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Second Life Is Social Media

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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

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?

31 Responses to “Second Life Is Social Media”

  1. Linden Labs, as well as most other software companies, have no expectations that their customers should understand or appreciate the scope of work involved in the creation of their software application. This being an evolutionary process, there can be substantial delays between what the customer sees as progress in the functions and the user interface and what the software company has actually accomplished with their underlying architecture. Such is the case with Linden Labs. As to their success in the software business, its public knowledge that the avatar to avatar revenue exchange in world is growing considerably year over year and Linden Labs repeatedly states they are profitable, perhaps very profitable. While the number of actual users (not bots) may be on a slow curve either up or down, take into consideration that Linden Labs is pouring tremendous financial resources into the underlying architecture and I expect to see enormous technical breakthroughs with Second Life as the future years go by. As far as social media is concerned, Second Life is clearly social media of a different kind, it’s both social and corporate, and as such they do a terrific job in their social media market space.

  2. Scott

    I think of SL as a step beyond Facebook and Twitter. Twitter and Facebook have a pretty high signal to noise ratio, I find myself spending more time skimming and less time reading, and easily distracted. In a SL conversation, it draws my focus and I carefully read what the person types, and trend shut out the noise, like in the real world, face to face. Maybe it is me, but you get some basic body language in SL. It is crude, but at least if they are standing there looking at you, I feel like they care enough to listen. With other social media, it is more of yelling and hoping they or anyone hears.

    SL has a way to go; it can be intimidating to start, beyond the interface problems, the new users is lost in advertising, acronyms, unwritten rules, and most regretfully, predators. It is like real life in that way, since it is full of people and that brings all those problems. The new user problems I describe are the similar to the problems anyone faces when on the first day at a new job.

    It is not a FPS, there is no flag to capture or rating to achieve, so I don’t even know if it needs a true game engine. The closest thing to a goal in SL you can hope for is to make a few friends. I don’t see it so competitive, and I think Linden Labs has been smart not to make it one.

    For business, it may have an advantage over other social media. The members seem to be older, move a bit slower, and be more critical thinkers. If you want to build a relationship with a customer, it maybe is better. It takes time and effort to craft a second world business that stands out from the crowd, to construct an avatar, whose look is more than just cut and paste. Again like real life, players can judge the quality and care you put in. The more effort you put into you presentation, the more effort you may put into your products and customer service, and they are more willing to spend time learning about you and the product.

    I think the biggest problem is that Linden Labs tend to want to be your complete social media experience, and have not done enough to integrate their world into the real world, the other social networks. Sending email in and out of SL is not easy. Twitting should be embedded, allowing you pull your real life friends into the game through a tweet, and stay in touch with real world friends from the game and allow them to reach your character in the game from the real world.

  3. I don’t think SL is dead. I guess is just a transition moment. Regarding the comparison with social media i think SL it is a 3d social media world with communities, IM and much more. I guess it is part of the future.

  4. kliger

    @Two Worlds point about SL being ‘good for some things’ is its obvious strength. I use SL on a per ‘creative’ project basis and find its collaborative spatial environments surprisingly efficient for project development. On the other hand, SL won’t cease at being ‘horrible for other things’ until it is able to become embedded into other networks (like Friendfeed into twitter into facebook…) and thus permit its strengths as a social media participate in the way the rest of us use social networks.

  5. Hi
    I am using second life to host the world’s first 3d virtual farmers market in England. It has a lot of media attention and loved by consumers who can’t make real life markets of a number of reasons. Virtual Worlds are the way the internet is going…Please check it out

  6. I need to be honest… I haven’t heard anything about Second Life in well over a year. They used to have a pretty good deal of coverage, even being on the cover of magazines, etc. I kinda assumed they were dead or dying… if they are still around, they have totally lost the buzz and coverage.

  7. Two Worlds

    Second Life is good mostly for roleplay-type games–games which rely more on static and stats-driven drama and performance, as well as crunching numbers–basically a slightly more visual version of tabletop RPGs. I think this is another prospective target audience for SL. Then again…I’ve played D&D before with the same group for about 2 years–there’s nothing SL has that can improve upon sitting with a group of friends around a big table with a grid and a bunch of dice.

    I think that’s one of the larger questions that SL has to answer–what sort of practical applications can it IMPROVE upon what’s already there? This is why I think the “SL for business” stuff has fizzled out so quickly. No business wants to go to that kind of extreme for teleconferencing. Just rig up a webcam and an online whiteboard or something. Why make meetings more dread-inducing than they already are?

  8. 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.

  9. 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. :-)

  10. Two Worlds

    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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Two Worlds

    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.

  14. John Moore

    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

  15. 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!