Real-world opportunities in Second Life

Lest you think I’m addicted to the latest flavour of Kool-Aid with my recent commentaries about Second Life, this post isn’t to do with the fun times you can spend in world (see, I’m getting to know the lingo).

This is about business opportunities with Second Life and the real world.

One of the things that seems crystal clear to me is how a business – any business – could easily link a presence in the virtual world with their physical presence in the real world.

For instance, you could have a shop in Second Life where anyone in world could purchase a virtual product that’s a mirror of a real product you sell in your real world shop. An easy example – a t-shirt or other item of clothing which is a similar design to the real one you sell. At the very least, your virtual t-shirt could have branding that advertises your real world business or presence (so watch out for FIR t-shirts in Second Life soon). Think of the reverse as well – your real-world presence can advertise your Second Life presence.

What then happens is that anyone wearing that t-shirt in Second Life advertising your real world shop or brand travels around in-world promoting your business. Everyone they encounter among the 300,000+ people who have signed up for Second Life sees that ad and may well want to check you out in the real world. And maybe visit your online web shop or even your actual shop. And they might actually buy something there.

Your set-up costs in Second Life are practically nothing, so it’s not a money issue. Imagine: construct a shop online, fit it out and stock it with merchandise for a startup investment of ten bucks a month and your time.

A good example of a toe in the water is American Apparel (and there are others, too) who discussed their Second Life experiment and what they’re hoping to achieve from it during the virtual meeting last week organized by the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School.

Writing in the Business 2.0 blog, Erik Schonfeld nails down the immediate future:

[…] People already buy things in Second Life to use within the game, mostly as a form of self-expression. What would really flip my wig, though, is if some of the far-out clothing and objects designed for Second Life were actually fabricated in the real world. Then you’d start seeing Second Lifers on the street in their funky getups, and the difference between the virtual and real worlds would really be blurred. And then there is always the idea of Second Life credit cards, where you’d get a real Visa card that earns loyalty points redeemable for currency in the virtual world.

My bet: a business like Amazon – someone with real muscle – will establish a significant presence in Second Life within the next couple of months. It’s not hard to reach this conclusion if you read what Business Week’s Rob Hof is saying.

This is just the beginning. So maybe this post is to do with fun times.

(Credit for the great MasterCard image above: Philip Torrone of MAKE magazine.)

[Technorati: Second Life]

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. C.C. Chapman

    Yes, Yes, YES!

    I agree fully with you. The social aspect is an important one, but this is another outlet for businesses. Companies need to think of it as yet another presence on the web. It’s a 3D web page with a lot more cool interaction. I can’t wait till people start getting that.

  2. neville

    CC, I think many organizations will get it and relatively quickly. It doesn’t take much of a leap in imagination to think of the possibilities, even starting with a simple idea such as t-shirt branding.

    Interesting times just ahead of us.

  3. Road trip ahead at

    […] Poked around Second Life for a couple of hours over the weekend. I’m still trying to find my way around, but I did managed to locate the FIR Store on Podcast Island. Some very cool things are happening in Second Life, and business opportunities abound. I certainly plan to spend more time there in the weeks to come. My Second Life Name? Zeke Barber. […]

  4. Jonathan Levitt

    The question that I keep asking myself is whether or not Second Life is going to attract enough eyeballs to have these marketing initiatives makes sense. Granted the investments for these brands are minimal, but will enough people take to Second Life? Or…is this simply a flash in the pan? I suppose either way, we are watching a new digital platform emerge – and with that comes opportunities for businesses willing to experiment.

  5. Prokofy Neva

    Re: “What then happens is that anyone wearing that t-shirt in Second Life advertising your real world shop or brand travels around in-world promoting your business. Everyone they encounter among the 300,000 people who have signed up for Second Life sees that ad and may well want to check you out in the real world. And maybe visit your online web shop or even your actual shop. And they might actually buy something there.”

    Well…not necessarily, and more likely NOT. People don’t go grabbing loads of free t-shirts in RL and busily wear them all over the place just to satisfy your need to advertise their logo, and they won’t do that in SL, either. People in RL might have some chance of someday wearing your t-shirt just because they might need a clean shirt one day when they’re in a hurry. But in SL, they have no objective need to change clothes; and they also dress their avatars with great care and individuality.

    Still, I tell many newbies I am helping to orient among my customers in a mainland rentals business, that if they can’t do anything else, they can make and sell a t-shirt with some interesting texture, picture or logo, because everything sells in SL — it’s a huge marketplace.

    The 350,000 people aren’t necessarily “there” because many people make accounts and don’t come back, but there are about 8,000 people logged on at any one time for typically four-hour sessions. The number to look at isn’t so much this relatively tiny cohort, but to look at how it has doubled in less than a year, and it is a population that *daily* spends at least $200,000 US. People are willing to spend a lot of money on decorating their avatar, buying land and houses, and having virtual second lives. Businesses would do well to study that trend, just as they would any significant consumer buying pattern.

    The way to think about Second Life at this stage is that it’s vital for any business that hopes to enter the future 3-D Internet to get a presence there. It’s like buying up a domain name that might be taken by someone else or getting a regular Internet presence with visibility. It just pays to take out at least a free account in SL, do some exploring, and get your feet wet in virtuality. It’s going to be everywhere in a relatively short time.

    Many, many people increasingly live their lives online at work and at home, and of these “many,” many are playing online games or living out fantasies in social virtual worlds or using these virtual worlds and games as platform for business, either providing the content that these worlds are hungry for, or various increasingly sophisticated services used by people spending time in them. We’re basically now past the set point when you have to stop saying the old mantra, “oh, those people need to get a life,” because what’s happening now is that they *are* getting a life, and it’s a Second Life.

    You can look at the business opportunities inworld as being related to clothing, vehicle manufacturing, land development and real (virtual!) estate, banking, public relations, etc., that is, working with the inworld population in the immersive world, as people call it.

    Or you can consider using SL as you would any kind of media tool or for “augmentation,” as the term is used. Thus 3-D virtuality is one more aspect of a PR campaign or media presence that lets your audience know you are hip and sensitive to where you audience is spending a lot of their disposable time and income these days.

    More serious use of SL include health care, data representation, non-profit organizing around causes like Darfur or cancer treatment and many other things, some of which isn’t even covered yet in the media because it’s just emerging as a technology.

  6. neville

    Prokofy, thanks for that thoughtful commentary.

    You’re right, of course – not everyone will go around sporting a t-shirt with someone’s logo. But that simply illustrates one tiny and relatively easy example of what you can do.

    Whatever anyone does, I agree with you entirely that SL is a place that you must get to know and understand, even a little, from a business point of view.

    Did you see the new SL Business magazine that’s just launched?

  7. Prokofy Neva

    Yes, as I said, it’s tiny and relatively easy to go with a t-shirt logo. My point was to encourage businesses to go behind this traditional concept of “how can I get my logo in everybody’s face”. First, there aren’t that many eyeballs there to justify that approach. Second, there’s a certain amount of resistance culturally to logos pushed in this fashion. Third, the eyballs are atomized to some extent by being spread across many servers, with no more than 40 avatars able to congregate on any one server, or 160 at a four-courner sim at a large, organized event.

    So you have to think about what distributes and gets seen other ways, such as through the great faculty of copyability, quick building, and accelerating observation of results. If you can find the right mix of compelling content, social networks, and events, you can have visibility.

    People come into an open-ended social virtual world like Second Life not to be quite the passive consumers they are in closed video games where the game gods make all the content and push it. In SL, people make their own content, and most make the non-inventoriable content of social networks, relationships, configurations of others’ content, etc.

    Yes, I know about the SL Business magazine and critiqued it here.

    There’s no mass media in SL except the Lindens’ drop-down blue menus. Even Linden radio isn’t something that is on every lot or that every person even knows about. There are workable tvs, but not broadcasting. Again, the distribution of media takes places across parcels and sims, some people are willing to read it inworld, and others don’t mind going out to a third-party site to read something, but the PDF file method is a real turn-off to people and diminishes readership.

  8. MYR

    I played around in Second Life for about 20 to 30 minutes. Maybe played around isn’t the correct term “Wandered aimlessly, not understanding anything that was going on” is a much better description.

    After reading your article, now my head’s spinning thinking of the marketing possibilities. I think I’m going to have to spend some time and learn the “game”.

    Great article. Thanks!

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