Most of the big brand name sims in Second Life are empty or register little traffic, despite the wide media coverage of every press release announcing a new brand name Second Life presence. Many events are less-than-well-attended. Most of these brands are examining the potential and possibilities of Second Life for marketing, and for some, its operational benefits.
So, it just begs the question: why are brands not using the most fundamental social structure available in Second Life?
A recent survey of 18 brands to recently jump into Second Life shows only one has created an identifiable public in-world Group as of a week ago. That is worthy of nothing short of a “WOW.”
Groups are the most fundamental social structure in Second Life. In fact, they largely define “who” an avatar is. One of the first things people do while traveling around in Second Life is to use the handy right-click Profile maneuver to see when someone was ‘born’ and what groups they belong to. That list of groups immediately conveys information about a person's interests, why they are in Second Life and they help establish a persona. Without standard real world cues to rely on, avatars are defined and identified by the groups they belong to in Second Life.
Groups are a short-hand to reputation in Second Life, They are the equivalent of the three-second first impression. They are a big part of in-world identity.
More importantly for brands, it is also the “opt-in” mechanism in Second Life. Just like an opt-in email list, people join groups to keep up on what’s going on with like-minded people. They want to know when events are happening and people are gathering. They can instant message an entire group when online and arrange “flash mobs.” They shout out help to group members. Group notices posted by the administrator of the group often wind up in real world email boxes when people are offline. It is a bridge between real world and Second Life.
Joining a group is one of the first things people do on entering Second Life, and one of the first things they ask about when they stumble upon something or some place of interest. In-world journalists and bloggers join groups to get the news.
Brands are roundly missing out on perhaps the single most vital engagement factor in Second Life. They are missing the opportunity for Second Lifers to "identify" with them. The fact so few have taken this simple step also underscores their need to strategically evaluate their Second Life presence.
Thompson NetG is the one exception to the brand name Group dearth. They created a group, NetG Chat, which anyone can join (free). While still light on members, the option is available. A few companies have created groups for their employees, however they haven’t taken the step to create an opt-in group. Virtual world developers, Electric Sheep has a public group that they use to disseminate information on client projects or event news; and Millions of Us has created temporary groups for specific events, mostly for day-of event communication.
Understanding the need to connect directly with their fans, the band Duran Duran has an official fan club group with over 450 members.
A recent article by David Berkowitz on Search Insider tells marketers they need to step up to “virtual world optimization.” David gives a few good tips on being searchable via the in-world Search feature – and even points to some “carbon world” search tools. Making sure you can be found in Second Life through search is good. Good when someone takes the effort to search; but brands need to build a better connection than search.
Second Life is a virtual social world. So far brands are missing out on a very basic human (and marketing) concept. If brands hope to get a life there, they might want to consider the ‘social’ part of “social world.”
November 2, 2006