Marketing your new grid

With the recent explosion in new OpenSim grids, it will get harder and harder to get noticed. I’ve been talking about this to new gridmasters, and thought I’d share the advice a bit more widely.

While I’m specifically writing for hypergrid-enabled grids, some of the same advice will apply to closed grids, as well.

It is much more difficult to apply these principles to a sub-continent on an existing grid, since the parent grid might have a different marketing plan and brand identity which can conflict with yours.

Pick a theme

Whenever you start marketing a new product, you have to figure out its Unique Selling Proposition.

What makes your grid different from other grids?

The ideal is to find a community that isn’t currently served, or served well, by existing grids, a community that you have strong ties with and easy access to.

For example, Cyber Wrld grid’s founder and CEO Timothy Rogers identified a lack of a hypergrid community for furries and created a grid where folks interested in the furry community can find furry avatars and other furry-related freebies, and also find other like-minded people.

Another grid with a strong and unique community identity is Littlefield, which serves the BDSM population.

Other communities that are currently under served includes any language communities other than English, German, French, Dutch, or Italian. In addition, while there’s a grid serving gay men — S-Grid — and a closed grid called Gay Nations, which serves the entire GLBT community — there is no grid on the hypergrid serving lesbians. And we all know how popular lesbians are in the virtual world. Other groups which could benefit from a supportive community are people with Asberger’s or Autism, people looking to lose weight, or people who belong to particular political parties.

The Pro Racer driving circuit on TG Grid.

Other potential themes are popular hobbies such as model railroading or virtual farming. For example, TG Grid focuses on car racing. Proprietary role playing games can also serve as the basis for unique grids. A theme can also be a popular book — or an out-of-copyright classics like fairy tales, myths, or books like The Wizard of Oz.

Unique Selling Propositions could also be unique features — lowest prices, biggest community, unique physics engine or scripting commands. For example, Kitely‘s Unique Selling Proposition is its on-demand pricing model. It also has the easiest interface of any grid. OSGrid‘s Unique Selling Proposition is its position as the main testing ground for new releases of OpenSim. It is also the largest of all the grids.

Memorable name

For some reason, a very large number of grids have the words “virtual,” “cyber,” “life,” “sim,” “world,” “realm,” “avatar,” “metaverse,” “open,” “universe,” and, of course, “grid.” For example, we have twenty grids with the word “virtual” in their names in our database.

Don’t make your potential customers wonder if it was “Virtual Life Grid” or “Living Virtual Grid” or “Virtual Grid Living Sims” that they wanted to find out more about.

A good name is memorable, evocative and creates an emotional association for the customer. It can be very difficult to create a strong emotional association with a generic name, or a name that sounds a lot like that of another grid. Not impossible, but difficult. InWorldz, for example, has strong brand name recognition.

Vogueing bots model underwear on the Speculoos grid.

I personally love the names of the Littlefield and Speculoos grids — very unique, evocative, and easy to brand.

It also helps if your grid is easy to Google. A grid named “Hot Chicks,” for example, will have a hard time making it to the first page of Google search results. Make sure that the name is easy to spell and the URL is available, ideally with a dot-com extension.

Get the name out

Get the grid added to the Hyperica and Hypergrid Business hosting directories and our Active Grids List by emailing us at [email protected] To get listed in our monthly grid stats review, put up a page where we can get your statistics — total regions, total registered users, and active 30-day users. You should also add your grid to the OpenSim grid list at opensimulator.org and to the HG Directory.

To get listed at The Hypergates, you should get a copy of their gate and install it anywhere on your grid.

We’re also — for now — giving away free ads both on our Hyperica website and on in-world bulletin boards. Get your free Hyperica ad here.

You can also purchase ads on this and other blogs, and send out announcements to members of relevant social networks.

And, of course, you need a website, a Twitter account and a Facebook page. You can see the Twitter feeds of other grids by following my OpenSim Grids Twitter list.

Six points of contact

A sales and marketing rule-of-thumb is that it takes six points of contact before someone makes buying decisions.

So, for example, if you want people to buy land on your grid, you need to figure out six ways to connect with your potential customers.

Potential customers might see a write-up of your grid on a blog, see your grid in The Hypergates, see an ad for your grid at a Hyperica terminal, read a comment you posted on a popular discussion threat — where your grid’s name is in your signature, visit a freebie store on your grid, and attend an event on your grid.

You want to make the points of contact memorable, as well, and memorable in a good way. For example, if you’re attracting visitors to your grid with a freebie store, put the name of your grid in the item names or descriptions, and include a hypergrid landmark that takes them back to your grid. It also helps if the freebies are unique or extremely useful — each time the customer pulls them out, they’ll be reminded of your grid.

And freebies aren’t limited to just in-world items. You can give away starter regions — terrains, OARs — on your website. Each time someone visits for a download, it’s another opportunity to convince them to check out your grid. And if the freebies are good, they’ll pass around the link to your website.

You never know which point of contact will be the one where your visitor finally says, “I love this place. I have got to get some land here.” So make sure that it’s easy to make a purchase — a link to your land sales page should be prominent on the front page of your website and all internal pages, and teleport links to your land rental office should be prominently located at key grid locations.  It doesn’t have to be an in-your-face screaming billboard, but if the customer looks for it, it should be easy to find.

Help out word of mouth

Word of mouth is the best sales technique — people trust their friends more than they trust advertisements or random bloggers.

Make it easy for your satisfied customers to spread the word by encouraging them to post photos of their builds on your Facebook page.

You can also provide venues and support where your customers can hold public events, to which they can invite their friends from other grids. Events that might draw outside visitors include art shows and fashion shows, book clubs, support groups, contests and games, open mike nights, building and scripting lessons, poetry slams, and movie premieres.

A good event venue should have high avatar capacity. It should be easily configurable for different types of events, and be clearly branded with the grid’s colors and logos. Grid landmarks should be easily available for those who might want to come back later.

Shopping destinations also work well to help spread word-of-mouth since people will readily tell their friends where to find stuff.

I’m seeing many grids get started with Linda Kellie OARs and freebie stores, which is nice — her work is Creative Commons-licensed for any use on any grid. Some visitors will show up simply because they’re looking for her stuff.

But if you want people to come back — and to tell their friends about your grid — there should also be something special. This could be as simple as clothing branded with the grid’s logo, for folks who are collecting T-shirts or caps from every grid. Or items spotlighting the grid’s theme — a furry grid could give away or sell furry avatars, a racing grid could give away or sell sample race cars. You can also give away T-shirts promoting on-grid venues or events — your popular nude lesbian beach, your live music venue, your art galleries.

Lure in celebrities

Clubs and bars and fashion designers have long known the marketing appeal of a famous face — or a famous butt.

Celebrities not only attract people who want to hob nob with the celebrity, but also make the grid feel popular and in-demand.

Linda Kellie furry avatar. (Image courtesy Linda Kellie.)

For example, Linda Kellie recently moved her home to the Cyber Wrld grid and got a furry avatar. Not only does she have a few hundred followers on her Twitter account but she also has a legion of grateful fans using her  content and actively promoting her in their blogs, Facebook posts, and Twitter streams.

I’m not up on virtual gossip, so the only other celebrity I know of is Ener Hax — who has strongly endorsed the SimHost OpenSim hosting company.

You can’t buy that kind of publicity.

But you can buy other celebrity attention.

Track your results

You’ve seen other companies ask, “How did you hear about us?” They do it because they want to know which of their marketing strategies work best.

Take the opportunity to ask this question whenever you can. But you also automate this process a little bit.

For example, you can create landing pages for particular advertising campaigns, for your email signature, for your Twitter links, and other Web mentions.

You can also create in-world landing areas for people coming from The Hypergates, or from the landmarks you include with your freebies, or from in-world ad networks, or from partner grids, and set up visitor counters at those areas.

Some methods are going to work better, while others will just waste your time or money.

Keep in mind that your marketing channel choice could also become part of your marketing — for example, fifteen years ago, if someone was dropping a disk into your shopping bag, you would think of AOL. In some towns, a real estate agency dominate the buses. In my area, there’s a particularly loud furniture store that rules the radio waves.

On the hypergrid, any marketing strategy you come up with is likely to be unique — after all, there isn’t much marketing happening on the hypergrid just yet — which makes it easy to dominate.

 

maria@hypergridbusiness.com'

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.

  • Jessicaann97

    Dear Maria,
    Just to let you know Gay Nations Grid serves all of the LGBT community not just gay men and in fact they have a number of active Lesbians and Furries as well as a number of other gay groups from around the world.

    • That’s great. Maybe Maria will amend her article to say that. 🙂 That is something I wasn’t aware of until now. I look forward to visiting there soon.

  • Timothy Rogers

    We are pleased to see that people such as Linda Kellie are finding our grid like home. I do want to publically state that yes my grid has a large furry/neko community, but we also have a MyLittlePony community as well. Even a group of humans that like to play the organ, we are a diverse grid, it just so happens a large majority happens to be furry. That is fine with us, our doors are open to everyone. I am so happy to have people coming and enjoying Cyber Wrld, I am always happy to help people.

  • lol, thanks on calling me a celebrity, i feel so important now and my already megaprim-sized head is getting bigger! =p

    theming is so important and i kind of see OpenSim grids being like blogs and forums

    blogs are very specific and our Enclave Harbour could be analogous to that and forums, like for Photoshop, Blender, JavaScript, are kind of like niche commercial grids – groups of like minded people

    and o/, i am a member of Gay Nations Grid! w00t!  =D  

    *resists temptation to make off colour remark about furry lesbians! not that my fave av was a  little beaver inSL*

  • Great advice Maria. I am huge into marketing. It’s one of my passions. I think that is why I loved business so much in SL when I was there. 
    I agree that new grids need to have a special something that makes them stand out. Thanks for giving me all that credit that I don’t deserve but totally love lol. And for posting my new avatar picture. Playing a furry is giving me a chance to really make my online time “fun”. 

    • I’ve thought of another celebrity — Lani, from OSGrid, with the Dune-themed region and roleplay content. Some amazing builds — and scripts — there. Any commercial grid would be very, very, very lucky to get Lani and that whole group — but I think they’re pretty committed to OSGrid. 

      One thing I’ve noticed grids trying to do is to tempt creators to come by offering them free land. 

      Gridmasters, listen up — this isn’t much of a temptation! With New World Studio and Sim-on-a-Stick creators can have all the land they want, for free, to build to their hearts’ desires. And if they want to show off their work, hosting prices on hypergrid-enabled grids are ridiculously low. 
      Plus, if the relationship sours, the creator loses access to all that land, and possibly their in-grid inventory, as well! Not a great deal for in-demand creators. 

      Best incentive? Cold, hard cash. Many creators are barely making tier. A nice monthly payment for showing up on a grid, hosting some fashion shows, teaching a master class, hitting the clubs, making the rounds of talk shows — not only does all that promote the grid, but also the creator’s brand identity, as well. 

      And if you’re shelling out cash, don’t let it go to waste. Pimp the celebrity out to the all the VW TV shows, blogs, etc… Hold plenty of events focused on the celebrity and have the celebrity Tweet about them to all their followers. Milk those celebrities for all they’re worth. 

      Some other marketing ideas:

      * Launch or sponsor a lifestyle pub or show featuring your grid (but covering other grids, too, so it doesn’t seem like a total advertorial! — plus, the other grids can help offset the production costs)
      * Get together with other grid masters and sponsor multi-grid events — races, contests, fashion shows, treasure hunts, expos, etc… to help build traffic to all your grids.
      * Trade hypergate links with related grids — you put up a hypergate to them, they put up a hypergate to you. That way, if one of their customers is unhappy with their grid, they’ll be already familiar with yours, and vice versa — rather than losing those tenants to some other grid out there. Plus, you get more traffic for in-grid merchants and event organizers.
      * Sponsor a team for a contest on another grid. The TG Grid, for example, allows other firms to sponsor race cars. 
      * Open branded mini-stores on other grids. For example, a grid dedicated to unicorns could open small unicorn shops around the hypergrid, and customers who want to learn more — or buy more stuff — can HG teleport right from those mini shops to the full grid. The hosting grid gets interesting new content, and you get traffic and exposure. Don’t forget to sell logo wear – T-shirts, baseball caps, hoodies.
      * Offer a unique, useful, and branded tool and let it spread virally through the metaverse. An inventory organizer that, by default, is linked to your exchange. A hypergrid vehicle — space ship, sailboat, etc… — that has your grid prominently programmed in as a destination. Offer a set of useful, and branded, tools for creators and they’ll be reminded of your grid each time they work on a build. 
      * Offer free venues for event organizers. Not only will it help make those event organizers more familiar with your grid (so that some percentage will decided to settle there) but they’ll also bring in all those event attendees. Event venues don’t need to be up 24/7 — event organizers can reserve a particular type of venue in advance, and the appropriate region OAR can be loaded up when its needed. When folks are familiar with your offerings, you can offer a premium service — say, with higher attendee limits, or bigger regions — for a fee.
      * Sponsor a traveling show. A building instructor from your world can travel from grid to grid giving building lessons while subtly promoting your grid in the process. (Subtly is key, otherwise the hosting grid will get annoyed.) You can also sponsor traveling musicians, artists, book authors, psychics, etc…

      Speaking of psychics, why is there no New Age grid yet? 

  • I would like to add to Jessicaans comment below. Did you know that in many parts of the world, that being openly gay is punishable by death, and in more than a third of the world it is illegal to be openly gay , in fact it was a crime in California until 1975 to be openly gay. We do not  have a closed grid because we are holding onto some hot proprietary software that we are holding back on. We have our grid set up so that people can express themselves in anyway they wish that they may not be able to in their real lives in a safe fun environment. Our user base is a good part lesbian women , we have had lesbian weddings in our world .
    To suggest that someone jump on the bandwagon and scoop up lesbian niche is offensive. We are a gay grid owned owned grid and cater to the LGBT not because we view them as a niche or way  to get rich off of them but because we are a Proud Community who knows about the hardships that our Real Life community goes through on a daily basis. In fact we intend on donating a portion of our profits(if we ever make some) back to the Real Life LGBT Community.

  • Jessica, Wendell —

    I knew that Gay Nations served the entire LGBT community — but I didn’t make it clear in the story. I’m fixing that now.

    And while I was writing about this community as a consumer segment and a marketing target, you are absolutely right — there remains a lot to be done in the area of equal rights, and privacy can play an important role — and secure, closed, private grids are important for that.

  • I think another new factor to bring into play will be Gridcache. Although the community there is rather small, we are revolutionizing the way the grid content is shared.

    Already our users can post from inside virtual worlds using our GNU based script. I myself have created an announcement system for my grid that is triggered every time a user does something “cool” or joins the grid. This is incredibly powerful already if used properly.

    By posting from inside a virtual world it hashtags your location, linking similar posts, pages, blogs, groups and photos. This is huge for grid owners both old and new.

    I am also working with Dhrup, one of the programmers for Gridcache in redesigning the internal grid search. To start, we are working on a places section that will replace the existing “places” tab in the viewer. Allowing grids to post places on gridcache rather then inside their own grid. By doing so any hypergrid locations can be found and traveled to with the click of a button.

    I know I am not a very well known person on the grid. But what I am trying to accomplish will be useful to any serious grid in the very near future.

    http://www.gridcache.net
    David Bell