Miss Metaverse Manners Rants: How to Contact a Second Life Content Creator (Without Being a Jerk)
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
So you just bought a fabulous new pair of Second Life shoes... But the left one is the wrong color. WTF. Thankfully it's easy to contact a content creator in SL: Just open an IM window and MESSAGE THEM IN ALL CAPS, right?
That might sound crazy, but a lot of content creators tell me that's exactly how a lot of people contact them, and they've shared horror stories about rude or oblivious customers with me for years. There's a lot of unspoken etiquette that goes along with contacting anyone in SL -- ignorance of this etiquette is a huge grind on a virtual economy where content creators often make just a few pennies on each sale, causing them to wonder if all this rudeness from entitled customers (which I've covered before) is worth their time. So let's limit future damage with a few questions to ask yourself before you hit 'Send':
Who are you?
Do they know who you are? Have you spoken before? Be brutally honest with yourself, particularly if you're a blogger -- stow your ego and operate on the assumption that designers have no idea who you are, because many of them won't. Don't approach them acting like it's a treat for them to speak to you... And for the love of god don't hand out unsolicited applications to sponsor or be blogged by you, it makes you look like a joke.
Who are you contacting?
Read someones Profile carefully before you contact them. Many designers use alts to upload and assemble products, or have CSRs to specifically handle inquiries for them, so IMing the wrong person will be a guaranteed dead end. Likewise using the wrong method means your message has a high chance of getting lost in the shuffle. Most content creators should have a section somewhere in their Profile about who to contact and how to do so: Some prefer IMs, some want notecards, some even want private Plurks, emails, or web forms sent instead. Always follow any special instructions provided, they're there for a reason!
How important is this issue, really?
Don't waste your time (never mind theirs) contacting people over non-issues. Stop and ask yourself how you would respond if someone approached you with the same issue. If there's a problem with a product then you should absolutely contact them.... but if there's a minor typo in the Read Me? Use your best judgement.
Do you need that review copy, really?
This is just for bloggers: Blogging virtual fashion is generally not a profitable hobby. As with modelling you will usually spend more than you earn, and review copies are one way to balance that but they are not guaranteed. Many designers are happy to provide them while others won't (check their Profile first, since many will mention exactly what their policy for review copies is,) so you should never ever feel entitled to one. And to be frank, if the item is under L$150, you probably shouldn't even ask. It's incredibly insulting to approach a designer and essentially say that their work is not worth an actual dime to you.
Everyone is different, but in my case I only request review copies for items that a) are around or above L$1000 and b) I likely wouldn't have bought for myself if I wasn't planning to write about them. When I approach a designer for a review copy, I always outline exactly what I'm planning to do with it, especially for popular products that high-profile bloggers have already written about. Obviously I can't say whether I'll have praise or criticism, but I can say the angle and approach I want to take that will set my review apart from others. This demonstrates a genuine interest in the brand/product and thoughtfulness as a writer in a way that a recycled and formulaic review copy request doesn't, so they're less likely to get the impression that you want to milk them like a cow for their products. If you don't have that information in your mind before you contact them (or can't be bothered,) you likely don't need to review the item at all.
Are you submitting a complaint?
Do you have the SL Marketplace open? Good. Close it, and contact the designer through SL first. It's not that you shouldn't give an honest review on the Marketplace after you've bought something, it's more that you're more likely to get a response and a resolution by politely contacting the designer first. After all, you're dealing with a person, not a massive faceless organization. You won't always get a satisfying solution so you may need to leave that negative review anyway (and yeah some creators can be jerks about these sorts of things) but you'll never know unless you try.
The other thing is... How to say this delicately... The problem you have might be totally ridiculous? You might be complaining that a suit doesn't come with shoes, when it never claimed to come with shoes and most people wouldn't even expect it to. True story. (Edit: As Siddean mentioned in the comments, make sure that you've read the instructions, too!) A ridiculous review on the SL Marketplace will hurt their business and make you look like a moron in one deft stroke of the enter key.
Are you making a request?
Most designers these days don't do custom work, and those that do will usually outline it in their profiles. I cannot overemphasize the importance of reading someone's Profile before you contact them, in almost every scenario. You can always ask, but be prepared to hear (and accept) a no. Many designers are happy to receive requests or suggestions for future work or variations of past work anyway, but once again you should be prepared to gracefully accept rejection. Maybe they don't have time, maybe your suggestion doesn't suit their own style, whatever -- Don't take it personally, and don't nag them about it.
Are you thanking them or complimenting them?
Do it! Please! You will probably make their day. This goes for just about anyone.... But only if you really mean it. Drop them a notecard or send them a little IM or PP. Don't drag it out or contact them over and over again for a response because then it will feel a little less flattering and a lot more creepy. Consider it like an admirer's note slipped into a locker: One note is sweet, five notes is stalking.
Just remember that a compliment is not a means to earn someone's friendship or get close to a content creator for perks. Don't be an asshole. Most people have a good sense of when you're just using them for the benefits.
What kind of answer are you expecting?
Even if you're mad, phrase whatever you're saying in the tone you would like to receive a reply in. If you spray abuse at someone you should expect to get exactly that in return. Yeah some people will respond poorly to certain things no matter what, but that's no reason to draw your gun before you're even in the saloon, cowboy.
If someone doesn't reply immediately it's probably not because they hate you, or because they're a bad person. I try to give someone until the end of the next weekend to respond to something I've sent before sending a follow up to make sure they recieved it. If it's urgent give them a couple days at least -- Remember that everyone has lives and moods and schedules to follow and errands to run, just like you do.
In summary, folks: be thoughtful, be understanding, be patient... And always read their Profile first!
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Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.