Fiona Gallagher started the Metaverse08 and was talking about Sun Microsystem’s experiences with Second Life. She started with saying that it’s not a cookie cutter solution. There are many issues involved with using virtual worlds (esp. Second Life) today.
Sun tries to make working for Sun easy and hence they have lots of people working from home. She esp. is located in the UK while the rest of the company is mostly in California and thus she does not have watercooler conversations. But she has it instead in Second Life.
Fiona talked a bit about herself saying that she is specialized in non-traditional marketing. She’s also a game addict and involved WoW player :-) She’s in Second Life for nearly 2 years now, has 3 avatars and is a joint owner of a personal island. She sees herself a s true Second Life resident. She says that she cannot stress enough that you have to engage in the community to understand the community and sub-communities. She tells every Sun employee who joins Second Life to not restrict themselves to the Sun environment but go out and explore Second Life as a whole.
About the presence
Sun started in 10th October 2006 with the first press launch inworld. The problem was that after that the presence was there but things were off-brand because it was created by the PR company in conjunction with Millions of Us. There were no greeters, no people from Sun around and so on. She says that this is very typical and many companies have made the same mistakes. They are mostly one-day stunts but this is not the solution to extend your marketing message and deliver it through a 3d environment.
Fiona then started to hang out at the old presence and starting to talk to people who showed up. She was doing spontaneous Q&A sessions and this way she learned what people wanted and were expecting from this presence. So for the audience it turned into a good experience in the end.
She also met other Sun employees in Second Life and they spent time to explore Second Life and it’s communities.
They started then themselves to enhance the presence, putting up a greeter or a drop box which directly triggered a message from one of their biggest customers asking for buying support from within Second Life.
What was wrong with the old presence
- many things have been off-brand (Sun has very strict brand guidelines down to the carpets). They found out though that in SL you have to push the boundaries a bit to make it work.
- no strategy for an ongoing presence in Second Life
What people want
What they found out about their customers was that they want to be in a dialog with Sun Microsystems. They want to talk to Sun people. To make this happen you sometimes have to take a leap of faith instead for asking for permission because you most likely will be denied to do that. It’s not easy though to just do something like this. Sometimes it can also fail but you learn from it and sometimes it can be a huge success.
The process for making a new presence
Fiona said that now after the old presence up for some months they needed to do something completely different. They started with developing a business proposal. She also found a friend to help start building and she found another friend who could visualize their ideas. They started building something in a skybox. Everything without a budget yet.
Why Sun should be in SL
It’s all about experimenting and what role Sun should have in this world. It changes every time. Everything is still evolving in the virtual worlds area so it’s a big experiment in how to communicate with customers and employees.
She also said that you don’t have to pay 6-figure amounts of money, she mentiones one project which simply cost US$300,-. It was a simple thing, very cost effective but a great success.
The new presence
They cancelled their relationship with Millions of Us and directly hired builders in-world. Their problem with big agencies is that you don’t talk to the builders directly but to the project manager. She said it’s much more cost effective to hire builders directly. She then explained the islands a bit, like the auditorium, learn center, public sandbox and so on.
She said that they have over 1600 Sun employees signed up for Second Life and it’s growing everyday. It’s all over the company.
Additionally they put up internal and public conference there, like for instance JavaOne.
You cannot do this alone
Her problem until December 2007 was that she also had a fulltime job and she only did this on spare time (never had a holiday or weekend really). In December it got too much so she tried to get help from other people. And she said she never had worked on a project in Sun which got so much support from the people in there evening spending their own spare time on it.
So they created a Solaris version of the SL client, they created a Sun API and database of Sun SL users, started internal and external communications and did employee workshops (because the learning curve is huge and people run through Orientation Island because they want to head into the community. Result is a high drop-out rate though).
Whenever a new Sun employee signs up for Second Life via their API they send them an internal email with a welcome message and many helpful links and SLUrls. They also offer these workshops to them. They cover everything from real basic stuff (making a friend) to the more complex stuff like scripting and building is covered.
Issues of Second Life
- Your door is always open, it’s 24/7 365 days a year
- people are interacting with each other, might discussing the presence
- She was wondering if she should ban Sun employees from public areas until they have a certain experience. They need to learn how to deal with a virtual world.
- You have to provide people with more than they could find on the website
- Interaction is paramount, it creates a more pleasent experience for the visitor
- You can bump into (prospective) customers at any time and this seems different from meeting them in RL. You are in a different emotional state because you are also sharing experiences about Second Life. So the conversation is more social than it would be in RL.
You can also do support in Second Life. Someday a visitor turned up who had technical problems with a Sun problems and she was able to get technical experts into minutes who could help this guy very quickly. This was a very good experience for the customer.
Target your audience
She basically has two audiences, the external and internal ones. External things can be product launches (both streaming RL events to SL or doing it completely in SL, streaming it out to the web or doing it mixed), Information update events or technical chat sessions. The latter ones work very good for them she said.
On the internal part they do employee townhalls or educational sessions on how to leverage the environment.
What you need to consider/do
My main outcome of the talk was this and it fits very nicely with what Jeff Barr from Amazon was saying once:
- It’s an initial but also ongoing investment
- You need dedicated ressources. You also need to be seen as an active member of the community you are building
- Spend time inworld – be a resident (explore)
- Experiment (Don’t be afraid of taking a risk)
It’s not just about brand awareness, it’s just another means to be able to communicate with your customers.