Monday, July 30, 2007

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WIRED AND THE LONG TAIL OF SECOND LIFE MARKETING (Updated)

Chris_anderson_detail

Update, 7/31: Chris has a reply to this post (and quotes my rejoinders) at his blog here.

Last Friday I contacted Wired Magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson about my critique of Frank Rose's article on failed marketing in Second Life, to get his perspective.  Chris told me he agreed with the article, and Rose's subsequent defense of it.  Fair enough, though I still maintain the piece doesn't begin to offer a full and nuanced consideration of the subject. 

Why?  Well, consider the time when Chris Anderson himself used Second Life to market a product.

Last October, Chris appeared in SL to sign virtual copies of his excellent book, The Long Tail. I was honored to host the interview session with him, in an event produced by NWN partner Millions of Us.  About 30 Residents showed up.  Not a lot, but then again, about what you'll often get at an appearance in a real world bookstore.

After that, however, my illustrated transcript of the SL chat log of Chris Anderson's appearance garnered about 90,000 page views, and is still often read; a subtitled YouTube video of the appearance produced by Millions of Us has been seen 2657+ times, and when you Google "Chris Anderson", it currently comes up as the 61st hit out of 1,270,000 returns.

So here's the question:  when considering the effectiveness of marketing Chris Anderson's Long Tail in Second Life, how many pairs of eyeballs should be counted?  Just 30?  Or another number?

In my view, this is the kind of consideration that a fair appraisal would include, but one that Wired left unexplored.  (And my specific rejoinder to Rose's reply, so far unanswered, is here.) 

Other variables worth covering: length of engagement in SL, versus other ad mediums; quality of engagement, in terms of brand immersion and recognition; quality of potential participant, considering Resident demographics as content creators, bloggers, early adopters, etc.  A full analysis would also include comparisons not to web-based ads, or other mediums, but marketing in other virtual worlds. (Here, I should say, SL will probably come up short, at least in raw numbers.  For example, when a movie studio marketed a film in Gaia Online with a scavenger hunt, the CEO told me recently, it attracted hundreds of thousands of users.)

All that to one side, it is still nevertheless true that SL developers have yet to create an unambiguously compelling and unique example of real world advertising that is massive or effective enough to convince honest skeptics.  (As I believe Chris and Frank ultimately to be.)  This was true last October, when I first pointed out the lack of audience for these marketing efforts, and remains so now.  Until then, articles like the one in Wired, and before it, in Forbes and the LA Times, however seriously flawed they are, will continue being published.  No amount of debunking will ever be as effective as a single killer app of SL marketing. 

So far, however, none exists.

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» The marketing issue in SL. Anderson VS WagnerAu from Fantasilandia
In this days I read with great interest the clever cut and thrust between Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief of Wired Magazine and author of The Long Tail, and Wagner James Au, the (meta?) journalist that wrote books about Second Life and that runs the we... [Read More]

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Gwyneth Llewelyn

Perhaps I can add my own, biased opinion :)

When a new website is launched and a press release is issued, you're lucky if you get a blog from a friend to report it, unless it happens to be something earth-shattering — in this age of 2 billion web sites, it's very unlikely that it will, indeed, attract any attention, except to Google's crawlers.

When a new virtual presence is launched in SL, even with a "last minute" announcement, it'll get coverage by the major RL press (and almost all the SLogoshpere) and a few TV stations in just a matter of minutes. The pressure to publish anything SL-related is tremendous.

For a company starting their virtual presence in SL, that's mostly what they can expect to get as an immediate return: huge media coverage, far beyond what they would get if they "just set up a web site". So it pays off immediately.

I also believe that the huge psychological value of "seeing who is online" is so misleading because it works against our common sense. A customer of mine launched their first sim half a year ago. I was there on the launch day, and beyond 2-3 employees, I saw a handful of avatars, popping in and out every minute. I admit I was disappointed. I came back hours later. One employee, 3 visitors. I sighed. "Well, at least it isn't totally empty," I thought. Before going to bed I logged in again. As expected, only 2 or 3 people around. Ah well.

On the next morning, I got a call from the over-excited marketing manager. She couldn't believe herself — 5,000 unique visitors (measured by in-world metric systems, not LL's confusing 'traffic' calculations) in 24 hours! She thanked us all so much for the incredible amount of work and congratulated their PR firm on the successful promotion on their local TV network, which had half a million people shortly viewing their sim on TV during prime hour.

I was baffled since I couldn't imagine where those 5,000 visitors had come from. But it's easy to see that all it takes is "a few people" logging in every minute (there are 1440 minutes a day after all). The point is, while you can fathom that a "fully crowded sim" for several hours is definitely going to be a success, it's hard to picture in your mind how many people this will add up in a month. Getting 150,000 visitors a month is pretty good traffic for a new website! But in SL this means only seeing 2-3 people at a time — but all the time!

Another example: recently I was on a press conference in a mixed media event — there was a physical room and a virtual room. The press release was sent to the RL local press (the ones more likely to send a journalist) and the SL press (the ones more likely to post some news about it). I attended the SL event, and was a bit disappointed: the number of avatars in the room did not exceed 20, and many were friends.

Their PR officer was not disappointed. As it could be seen on the streaming video, the press conference, although featuring RL VIP, did not attract much more than 20 people, too. Press coverage was reasonable in RL (all major newspapers and a TV station reported the event) and fair in SL (I think that 6 blogs and e-zines published something). So that was a "success" from their point of view, even if I personally was quite disappointed.

Thus, the discussion on "what metrics should we use" will definitely be continuing, as people will compare web-based metrics with SL-based ones, and measuring the impact on the media. I personally think that, like on the Web at the very beginning, we need to reinvent all our metrics, and accept that SL is much more similar to RL than otherwise. If I launch a website and do a huge campaign, I might be expecting "dozens of thousands of visitors per day, perhaps more". But if I open a moderately small shop, even with some advertising, getting "a few hundred visitors per day" is pretty acceptable in most cases. The Web is simply so different that it skews all statistics. But remember that in the advertising world people quote the number of readers of a magazine or the share of a TV programme as the "number count" for the ads published in either medium. If a newspaper has a million readers, does that mean that a million people have seen your ad? Of course not. Things like Google AdSense can even tell you very precisely how big the difference in "displaying an ad" on a page and "clicking on an ad" is (in my case it's 100:1). I can only imagine that the same happens when seeing an ad on a magazine or a commercial on TV — but advertisers will never tell you that, they'll just talk about the total number.

In SL, however, to "count" someone as a visitor, they have to log in and visit your virtual presence. A hundred people might be "aware" of the existence of the virtual presence (since they might have read something about it), but out of those hundred, just one comes to visit — and that's the one that counts. I have only anedoctal evidence to point: as said, in the above related case, half a million people saw a programme on the virtual presence on TV, and 5,000 came to visit immediately afterwards. 100 to 1. If this is universal, I have no idea, but I have a strong feeling it is.

Thus, when we see the list that Tateru Nino publishes here claiming that the "traffic" of a virtual presence was "around 5000" that might mean close to half a million people being aware of that virtual presence — although just one out of hundred might have really gone over and check the place. And for many companies, it's brand awareness that counts.

But we're in the realm of speculation really. The whole of "SL marketing" needs some sound theoretical basis in order to be taken seriously. For now, however, comparing apples with oranges (the Web with SL) will simply give the naysayers enough fuel to make us burn — specially because we don't have access to any studies that can be used to validate our claims.

---

On a side note, Hamlet, I found your comment about googling for "Chris Anderson" very intriguing. In fact, I was personally surprised to see the impact of my own pseudonym in Google — and shocked, by contrast, to see that my RL name barely registers on Google, with an obscure reference in 1997, a few blog entries, and... that's all. Again, just because I'm somehow connected to SL, I get (once more) a hundred times more exposure on Google. And many others have reported the same (the exceptions I know are actually Philip Rosedale vs. Philip Linden, or Eric Rice — who was a net celebrity before coming to SL). But for most of the residents, if they weren't a superstar before joining SL, they will very likely find their "popularity" (as measured by Google) increasing dramatically.

And the more curious thing is that Google doesn't even index SL content — only things that we write about SL! Fascinating.

Stone Semyorka

It's difficult to make anything out of the Google name-mention test. In my case, the ratio is 3000:1 RL to SL. The raw numbers at this moment are 2,260,000 RL and 739 SL. Wow! Am I a big name out there in the real world? Well, no. My name is a big name. The difference is, there are two other famous people with my RL name. One is a movie star who has been building up recognition of our name for 60 years.

Ian Betteridge

I think that some of Chris' language betrays the fact that he doesn't "get" how Second Life (or, in fact, any virtual world) works. He talks about "giving it a second chance", as if having another single event and then sitting back and waiting for things to happen is engaging with the medium.

Virtual worlds are something you engage with by immersion, not a single surgical strike event. If you make a build and hold a single event in it, surprise surprise, the ROI will look crap. If you keep holding events, keep engaging with the community, and keep finding new reasons to spread your wings within the world, the ROI will make sense.

Virtual worlds are strategic investments in brand building, not short-term tactical marketing campaigns. That's not to say that you can't have a tactical element within a virtual world which is part of a wider campaign, but it's got to make sense as part of the campaign, not in isolation.

Matias

Ian has a strong point, which I read as "SL is not the Web, stupid," but it begs the question "if brand building in SL is more akin to doing a roadshow than a TV spot (which I believe it must be) what is the point/appeal of building a brand in SL in the first place?"

Know the medium, know the audience, offer something unique. None of these principles are new. The only problem is that the folks trying to use them have no real, organic, 'lived' experience of SL. They are trying to orient themselves based on a PR machine that does not understand itself or is actively trying to deceive (arguably well intentioned because of a zealous conviction of what the future should be) or SL residents who have some very specific technical skills and are trying to market them regardless of how relevant they are. It may simply be that when you honestly look at those three dictates that it may not be worth getting your brand into SL. Having first mover advantage assumes that the early adopters value the same things that the mainstream does. True for web 1.0 because namespace, trust and critical mass were non-renewable resources. However it's not clear that it's true even for web 2.0. It certainly wasn't true for iPod - there were hundreds of MP3 players available and arguably successful before Apple introduced the perfect mix for the masses: ease of use, stylish design, size, and music delivery.

Today SL is like the wild west. What's successful in Deadwood won't fly twenty years down the line. In a world where land can be created with a push of a button there is no first mover advantage to staking a claim. The gold is in the people, and the time to set out and hunt for it is when you see the demographic of your brand about to make a big leap into a social second life. Frankly, I don't think that applies to most brands right now, but it does bear watching and preparing. I too believe there's gold in them thar hills.

Poianone

In my opinion, the question should be divided. Second Life can be seen as a new, independent platform for doing a sort of "in-world" channel marketing (spreading the message inside the metaverse); SL can be seen nothing more than another platform, that should be used for realising multi-channel marketing policies (spreading the message from the metaverse to other media). Marketers and businessmen were attracted from the first hour by the first option, and this is the type of marketing efforts that failed. The point is simply that SL is immature yet. The community is small, and the technical limitations hamper to involve more than a certain number of avatras.
For converse, the second option is the most intriguing, and companies are just starting to consider it. SL has the advantage in this sense to connect each other many media channels: streaming, blogs, feeds take place into an interactive environment, which is a unique feature of SL. The integration between channels is a promising path to follow, as it allows to spread the potential audience of the messages; in this sense, I totally agree with Hamlet about the need to consider not just SL metrics-based but also SL metrics-related data, as the spread of information cannot be undervalued.
Gwyneth, I understand your point, but I think that the question is more complex than just a comparision between SL and banners; this should be a traditional marketing vision. On the other side, internet permitted to tap new opportunities and develop different strategies, in particular for what deals viral arketing policies. In viral marketing, the aim is to deliver a message to an audience as large as possible, exploiting the links among the members of a social network. Therefore, the spread comes from word of mouth, with messages that must necessarily different from those used by mass marketing campaigns. They might be unusual, shocking, hilarious, engaging, because they must be remembered by people. And it seems to me that SL can be an optimus platform to create and deliver these type of messages.

Renee Hopkins Callahan

I believe this is all just a case of businesses not being able to see the virtual forest for the Second Life trees....about which more here: http://www.sentientservices.com/blog/2007/07/is-second-life-dip-or-cul-de-sac.html>Is Second Life A Dip Or A Cul-De-Sac?

Chris Grayson

I can continue making the same case around the blogtown— Second Life was never ad industry driven. It was PR industry driven, and viewed through a PR lens, for most developers it was a huge success. It was only those who showed up late to the party with the misguided assumption that it was an advertiser's medium that got duped.

To read my further commentary on Second Life, go to GigantiCo, and read Virtual Reality: Part 1.

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