Supporting business in Second Life seriously

Clairede Dirval at the B2P Black Sun during the B2P official launchThat’s the outstanding feature of Second Life: there is no real difference between all of them. Individual SL business owners or megacorps like Xerox are at the same level in SL. Both have to learn the same strategies to promote their businesses in SL. Both compete with the vast amount of information produced daily by the residents; and both compete to grab their attention. Both can learn from each other: anyone who is a successful business owner in SL knows exactly how to leverage Second Life’s advantages to increase awareness for their products and reach out to customers (if they didn’t know that, they would have been long gone from the face of the grid). Thus, when these so different types of business owners get together, they can exchange experiences, like never before. While there is no doubt that a megacorp marketing manager can surely understand better how to promote products in the real world, if they’re new in SL, they can learn a lot from a skin designer in SL. Putting both together and having them chatting to each other is the best way to transfer valuable information — while at the same time extending both social networks in the virtual space, which is where it matters for both.

Thus, even the launch was quite unusual. You’d expect a typical business conference for the launch: a keynote speech from the CEO or the marketing manager; a series of tracks explaining how the Beta Business Park operates and what it can do for your company, a special press conference for the media, and perhaps a chill-out event at the end, where everybody would have some fun together. All of this announced on all media channelsthat remotely talk about Second Life. After all, even Linden Lab does it this way, and surely LL knows what they’re doing, right? 🙂

Well, yes and no. You really can’t sell services to your customers that you yourself don’t believe in. Using an analogy from Second Life, what kind of hair designer would be successful if they wouldn’t wear their own hair? If it is our belief that the best kind of events to promote business in Second Life are not the “usual” models of recreating a RL conference in SL (even if we know it can work), and that social networking is the more modern approach to viral marketing that reaches further out at a fraction of the cost, how could we hypocritically do something completely different than what we say that works for companies? 🙂

[Nevertheless, I should add, we’re not exactly neglecting business-oriented conferences; in fact, we’re actively promoting the B2P Fall 2009 Conference and requesting proposals from presenters. Oh yes, the B2P will, in fact, sponsor a lot of traditional business-oriented conferences as well 🙂 ]

So, if you watch the launch day events, you’ll see just two types — training sessions and chill-out events with good music performers. We might have had more variety — throw in a fashion show, an art exhibit, a fireworks display — but it was a question of compromise: Above the Fold focused, for this event, on gathering a selection of the best music performers in SL, divided in different music styles, to reach to a wider audience. The training sessions demonstrated on how you can get up to speed in SL with a brand new avatar in merely 15 minutes, on a very short session that goes straight to the point, and is aided by a well-designed orientation area with plenty of videos to complement what might have been missed by the newbie — the idea is that corporate VIPs that come for the first time to SL have no time to waste and need to be trained quickly in order to be able to enjoy SL and make it immediately work for them to expand their own personal network of contacts. Nothing else matters as much.

Even the video presentation for the Beta Business Park was deliberately unusual. It didn’t feature flashy shiny graphics with grand sounding soundbites like you expect a corporation to present (e.g. “Come to SL now, where the economy is teeming” or “your next destination: virtual worlds”…). Instead, it is a funny presentation of the most distinguishing feature of the B2P: connecting people (ok, so Nokia already has that motto, thus we can’t use it 🙂 ). It’s irreverent and light; but it’s also quite faithful to what SL has, and it uncovers the significant jewels of wisdom of Second Life: just because a megacorp CEO likes to use a winged blue dragon as his avatar, and has his SL offices up designed as a castle floating in the sky does not mean that he’s “less of a CEO” — or that people don’t take him seriously. Similarly, if Mercedes Benz can promote a swimming suit fashion show in Miami in RL, and be taken seriously for doing that, why can’t they do the same thing in SL as well? Why has SL to be “more serious” than RL? 🙂

That doesn’t mean that the solution proposition in the Beta Business Park is “less serious” just because it engages the SL community with activities that make sense from a SL perspective. Falling back to other analogies, Governor Schwarzenegger uses Twitter to post his thoughts on governing California. Just because he mixes in some personal comments, and is limited to 140 characters and can’t do long-winded political speeches on Twitter, does that mean he’s not to be taken seriously? (he has over a million followers that definitely take his Twitter presence seriously enough!) So if corporations and “serious institutions” have learned to adapt their communication strategies to the peculiarities of the social media platforms they use, shouldn’t they do exactly the same with Second Life? (I can imagine that Schwarzenegger’s virtual presence in SL, if he ever decides to do that, will feature the control room for SkyNet, and his avatar, of course, will very likely be the one from Terminator — or possibly Conan the Barbarian)

This doesn’t mean that all virtual presences in Second Life should have to be surreal like FIAT’s floating-in-the-air auditorium. Each corporation will have to decide what will fit their image in Second Life best. But they will be advised to fully integrate within the culture of Second Life if they wish to succeed in using it as a promotional medium, as well as a social networking medium. Although Linden Lab is now aggressively promoting business use of Second Life (and aren’t we glad that they finally decided to do that!), they’re more focused on providing technological solutions and promotional material with case studies convincing corporations on the importance of being in Second Life.

But they’re forgetting the most important aspect of Second Life: its residents. Second Life is all about people — and so is business.

[Correction: I-Learning Workshops is not exclusively focusing on language training in Second Life, but general education and job-skills training – consulting on using, setting up and best practices for teaching using SL. Thanks, Trudy!]

Disclaimer: I do work for Beta Technologies and naturally enough, although all the above is my personal opinion, I’m obviously biased in my beliefs of what works best in Second Life — so biased, in fact, that, using a rather fun expression I always loved, I’m willing to put my money on where my mouth is 🙂 Also, it should be said that the Beta Business Park is in continuous operation for a year now — it’s not something that popped up suddenly because the “timing was right”. There are already several clients of the B2P; some have been with us for a year. The official launch was postponed to this date for several reasons, the most important of which was the start of the regular social networking activity taking place in the B2P. Until now, the schedule was a bit irregular and limited to a few events every other month or so. September 15th marks the date where the B2P became fully operational — if you wish, it is not a “beta” version any longer 🙂

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