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Virtual Presence Online

Having a Virtual Presence Online

February 18, 2009

In the last few years many big companies have been making news by establishing a virtual presence in an online world.  The most common place for businesses to do this is in Metaverses which are also called virtual worlds.  They are online environments where people go to interact with each other.  They are often very much like the real world but without any physical limitations.   Unlike many other virtual worlds there is no game or plot. Second Life (“SL”) is the best known and most popular of all of the metaverses.

SL is also the most common place that businesses have a virtual presence.  There are at least 11 million residents in second life with at least 400,000 users logging in during a 7 day period.  At the present there are also over 50,000 in world business owners.  Many companies like IBM already have set a presence there. Experts believe that in the future a lot of networking and even hiring could take place based on a SL reputation. You shouldn’t jump in though without bearing in several factors though.

What you should know

If you want to build a good reputation in SL you are going to have to spend significant amounts of time not only developing your online business but also your online character (known as your avatar). In SL you will be judged on the way your avatar looks, behaves and communicates.  You will also have to develop profile pages. Form there you can be judged by your in-world property as well as by the ratings you receive from third party rating services.

Recently some marketers have expressed doubt about how useful SL is to a business and many are actually closing their second life shops.  Spaces developed by companies have not been as popular as spaces developed by users. Many company sites are now empty and devoid of virtual staff. American Apparel has closed up shop and the Dell Island seems deserted.  Some advertisers have noted that there are many problems with trying to sell products in virtual worlds since real world rules don’t apply. For example food and drink aren’t necessary and clothing is optional and so is even being a human.  As one commentator has pointed out SL is about fun and innovation and it is not enough to simply move a real life business into SL: “Why should I visit the virtual store of real life clothier to buy exact copies of their actual products? Why is that fun? It’s not… In conclusion, users visit Second Life and related worlds to escape the boring world.” Keep this in mind when opening a virtual store or island on SL.

You want to avoid doing the same thing you do in the real world but make sure that what you are doing ties into your business or your SL friends will not find you in the real world.  A good example of how to do this is from Nissan, which after a series of protests changed its SL presence from selling cars to an “automotive amusement park.”

Another thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t expect to make a huge deal of money from your virtual brand itself but instead use this as an opportunity for promoting the brand or to get valuable feedback. The large hotel chain Starwood was never able to earn money from selling rooms in their SL hotel but instead was able to get useful ideas for their real life hotels, including the idea to add radios into their showers and to change their colour scheme to earth tones.  They said that this feedback has been extremely valuable.


Another big problem for businesses is that SL is getting an unsavoury reputation for being risqué. As one reporter noted, if you tour SL the businesses are often empty whereas the casinos, brothels and strip clubs are packed. Apparently, the most frequently purchased item in SL is genitalia. Despite this it is doubtful whether your reputation will be tainted merely for having an SL presence. However, if you engage in risqué activities yourself while in SL that is another matter entirely. See later on for tips on protecting your reputation in SL.

Another problem is the dwindling number of SL residents. Although many people have accounts at any one time there is only 30,000 to 40,000 logged on. At one time it had been predicted that there would be as many as 150,000 residents logged in at any time but that has not occurred yet.  For some companies there simply are not enough people to devote the necessary time it takes to build up a virtual presence. That being said SL is extremely affordable for the quality and length of time you get for your advertisement. This can make it a good ad investment provided there is a good audience to whom to market your business.

The other problem is that the citizens of SL may not like your brand. Some brands have had virtual attacks. Reebok for example had a virtual nuclear bomb attack and virtual customers were shot outside an American Apparel store.

Setting up in SL

Despite all of these problems there are many benefits to establishing a presence in SL. Here are some tips to help you establish a virtual life.

Choose your Avatar carefully:

In SL you can have any persona you want.  So pick an avatar which matches with your professional goals and the type of customers you would like to attract. For example if you are in a creative business you can choose a more avant garde persona such as a cat whereas this might not be as acceptable if you are in a more conservative industry.

If you choose to be a human character like in real life, be careful how you look.  It is important not to remain in the standard issue clothes and hair. This will only make you look inexperienced. You should immediately go to one of the many in-world merchants and purchase new clothes and hair. You will also want to purchase special animations that give you more control over how you move and stand. Once again, if you only use the standard issue ones other players will know that you are inexperienced.

Choosing your Avatar name and profile:

In SL you will get to choose your own name and profile. You can choose a first name which consists of between 2-31 characters (you will never be able to change this so choose carefully). Your first name can be a real name or a brand name. For a last name you can choose amongst the standard issue last names or pay an additional fee for a last name of your choice. If you use a name that relates to your offline brand or business you will need to be careful not to do anything in SL that could hurt your offline reputation.  A bonus on SL is that they take intellectual property seriously so it is unlikely you will find an unrelated avatar with your company or brand name.

You should also set up a profile immediately.  On the area that is entitled FIRST LIFE  you can list information about who you really are and this will give you the extra chance to publicize your brand or business.

How to Network

Once you have your avatar and profile ready you can get ready to network. One of the benefits of SL is that you can join groups who share your interests or business goals.  You will be able to make announcements and send information to all of the people in your group. This can be extremely useful for marketing your online business. Another neat feature is that you can set up meetings or create buildings so that only group members can enter.

One of the best ways to network is to have a calling card ready.  A calling card functions like a real world business card and lets other avatars know your name and a shortcut to your full profile. Offer them to other avatars that you want to be connect with. Be careful though and don’t ask someone to be your friend too quickly as it is considered forward if asked prematurely and is definitely an SL faux pas.

How to Act

In SL there are 6 basic behavioural guidelines on intolerance, assault, harassment, disclosure, indecency and disturbing the peace. If you break any of these rules it will diminish your reputation. Other than any of these major rules if you accidently bump into someone follow the same rules on etiquette as you would in the real world and apologize. During your first few days you might want to observe what others are doing before you begin interacting.

You should be especially careful if you are hosting an official event for your business and observe higher standards of courtesy. For example make sure you don’t fall asleep while other avatars are speaking. It would also be useful to create a code of conduct if you are bringing employees into SL.

In-World Property

If you have a paid subscription to SL you can use Linden dollars to buy property. To buy Linden dollars you will need real cash. If you do really well you can buy your own island for a couple thousand US dollars and about $300 a month in maintenance fees. A good way to start out is to buy property from another avatar.

As mentioned previously when developing your in-world property be creative and bring something more to SL than just a virtual version of your real world business.


You are now also able to use third parties to get your avatar and business ranked. There are at least 4 such outside companies which are competing to become the best known SL reputation service. They generally will give you a ranking based on public reputation, feedback, and networks.


Once you have made the jump into the virtual world you are going to have to take a lot of time and effort to build your brand within the game.  Then having gained a great reputation you will want to make sure this is crossing over into your real life.

It is perfectly acceptable to give your real world email and Skype number out in SL so that your SL contacts can find you in real life. You should also let people in the real world know about your presence in SL. To do this include your avatar’s name on your business card and have an email account or Skype name to match.  Hopefully you will now e well on your way to enhancing your real world business through your online reputation.