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Five Rules For Bringing Your Real-Life Business Into Second Life

If you're thinking about establishing yourself in Second Life -- or are wondering whether you should -- we've got five rules that will help your new venture be a success.

2. Add Value To Second Life's Communities

Businesses succeed in Second Life when they hold events and drive traffic to their Second Life efforts.

"We've been saying all along that if you build it, they won't necessarily come," said June Peoples, executive vice president and senior producer for Infinite Vision Media. "What you really want to do is build community in Second Life -- not just build a monument to your brand or the company."


Kurt Vonnegut gave an interview in Second Life shortly before his death.
(click image for larger view)


Kurt Vonnegut gave an interview in Second Life shortly before his death.

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Infinite Vision Media, an interactive marketing and new media agency based in Massachusetts, has followed its own advice -- it has put together some of the most popular locations and events in Second Life. These include a location for the Weather Channel (where Second Life residents can simulate outdoor play, including surfing, bicycling, skiing, and parasailing), a concert by Suzanne Vega, Kurt Vonnegut's last interview before his death last April, and a fund-raising event for the American Cancer Society.

Another agency, Campfire, developed one of the most popular areas in Second Life for Pontiac. Campfire solicited input from car enthusiasts already in Second Life before building the area, called Motorati. Rather than using Motorati as a platform to try to force-feed users a marketing message, Campfire gave away server space -- known in Second Life jargon as "land" -- to people with plans to use the land for attractive, automotive-oriented sites and activities. That way, Pontiac could bring in partners who built a bumper-car area, a nightclub with a parking-lot theme, and an area called AskPatty.com for women car enthusiasts.

Second Life marketing is different from traditional media and the Web, said Michael Monello, a partner at Campfire. In traditional media and the Web, agencies talk about "pushing messages" out to the audience, he said. "But Second Life really is a new mindset. It's very community focused. You have to go in and say, 'What can we add to the community?' "

3. Don't Believe The Backlash

We in the business press love to build up our idols, and then smash them to the ground. We find some new thing, praise it wildly, create exaggerated expectations for how useful or popular it'll be, and then turn vicious when the new thing fails to live up to those expectations.

Second Life is currently on the downward side of that cycle. Time Magazine named Second Life one of the five worst Web sites in July.


Motorati Island, sponsored by Pontiac, is an area in Second Life for car enthusiasts.
(click image for larger view)


Motorati Island, sponsored by Pontiac, is an area in Second Life for car enthusiasts.

view the image gallery

It was different last year. In spring of 2006, BusinessWeek ran a glowing cover story on Second Life, saying Second Life could evolve to challenge the Web and Microsoft Windows.

Wired Magazine played both sides. In October, 2006, it ran a Second Life travel guide, declaring, "Second Life is a world of endless reinvention where you can change your shape, your sex, even your species as easily as you might slip into a pair of shoes back home." But by July, 2007, Wired had done a full turnaround, running an article entitled, "How Madison Avenue Is Wasting Millions On A Deserted Second Life," with a follow-up blog post from Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson titled "Why I Gave Up On Second Life".

And yet, despite the hype, backlash, and undeniable problems, there is a "there" there. Half-a-million people use Second Life regularly. That's a population the size of a small city -- somewhere between the size of Albuquerque and Tucson, and bigger than Atlanta or New Orleans. Moreover, the number of active users has doubled in just six months.

Don't think of Second Life as a mass-market medium for a global campaign. Think of it as a collection of a half-million potential customers and influencers. Moreover, these are valuable customers: They have the money to spend on high-end computers, and high-speed Internet connections, as well as free time needed to partake of Second Life.

And many of them are software developers and IT managers, a lesson not lost on big companies like IBM and Cisco Systems, which are among the companies that have been successful in Second Life.

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