PLAYBOOK: Going Virtual
Design your avatar The first place to start in Second Life -- even just to research firsthand what other corporations are doing in the space -- is to sign up for a free Second Life account and create your avatar, or online alter-ego. But if you want to buy property for your virtual store, you need to sign up for an account through PayPal. A premium account is $9.95 a month and includes a sign-up bonus of 1,000 Lindens (exchangeable for $3.65) and a monthly stipend of 400 Lindens, or $1.46.
Buy some land Usage fees range from only $5 for 512 square meters of a region to $5,000 for large islands of 262,144 square meters (about 64 acres), plus $780 in monthly maintenance fees. Most real-world companies have been spending $1,250 for 65,536 square meters (about 16 acres), with monthly fees for maintenance at $195.
Shop around for a developer Look in Linden Lab's Developer Directory. There you can find the right company to build your virtual office, get celebrities to perform at your launch event, and keep generating buzz with regular programs. Check out their Web-based portfolios and schedule an in-world tour of their past projects
Define your brand experience Many companies make the mistake of turning to virtual worlds for incremental revenue. Even though there is real money moving through Second Life, it does not yet produce a meaningful revenue stream for major companies. Instead, focus on defining the core aspects of your brand and translating your brand into a virtual world.
Understand the local culture Take this as seriously as taking your company to a new country or continent. For example, do Second Life residents really wear and, more importantly, buy simple T-shirts and jeans? Many have flashy, costume-like clothes. Consider what styles and types of products would appeal in Second Life.
Define your virtual strategy Launch your presence with a high-profile event and consider cross-promotional opportunities with other companies. Sony BMG launched in Second Life with a Ben Folds concert in the Aloft space, a virtual hotel developed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide to get feedback for a real hotel set to open in 2008
Measure real-world results Think of Second Life as a complement to, not a replacement for, a standard Web site or real-world presence. But what happens in the virtual world is portable: You can reap real results. Even though only about 60 avatars attended the press conference with Mark Warner, former tech entrepreneur and Democratic governor of Virginia, it was covered much more widely in the blogosphere and mainstream media than just another town-hall meeting. Evaluate marketing results at regular intervals to see if your time in Second Life is worth it, especially as more brands enter the so-called metaverse.
Troubleshoot tech and design issues Too many visitors can cause the server to slow down, making it impossible for more than 90 avatars to enter a virtual event. The American Cancer Society faced this situation at a fundraiser and turned away potential donors. Next year, they plan on hosting events in multiple locations to accommodate more Second Life residents. And boxy, modern buildings and objects tend to look best in Second Life (think of Toyota's Scion or American Apparel's cube-like store). Avoid more ornate designs, which can eat up computer-rendering time and power.
Consider cross-promotions between Second Life and real life So you've gotten attention for your brand in the virtual world, and even sold products for $1 or $2. But how do you translate Second Life customers into real-life consumers? Incentives. American Apparel, for example, offers a 15% discount to Second Life residents who visit online and later shop in a physical boutique.
Keep an eye on other metaverses While Second Life is getting a lot of buzz, it could be even more innovative to explore online alternatives for marketing platforms. There are Active Worlds' stand-alone immersive corporate worlds, which clients like Wells Fargo opted for instead of Second Life. There.com hosts a virtual world for MTV. Habbo, an offshoot of the pioneering virtual meeting place Habbo Hotel, is an online universe for teens. Cyworld is a Korean 3D world and social-networking site that is also gaining steam.

How to Get a Second Life

There's so much hype about this online world. Here's what you need to know before you set up shop

By Reena Jana and Aili McConnon

You've heard the hype about Second Life's possibilities for real-world brands to test-market goods and build new customers among the hip and technologically savvy. Trendy T-shirt maker American Apparel test-marketed jeans to avatars in the virtual community; Toyota is about to sell digital versions of its boxy Scion in Second Life in November. But hype aside, what do businesses with brand cachet in real life need to know before venturing into the online parallel universe of Second Life? We've compiled a tip sheet.


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