5 tips for building word-of-mouth buzz for your grid

New grid owners who skimp on sales and marketing often rely on word-of-mouth to bring in users. But what many don’t realize is that word-of-mouth usually doesn’t just happen by itself.

Here are some ways to help create and growth word-of-mouth buzz for your grid.

(Image courtesy Glenn Harper via Flickr.)
(Image courtesy Glenn Harper via Flickr.)

1. Have stuff worth talking about

This bears repeating. Your grid has to have something on it worth talking about. If all you’re offering is empty land at the same price as everyone else, with a welcome area filled with Linda Kellie freebies, there’s really nothing to say about it. Not to put down Linda Kellie — her stuff is amazing, and you should definitely check out this site for am amazing and huge collection of original content that you can do anything with, including modify and resell, no attribution required. But every grid has Linda Kellie. What’s special about your grid?

In particular, and I can’t stress this enough, these days a grid needs a strong focus to make it. Trying to reach everybody, you reach nobody. If your business plan is to have a grid just like Second Life, but cheaper, then InWorldz is already doing that. And Avination. And 3rd Rock Grid. And Virtual Highway. And pretty much every other commercial grid out there.

You need more than that. You need something special.

Say — and I’m just throwing this out there as an example — elephants. Let’s say you become the elephant grid. You’ve got elephants all over the place. Elephant rides. Elephant safaris. Elephant role playing games, bars, clubs, costumes, promotional merchandise.

If someone wants an elephant, they’ll know where to go.

You might say: “But how many people are really that into elephants? Only a few. But there are millions using Second Life!” That is true. There are lots of people looking for a general, fun social experience, and very few people specifically looking for elephants. But the thing is, people looking for the generic social thing already have a place to go. Lots of places to go. But people looking for elephants aren’t being served at all! Just Google “virtual world for elephants” — all you get is some kids’ games.

2. Identify influencers and reward them

So you’ve picked a niche. You either picked an area that you know a lot about, or one that you’ve researched heavily. So you probably already know who the movers and shakers are. If you don’t — find out!

Then find out what those influencers want, and try to give it to them.

For example, I occasionally get contacted by grids looking to form some kind of partnership or arrangement where I talk them up in return for money. But I’m not a PR agent. I can’t do that. What I can do is run an ad, if they have money for advertising, or run press releases, if they don’t. And if it’s a hypergrid-enabled grid, I’ll run an ad on Hyperica for free.

I’m guessing that few other folks in the “influencers” category would take direct payment, either. The downsides are too great if you get caught, and its hard to figure out how much you should get paid, anyway. If you have the budget, hire them directly, like ReactionGrid with John “Pathfinder” Lester.  Or offer them something else they might like, such as a free region for the life of the grid, no strings attached.

Many grids offer free store parcels, but this is so common these days that these offers don’t really stand out. Plus, it’s a lot of work to get content into a new grid, set up the store, and deal with customers — work that, on a startup grid, isn’t likely to see much of a reward. Especially at first.

Try to think of some other things that influences might want. Do they want recognition? Invite them to give a talk at a conference or big public event, or interview them for an article on your grid’s website.

Are they a creator looking for a resale channel? Ask for a distribution deal — you do all the work uploading the content, marketing and selling it, and supporting customers, and they just sit back and get a big cut of every sale. No risk for them, no extra work — and you get brand-name merchandise on your grid.

Are they looking for influence? They might be interested in being on your board of directors. They might even want to become a part owner of your grid, if they like what you’re doing and believe it could become successful. Plus, with an ownership stake, they’ll be even more likely to promote your grid.

And keep the recognition coming. People love flattery. Give out limited-edition freebies to your ten most active users, to folks who retweet your announcements, who like your Facebook posts, who have the most forum posts. Make the prizes surprising, so people don’t come to expect them every time, or they’ll just start gaming the system. Instead, do something different each time to keep things fresh, and to give recognition to some different people.

3. Set up an affiliate marketing program

Commission Junction is the program I hear most about. It’s just been bought by someone else and renamed as CJ Affiliate. The way it works is that CJ Affiliate tracks people who see your ad and then go on to make a purchase, so that you pay a commission only on actual sales. If there’s no purchase, you don’t have to pay anything.

Remember to set your commission levels high when you first start out, as high as you can afford. If, for example, you’re only shelling out $5 on a $55 region purchase, it isn’t really worth it for people to get involved. If you’re giving $50, then folks will start thinking creatively — where can they place your ad for maximum impact? I would also recommend letting them create their own ad copy, and see which approaches work the best.

4. Be your own best influencer

Right now, I’m trying to think of grids with high-profile leaders. I can think of three — one good, one bad, and one controversial.

Kitely CEO Ilan Tocher is quick to respond to media questions, to social media, to comments, to help requests. He’s a high-profile advocate for the grid. Meanwhile, his partner, Oren Hurvitz, keeps donating code fix after code fix to the OpenSim community, which also helps generate some positive buzz for the grid.

AviWorlds‘ Alexsandro Pomposelli is also quick to get back to me by email, or quick to respond to an article or social media mention. He occasionally rubs people the wrong way, but he’s certainly out there, getting the word out.

For the worst-case example, there’s SpotON3D’s Tessa Harrington, who appeared in public forums attempting to defend her grid’s attempts to patent several obvious OpenSim-related technologies. For a while, it seemed that everything she said just made things worse and worse, until finally the grid seems to have imploded.

By the way, when I say “be your own best influencer,” I don’t mean calling people in the middle of the night to complain about a lack of coverage, or viciously pouncing on every comment that’s even slightly negative about your grid. If all your public interactions are unpleasant, it’s not going to create a good impression of your grid.

Instead, here’s a great way to deal with negative comments, which I just came across last week but now can’t remember where: make a list of everything the commentator got wrong. Swear and throw things for a couple of minutes, vent about it to your cat. Now that it’s off your chest, make a list of everything the commentator got right. Tear up the first list, and respond just to the second list. So, say, if a commentator says that your grid is empty and is run by the devil, then — unless you actually are the devil — you would respond to the empty part. And you would say something like, “Thank you for visiting! I’m sorry to say that you are right, and there are empty regions on our grid. Come back next month, though, and you might see some changes! Those empty regions are there because they will be the base of a new public-works project on our grid. I don’t want to give away too much, but I’d like to just say one word … elephants!” See what I did there? A negative comment got turned into a positive promotional message!

When turning a negative into a positive, try to avoid the “Yes… but…” formulation. It just sounds like you’re trying to weasel out of apologizing. Say, instead, “Yes, and we’re sorry. Here’s what we’re doing to make things right.” Admitting the other guy is right and apologizing actually helps your reputation, and makes the other guy look petty. Trying to weasel makes you sound, well, like a weasel, and makes you look bad.

5. Have new stuff for people to talk about

Once the official launch date has come and gone, and the word is out that you’re the only elephant grid in the metaverse, you can just sit back and watch the word-of-mouth continue to bring in new people. Word-of-mouth requires constant fuel to keep it going.

The means events. Sales. Concerts. Parties. Contests. Games. Gallery and store openings. Fashion shows. Classes. Whatever kind of activity your users are interested in, you have to make sure that there’s plenty of it to talk about.

If you’re lucky, this stuff will happen on its own. But on even the busiest grid, the people with the best events often do a poor job of promoting them. As a grid owner, you need to do your part. Even if you’re not involved in the event as an organizer, you should be promoting events on the login splash page, on your website, on in-world bulletin boards, in newsletters, through in-world group announcements, through social media, and through other relevant channels.

Plus, you need to make it easy for your users to pass the event along. I can’t think of a single grid calendar that makes it possible to share an event with a click. This should be a no-brainer, folks! If I’m looking at a fun event, I should be able to say, “Hey, I’m going to this! Join me!” with a single click and post the message on Twitter or Facebook, or my favorite Google Plus group.

Maria Korolov