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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Marketing Your Business on Second Life

Networking Your Website

By Rita Wilhelm
Contributing Writer

Imagine having two lives, one in the real world, and one in a virtual world. What if the marketing efforts that you do in the virtual world, could impact your results in the real world?

Second Life is an online virtual world created by Linden Labs. It’s a place where you can literally live a different life. Buying a house, meeting your neighbors, creating and trading items and services with one another, are just some of the things you can do in this online world. Second Life has over 13 million registered users.

I recently met Torley Wong on Twitter. We started chatting, and I learned about his expertise on Second Life. He agreed to do an interview with me, which I think you will find interesting. Here it is:

Rita: Tell me a little bit about your business.
I'm the Resident Enlightenment Manager at Linden Lab, makers of Second Life. We're a virtual world where people do just about anything, and that "anything" keeps growing to encompass possibilities unheard of before. You can come in and fall in love (I did), start a business (I've been involved in that too), and go on adventures through varied and vast landscapes that keep growing (I've done lots of that). You might think of them as "3D webpages" but that analogy, like calling a car a "horseless carriage", is falling apart as humans become acclimated to and excited by the wonders.

One of Second Life's key strengths over the material world is resource costs: you don't have to cut down a big forest to build a virtual building. Things can be achieved rapidly, including design prototypes and experimental marketing campaigns.

My job is to shine a light on skills that Residents (customers) of Second Life should know, including matters about commerce, like how to buy/sell stuff and package virtual goods. I'm also known for a series of almost 200 video tutorials covering that awesomeness.

Rita: Can Second Life help a small business gain more exposure? If so, how?

Torley: Yes! I highly recommend visiting for more details; but in short, having a virtual world presence in SL can be relatively low-cost, and since it's 3D, literally adds a dimension to your products. Stuff like cars, clothes, and unique products which exist *only* in Second Life all have the potential to sell like hotcakes if you have an effective presence.

Think about how having a website and email address is essential to many businesses, especially if you do knowledge-based work. In the future, Second Life will become more prominent this way, with a key advantage being the social aspects: you and friends can walk around a model of a car, take it for a simulated test drive, and then become interested enough to find it in "real life". So even at the very least, it can build memorable, remarkable, brand awareness of *you* — and like I said, there are many amazing things that are ONLY sold in Second Life (as virtual products/services).

Rita: What are some strategies a small business might take to benefit from their time on Second Life to increase sales?

Without question, do your research. FIND HOLES NO ONE ELSE HAS FILLED. Look for problems going unsolved, and advertise that you have a fix. It sounds obvious but some companies who flopped in SL didn't understand the medium, or didn't bother to get to know the needs of existing Residents in our communities. Really "getting it" is key to succeeding here. Your approaches may vary depending on your business, but if you have real products that might not translate too well into SL (like food, since we can't taste stuff in a virtual world... yet, although there's certainly no shortage of "pixel food" in this world), consider offering SL exclusives that are useful + fun — what I call "usefun". Such as, a robot avatar (avatars being what "your character" looks like in SL)...

OH! Actually, Paramount had a great amount of success by distributing Iron Man avatars AND allowing them to be modified. They took a risk and it paid off, because Residents thought they were both generous for giving away this freebie to build word of mouth for the Iron Man movie, and it led to viral spread through pictures like this:

We've had all sorts of "only-in-SL" success stories that aren't possible anywhere else, like a guy who designed animated waves which were distributed across beaches all over SL. Or virtual fashion trends mimicking, then building on "first life" ones like "neko" (catgirls) which are insanely popular in pockets of Japan and growing in North America. Look to international markets, it's easy to bridge them in SL! Physically impossible stuff is often a big hit, too.

In a sentence: go back to your childhood and indulge in what mattered most to you. Others can relate. Avatars don't "need" many things, but the cravings to *want* cool stuff will never cease.

Rita: What are your top 3 tips for someone just getting started on Second Life?

Torley: #1 - Be curious, and indulge. Heard of something eclectic in SL that you've never seen before? Seek it out and learn all about it. Technically, this may be called "market research", but it's more rewarding. Second Life has birthed its own unique cultures which may have first-life analogues (like steampunk and hoboes) and embracing those, or at least getting to understand them and their desires better, is key to succeeding business-wise.

#2 - Make friends fast. After being curious, seek out the people who've made stuff you like (we call them "content creators"). You can learn from and teach them, and build alliances. Some of the most powerful businesses in SL are formed from small groups of friends. Plus, when there's adversity and challenges, having a friend helps to keep you level and cheer up your days.

#3 - Watch my video tutorials! I've taught thousands of old and new Residents skills at , and I'm also linked to our Knowledge Base — which is like "Second Life's manual". If you hate reading, you'll love my videos because I show you simply what to do, step-by-step. You'll feel more confident and find the inworld experience to be, well, an awesomer one!

Rita: Thanks Torley for the great interview!

I have to say that the interview got me excited about trying out Second Life. I like the fact that you can do experimental marketing campaigns. I think I may give it a try. How about you?

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