Business AgainJune 6, 2007
I’ve been reading around a few blogs after seeing some of the comments left on this post on New World Notes and this post on GigaOm. Unsurprisingly, given the relatively new commercial prospects offered by virtual worlds, there seems to be a lot of confusion over what actually constitutes a successful branded venture into Second Life. Sometimes it’s about numbers of visitors, sometimes it isn’t, and clearly this matters more to some companies and less to others (and matters very much to the companies for whom measurement is a business proposition!)
Things only get more confusing when we take into account the findings from the two research reports that detail Second Life residents opinions of brands in world – Market Truth‘s report suggests that the majority of residents (almost 50%) are happy with the presence of RL brands while Komjuniti‘s report claims that the majority of residents (72%) are disappointed.
It’s true that this kind of contradiction isn’t unusual given that these kind of findings could easily represent people’s attitudes to brands in RL and it’s also true that unlike RL ads, the success of which are often judged on sales spikes, the goals of brands in Second Life are more long-term in orientation. So at this stage it is impossible to ‘measure’ how successful these brands are, and whether the surveying techniques used by the companies mentioned above are wholly reliable for these kinds of findings (being a qualitative researcher I was bound to say that, wasn’t I).
I tend to agree with this comment by rikomatic, that:
“…raw numbers of visitors is not really the most important metric for RW corporations. What they want is people to engage with their brand in some meaningful way that gains them a larger piece of the mindshare. To create positive associations with their products and brands.The challenge is how to measure engagement and positive associations rather than just X number of visitors over Y period.”
The question is: what do people who visit these sites go there for and what do they take away? the figures suggest a number of things, but when visiting a ‘strange land’ it isn’t uncommon to find that people begin by gravitating towards what they know. So what happens when people get to the branded location of their choice? How long do they stay, how do they interact with the site, and what are their thoughts and impressions when they leave, will they come back and why?
The long term success of brands in virtual worlds, including and beyond Second Life, is dependent on the findings of the present, so it is important to see exactly where and how they are going right and wrong with a view to improving the situation. Some of these improvements will be surprises, but some will be more predictable. Prokofy Neva, never short of words to say on this subject, left a rather ambivalent post on Hamlet Au’s post on GigaOm, suggesting that the one thing brands must do is engage with and make use of the talents of the existing Second Life communities. This I think is a dead cert for success in a world where UCG is so significant a part of its appeal and virtual worlds offer brands an ideal space to experiment with this new ‘paradigm’ of consumer – producer relations.