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Summary:

Despite all of the hype about Second Life, followed by the Second Life bashing, followed by some more hype, and now the latest “Second Life is dead” pronouncements, the 3-D virtual world owned by Linden Lab is still breathing. More importantly, I feel strongly — as do many others — that Second Life is an important, and often overlooked, aspect of social media marketing.

cgflyDespite all of the hype about Second Life, followed by the Second Life bashing, followed by some more hype, and now the latest “Second Life is dead” pronouncements, the 3-D virtual world owned by Linden Lab is still breathing. I feel strongly — as do many others — that Second Life is an important, and often overlooked, aspect of social media marketing.

To be clear, Second Life is social media. If you break down the key features of social media, you will see that Second Life stacks up very well against other popular tools. Here are some of the reasons why you’d be remiss to leave Second Life off a well-rounded, integrated social media marketing plan.

1. Conversation. We all talk about social media being about the conversation. In most social networks, that conversation comes in the form of forums, email or IM. Second Life includes an IM feature, but it also has voice chat, rendering it far more of a conversation enabler than Facebook or MySpace.

2. Community. Second Life contains a deeply connected and immersive community. Instead of your community existing as flat avatars or icons next to your name on a threaded message board, your Second Life community exists within 3-D spaces where your avatar can move about, gather with other avatars, even shake hands with them. You can attend and organize events. You can build gathering places and spaces from a treehouse, to an auditorium in the clouds, to an underwater conference room. Your avatar — and by extension, you — can actually be somewhere when interacting with your online community. musicartsimg

3. Groups. Facebook has groups, MySpace has groups. These are really just glorified forums or message boards where people congregate and converse by leaving messages. You might be able to broadcast a message to the group. You can promote things to the group, if appropriate. Second Life also has groups where you can broadcast notices, send IMs to group members who are online at the same time you are, and you can even hold voting for issues.

4. Events. Facebook Events are just listings of real-life events. Sure you can have web-based online events — via something like GoToMeeting or Calliflower or BlogTalk Radio — and use text or audio or images or a combination. But regular social networks can produce nothing like the events taking place in Second Life. Whether you attend a concert or a fundraiser, a comedy show or an educational workshop, a panel or a movie screening, an event in Second Life is the epitome of interactivity with images, sound, voice, movement, actions and reactions. If you can’t really be there in the real world, you can participate in an event and practically “be there” by accessing it via Second Life.

5. Advertising. There are many advertising methods available in Second Life as well as the ability to give away or sell goods and services. Advertising can be as simple and static as a billboard (although you can make billboards clickable, so that they give out notecards or lead to a web site). You can sponsor events and have signage on display like you would at a real-world event. You can purchase a booth at an expo within Second Life. You can even purchase ads on Second Life television networks such as Treet.tv.

The downsides of Second Life are few, although they can be substantial, including:

1. Accessibility. Not everyone can access Second Life for reasons ranging from computer capabilities to bandwidth issues. It is not for the weak tech setup.

2. Learning curve. Second Life is also not for the faint of heart. You have to love staring into a computer screen, have an uncanny facility with your keyboard, mouse and/or track pad, and be willing to put in time to learn how to stop bumping into walls.

3. Crashing. The technology is still evolving. While I still believe Second Life is the best virtual world out there with the most flexibility, freedom and possibilities out of all those I’ve tried to date, I also feel the pain of crashing mid-event or being unable to access an event I’m managing because of a technical failure on the server side.

4. Ownership. Linden Lab owns Second Life. If Linden Lab goes under, we lose everything we’ve created. We will be shut out of “our” Second Life.

Despite the downsides,  many marketers are making a mistake by not at least experimenting with Second Life. Even pure experimentation in Second Life sets you up with a new skillset — moving, building, marketing and selling in a 3-D space — that will come in handy as technologies continue to evolve. In the same way that it is shortsighted not to at least try Twitter in order to understand this “newfangled” communications tool that has influenced new styles of communications, it is shortsighted not to get an avatar, download the Second Life software, and explore.

And if you need a friendly tour guide, look up my avatar: Cybergrrl Oh. She is always happy to help!

What are your thoughts on Second Life as social media?

  1. I agree Second Life is an important part of the social media platform but it cannot be called social media as the term social media is a generic one which means any form of media used by a group or community to socialise.

    In the same way, it cannot be compared to facebook or MySpace as it offers a different user experience and one which adds value to those who chose to use it.

    Glad to see it’s still alive and kicking!

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  2. Second life is, indeed, true social media. In my last company I pushed hard for us to become more involved, especially in regard to exploring and helping grow the music scene within the virtual world.

    While I do feel that it has tremendous potential I also feel that Linden has made a series of misteps including:

    - Lack of focus on building a strong partner community. Yes, there are some big companies in 2nd life but the key will be building partners up and down the long tail and they have mostly missed the mark here.
    - Continuing to open the platform, making it the default standard. Instead, costs have remained high and that, combined with the lack of full partner support, has caused the platform to stagnate.
    - It’s still too sluggish. If I am in world and am constantly waiting for screens to refresh it’s a time waster and a deal breaker. I’ll stay with Twitter or Facebook instead.

    John Moore
    http://twitter.com/JohnFMoore
    http://johnfmoore.wordpress.com

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  3. This is a pretty accurate way I’d describe the pros vs. cons of Second Life as a communications and social medium. Problem is that BETTER mediums, such as Facebook, have all of the pros and few of the cons. Even Habbo Hotel and Gaia Online, which are mostly aimed at teenagers, have so much less of a learning curve, and are so much more widespread and profitable (among teenagers, natch).

    You should send all this to your pal Hamlet Au, who also writes for GigaOM. He needs this kind of common sense talk knocked into his square little head.

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  4. Funny – I just wrote a blog discussing a similar perspective relating to MMORPG’s.

    I wouldn’t limit your comments to Second Life. I think you can apply this to all manner of online social games where people congregate – although your point about advertising is more specific to social media.

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  5. The press is predictable. First it hypes a technology (today the media darlings are Facebook and Twitter), then after a while it starts to bash those same technologies. While this was happening in SL, I noted that this is classic behavior that tracks perfectly with the Gartner Hype Cycle model.

    SL isn’t dead, it’s transitioning into its core competency. The same day of reckoning will happen soon for todays media darlings.

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  6. See, I heard a lot of people mention this hype cycle idea throughout the last few years with SL, and I’m wondering this–how come no one’s talking about a hype cycle with World of Warcraft? Or Facebook? Or YouTube? Maybe it’s just because some stuff works really well with all kinds of people…and some stuff doesn’t work as well with as many people.

    I think Second Life is great for some things. Second Life is great for photographers, aspiring fashion designers, architects, musicians–mostly art-type groups which need some kind of application to demo their creations. Second Life is HORRIBLE for games design. It’s laggy, it’s buggy, you can’t stage anything approximating an fps game, anything involving vehicles, etc. So I think the popularity of Second Life with grow via word of mouth with the groups of people who it works best with, and not much else.

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  7. [...] followed by more hype, followed by declarations that SL is dead. Not so, she says, in “Second Life Is Social Media.” It’s not about education, but it is about the nature of the medium, and much of it [...]

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  8. Second Life is a niche market, that is true. It is more for the creative and not so much for the “gimme slick and gimme FAST” types of amusement seekers.

    As for the crashing during presentations, that’s quite often the fault of the presenters. They don’t police their attendees to be more considerate of the venue by getting rid of huge lag-inducing attachments and scripts. I’ve seen people at crowded events with ARC of 10,000 and up. Also I frequently see radar devices being turned on all over the place because the audience would rather stress out the CPU with radar than simply look around at nametags (not that it matters – they don’t know most of the people anyway, so who cares who is there? very weird behavior)

    Since hosts don’t want to be critical they get what can be expected, server and graphics overload and a crash.

    As for all the media attention, well, that just shows how much interest there is in it. :-)

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  9. Great roundup post Aliza. We actually brought in a marketing agency into second life back in 06/07, where the base goal was to experiment with the tech. It is important to understand for them that it is not just a place and hope people will visit, you need a community managers.

    I’m glad I see more and more companies looking for a twitter manager or social media manager. It is a small from there to have a community manager in Second Life or any other VW.

    @Two Worlds. No one is advertising it any more for those kind of game designs. There are a lot of social games, some are similar to facebook vampire/zombie/etc games, but set in a more immersive story line and world.

    Also new are frontiers being explored with Alternative Reality games, like Orange released a month or so ago

    Game design encompasses a whole lot more than twitch games depending on fast reactions.

    But games will always be a just a fraction of the activities in SL.

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  10. I have been a part of a social networking site that has way better graphics and game engine. The network crashes less and the amount of events and thngs to do are constantly growing. Check it out too
    http://www.utherverse.com

    It is free too

    Cheers

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