This quarter, in business school, I’m taking a class in social media marketing and the topic of virtual worlds and Second Life in particular was brought up. A lot of people were understandably perplexed by the appeal of the game so as both a geek and a news-junkie I thought I’d refer them to one of many great Frontline documentaries: Digital Nation.
On February 2nd of this year Frontline ran a report on the effects of digital media throughout modern society. It covered a broad range of topics but I thought 2 of the chapters on how people use virtual worlds (namely World of Warcraft and Second Life) to connect with each other would be relevant to the discussion of social media marketing.
Chapter 6: Relationships
Chapter 7: Virtual Worlds
I found the failed attempts of a number of companies to use Second Life to market real world products particularly illuminating. Several people have been able to earn a full time living selling virtual clothing, buildings, and land in Second Life but Coke and American Apparel couldn’t use the same medium to any effect. I think this shows how the same old marketing techniques don’t always work in this new space. Building a virtual store for people to visit just wasn’t a compelling experience. People weren’t interested in spending their time in a virtual world to gain real world products but hundreds of thousands of people were willing to pay real money for virtual goods that had no real value in the outside world.
On the internet engagement is everything.
A virtual representation of a storefront just doesn’t offer Second Life players what they are interested in. They want social interactions, status symbols, and ways to represent their personality. I’m not entirely sure how major brands should go about approaching these types of virtual worlds, which are becoming more common. However, there does appear to be an opportunity to extend the positive brand associations of the real world to the virtual world.
Also, for anyone interested in Second Life, the founder is a UCSD graduate and the alumni magazine interviewed [link] him last year about the game and his company. It goes into some of the challenges he faced creating a virtual economy, including a tax revolt.