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Second Guessing Second Life

  |  November 17, 2006   |  Comments

Why you should think twice before taking a spin in Lindenland.

Most people don't think of Second Life as rich media. But it is.

In the past, I've defined rich media as "digital advertising that deviates from 'standard' display advertising in that it is interactive, engaging, or informational or it breaks free of basic, accepted IAB-determined online standards, often taking advantage of broadband connectivity." Advertising, or "shops," set up in Second Life satisfies this criteria and is potentially the most engaging form of rich media to date.

As I write this, there are just over 1.4 million residents in Second Life, with over $704,000 spent in the last 24 hours. Though the number of users isn't going to bowl anyone over, the spending should. This vibrant virtual economy is thriving and growing. As marketers and advertisers, we should certainly pay attention to this and determine our entry strategy.

The challenge is that most of those dollars are either going directly to Linden Labs or being exchanged between residents -- real residents with real businesses. Most entries from first-life (real-world) companies have been met with the same gusto as the fourth Applebee's entering your formerly quaint hometown. These corporate entries represent the classic over-commercialization that many first-life citizens loathe, which is embodied in the film (and book) "Fast Food Nation."

Although entering Second Life as a brand or company is currently very PR friendly, I implore all who read this to pay close attention:

  • Spend time in Second Life first. The concept of Second Life isn't difficult to grasp, but living in it is. People who live and thrive in Second Life are incredibly savvy, especially in a technology sense. Those familiar with marketing to these influential, tech-savvy audiences know that lots of advertising in the real world is already met with cynicism. The same goes for Second Life, but even more so. If you understand how people communicate, how they behave, and the islands or places they frequent, your chances for success will likely improve.

  • If your company enters Second Life, you are Wal-Mart. This is not in a good way. All those documentaries and (real) blogs about Wal-Mart killing mom-and-pop stores must be taken into consideration when entering Second Life. Whether the argument is true or not, the good or service you are purveying is likely already provided by a Second Life resident. First-life companies entering Second Life are perceived as a threat. You must find a way to counter that.

  • Give back to the community. Determine how your entry will actually benefit the Second Life community. Ask this simple question: "How will the residents of Second Life be better off with my brand or company in their world?" Not everyone will answer the same way, but be sure you have a valid answer -- not just a unique selling proposition. This is a valuable piece of advice to pay attention to in your first life, as well.

  • Second Life's economy is currently thriving, it's as vulnerable as any other. According to News.com, within the last few days groups of Second Life content creators have been gathering (digitally, of course) to protest the dissemination of a program called CopyBot, which allows someone to copy any object in Second Life -- including those that have been legitimately purchased from legitimate businesses within the universe. Second Life entrepreneurs are threatening to shut down their virtual businesses before they fall victim to this form of piracy. Although this problem is essentially for Linden Labs (creators of Second Life) to solve, know what you're getting into before you get into it. Just like any other relatively new medium, there's risk involved. As a savvy marketer, you must find the right balance between innovation, effectiveness, and risk. The right balance will dictate your success. The wrong balance spells failure. You don't want to be entering Second Life just as people are fleeing.

  • Fools rush in. Not just the name of a Matthew Perry movie, but a pretty good mantra to follow with Second Life. It's better to be right than first. A press release lasts a few days. Your investment in virtual worlds should last much longer.

  • Work with the right partners. Odds are, your existing interactive agency doesn't know much about building property, coding actions, designing clothes, and vending in Second Life. Make sure it's working with someone who's been at it for years. Check out this fairly complete directory of reputable Second Life developers. Your agency should be managing the process while working with the best.

  • Read the Second Life blogs. Get a good pulse on Second Life residents. Some good blogs to read include New World Notes and the official Linden blog.

I could go on, but this should give you a good idea as to your line of thinking when evaluating your Second Life prospects.

Build relationships -- not islands.

Hey, I may put that one on my virtual T-shirt.


Ian Unsustainable

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Ian Schafer

Ian Schafer, CEO and founder of Deep Focus, consistently redefines the way entertainment properties are marketed online. Ian founded Deep Focus in 2002 to bring a holistic suite of interactive marketing and promotional solutions to the entertainment industry. The company's clients include America Online, Dimension Films, HBO, MGM, Nickelodeon, Sony/BMG Music, 20th Century Fox, Universal Music Group, and many others. As former VP of New Media at Miramax and Dimension Films, Ian was responsible for their most popular online campaigns. He's been featured as an expert in online entertainment marketing and advertising in numerous media outlets including Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Advertising Age, and CNN.

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