By Robert Freedman
Serious companies like Coldwell Banker, H&R Block, IBM, Dell, Bantam Books, Nissan, Mercedes, Toyota, and Reebok are driving the boom today. That's because these and hundreds of other companies, plus just as many nonprofit organizations, are discovering some pretty interesting ways to interact with their customers and constituents. And as B2B editors, you can better help your readers if you're aware of what they're doing.
Dell, for instance, is letting people build their own computers virtually and then, if they like what they've made, to buy it. A military charity, Books for Soldiers, is letting deployed service people meet with their spouses in a virtual USO setting for real-time dining and dancing. At the same time, engineers are experimenting with ways to collaborate virtually on product development.
These trends are important to B2B editors for two reasons:
- First, as migration to Second Life speeds up, editors are going to need to know what companies and organizations in their industry are doing, if only to cover what's happening.
If you're writing about real estate, for example, you'll need to know that Coldwell Banker has set up elaborate virtual communities in which people, through their "avatars" (virtual stand-ins) buy and sell houses. If you're writing about car manufacturing or sales, you'll need to know that most of the major brands — including Pontiac, Toyota, Mercedes, and Nissan — now let people test drive new models virtually. If you're not writing about these kinds of things, your readers aren't getting a complete picture of how this virtual reality platform is causing companies in your industry to rethink their development and marketing strategies, among other things.
It was through covering what real state agents are doing virtually on Second Life that I came to write a book, just released by McGraw-Hill, called How to Make Real Money in Second Life.
- Second, the virtual reality platform gives you as editors a very compelling way to communicate to your readers. Just as editors are now using blogs and are experimenting with podcasts, videos, and webinars, the Second Life platform opens up a different way to reach your readers.
How might you use a virtual reality platform? The first thing you can do is host virtual presentations that you later write up for your print or online publication. The 3-D platform gives you the ability to do things in a presentation that you just can't do anywhere else. If yours is a building magazine, for example, you can host a presentation on different roofing materials, using a 3-D model of a house. As your roofing expert talks, the roof on the house changes to showcase the different materials. If yours is a human resources magazine, you can host a presentation on interviewing methods by having participants role-play in a mock interview setting.
No doubt it's hard for you to get a picture of what I'm talking about just by reading my description here. In reality, the world of Second Life is like an elaborate game of digital dolls, like the Sims, that's populated with avatars. So, when I talk about having an expert discuss roofing materials, I'm talking about the expert's avatar, standing before a group of readers' avatars, using either voice-enabled technology or instant messaging to discuss the roofing material. The avatars are free to move about the building mock-up and even to experiment with the roofing material themselves. Such a presentation is highly interactive and hard for participants to forget. That's probably why so many universities are well into efforts to hold virtual classes like this.
There are still a lot of hurdles to overcome before virtual platforms like Second Life become a common part of the online experience. But I think it's fair to say that, now that the technology is in place, it's only a matter of time before that day comes. Certainly the corporate world believes that the day is coming, given its big and growing investment in the Second Life platform. Since it costs you nothing to experiment yourself (you can open an account for free), you might want to give it a go to see what you can do virtually to really capture your readers' imaginations.
Robert Freedman, author, How to Make Real Money in Second Life (McGraw-Hill: 2008) and editor, Broker to Broker (John A. Wylie & Sons: 2006). He is also senior editor at Realtor Magazine in Washington, published by the National Association of Realtors. You can find a direct link to book info on the ASBPE site, too.