Last Friday I spent an hour or so in Second Life with a dozen or so other PR and other communications professionals talking about the virtual environment and how brands can and should be integrated within that world. Kami Huyse served as moderator at the Comms Cafe (owned by Lee Hopkins) and the big man himself Jeremy Pepper was the featured speaker, fielding questions the rest of us, in avatar form were asking. It was really interesting to get together with so many people and listen to their ideas on branding and establishing a corporate presence in-world. You can see some screen-grabs and write-ups on the event from David Parmet, Kami and myself.
The reason I bring this up is yesterday’s news that adidas had entered Second Life to promote its new Microride shoe. As Tom Biro said to me yesterday, the fact that their presence is limited to just one shoe seems to indicate their just dipping a foot in the water. (I apologize for that. He said it and he’s my boss. I’m contractually obligated to find it funny. Let’s move on.)
Jeremy said something in the session that I thought was the most important take-away point there. He said the most value a brand is likely to derive from being in Second Life is by simply enabling people to use and otherwise promote. Just like people wear t-shirts by “X” company in the real world they may want to do the same in their Second Life. It’s not that the company is paying these people to be brand evangelists, it’s that the citizens of SL are simply being empowered to do there what they’re already doing here. Giving people the tools to spread the word free of other corporate interference.
It’s the same sort of approach that some marketers are taking toward bloggers who cover their company or larger industry. By making creating resources and tools which citizen journalists can draw upon that help them do their job better, the company is more accurately and fully represented in that world. That same logic can be extended to Second Life. Jeremy gave as an example a popular drink. If someone is a fan of that drink they should be able to carry it around with them in Second Life as a way to express their preference for that drink.
Marketers should explore ways they can enable and empower their existing fan community, a community that is passionate and which is moving into Second Life in droves. The key is to do so in a way that adds value to the environment instead of being obtrusive and destructive. That’s a fine line to walk and will take a lot of work, but it can be very much worth it.