Storytelling: Second Life, puppies in a blender and more

It’s interesting to follow the growth of the virtual world Second Life and some of the early attempts by real world entities to market to its inhabitants. IBM, Coldwell Banker, and H&R Block have all setup shop recently. According to a recent survey, marketing is not being very well received, with over 70% of SL’s inhabitants claiming to be disappointed.

This ought to be so much fun that I’d like to cook up some virtual popcorn, kick back and watch as brands come online and fail spectacularly at marketing to Second Life.

But why are they failing?

Emergence Media identifies that companies are making the same mistake twice. We’ve been here before in back in 1996 with the flurry of brochureware websites. It’s too bad the Internet Archive doesn’t go back that far as some of these would be good for a laugh to see again.

The bottom line bears a little bit of bold type: Nobody really cares about your brochure.

… but who doesn’t like a good story?

“You really have to have respect for the audience and you do that by telling a good story.”

Ken Kaplan, New Media Manager at Intel from a Marketing Voices podcast

We have evidence of the impact of storytelling upon communities stretching back more than 25 centuries. The Iliad by “Homer” was really an epic told and retold by oral poets. In many cases, these poets probably huddled around campfires in the dark, drawing their companions in with vivid depictions of the gild of Achilles’ shield and each thrust of his sword.

Fast forward to today, and the breakaway success of American Idol. Will Sanjay ever be voted off? While I don’t care (that much?) many do. It’s easy to get drawn into the backstory and the unfolding drama.

Know what your community is drawn to

To tell a story effectively in the social media, you first need to ascertain the type of stories the communities you care about would be drawn to and the way in which you’d need to tell it in order for it to be heard. The best stories are usually authentic (unless we are talking the Penthouse letters section) and enable the community to build upon them in a viral fashion. Many happen by accident. For example, Glenn Reynolds twisted desire to blend puppies.

Second Life is a great test bed for the power of storytelling, as the virtual world provides a backdrop with unlimited tools and possibilities for the storyteller and a culture of the community that is unique to say the least (flying genitalia!).

At least one agency looks like they gets it. Centric has unveiled a deep backstory as part of some kind of mysterious marketing campaign called Discover Manoa. It will be interesting to see how this marketing campaign unfolds and if they achieve their goals.

Sometimes the best stories are those that typically stay secret

One of the best cases of storytelling I’ve seen is in the About page at Aaron Wall’s SEOBook. This is one the most compelling About pages I’ve ever seen. Aaron talks not just of his accomplishments, but of each phase of his life in a brutally intimate fashion. A high-schooler with 6th grade spelling skills. A paperboy. A baseball card mogul. A nuclear reactor operator onboard a submarine. Leaving the navy disenchanted and depressed.

Someone that didn’t make their first website until 2002 and yet has written what is probably the best book on SEO in the world.

By the time you’ve read halfway, you can’t help but root for his ongoing success and support him in his endeavors. You are endeared, and you are hooked.

I don’t think it is any anomaly that the PostSecret was voted the best blog for 2007. People crave to connect with other people on a deep, emotional level. A story that can accomplish this is a story that needs to be told.