At Virtual Worlds 2007 last week, I was struck by how few agency people were in attendance. The event drew more than 600 attendees -- the metaverse development companies and platform providers were there in full force. So were the pundits, bloggers, technologists and futurists. I saw quite a few brand marketers and media company professionals, as well. But by my informal scan of people's badges (by no means scientific, but certainly directional), I would guess that there were no more than a dozen or so representatives from the big agencies (digital, traditional or otherwise.)
At first, this surprised me. Since the start of the Second Life press blitz, the agency world has been abuzz with talk of Second Life in particular and the promise and perils of virtual world marketing in general. Everybody wants to be the "hero" that champions that "killer" Second Life idea and gets a client to bite. But most don't really know how to make that happen.
At Virtual Worlds 2007, the first business conference devoted entirely to this hot topic, I had the opportunity to hear from (and speak with) many of the thought leaders who are shaping the space and charting the future of 3D internet. Just listening to these people provides some much needed perspective on the right (and wrong) ways to think about entering the virtual world -- as well as key insights into why traditional marketing approaches tend not to work. And I was one of just a handful of agency people at the show. What a lost opportunity!
But when I took some time to think about it, I realized that this disconnect is by no means specific to virtual worlds. I speak with marketing professionals every day (both client and agency side) who are defining social media strategies but are not themselves active users of social media services, much less students of them. They market on blogs, but aren't themselves bloggers (or even regular blog readers.) They define strategies for social networking but don't themselves use social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook. Of course they are burning to "do something" in Second Life but often haven't even gone through the registration process (if they have, many more don't make it past Orientation Island.) And never mind newer social services like Twitter and Tumblr -- they've never even heard of them (but as soon as they do, they'll want to find ways to tap those tools for marketing purposes too.)
Yet, when all is said and done, they don't understand why their social media campaigns didn't work...
The rules are different here than they are in traditional media -- and you can't learn those rules by lurking around on the outside. I'm probably preaching to the converted (if you're reading this blog, you're probably of like mind) but it is pretty obvious that we're in the minority. Lots of people talk the talk; I don't see nearly as many walking the walk.
My point isn't that I know more than they do. Maybe I do, maybe I don't. My point is that everyone in this business owes it to themselves (not to mention their clients) to experience social media firsthand. It is only by rolling up your sleeves and getting involved with these channels as a consumer (even as a power user) that you can truly understand how to leverage them (and tap the active communities that use them) for marketing. You can't be a passionate user of everything (who has time for that?) but I firmly believe that you do need to at least try any new form of media that you plan to recommend to your clients. The list of services I've tried is as long as my arm -- I haven't loved every one of them but at least I can look my clients in the eyes and give them my personal perspectives on them all.