Second Life's virtual influence can spread offline

The PR industry over the past few years has been faced with a host of new opportunities for reaching consumers. Add to that growing list Second Life, a virtual 3D community where users choose avatars to represent themselves as they go about everyday activities while trading in real money for virtual dollars.

The PR industry over the past few years has been faced with a host of new opportunities for reaching consumers. Add to that growing list Second Life, a virtual 3D community where users choose avatars to represent themselves as they go about everyday activities while trading in real money for virtual dollars.

Founded in 2003, Second Life has grown from 350,000 to 500,000 "residents" in just the last quarter alone. Companies like American Apparel and Starwood Hotels have a presence in Second Life, the latter going so far as to preview its new line of hotels with a rendering in the online community.

Earlier this month, Text 100 announced that it would be the first global PR agency to open a virtual agency in Second Life. "You can't underestimate that this is a platform for education, collaboration, innovation, and, potentially, marketing," says Aedhmar Hynes, CEO of Text 100. "It's a way for [companies] to extend their brands into the virtual world."

"It has influence," adds Steve Rubel, SVP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.

"It generates word of mouth, both inside that metaverse and also online, and then can have influence offline," Rubel adds. He cites the example of Starwood Hotels, whose participation in Second Life garnered buzz in the online world, which eventually resulted in an article in BusinessWeek.

Rubel says Edelman is actively proposing Second Life programs to some of its early-adopter clients and is working on a substantive presence in the community.

Hynes notes that Text 100 is using its Second Life presence as an internal communications and global training tool for the agency's 30 offices around the world. The agency's Second Life office will have webcast and streaming media capabilities, as well as an amphitheater.

"The virtual world office will play a role to connect our people," she says.

Another part of Second Life's appeal, Hynes notes, is that it's a collective environment for all the tools that other social networks feature, such as blogs and IM capability. She adds, "The potential is incredible."

Key points:

Second Life is a fast-growing dedicated online community with an equally growing economy

Companies can use Second Life to test ideas about upcoming products or simply build buzz

Agencies can use Second Life as an internal communications and training tool

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