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10 rules for successful metaverse making

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It was a balmy evening in the summer of 2006. A friend of mine had taken me to the house and home studio of Draxtor Despres, an award-winning documentarian, who I was interested in interviewing for a piece I was writing. Immediately I was smitten with this bespectacled, headphone-wearing character who spent much time puttering around his home studio cooking up creative projects.

He gave us the grand tour, which included a cozy and scattered live/work area and what looked like a full-blown production studio. Despres had been making some remarkably interesting mixed media content, and I was eager to understand his creative process. Before I had the chance to get into any probing questions, he kindly explained it was well past his bedtime, and he had an early morning. I checked my watch, and it was only 7 p.m., and then, as if on cue, Despres was gone. He had logged off.

Yes, this was a virtual meeting, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. The oldest and arguably most successful virtual world or metaverse Second Life (SL) had been our first meeting place. The platform allowed me to meet and chat with someone who lived across the globe, in a different time zone, while feeling like he lived right down the street.


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Despres and I — or Bernhard Draxas he is known outside of SL — met several times after that first fateful meeting. He was a regular content contributor to the publication I founded almost 15 years ago, SLentrepreneur, dedicated to “making money in the metaverse.” For years, I managed a global team of writers, photographers and editors, all within the virtual world of SL. I knew immediately that the platform offered something extraordinary. However, it would be over a decade later before anyone in my profession would start taking the metaverse seriously.

10 rules for successful metaverse making
My SLENTRE.COM staff in early 2008 at our virtual office in Second Life. My avatar and editor-in-chief, Avarie Parker, is second from the right.

Despres has been heavily involved with virtual spaces for almost twenty years and has become my go-to for all things related to building and engaging virtual communities. Despres and I eventually met several times in person and became fast friends. I interviewed him while he was attending Augmented World Expo in San Jose, and we presented together at AWE Europe in Munich. It was a HUGE highlight of that trip to explore Despres’ home city of Munich together, IRL or “in real life.”

I recently asked him to share his knowledge with my XR students at the University of Oregon. What follows are the top ten insights from our lively discussion. You can view the entire interview on my Twitch channel and several other XR-themed expert interviews.

Ten rules of the road for metaverse marketing

1. Understand the true potential of the platform

The term metaverse has been around for a long time and only recently has been co-opted by companies claiming that they have built or are building a metaverse. A true metaverse does not exist. It is a purely aspirational concept that would allow for an open, connected and interoperable network of virtual environments dedicated to social interaction. The metaverse is meant to be like a 3D Internet, where you can digitally move from virtual environment to virtual environment.

Each environment could have a different set of rules, different “owners,” different citizens — similar to different countries if you like – with underlying infrastructure that allows for seamless travel between these virtual worlds. That infrastructure needs to be decentralized and ideally open-sourced so that nobody is left behind and one company doesn’t monopolize our digital universe. A recent Fast Company article discusses this concept and highlights OpenSim or OpenSimulator, an open-sourced network of virtual worlds created in 2007.  

2. Understand the technology and the terminology

It is essential to understand the technology and terminology of virtual platforms. Virtual worlds and the metaverse are different. I would argue that the metaverse is an open and interoperable network of virtual worlds or environments. A “virtual world” is a digital space where you can spend time together and do nothing – you don’t need to play a game, for example – and no headset is required. Accessible 3D virtual spaces that users can access on a tablet, smartphone or laptop offer the same immersion and interaction as headsets or VR-based virtual worlds.

The media uses the term metaverse as a synonym for all the offerings in a virtual space, and often the term is associated with headset-based experiences. Meta, Apple, Microsoft, and anyone else who claims they have built a metaverse, has instead created a privately held, virtual world. These companies, of course, want you and everyone else to believe that they own the metaverse, thereby monetizing the data of its users and potentially monopolizing revenue from the required software to access the space.

3. Get smart on the benefits of immersion

There has been much research on the benefits of using virtual spaces to connect with and engage users. Virtual spaces improve recall of information, provide a greater sense of embodiment and presence, allow for greater interaction and agency, and help limit distractions. There are many different types of immersion: Strategic, tactile, sensory, narrative, spatial and virtual environments can help marketers and comms professionals leverage them all, making their experiences more interactive and less passive.

4. Refer to your audience as residents or citizens instead of users

Using the term “resident,” or “citizen” for virtual world users indicates they have a stake within that community and moves them into an active role instead of a passive one. This tenant reminds me of the great work done by Jonah Sachs and what he terms “empowerment marketing.” One of the tactics of empowerment marketing — forget the consumer and call on the citizen — reminds us that inspired citizens make better brand evangelists than helpless consumers. You can read more about Sach’s empowerment marketing in this great series of articles featuring his work.

5. Understand the differences between consumption devices

Just like you need to become familiar with a new social media platform before launching a campaign on the platform, you need to understand how your audience is consuming the virtual world. Within the splintered virtual world ecosystem, different virtual communities and platforms are consumed through a variety of different devices like smartphones, tablets, PCs, Mac computers, tethered headset devices like the Rift, tetherless headset devices like the Oculus Quest, mixed media devices like Microsoft’s Hololens and mobile VR devices like Google Cardboard.

This is one of the reasons building an interoperable network of virtual worlds is so daunting. There currently is not a set standard method of consuming these immersive environments. Each virtual world has been built to support very specific hardware, so understanding these requirements is essential before diving in.

6. Speak their language

Become familiar with the thriving virtual environments that exist today. Each virtual world requires a different avatar, language, etiquette, etc. If you are building a marketing plan for a virtual space – you need to understand as much as you can about the residents. Some great questions to ask include: What are the demographics of residents? Why are they on the platform? What role or need does the platform play in the life of the resident? What is the unique language of the platform? What are the community norms, rules and regulations?

7. Location, location, location!

Any good marketer understands you need to GO TO your audience, and tapping into an already thriving and active community is much cheaper than building one from scratch. When choosing a location or platform for your virtual experience, a strategic approach is required. The platform you choose can mean the difference between success and failure and should depend on your overall marketing goals and objectives and your target audience. Factors to consider: Who is spending time on the platform, how are people spending their time on the platform, and what is the cost (money/time) to spend time on the platform?

8. Use the design thinking process

Approaching your virtual world or metaverse strategy from a design thinking perspective is essential to make sure you are solving a real problem for the user. Leverage the tenets of design thinking:

1) Empathize with your target audience.

2) Define the problem statement.

3) Ideate.

4) Prototype.

5) Test.

This allows brands to understand residents’ core concerns better and ensure they are using technology to provide solutions rather than just sizzle. Big brands can succeed in virtual spaces if they respect the residents and design for their needs, not focus solely on the brand objectives.

9. Prioritizing short-term economic gains sacrifices resident experience

Today’s economic climate forces companies of all sizes to continually prove value to investors, with a quick ROI becoming the focal point to succeed. Therefore, it is no wonder that technology companies use short-term tactics to get their user numbers UP at the cost of longer-term considerations for the residents/users. It IS possible to build a lucrative, online platform without selling user data and force-feeding advertising down users’ throats.

For example, SL has slowly but steadily grown over the last decade because it is a freemium or subscription-based model. They rent virtual space to their residents, and the resident can do with it what they want. This business model allows SL not to sell resident data to advertisers. Linden Lab, the creator of SL, also gets about a 9% transaction fee for all virtual goods sold by users on the platform. Philip Rosedale, the founder of SL and an outspoken leader in the virtual world space, positions SL as a place where you can have digital sovereignty. Isn’t that refreshing? Rosedale has rejoined Linden Lab’s board of directors in hopes of providing a viable alternative to Meta’s (Facebook’s) virtual environment, where they are purportedly planning to charge over 40% for transaction fees while at the same time making billions from offering user data to advertisers.

10. Join an active community of virtual world explorers and pioneers

Trying to become familiar with all the virtual environments can be daunting, if not downright impossible. It is much more enjoyable to explore these worlds with natives, who speak the language and can help you learn the customs quickly. Several great communities bring together professionals looking to expand their knowledge in this space. I am involved with the VRAR Association, Augmented World Expo, Despres SL Life Book Club, and I host my own XR Pub Crawl. You can read the highlights from my last XR Pub Crawl with Billie Goldman in this recent post or register to join me LIVE on my birthday, where we’ll explore the latest virtual spaces being used for marketing and communications.

If you’re looking to get additional training on marketing in the metaverse, read my post “Become a Metaverse Marketing Maven,” where I outline some great online resources to help you flex your metaverse muscle. Remember, as I always tell my communications students, with XR and immersive media, we are only limited by our imagination. Together we can build something that will inspire, engage and immerse our digital citizens and communities!  


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

10 things to consider when using XR for your event10 things to consider when using XR for your event

Lisa Peyton is an immersive media strategist and media psychologist focusing on the user engagement and marketing applications of new technologies.

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

Did you follow the Apple iPad Pro content debacle?

Here’s a quick recap. A recent online ad for the new iPad Pro showed a large hydraulic press slowly crushing various symbols of creativity. A metronome, a piano, a record player, a video game, paints, books, and other creative tools splinter and smash as the Sonny and Cher song All I Ever Need Is You plays.

The ad’s title? “Crush!”

The point of the commercial — I think — is to show that Apple managed to smush (that’s the technical term) all this heretofore analog creativity into its new, very thin iPad Pro.  

To say the ad received bad reviews is underselling the response. Judgment was swift and unrelenting. The creative world freaked out.

On X, actor Hugh Grant shared Tim Cook’s post featuring the ad and added this comment: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

When fellow actor Justine Bateman shared the Tim Cook post, she simply wrote, “Truly, what is wrong with you?” Other critiques ranged from tone-challenged to wasteful to many worse things.

Actor Justine Bateman shared Tim Cook’s post on X, which featured the ad, and added this comment: "Truly, what is wrong with you?".

A couple of days later, Apple apologized and canceled plans to air the ad on television.

How not-so-great content ideas come to life

The level of anger surprises me. Look, the ad does show the eyeballs on an emoji-faced squishy ball popping under the plates’ pressure, but still. Calling the ad “actually psychotic” might be a skosh over the top.

Yes, the ad missed the mark. And the company’s subsequent decision to apologize makes sense.

But anyone who’s participated in creating a content misfire knows this truth: Mistakes look much more obvious in hindsight.

On paper, I bet this concept sounded great. The brainstorming meeting probably started with something like this: “We want to show how the iPad Pro metaphorically contains this huge mass of creative tools in a thin and cool package.”

Maybe someone suggested representing that exact thing with CGI (maybe a colorful tornado rising from the screen). Then someone else suggested showing the actual physical objects getting condensed would be more powerful.

Here’s my imagined version of the conversation that might have happened after someone pointed out the popular internet meme of things getting crushed in a hydraulic press.

“People love that!”

“If we add buckets of paint, it will be super colorful and cool.”

“It’ll be a cooler version of that LG ad that ran in 2008.”

“Exactly!”

“It’ll be just like that ad where a bus driver kidnaps and subsequently crushes all the cute little Pokémon characters in a bus!” (Believe it or not, that was actually a thing.)

The resulting commercial suffers from the perfect creative storm: A not-great (copycat) idea at the absolutely wrong time.

None of us know what constraints Apple’s creative team worked under. How much time did they have to come up with a concept? Did they have time to test it with audiences? Maybe crushing physical objects fit into the budget better than CGI. All these factors affect the creative process and options (even at a giant company like Apple).

That’s not an excuse — it’s just reality.

Content failure or content mistake?

Many ad campaigns provoke a “What the hell were they thinking?” response (think Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad or those cringy brand tributes that follow celebrity deaths).

Does that mean they’re failures? Or are they mistakes? And what’s the difference?

As I wrote after Peloton’s holiday ad debacle (remember that?), people learn to fear mistakes early on. Most of us hear cautionary messages almost from day one.

Some are necessary and helpful (“Don’t stick a knife in a live toaster” or “Look both ways before you cross the street.”) Some aren’t (“Make that essay perfect” or “Don’t miss that goal.”)

As a result, many people grow up afraid to take risks — and that hampers creativity. The problem arises from conflating failure and mistakes. It helps to know the difference.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a rock ‘n’ roll musician. I failed. But it wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t wrong to try. My attempt just didn’t work.

Labeling a failed attempt a “mistake” feeds the fears that keep people from attempting anything creative.

The conflation of failure and mistakes happens all too often in creative marketing. Sure, people create content pieces (and let’s not forget that there are always people behind those ideas) that genuinely count as mistakes.

They also create content that simply fails.

Don’t let extreme reactions make you fear failures

Here’s the thing about failed content. You can do all the work to research your audience and take the time to develop and polish your ideas — and the content still might fail. The story, the platform, or the format might not resonate, or the audience simply might not care for it. That doesn’t mean it’s a mistake.

Was the Apple ad a mistake? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Was it a failure? The vitriolic response indicates yes.

Still, the commercial generated an impressive amount of awareness (53 million views of the Tim Cook post on X, per Variety.) And, despite the apology, the company hasn’t taken the ad down from its YouTube page where it’s earned more than 1 million views.

The fictional Captain Jean Luc Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness. That is life.” The Apple ad turns that statement on its head — Apple made many mistakes and still won a tremendous amount of attention.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t criticize creative work. Constructive critiques help us learn from our own and others’ failures. You can even have a good laugh about content fails.

Just acknowledge, as the Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote, “Not every mistake is a foolish one.” 

Creative teams take risks. They try things outside their comfort zone. Sometimes they fail (sometimes spectacularly).

But don’t let others’ expressions of anger over failures inhibit your willingness to try creative things.

Wouldn’t you love to get the whole world talking about the content you create? To get there, you have to risk that level of failure.

And taking that risk isn’t a mistake.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week. 

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 



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The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

Writing a book is a gargantuan task, and reaching the finish line is a feat equal to summiting a mountain.

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