In this week’s interview, I touched base with Maria Korolov of Hypergrid Business, a leading online blog on virtual worlds and environments. In three short years, she’s grown her business and I asked her thoughts regarding the virtual environments industry, what she attributes her success to, and what it will take to be covered by Hypergrid.
Biography: Maria Korolov (formerly Maria Trombly) is founder and president of Trombly International, a Massachusetts-based company which runs emerging markets news bureaus for US business and trade publications. Her clients include CIO magazine, Computerworld, Securities Industry News, CardLine Global, Waters, Reed Elsevier’s PharmAsia News, and dozens of other publications.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and Hypergrid Business?
I launched Hypergrid Business about a year and a half ago, shortly after I discovered OpenSim, as an excuse to learn more about the platform and to talk to the folks building it. Since then, we’ve grown to over 10,000 monthly readers, over a dozen columnists and paid writers, and we’re having to turn away advertisers due to lack of space.
OpenSim, and enterprises uses of virtual worlds in general, are a hot topic right now. The fact that I’ve got over a decade of experience covering enterprise technology for publications like Computerworld is paying off here.
And I’m having a blast. It’s great to be in at the very beginning of a significant structural change in how the world works. The shift to the Internet was one such change. I believe that the shift to immersive environments will be another, and will be equally disruptive and transformative to the global economy.
We’ve got ambitions plans for our company. We’ve already launched a newsletter, are finalizing a vendor directory, have a 300-destination hypergrid travel directory up, are developing a video program, and are building a hyperport with multiple locations to cover all the possible hypergrid travel destinations. Further down the line, we might rent out space to merchants in our hyperports, or create an in-world advertising network. We are looking for both technology and business partners, as well as writers, researchers, marketers, and other positions — all part-time to start with, but with potential to turn into real careers as this platform evolves.
You mentioned that your readership has grown over the past three years. What would you attribute your growth to?
Part of it is simply organic growth. Someone reads an article, recommends it to a friend, and the friend becomes a reader.
Part of it is social media. We’re on Twitter, Facebook, Digg… we try to make sure that every article we post is linked to from the major sites, as well as from BusinessWeek and LinkedIn.
We also make it easy for people to find us. We’ve been a Google News publication for around a year, and we’re near the top of the Google searches for relevant terms. Inbound links help drive up our rankings — and the more useful stories we publish, the more people link to us, and the easier it becomes to find us.
Marketers are more like publishers today. What tips would you provide to marketers to help drive their content marketing strategy?
Marketing is a big part of growing a new technology segment. Outreach and education are often neglected by technology folks, who assume that if they build a better platform, then people will come. That’s not always true — people won’t come unless they know it’s there, and unless they know what benefits it offers them. If a vendor is lucky, there will be a group of users who are active and vocal and go out and promote the technology, like Ener Hax is doing with SimHost’s OpenSim hosting service. Smarter vendors will seek out these folks and offer them discounted hosting or other incentives to get them to use and talk about their platform, instead.
It’s also great to get your name out in as many channels as possible. Virtual events and conferences, and face-to-face events. News articles. Published editorials. Press releases. Company blogs. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn feeds. The more a customer hears about a company, the more comfortable he or she gets with it. This is where marketing experts come in. An outside social media consultant, teamed up with a freelance writer, can do wonders to raise a company’s profile in the marketplace.
They need to get to know the social landscape, find out where their customers hang out, follow them, and provide value to these communities.
As a blogger, what three tips would you provide to companies seeking to be profiled by Hypergrid?
First and foremost, I want customer case studies, success stories, testimonials, first-hand accounts of how your product or service works. Of course, I wouldn’t turn down a juicy disaster story, either! A smart company will take a disaster and spin it into a positive story of recovery and evolution. You’re guaranteed to get my attention with something like that.
Next, I want statistics. How many users? How many events? What percent were satisfied? What were the growth rates? What are the benchmarks? I love numbers, and readers love numbers.
Finally, and least interesting to me, are new product and version announcements. A company can put out a press release every week trumpeting a minor new feature. At a certain point, that gets boring — and not very useful to customers.
Anything else that you would like to share?
I’m always looking for guest columnists to talk about topics of interest to enterprise users of virtual worlds.