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The Heart & Science of Second Life Marketing

Brett Linden

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We’ve gotten quite a few questions lately about how we market Second Life to potential new residents. Insight into our current and future marketing strategies is important because it provides a glimpse into our efforts to help grow the Second Life population and economy as it enters its 17th year of operations. That’s why our current Marketing team has been working hard over the past year to sharpen our growth initiatives with more efficient and targeted campaigns that reach across many paid, organic and social channels. Keep reading to learn what we’re doing now and in the near future - we’ll be discussing our plans in even more detail this Friday on the live video stream of our weekly “Lab Gab” program (found on YouTube, Facebook, Mixer and Twitter).

PAID/PERFORMANCE MARKETING

On the paid/performance marketing front, we modernized our acquisition efforts last year by putting into place the use of new technologies that allow us to more precisely target new users across numerous themes, communities and genres. As part of this effort, we’ve identified a few dozen strategically-relevant, high-impact community segments and themes -- all of which now have new related display, search and video ad content served against specific matched keyword inquiries and sites. Some ads are also served across social media to those with social profiles that express an interest in some or all of our targeted themes. That means that you might see new sci-fi roleplaying ads appearing on some sci-fi fan sites, social media pages, or new romance ads on long-distance relationship forums - the list goes on…

In many cases, Second Life ads are also set up as multivariate tests that help us determine which combination of images, text, and call-to-actions perform the strongest for click-through rates and retention. So, some ads may look identical except for one variation in text or imagery as we test and learn which combinations convert best. Among the themes with high traffic volume and interest among potential new residents are those that involve fashion and/or avatar customization, identity exploration, fun socialization and chat (“meet new friends,” etc.) and several specific roleplaying communities (with many campaigns going deep into specific areas such as maternity, fantasy, sci-fi and vampire themes). One consistently high-volume (but often polarizing) theme is “romance” as these ads tend to have high click-through rates that ultimately bring a large number of new people into Second Life. However, SL is so much more than a place where you might meet or hook up with a potential partner - so we aim to balance out the overall portfolio with a range of themes across the overall marketing mix. Striking the right balance with a combination of heart and science in our ad creatives is a key concern and goal. 

DISPLAY AD CAMPAIGN EXAMPLES

While we have hundreds of ads in rotation at the moment, here are a few examples of some of our more recent ads that are performing particularly well for click-through and conversion rates across multiple languages:

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To be clear, we don’t want to limit our messaging just to those themes that get the most clicks - that doesn’t do justice to the true creativity and diversity of the Second Life community, culture, and overall experience. That’s why our overall ad strategy includes campaigns that aim to appeal to a more diverse mix of users (even if those themes have a lower volume of potential new users). In fact, some of the most successful retention rates we see come from campaigns with smaller and niche themes. 

Further, some communities tend to spend more L$ than others and/or login more often and for longer periods of time. Among the most promising new and forthcoming campaigns are those targeting themes that better explore issues of identity formation and creative freedom of expression. In particular, we are looking to expand our campaign efforts to further embrace the furry/anthro, tiny, creator and LGBTQ+ communities. If you think we’re missing the boat on any specific themes or communities and/or have a question about our segmentation content strategy, then please give us your feedback and we may address your comments in this Friday’s “Lab Gab.”

VIDEO ADS

One of the newer areas of focus in our marketing is the use of paid video advertising. We’re now in the process of developing dozens of new video ads to promote Second Life across YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other outlets that support video advertising. 

You may have already noticed our recent “Second Life Destinations” video series, produced in partnership with Draxtor Despres. This web series, which is distributed across our social media channels, explores a different community or theme each week. While these longer fly-through videos are not intended to be ads, we do simultaneously create shorter ad edits from each episode. That means that each episode is accompanied by shorter fifteen- and thirty-second formats that are used for targeted paid advertisements to non-residents. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of how a longer video about surfing destinations was truncated into a fifteen-second ad edit: 

Original Social Video - "Second Life Destinations - Surfing Hot Spots"

15-Second Ad Edit - Catch a Wave in Second Life 

Here’s an example of how our “Love Made in Second Life” series was truncated into shorter ads, too:

Original Social Video ("Love Made in SL" videos) - Romance

30-Second Ad Edit (Sourced from multiple videos) - Romance

So far, we have dozens of these community-specific video ads in rotation with more added each month. Here are some examples of the more popular segment ads currently in rotation:

Avatar Customization/Fashion

Medieval Roleplaying Communities

Online Hangout/Social Chat

Art & Creation (French Language)

Virtual Travel & Exploration (Japanese Language)

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Among the dozens of other active video campaigns are those that focus on virtual pets (horses, cats, etc.), 3D art and exhibitions, cyberpunk, haunted attractions, adventure and exploration, SL Pride, motorcycle enthusiasts and skill gaming. There's even an ad that's all about Second Life hair!

AD REACH

With all of these new video, search and display ads, we are running MORE ads now than ever -- across more channels than ever. So, where then do these ads run? 

Some of these ads and the longer social media edits are found organically amidst Google and social media search results but also on the open web: display, social and video ads are appearing across many, many sites and networks. In some cases, we work with external ad or affiliate network partners to help us maximize our ad reach -- but we also now have better expertise in-house to manage and strategize our performance marketing efforts. In the next episode of “Lab Gab,” you’ll meet Darcy Linden, our Senior Marketing Manager who oversees our performance marketing efforts and strategy.

Still...one of the most common bits of feedback we hear is “I never see ads for Second Life”...and that is somewhat by design as we don’t want to be inefficient with our precious ad dollars to serve acquisition-focused ads to our existing community.

However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to reach out to you. In addition to ads aimed at non-Residents, we also have separate “retargeting” campaigns that include content specifically created to inform existing Residents about new events or experiences. For example, we might want existing users to check out a specific high-profile event or experience -- or maybe let them know about Premium memberships and discounts. While these efforts are still in their infancy, we expect to do much more retargeting in the coming year.

All marketing efforts have to work hand-in-hand with our product teams to ensure that once we get a new Resident in the door, there is a positive experience once they arrive. There are many ongoing experiments underway (and improvements to be made) on that front that we’ll perhaps address in a different blog post.

MESSAGING

Einstein is alleged to have once stated, “Imagination will take you everywhere.” That's certainly true in Second Life and we intend to stick with the "Your World. Your Imagination" tagline that captures the many wonders and possibilities of SL. 

However, in today's world of programmatic advertising, segmented ad buys and keyword search advertising, our campaigns are often customized with messaging and images that are optimized to appeal to and elicit clicks from specific targeted audiences. These efforts can be highly cost-efficient and effective, but we also recognize the necessity of keeping the heart, soul and spirit of Second Life alive amidst the algorithms. This is one of our biggest challenges in the coming year. 

It isn't enough to be data-driven. We also want to do justice to the community with campaigns that accurately capture and convey the cultural and creative energies that charge our virtual world. To do this, we may need to think further "outside the box" with bolder experiments in messaging and design for future campaigns and acquisition channels. That may include more mainstream ad efforts that reach untapped audiences, including those found on cord-cutting platforms. We'd love your ideas as this is a conversation that is very much alive and active inside and outside the Lab. You can share your thoughts on our feedback submission form for this Friday’s “Lab Gab.”

ORGANIC MARKETING, SOCIAL MEDIA & INFLUENCER MARKETING

Of course, not everything we do in marketing involves paid campaigns. We recently brought aboard one of our top social influencers - Strawberry Singh - now Strawberry Linden to help with our social efforts - and she worked closely with our former community lead Xiola to help boost our social strategy. 

On our social channels, you may have noticed we’ve been quite active over the past year. In addition to our ongoing presence on Facebook, Twitter, Plurk, Tumblr, Pinterest, Flickr and YouTube, we’ve recently expanded to Instagram and we are testing out younger-skewing social channels TikTok and Byte

We look closely at what types of posts get the highest reach and engagement and a key lesson is that video posts consistently perform higher than other forms of content. That’s one of the reasons why we have prioritized the launch of new original video programming , such as the weekly “Second Life Destinations” videos that showcase a different location with a fly-through. We also launched the “Made in Second Life” mini-series that offers in-depth interviews with creators and communities (recent episodes showcased the aviation community, museum curators, artists and fashion creators). Interestingly, some of the most-viewed videos we’ve seen are those that explore the true stories of people who found love in SL

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Last year, we also debuted live streaming programming across multiple channels including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter/Periscope and the new Mixer platform. Expect to see more “Lab Gab” episodes that include interviews with Linden executives and community creators, as well as many more spontaneous and scheduled live streams that showcase inworld locations and events. 

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Additionally, one of the most visible contributions from Strawberry has been her work on the production of numerous new user tutorials - all of which are localized in eight languages with unique voice-overs in each language - a first for us. Here’s a teaser of how these tutorials sound in each language:

PROMOTING COMMUNITY CONTENT

We recognize that we have an abundance of amazing creative content from our community - so why not promote it? After all, who knows SL better than those who use it, love it and create content about it?

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That’s why we recently launched the Second Life Blogger Network (SLBN) to better call attention to high-quality community blog posts, videos, images and e-zines. Through the SLBN, we are now sharing a significant amount of community-created content distributed our social channels, official blog and the login page of the official SL Viewer. In addition to giving the community more reasons to log back in, this effort also aims to build better mutual web traffic as well as to establish improved search engine relevance and indexing for both Second Life and many community bloggers.

We are also working closer and more directly with many community members to amplify some of their events and experiences, too. Now we can’t do this for every event or creator but we are looking at high-impact partnership opportunities that we think can help grow SL. For example, SL creator Astralia secured an official license from Sanrio that covers many well-known characters such as Hello Kitty - and we’ve collaborated directly with Astralia and Sanrio for some cross-promotion opportunities that introduce completely new audiences to SL. We’ll continue to look at additional high-profile strategic partnerships with creators and micro-influencers to help grow SL, too.

While not new, there is also an ongoing opportunity for Second Life creators and venue owners to continue to promote your Second Life events or locations in the Destination Guide. Each week, we add over a dozen new entries to help drive traffic to new and exciting experiences in Second Life. This gives heightened visibility to participating venues on the official SL website, inworld search, external search engines and even the login page of the official Viewer.

...AND MUCH MORE TO COME IN 2020!

We hope that this information helps to demystify some of the machinations and motivations of our marketing efforts -- but we also know that this just scratches the surface of what needs to be done to continue growing Second Life in the future. 

For example, our Marketing Analyst Maveric Linden is hard at work on several new email marketing initiatives, such as “Rez Day” notifications, a refresh of our new user emails, new community newsletters, and other useful announcements for those who opt-in. We’re also looking to do more to increase awareness of SL in both mainstream and specialized media outlets and blogs with several new “earned media” initiatives that help better connect reporters to compelling SL community stories and trends.

So, what are we missing? Are there things that you think we can do better and/or what feedback do you have for the Marketing team as it ramps up its efforts for the rest of 2020? Share your thoughts and questions with us directly via this form - and we’ll do our best to respond on this Friday’s "Lab Gab"!

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Pictured (Left to Right): The Second Life Marketing team including Sr. Director of Marketing Brett Linden, Marketing Content Specialist Strawberry Linden and Sr. Digital Marketing Manager Darcy Linden. Not Pictured: Marketing Analyst Maveric Linden.

Disclaimer: Pictured cats are not official members of the Marketing team. 

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