Virtual Worlds for Business (Yes, Business)

conversifymeetsI’ve been a huge fan of Second Life since I first “rezzed” (logged into the virtual 3-D environment) in March 2007, and have previously blogged about my own Second Life. Despite all the limitations and downsides of Second Life (and there are many), it has been one of the most flexible and inspiring proving grounds for virtual worlds for business. Just like with Twitter, I try to cut through the hype and go straight to the core: Using this new platform can introduce you to new ways of thinking and help you hone valuable skills that will put you at a clear advantage as communications and workspace technologies continue to evolve.

According to the new GigaOM Pro report “Virtual Worlds for the Enterprise Market” by Kris Tuttle and Steve Waite of Research 2.0 (subscription required), business use of virtual worlds is a growing market — one that we shouldn’t ignore. Some of the main takeaways from the report that matter to those of us working on the web include:

  • Develop a plan. Companies should develop a plan for use of enterprise, private 3-D virtual world environments for both internal and external use.
  • Technology continues to evolve. The “in world” experiences of these new virtual environments will be leaps and bounds ahead of that currently offered by Second Life.
  • Don’t underestimate the market. The market for enterprise 3-D worlds may seem small today, but according to the report, it’s doubling year over year, with estimated annual revenues of $8-10 billion in 2015.

So how can you make sure that you’re prepared for the virtual worlds of the future? Here are nine skills we can all learn from regular engagement in Second Life that can be applied to any business use of 3-D virtual world environments.

  1. Maneuvering. On your first day in a virtual world, you may feel like a stranger in a strange land. Unless you are well-versed with video games, chances are moving your avatar around will be frustrating and inefficient. Using Second Life on a regular basis for an extended period of time can help you get your “virtual world legs.”
  2. Interacting. When you encounter others in a virtual world, even knowing when and how to approach them and address them can be awkward and downright intimidating. Participating in Second Life social events can help you learn the how to interact with both strangers and colleagues using your virtual self.
  3. Communicating. Because Second Life supports both text and voice communications, you have more than one way to communicate with others. Knowing how to communicate clearly and thoroughly in both ways gives you an advantage. Plus knowing how to use gestures to your advantage can make a big difference in how others respond to you.
  4. Presenting. By making presentations in Second Life, you learn how to add a new dimension to your presentations. You may currently know how to give a virtual presentation with a software such as GoToMeeting or DimDim, however, what do you do if you also have an avatar — a 3-D virtual representation of yourself — in the mix? And what about the ability to create “larger than life” presentation environments where your audience can walk through to get a richer experience? Presenting in Second Life helps you master these additional features to help make a more interactive and immersive presentation. From basic team or board meetings to more involved presentations, 3-D environments gives a whole new meaning to “being there.”apr29_003
  5. Teaching. Universities around the world make extensive use of Second Life, offering classes and even campus social events and interactions, taking full advantage of the 3-D environment to augment their “real world” offerings. Businesses and professionals can take advantage of this environment to offer seminars, workshops, panel discussions and full conferences — either standalone, or as an extension of a “real world” event.
  6. Collaborating. Any enterprise or virtual team can benefit from the collaborative environments one can create in 3-D worlds. In Second Life, companies don’t only have meetings but also participate in team-building exercises, go on virtual retreats and hold social events to create stronger bonds between team members.
  7. Branding. Companies can build their brands in 3-D environments such as Second Life — knowing how to do it well is a useful skill. Individuals can also build their brands via their 3-D avatars. Even in Second Life, you can purchase your own name (as long as it isn’t already taken) and use the environment as another social network in your social media toolkit. See my post “Second Life is Social Media.”
  8. Promoting. Learning to market in a 3-D space is a challenge but enhances your marketing skills in exciting new ways.Finding ways to actually reach people in meaningful and engaging ways in a virtual world can help foster fresh ideas.
  9. Building. Because every resident has the ability to build, even a non-artist or non-architect can gain skills to make objects, create art and construct buildings, spaces and environments that push the envelope of what is possible in the “real world.” This kind of creativity — especially in the hands of more linear thinkers — is a great source of inspiration and innovation. And another aspect of “building” in Second Life and other 3-D environments that should not be overlooked is the art of building community and organizing people.

How are you using 3-D virtual world environments for business?

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