BES: One Year in Second Life®

It’s common these days to see real life companies throwing a big party when they complete their anniversaries in the Second Life® virtual world. Banco Espírito Santo, one of the leading financial institutions in Second Life, is no exception. What might be, indeed, an exception is how they have managed their virtual presence in SL.

When we picture in our minds most of the corporate virtual presences in SL, we imagine shiny, modern buildings, full of logos and links to websites, with lots of corporate information but little relevance to the virtual world where we spend our leisure time. The reality is, of course, different: these “first generation” virtual presences, created only for media splash, were actually short-lived, and most are gone or utterly changed. Most corporate presences these days focus on completely different things: either they show some projects they’re actively sponsoring (like Grundfos‘ educational project on saving water and energy); or simulations they’re doing either for themselves or their clients (like Vodafone’s link between SL-based mobile phones and RL mobile phones); or, well, for internal training, for workshops, seminars, and similar venues.

Banco Espírito Santo (BES) is slightly different. Sure, like all others, they want brand awareness. However, in real life, they are sponsors of all sorts of activities: charities, cultural events, educational events (they’re currently sponsoring a big project to get kids to read more, through the Ministry of Education), restoring monuments, and several similar areas. So it’s not unsurprising that they do precisely the same in Second Life, too.

Instead of shiny buildings empty of people, what BES is doing is quite different. They sponsor a not-for-profit organisation, ARCI, to train people to use Second Life and to develop a community of residents (mostly Portuguese-speaking). And they wish to see cultural events to be promoted in SL as well — making just sure that their brand is properly shown. They support educational programmes for adults, who learn SL-related skills at ARCI’s own mini-continent. Why shouldn’t they? In real life, they sponsor all sort of artistic, educational, and technological activities, they’re not even “bank”-related, but cover all areas of human interest in their leisure, cultural, and educational areas.

I think that this way of looking at how to finance projects in Second Life is actually quite mature and very intelligent — and is completely integrated into the way large corporations actually fund projects outside their core business. These corporations are quite used to sponsor all sort of things — from art galleries to soccer teams — and it’s just for brand awareness. A soccer team that bears their logo on the shirts might not have all players as clients; nevertheless, from a financial point of view, they’re reducing their taxes; from a marketing point of view, they’re raising brand awareness; and from a community point of view, they’re showing that while they might be ruthless bankers, they’re also fond of soccer and willing to sponsor teams.

Well, extending that way of thought into the virtual world of Second Life is just natural and quite understandable. Don’t expect BES to fund shiny buildings empty of people — instead, look for events, newbie classes, dance clubs, parties, art galleries, reconstruction of Portuguese landmarks, charity events, helping people with disabilities to communicate, having senior citizens using their sponsored facilties, and, most important than that, vibrant communities that get close together to launch even more amazing projects. BES funds a community in SL that already has thousands of regular visitors.

They have learned the lesson well during this first year, and we’ll eagerly see what they’re doing the next year. In the mean time, if you’re up to it, join the anniversary party 🙂

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