With the explosion in popularity of so-called virtual worlds, the question of what, exactly, businesses can do to harness these new entities is sometimes difficult to answer.
What tools are there to help a business find its way in the murky maze of virtual worlds?
Well, for a start, there are old-fashioned conferences. It might be surprising to find that the people behind the virtual communities still interact with one another in person, but that's exactly what they need, says Chris Sherman, executive director for Virtual Worlds Conference.
Next month, Sherman is hosting the Virtual Worlds Fall Conference and Expo in San Francisco, hoping to help businesses find their best options in the virtual world. He says many industries don't yet understand how they can harness one of the more than 25 virtual worlds to best engage with customers, partners, and employees. So why not hold the conference virtually?
"The conference gives you a one-stop shop," Sherman says. "We're platform agnostic. If we did it in one of these worlds, we'd have to do it in all of them. So you can either make 25 phone calls or come to one spot to understand all the players in the markets and talk to people who have been there and done it."
James Hannon, cofounder of Atomic PR, says companies need to be motivated to explore how to get something out of these worlds that can aid business, rather than simply rushing to be a part of a hot new trend.
"The buzz on Second Life has been pretty huge, positive and negative, and I have yet to see too many people use it intelligently," he notes. "It's driven by a cool factor and a need to be there."
David Almacy, VP of digital strategies at Waggener Edstrom, says any tool - old-school conference included - to help businesses understand virtual worlds and how to set some sort of objectives for their presence in them is helpful. "A virtual connection doesn't replace a real one," he says. "Behind those virtual characters are real people seeking a connection."
Conferences are still useful tools for businesses navigating virtual worlds
Don't just enter a virtual world for a presence; understand your goals and objectives
A virtual connection doesn't replace a human one. It's just another tool to communicate with customers, partners, and employees