Monday, September 22, 2008

Reacting to Rosedale on LL press strategies and more

Thank you, Robert Bloomfield (aka Beyers Sellers) of Metanomics for creating an opportunity for me and my fellow bloggers Wagner James Au, Christian Renaud, Tish Shute, Ben Duranske, Nic Mitham and Dusan Writer to address key points made by Philip Rosedale, Linden Lab’s founder, former CEO and current Chairman of the Board, during your recent interview with him.

I’ve never met or spoken with Philip, but I look at photographs of his luminous face, radiant with an almost transcendent beatitude, and think about the immersive world he championed - and that I have such an insatiable appetite for - and I just want to thank him from the bottom of my pixilated heart. Moving forward though, I have a personal stake in Second Life®’s success, so I’m not going to pull any punches.

At Robert’s suggestion, I will speak to Philip’s responses regarding Linden Lab’s strategy for balancing the needs of all its communities and how it deals with the press, which you can read in context here.

Philip, I know that you were caught up in the conversation about security features and controls that folks from enterprise and education are asking of Linden Lab, and I realize that you had no way of knowing that your words would be scrutinized under the lens of public and community relations.

A little about myself: I’ve held senior positions in domestic and global marketing, public relations and community relations on both the agency side and in-house, representing companies and organizations in many different fields, including but not limited to high tech and entertainment. I’ve also managed accounts that became media darlings for whatever reason, to the extent that the coverage and the demand for information and interviews far exceeded our ability to manage it all, so I can well understand what it must have been like during that period between spring 2006 and summer of 2007. It’s a little like trying to stay dry when it’s raining sideways.

I’ve been vocal about my criticisms of some of Linden Lab’s marketing, media relations and community outreach tactics in the past and my feelings remain unchanged in some areas but are happily much improved in others.

* My biggest beef with Linden Lab is the way it lets loose some eye-brow-raising dictums to the community and then acts like it didn’t. Case in point:

ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: But you do have some control over the perception. I know, for example, there were controversies over the Second Life fifth birthday celebration where certain groups were in, and then they were out, and then they were in, and they were out. It appeared at least to be Linden Lab attempting to manage then and reduce the perception of not safe for work behavior.
PHILIP ROSEDALE: Inevitably, this is such an exciting new space that there is a lot of media hype, so I think we do sometimes try to tone things down a little bit. I think we need to do more of that as time goes by, to just say, “Hey. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.” Reasonably speaking, here’s what the picture looks like. It’s not all one type of content. It’s not all business use. It’s not all marketing. It’s not all any one particular type of thing. It’s funny, mostly our PR strategy has simply been to help connect and embellish the stories that kind of come from the community anyway. I mean, for every stressed-out story about people’s love lives or infidelities or whatever in Second Life, there’s a story that’s equally good about people meeting in Second Life, or some people learning in Second Life, or whatever.

I am pretty unclear on what you just said here. Do you mean to say that Linden Lab needs to restrict participation from events like SLB5 more or that you need to tell the media that it’s a diverse community and to get over it?

Many Resident groups labored an entire year to make SLB5 the best that it could be only to be informed that their participation was not welcome, and then that it was, and then that it was but only in certain ways… Again, Second Life is as diverse as the Real World. How hard is it to make both PG and mature sims available for an event of this nature? Linden Lab’s management and communications in this regard were disappointing, polarizing, and unnecessarily hurtful. As Chairman of the Board, I would have liked to see you step up to the plate here and address this situation more fully. An apology would have been in order, too.

We're different, diverse and we like it that way.

You say:

PHILIP ROSEDALE: I think that you’ve got to let people broadly create content in as open a way as possible. There’s a meeting in the middle. I think enterprises will recognize that the utility gains that they can get from taking advantage of virtual worlds are very high, and they’ll be willing to tolerate the fact that, yeah, if they wanted to kind of brand approve their neighborhood, the fact that they’re in a virtual world, and, yeah, there’s content they don’t like in a virtual world, they’re just going to have to live with that.

What are you doing to communicate this? Taking a pro-active stance would save you a lot of trouble, time and money.

* Since you are making a big push to attract corporate participation and monies, I think it would be beneficial to develop ways to better inform incoming companies and organizations that are just getting started in Second Life about best practices.

For example, you might show them the difference between an in-world facility that has ongoing avatar representation and events, and one that simply builds out a sim and then expects people to come running. Tateru Nino over at Massively just wrote a good blog post on the topic of unstaffed versus staffed virtual presences. Two excellent examples of companies that are succeeding in this regard are Warner Brothers’ Gossip Girl and In fact, why not build out a tutorial for companies and educational orgs to show them what works?

Must your website depict everything in such a bland state? Why not occasionally offer corporations some alternatives and ways to rethink their virtual environments, like images of Syncretia by Alpha Auer? Or meeting areas like Sugar Seville’s incredible auditorium seating at the Odyssey? Help prospective clients to see what the future of education, architecture and business looks like. Ravenelle Zugzwang just addressed one aspect of this in an excellent blog post about alternative seating.

* Regarding press management, Rob asked and you replied…

ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: [T]he Wall Street Journal had that big article about the guy cheating on his wife in Second …. Is that something you guys are trying to manage so that it doesn’t stigmatize Second Life for the enterprise community?
PHILIP ROSEDALE: Well, again, I mean I think the answer there is yes. Certainly, when I talked about security being a requirement for the enterprise community. And I think that content restriction and separation and insulation is a part of, is kind of a close cousin to that part of the problem. So I think that we’re doing the right things, thinking about how to better support the enterprise in looking at how to move Second Life more behind the firewall if we can, add security features, add controls for those users. That said, http, the web protocol, moves around a lot of different types of data, some of it certainly objectionable to enterprise users, and enterprises still use it. So I think that there is a future where, again, there’s a single standard; maybe the branding is a little different, but there’s still a single standard for how you use virtual worlds and how you interconnect them. I think that’s going to work out because, again, I remember the early days of the web. There was, of course, a real concern that corporations were being stigmatized by building websites because there were so many other websites that they thought were objectionable or adult content or whatever. So I guess I’m not kind of giving you a clear answer because I don’t think there is one.

People take up new technologies as a means to a way that will stimulate and nurture their own varied interests. You stand to benefit if you pro-actively demonstrate and pitch stories to the media to show them what’s cool in the way of user and 3rd party content and concept development. In this regard, your media relations strategy appears to be reactive in the extreme. There is no way you will be able to stifle all the empty sim and sex stories, and yet an ongoing proactive campaign about cool content and in-world initiatives will make the bad press much less visible and important. It isn’t hard to identify great content and stories if you just follow the blogs, and I know your staff does monitor them. Maybe your new PR person will be able to help with that.

* Please don’t limit yourselves to just pitching the business press! Diversify and share the cool and positive stories more!

Why isn’t this dress by Eshi Otawara being written up in W magazine or Vogue or Elle? It is certainly oozing in style and it is definitely newsworthy enough.

Or how about this hairstyle by Sinnocent Mirabeau?

Look at how AM Radio is using Second Life to restore Real Life photography… and while we are on the topic of AM, his wheat fields have raised enough money for a herd of Real Life cows to benefit third world communities.

I think many publications would be fascinated to learn that they have not one but two choices if they wish to visit and experience Escher’s Relativity House in-world.

In fact, why not aggressively look for ways to encourage crossover and show them how Second Life is beginning to have a genuine impact on the way people live their Real Lives? Other virtual worlds and digerati are often sailing past Second Life in this regard nowadays.

* What is Second Life? I was shocked to read the boilerplate (descriptor) in your press release dated September 3, 2008. So this is what Second Life is to you now? I wonder, fellow residents (corporate, educational or otherwise)… does this description mirror your experience in Second Life and express the advantages and opportunities you see in it?:

About The Second Life Grid and Linden Lab
Consisting of a series of sophisticated content creation, land management and transactional tools, the Second Life Grid is the technology platform used to power the Second Life virtual world. Provided by Linden Lab, the Second Life Grid platform enables businesses of all sizes to develop their own virtual world environments. Whether connected to the Second Life mainland or secured and blocked off from public access, custom virtual environments increase internal collaboration, enhance customer engagement and reduce overall business costs.

Linden Lab is the company that created The Second Life Grid platform and hosts the Second Life virtual world. Founded in 1999 and headquartered in San Francisco, Linden Lab was created by former CEO and current Chairman of the Board Philip Rosedale. The company is led by CEO Mark Kingdon, former CEO of Organic, Inc. and counts noted software pioneer Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Development Corporation, among its board members.

* It’s clear that you already think of your Residents as stakeholders, and Torley does, indeed, amplify our awesome, but so much of the intense goodness in Second Life never sees the Real light of day because Residents don’t know how or when to promote themselves to Real Life media. Linden Lab might be the greatest beneficiary of all if it empowered Resident groups with the tools and basic know-how to do their own pitching. Your PR agency might conduct regular seminars with and for in-world groups to help them implement their own media outreach to the Real World rather than keeping all this positive news inside the garden walls.

* Hype is overrated and trust and credibility are paramount. How can the media – and the Residents! - trust you if you make this claim?

“Second Life® is …inhabited by millions of Residents from around the globe.”

Not only is this published in numerous places on your website, but your press office has been quoted as saying as much. Your Residents know the truth. Daniel Tierdeman over at CNET knows the truth. Tateru Nino at Massively has published the truth. Anyone who spends a little time in-world can easily see that the vast majority of the registered members never made it in-world (probably held back by technical difficulties as I was initially), and several millions more simply never came back. So why oh why do you persist with this fallacy? How or why should we ever believe another word from Linden Lab again?

* I don’t see enough messaging about the fact that it is a fantastic platform to unite and help educate people all over the globe in an economically sustainable and an environmentally friendly space with distance learning, cross-cultural programs, collaborative experimenting and communicating prototypes for nearly every field including agriculture, space and medicine research. Please stimulate research and showcase your own and third-party stories about the cost differences of having a brick and mortar storefront or school, or the savings in time and money (and to the environment!) when it comes to using Second Life as a meeting ground. This press release by IBM about its Virtual Green Data Center tells a timely and positive story.

* Not long ago and on Metanomics, I mentioned that I’d reached out to your press office on behalf of Burning Life 2007, seeking assistance with Real Life media outreach and in-world promotion. That help never came. I’m glad to see that this year you’ve promised to make an effort to secure Real Life media coverage for the juried artists. Still, one week is not enough time for all that other quality content (twenty two sims brimming with creative goodness! Thank you for that) to be celebrated and reported on. Let bloggers in early and encourage their writing this up to maximize exposure.

Philip, all my thanks to you for shepherding this brave new world into existence, and thanks, too, to the many incredibly talented people at Linden Lab. Together, you've dramatically changed my life and made it infinitely better and more interesting. I look forward to the coming years and to looking for ways to spread the word about its transformative powers.


dirkthecow said...

Excellent post Bettina.

Personally I think they should turn their focus on doing less things well when it comes to promoting SL.

In particular, in bigging up a few areas that are not only inherently newsworthy, but you can't knock down via flying penis style stories:

Namely education (a lot of amazing stuff going on), business (hiring a global talent pool, virtual office) and the area you really manage to showcase - user generated content and creativity.

for Paisley Beebe said...

Bettina I hear your frustration... while L.L refuses to "favor" and promote individual talents or businesses...(except for the showcase of course) they won't promote our creatives in public. They use their PR dept to put out spot fires...respond to uninformed press alarmists ect its is very much reactionary...Also they clearly see their money spinners as comming from the corporate sector not the creative sector in SL or in RL.

The corporate sector have been informed that S.L is not "ready" for them, due to various companies pulling out of SL, and press reports. Prospective Companies need examples of where it is working yes! Gossip girl ect...but there's not enough of that, and so far not enough testimonials that SL can actually increase your RL business. Until Mass Media in SL can reach every single person who logs on, these Corporations know they don't have the ability to reach all those residents or have support of L.L to even advertise their existence on S.L to the user base. The Showcase is random, and often static with the same names being showcased over and over business and creators have given up trying to get featured on it, and do we really know how many people use it anyway? The Lindens with Classifieds and Showcase have Mass media in here sewn up and it is impossible really to use it as a way to get to the 500 or 700 thousand regular users of S.L. The best known Newspapers, blogs, TV shows are only getting too 100 thousand to 200 thousand people. If I was running a corporation who heard through sources that you had to spend thousands upon thousands to set up an island in SL, (thankyou Electric Sheep and Millions of U.S) to only reach 100 to 200 thousand people max, as compared with spending the same money for RL advertising and reaching a few million I know where I'd take my money. The Lindens are leaving the mass media in S.L, that would provide that coverage, to the resident S.L Broadcasters and Bloggers and news outlets. They are not helping by running Classifieds like it is, dominated by Skin and Animation Businesses, on the coveted front page... and guarding the showcase so jealously with no open understanding of how one can actually use it? They have the means to reach those 500-700 users to promote RL business but the way its set up, and due to their arbitrary "no favorites" policy no one can reach those people with any guarantee. If in world companies are paying nearly 15 hundred U.S dollars a week to get on the front page of the Classifieds, I often wonder why RL companies don't use Classifieds to promote? 15 hundred is a drop in the bucket for them? problem is of course once they get the traffic from Classifieds what they do with it???? plenty of SL business people could help them but RL corporations never get to meet these people. If LL actually asked some of the most successful SL business people how they get traffic and translate that traffic into sales maybe they could present these corporations with an actual "game plan" instead of leaving it up to companies who are more interested in gaining short term big bucks and selling their clients a white Elephant!

Yes Bettina, Eshi's dress is lovely and the Hair is wonderfull we all love it! but try and translate that into a RL sense and I think you would get a lot of RL non SL users shaking their heads and agreeing that it was a lovely picture but not relevant to them in wouldn't be enough to get them into our world. They would just think its a pretty picture...they don't "get it" untill they immerse themselves in SL and find out how hard it is to create those things..

Education facilities are setting up here yes. But a lot of it is really just about the cool factor, and getting their students to understand the new technology of virtual worlds, and do assignments on it...and its not really making any real money for L.L which is why they do promote it verbally but they are not pushing it as much as the Corporate sector. They are trying to woo the Corporates in here but basically unable to show the Corporates any real examples of successful business models in here, beyond the experimental models and corporations using SL for Meetings and Collaborations not for making any money out of the users.

When SL has a million regular users maybe the Corps will take another look but only if their "message" can reach those million users, through inworld TV or Media or L.L supported showcases that are usable by them. (paid showcase maybe?)

Bettina Tizzy said...

Thank you, Dirk! I still maintain that Linden Lab *must* be pro-active at this stage of the game if it is to win the prize. And yes, education and content creation/arts are leaping ahead and making fascinating advances.

Ah... Paisley. Everything you say here is true. Depressing and true. But... BUT, we mustn't discount three important recent benchmarks that will change everything in the months and years ahead: better physics, MONO, and the most important one of all in my view, HTML-on-a-prim.

As soon as it is possible to see and touch realistic recreations of Real Life retail items in-world, and purchase them as we do on the 2D web, only now in an immersive 3D environment... the race will be on and all the flying penises and big sticks in the metaverse will not be able to keep the corporations at bay.

for Paisley Beebe said...

html on a prim all well and good but if no-one knows your widget is for sale on SL word of mouth only carries so far...and its really slow!

cambodia said...

Thank you Betina for this detailed post abut the Catastrophic press work from LL. I mentioned in a other Place already ,that the PR Work in Germany is done just by a Amateur .Its not the fault of the medias that SL get terrible press is the lack of the responsible PR Manger.As Germany is one of the biggest communities i just wounder how this can happen. That most serious Journalism Papers write that wrong ,because they don't get the right information .It can easily happen that SL will be soon only a short note in the Wikipedia as the first bigger Virtual world .Any way as knowledge ,Avatars and content is easily transferable to any Virtual world its just a matter of time when SL will los his most valuable creative too.
And than the Visitor will turn the back to SL and the Brands too.
Poor PR can cost a company the first live .