Second Life residents across the grid exploded with joy when Linden Lab announced they were increasing the number of available groups for Premium Members from 42 to 60. The resounding comment I heard can be paraphrased as “Finally, they are listening to us!” As I considered the resurgence of positive interest in Premium Membership (as a talking point at least), I wondered what else could be done to make it even more attractive for residents and helpful to Linden Lab. An idea emerged: What if Premium Membership could act as a two-way communication mega-highway to make gathering quality feedback more efficient while making Premium Membership more valuable?
What if, in addition to the current features of Premium Membership, Premium Members also felt they had a voice that was heard louder than non-Premium Members?
Why is this important?
Linden Lab has to filter mountains of feedback to mine the gems
It’s fair to say that when it comes to communication, the amount of feedback Residents give Linden Lab must be monumental. And in that mountain of communication, I’m sure there are precious gems just waiting to be found. Gems that are not just of value to Second Life, but also the Next Generation Platform.
- the hundreds of bug reports and feature requests on JIRA
- the thousands of peer-to-peer messages directed at Linden Lab on the Second Life forums (most of which I would expect they do not see)
- the thousands of social media comments made between Residents, and on Second Life’s Facebook Page, Twitter messages, messages to Second Life’s Twitter account (not to mention the ones on Linden Lab‘s and Ebbe Altberg’s personal twitter accounts), and let’s not forget Plurk and the subreddit too.
- the hundreds of suggestions that might arise at user group meetings, and inworld meetups,
- the countless messages and abuse reports the Linden’s might get inworld
- the hundreds of blog posts related to Second Life issues
- all the interaction between residents and Linden Lab staff who do not show themselves to be Linden staffers (e.g. alts incognito).
Can you imagine how challenging it must be for any company to parse these messages, suggestions, and criticisms into meaningful and actionable feedback? What a gruesome, painful and overwhelming task.
Linden Lab would need a small army of community managers to filter through it all. Assuming a small army like this does not exist – and might be beyond the budget allocated for processing feedback – there must be a multitude of good ideas that are simply never heard.
So what happens? Talk long enough without being heard, and eventually you stop talking. Bye-bye channel of feedback. Bye-bye those good ideas. And then people say ‘Linden Lab doesn’t listen to us’. They are naturally surprised when a new feature Linden Lab offer actually resonates with their concerns (e.g. raising group limits).
But listen, Linden Lab must. It doesn’t matter what kind of company you run, if you stop listening, you will cease to survive. Linden Lab can never stop listening. So listen they do – and probably more than we imagine – but the biggest problem then becomes: When everyone is talking at the same time, who do you listen to?
Every company has stakeholders, and in a for-profit private enterprise, the stakeholders that get the ears of the company are its customers, and those who influence its customers’ decisions.
Who does Linden Lab listen to?
For starters, as is the case for every client I’ve ever had, when the media calls, you drop everything to take that call. The media matters, because what they say has a massive impact on the perception and adoption of your products in the marketplace.
Another very important stakeholder group are your largest customers. Not solely because they represent your biggest independent sources of revenue, but also because it’s easier to listen to one person than it is to listen to a mob. For Linden Lab, these are the owners paying the tier that makes up the largest wedge of Linden Lab’s income – these tend to be individuals, and individuals are easier to listen to than groups.
After that, I’d bet the majority of Linden Lab’s listening time is spent hearing feedback from the long tail of Residents that take part in the Second Life economy. They do this either by being direct customers of land owners, or Linden Lab themselves, through transaction fees and marketplace commissions. This is by far the largest group in terms of numbers, and their opinions matter greatly en mass, but they are very challenging to listen to because so many are talking at once.
What if Premium Members had a louder voice than other Residents?
I’ve tended to struggle to articulate the benefits of Premium Membership to the non-Premium Resident. I signed up to be a Premium Member in early 2011, but I didn’t do it for the advertised benefits. I signed up because I wanted to give to the company that helped facilitate the experiences I enjoyed so much.
I think that’s why Premium Members should get a louder voice. I am doubtful that most Premium Members did a cost-benefit analysis when buying, and as a result of the immense value they found, decided to join up. I’d hypothesise – and would love to test with research – that many didn’t do it for the free railcar, or the Halloween decorations, the private sandbox, or the free Linden home. Rather, I suspect they did it for the emotional benefits, and justified their purchase with the value they received.
In short, I believe they became Premium Members because they believe in Second Life.
This customer group – Second Life’s potential evangelists – is who Linden Lab should be listening to. They might not have all the best ideas, they might be no smarter than everybody else, they might never tell a soul how wonderful they are, but somewhere along the line, they chose to reach into their wallets and vote with their cash to support Linden Lab. With that act, these customers said “I believe in you. I believe in this product. I want it to succeed.” Perhaps they didn’t vocalise it that way, but I would bet they felt it at the time.
What’s the best way to ‘listen’?
Whenever I suggest anything to Linden Lab, I remember Ebbe Altberg saying (over a year ago at the 2014 BPE Conference):
So we do want to be more transparent, we do definitely want to participate with you so that we can get your feedback and learn from you, and correct things based on what we hear from you. But sometimes, we actually learn more from watching what you do as opposed to listening to what you say. And I’m not saying that to one particular person, but just in general, I’ve found that the customer is often wrong when they ask for something specific.
Now, when they say, “I have this pain” or “I have this need”, they’re pretty much always right. But when they say, “it needs to be solved this way”, they’re usually wrong … and it can be really distracting for a team that’s trying to deliver something to get that variety of input. (my emphasis)
Having spent years mining customer data, I couldn’t agree more. Companies learn a lot more from watching their customer’s behaviour and making interpretations from what they observe than from asking them what they’ve done or might do in the future. We all (and I include myself in this) lack the necessary information to make specific prescriptions about how to fix problems or make things better.
So, I’m going to follow Ebbe’s advice here, and finish with this: At the risk of sounding prescriptive in the absence of all the information, I recommend Linden Lab to:
- Specifically survey their Premium Members for ideas and feedback, because people like to feel heard. In this way Linden Lab can structure their questions to understand what these residents struggle with, as opposed to spending time listening to how they might fix it. That’s a win for Premium Members, who might value their voices being heard. It’s a win for Linden Lab, in parsing feedback more efficiently. With this data, Linden Lab can segment the interests or Premium Members, decide how they align with Linden Lab’s priorities, and proceed accordingly. Linden Lab can also market this as a key benefit of the Premium Membership offering.
- Close the loop on the feedback they receive from Premium Members in a monthly email newsletter mailed directly to Premium Members. There’s the proof Linden Lab has heard concerns, and Premium Members get real insights on how their struggles relate to the greater whole.
- Most importantly: Observe Premium Members’ direct behaviour in a structured way. Watch where they go. See how they interact. Study their patterns. Invite them to controlled environments. Split test them. Doing so will help limit the data Linden Lab needs to parse, and make this data considerably more segmentable, valid and reliable than what they’re getting right now. When interpreted, that’s the actionable data, that’s what will likely make them happy in the long run, and that’s what will help Premium Members become evangelists for Linden Lab, Second Life, and potentially, the Next Generation Platform too.
With this – let me be clear – I’m not suggesting Linden Lab stop listening to non-Premium Residents, or land owners, or merchants, or anyone else for that matter. Instead, I’m suggesting an extra and prioritised channel for feedback that would not only make the Premium Membership more valuable, but that would also enable Linden Lab to prioritise feedback from those who have demonstrated their commitment to the company by being Premium Members. The more feedback Linden Lab can actually process, the more chances good feedback gets heard, and the more all of us win.
Addendum: Early feedback to this post is suggesting that I might have been less than clear in my stance here. In the interest of clarity, let me add: I don’t think that PMs should categorically have a louder voice than non-PMs, if those non-PMs are land owners, or shopaholics, or in any other way financially contribute more to Linden Lab than PMs. At the end of the day – and sorry if this sounds crass: “money talks”.