Until such time as the convergence of Web and SL Client is complete, the virtual world experience is the key to success. The gross majority of users restrict their experience to the Virtual World itself. Once their investment in the virtual world is large enough, I do believe they seek out ancillary content to enhance and extend their SL experience. Many of those people are influential so it doesn’t hurt to market to them. Just realize your marketing to the cognoscenti.
I’ve already discussed classifieds below. Sabrina’s right, you might as well buy a classified ad — just don’t spend a lot of money on it. I see no evidence that justifies the outrageous costs needed to get to the first page of results or the top spot. What you want to do is make sure you are covered for keyword searches. Also make sure your land is listed in the directory for the same reason, so that your keywords hit when people do a Find in-world.
In the olden days, business location was important. If you were near a telehub, many were convinced, there was a chance you’d grab the attention of travellers who might stop into your store. And it was true to a large extent. When the southern continent first opened there were only two southern telehubs, and one was in Noyo. I was lucky to win an auction on land just south of the hub — and just about everyone who TPd to the new continent flew over my store. Sales were quite good until hubs opened further south.
Now — location still matters but it’s incredibly difficult to go about choosing locations. The world’s very big now. Even if you buy some land next to a casino that’s always packed, there’s nothing saying that people will actually explore outside the casino. While I like the convenience of P2P teleporting, I hate it as a business owner. Previously there were de facto commercial areas. Now there’s no zoning at all. But I’ll leave that for another post.
So how do you choose a location? Some might suggest getting into as many malls and renting as many booths as possible. If you’ve got the time to manage it, it certainly couldn’t hurt (depending). People ask me to display in their mall every week. At first I’d travel to the mall to check it out and invariably I’d get there and the “mall” was barely a build at all. Four prims walls and some stalls. I don’t go any more. I’ve got a certain standard I’ve got to maintain for the brand I’ve developed. If that’s not important to you, go for it. Spread-out across the world — it will net you more sales, even if you develop a strip-mall brand.
One suggestion is to choose an area with some established merchants or getting together with some friends and create your own shopping area. Leverage the marketing and promotions of your neighbors. Advertise both your individual shops as well as (if you can) the combination of your offerings.
It’s not hard to stand out in the Events list since the majority seem to be for Slingo/Bingo/Ringo. Having an event in-world is one of the most important promotional tools out there. Have events for openings or sales. Hire a DJ or events coordinator. Even if people just come for the party, you’ve got eyeballs at your location. If you can’t convert them then and there, make sure they walk away with a notecard or at least a landmark.
The most important form of in-world marketing? I’m convinced it’s having people wearing or using your product and having those people be socially active. The social butterfly is your friend. One who evangelizes your product is probably the best thing you could ask for. They’re your ‘salespeople’. Someone who’s involved in many groups, who meets new people, who can spread the word. Remember to make it easy for them. Make sure they have a landmark or notecard they can hand out. Make sure you’re in the Find listings so when they say to X person “search for X store” they can find you.
If you do find someone who loves your stuff, who IMs you with kind words, help them evangelize for gosh sakes! Give them some freebies or exclusives, ask them if you can let them know when you have a new product comes out. Keep track of these people and make sure they stay informed about your products.
Ok, so Nicola, you say, if this is the most important form of marketing in SL, how do I make it happen? A lot of hard work. There’s no doubt in my mind that the most successful in-world designers are successful because of word-of-mouth. To be sure some of them are oldbies who have a bit of a legacy (Neph, the Midnights, Aimee, others) but don’t be fooled — they got where they are through hard work. The rest of you are going to really have to work at it. Hiring people is a risky proposition as it’s hard to measure the success of social networking, although I suppose you could try to build some metrics around your hired evangelists (they send people to different stores, etc). My only other advice is — hit the virtual pavement and spread the word yourself. You can do it, it just takes time and hard work.
Customer service as marketing? You bet. Sometimes it can be tough to tell whether someone is trying to bilk or defraud you when they want to return something or say they didn’t get something from a vendor (etc). Use your best judgement. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt. If I do think it was a vendor error or I mis-advertised something, I generally apologize and refund them, if that’s what they want, and let them keep the item. Sometimes I’ll give them additional items. Make sure they feel like they are always safe shopping at your store. Make sure they walk away thinking “she/he was really helpful, I’d shop at his/her place again” without thinking twice.
In conclusion I hope this helps you think through some more marketing options when it comes to SL. Thanks to Sabrina for getting the ball rolling!
Being a data junky I’ve enjoyed watching the stats for this Web site over the past couple years. I’m actually just about to hit 150,000 unique visitors which I suppose is a good enough milestone as any to reveal some statistics. Not so much as an exercise in egotism, but as a casual examination of Second Life’s popularity filtered through this site over the past ten months. I’ve had this site for over 2 years now, and prior to 2007, visits were few but steady. But as we all know, SL exploded this year with meteoric hype.
I reference two pieces as a preface to this one: Hobson’s The Second Life Hype Cycle which talks about the Gartner hype cycle and Pixeleen Mistral’s article Second Life’s Slide vs. Everyone Else over at the venerable SL Herald in which she compares Alexa data from Second Life to some other virtual worlds. Alexa rankings are always a challenge because they rely on users having the Alexa toolbar installed, and it’s not clear who those users are. Of course this site’s Alexa ranking is a paltry 576,134 so I can’t compare it to my actual traffic statistics.
So just what are the statistics for NicolaEscher.com? Here are the unique visitors since December 1 of 2006:
If you’ve been following SL’s rise over the last year, the trend shouldn’t be surprising.
Who Are My Visitors?
Examining both the keywords used to find this site, referrering sites, and the emails I receive, people visiting this site are without a doubt new SL users. The ones that stay longer are usually new SL designers. After a certain point those users don’t return to my site (this journal generates very minimal traffic) because I don’t have anything else to offer them. It’s my opinion that NicolaEscher.com traffic is a fair indicator of recently converted Second Life users—people who’ve experienced SL and need more help.
The Crest of the Wave
One interesting thing to note, and something I unfortunately can’t quite get the break down for from Google Analytics (which might be my own ignorance) is that there was a relatively sizeable wave of PR which started in the US and quickly spread across the rest of the World. Whilst watching the numbers in May and June I saw a big drop-off in US/UK visitors and a huge surge in visitors from Germany. Recently there’s a been a surge in Brasilian and Dutch users.
As you can see more Germans have visited (and are visiting) NicolaEscher.com than US and UK combined in the last 10 months. (Note that all my tutorials exist in both German and English language versions.) The thing I’d like to be able to do is view the US visitors vs. the rest of the World as I think we’d see a steeper decline in the US numbers. The news here of course is that outside the US, SL is probably still in the Peak of Inflated Expectations.
There’s no question in my mind that SL in the US has slipped into the Trough of Disillusionment. I think the hard data is there to back it up, and I would wager there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence as well. The PR machine has certainly quieted down a bit and we’ve even seen a backlash in recent months.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the 6 months. Not only are a whole slew of new MMOs being released, but potentialy SL competitors like MetaPlace, VastPark, Lego Universe are launching with others maturing like HiPiHi, Kaneva, and Multiverse. And I wouldn’t discount Makena either.
I realize that there are many other variables at play here, so expect some margin for error. Certainly the appearance of a couple of tutorial sites and the some other resources (Robin, Torley, etc.) could account for some of the drop-off. Of course, sites like SLTutorials.net end up re-directing traffic back to my tutorials, so…