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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. 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.
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?