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Does Second Life need a second life?

Wired Magazine has pronounced Second Life dead. This is the inevitable backlash against anything that draws a great deal of hype, but in this case I think there are legitimate questions to ask. Is Second Life merely a way for the traditional brand marketer to seem cool while doing the same old stuff?


I suspect for some that it is. When Pontiac uses Second Life for marketing, I can’t help but wonder if putting a replica of a real car in a virtual world is the least cool thing there. If marketers want to be in Second Life because their customers are there, that smacks of the same old advertising that we do in print, on TV, or on billboards, for that matter. It also smacks of delusion—Wired says that only 100,000 Americans venture into Second Life each week.
So what is Second Life good for? My company, IBM, sets up events where people can interact and see presentations, which I think is a good experiment. But as I wrote recently, I wonder if private virtual worlds might actually serve these purposes better. You get the ability to talk to your customers by name, you know who you are telling your secrets to, and you can measure everything they do—those are qualities that marketers cherish that Second Life struggles to fulfill.
I think the main reason to be in Second Life is to experiment. Looking for immediate payback may miss the point—you really need to learn how to operate in this new kind of environment, regardless of whether Second Life will take off and be that mainstream marketing vehicle or not. Something will come along (or more likely, dozens of somethings) that will allow people to interact using these virtual techniques. Marketers need to learn how to operate in those worlds and experimentation is the only way to do it.
Because it is experimentation, however, you might want to figure out how to do it for as low a cost as possible. Maybe, like with most bouts of irrational exuberance, it’s not what marketers are experimenting with, but instead how much cash they are blowing along the way. Marketers who can get most of the learning while keeping most of the cash in their pockets are the ones who will truly be rewarded. So, can you experiment in private virtual worlds for a fraction of the price? I’d love to hear from someone who is doing that.
Speaking of hearing from folks, I have heard from just one person entering my latest (failed) contest. If you have a success story to pass along of how to “do it wrong quickly,” please let me know so you can win a free copy of my book.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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