Deconstructing Second Life - Social Media Explorer
Deconstructing Second Life
Deconstructing Second Life

Second LifeMy job is to develop social media strategies and recommend programming to clients. As such, my approach is holistic, recommending everything possible that will help the client achieve their goals. Second Life has become a popular topic when clients start asking about social media. While I can claim no vast expertise in Linden Land, I find it hard to believe so many companies are setting up shop and social media strategists are quick to recommend it as a good place to reach consumers.

Before I proceed, allow me to welcome – no, strongly encourage – you to disagree, explain why I’m wrong and offer reasons I should reconsider. Please also know that I have experimented in Second Life, though minimally, and am fascinated by it, but do not log in and participate regularly. Of course, when you see my reasoning below, you’ll know why I’m not anxious to jump in, at least for work purposes.

Let’s look at Second Life as an opportunity to reach consumers with your marketing message. Just a surface glance at the Linden Labs-provided demographic and statistical data for Aug. 2007 provides data that, frankly, makes this new marketplace seem much more virtual than real.

The demographics show 8.5 million users, but only 561,000 of those are “active.” While nearly 40 percent of the active ones are age 25-34, only 26 percent are from the United States (with Brazil a distant second a 8.5). The numbers show 57 percent of active users are male.

So, the population is 561,000, not exactly a number global brands raise an eyebrow toward. Only 149,000 of those are in the U.S., so you’re basically trying to market to the population of Eugene, Ore. If you’re trying to reach men, your audience becomes 84,900. Women? Less.

Numbers can be interpreted however you want them. There’s also the Q-factor. Being first or best in class in a cutting-edge, new environment has gotten many a brand great publicity and exposure.

But now that the reality of Second Life has settled in (and I know it’s still growing and could one day be a viable marketplace for companies to consider) exactly how much time and energy should your clients be devoting there?

For a global brand, a large-scale presence, complete with high-traffic advertising, corporate property, staffing and event/engagement programming can cost $15-25K to set up and thousands each month for upkeep and staffing. Would you recommend spending that kind of money on Eugene, Ore.?

(I have a friend who lives there, it’s a beautiful place with great people who are smart enough to know I use it as a rhetorical example, so relax.)

Then there’s the context of the Second Life population. I’m not naïve enough to think the only people there are spending every available waking hour in Second Life and therefore don’t eat out, shop at malls, etc. If that is true, wouldn’t Second Life then be considered the anti-Social Media?

There is the realistic conclusion that most Second Life residents have advanced computer systems. But without deeper research, you can’t conclude they have a certain income level or parallel interests. Of course, if you’re an American company trying to reach men aged 25-34 and are willing to assume Second Life participants aren’t all pop culture influencers, would you spend the money for in-depth research on a population target of less than 60,000 people?

More than ever, I would love for someone to prove me wrong. Am I misled by the metrics? Am I reading the demographics wrong? Are my assumptions too broad and conclusions to narrow?

If not, I’d be willing to bet the ROI on a Second Life recommendation might just give folks like me more time to hang out there.

Related Posts You Will Enjoy:

  1. Twitter + Second Life = Spontaneous Web Meetspace from TechCrunch‘s Duncan Riley
  2. Cyberflacks by Jeff Jarvis on Buzz Machine
  3. Rise and Fall and Rise Again: SL User Growth Staggers Upward from Second Life writer Wagner James Au and New World Notes
  4. At Virtual Worlds 2007 Today and Tomorrow by Daniel Terdiman at The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Second Life
  5. A Story Too Good To Check from Clay Shirky at Vallywag
  6. Second Grade Math from Second Life’s own blog


[tags]second life, social networking, social media, Linden, Linden Labs, virtual worlds, marketing, advertising, review[/tags]

About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at
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  • I completely agree on brands throwing money at it for the sake of it.

    For example, for most (not all) brands, one of the worst things you can do is build a large, expensive store selling SL versions of your RL goods.

    Why do this? After all, the chances are, someone is already doing what you do, and doing it better by operating out of their living rooms.

    No surprise then, that, to take the NWN link I referenced above, an Armani clone store is attracting over 30x as much as traffc as the real one.

    To take Armani as an example, it would actually have been better for them to work with the owners of “Armidi.” Much cheaper, and it would have generated good will among residents.

  • Dirk — thanks so much for the response. You’re certainly justified in the forward thinking about SL and perhaps I wasn’t as clear that I’m not discounting it altogether, just questioning the willingness of throw tons of money at it “just because.”

    And you’re right, the full page ad in Eugene would cost a nice penny, I’d imagine, particularly when newspapers are trending down.

    Perhaps my post is better focused on the large-scale brands that do spend thousands on big SL presences.

    Great points all around, though!

  • Hi, first of all it is good to see that your post is largely about the numbers (rather than some of the “see, I told you so!” sub texts you get).

    I think what I would say in response is as follows.

    1) Yes, SL numbers are relatively small, but the latest Nielsen Netratings figures (,,2176765,00.html) show that out of all the social networks (if we count SL as such), it has the highest levels of stickiness and user loyalty.

    I’ve also seen figures showing that those regular users you talk about, spend around 90 minutes a day there. To me as a marketeer, that implies time spent away from the TV watching ads, and we need to make eyeball contact with them in other ways.

    2) There is the Gartner Report earlier this year predicting that in 2011, 80% of regular internet users will have a virtual world identity. Gartner does say that they will probably turn out to be members of virtual worlds not yet in existence, rather than Second Life.

    The recent announcement by IBM and Linden Labs means that whatever ‘world’ they are a member of is neither here nor there, as they are working on a way to transport your virtual persona from one world to the next. So, it’s a bit like having a web 1.0 presence back in, say, 1996. The numbers weren’t huge, but the potential was.

    3) You say, it’s like targeting the population of Eugene, Oregon. Actually the costs of setting up an SL presence don’t need to be huge. You can do something fairly decent, for less than taking out a full page newspaper ad….in somewhere like Eugene, Oregon!

    4) Of course, companies are throwing money at it with a vague notion of “we must be doing something there.”

    Going back to my 96/97 analogy, it’s a bit like when companies stuck something up without thinking about how you adapt your campaign for the medium. For example, see

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