Nick Turse, a new correspondent at Wired’s Danger Room Blog, is reporting from the Army Science Conference in Orlando that TRADOC is building an island in Second Life. (UPDATE: Apparently the Air Force is in Second Life too… oh bother.)
The Army Second Life effort will actually consist of two virtual islands. One of them, will serve as a “welcome center” with an information kiosk and the means to contact a recruiter, the other will offer, says [Gen. William S.] Wallace, “virtual experiences like jumping out of airplanes, and rappelling off of a towers and using a weapon, to see if we can get some kind of recruiting benefit out of this social networking.”
The Army will even offer virtual tchotchkes to woo recruits. After the presentation, Wallace told me “if you perform well in the activities you get points and those points can be used to buy virtual tee-shirts and baseball caps.
Hate to break it to you general, but you came to the dance too late. You’re wasting your money.
What is Second Life
For those who don’t follow online virtual communities, Second Life is a virtual 3D world where users create digital versions of themselves known as avatars and can interact with one another. The world is entirely created by users; developers buy land, code creations and allow the avatars to interact in that space.
The space, even when I did recommend to clients to undertake activities there, is not without its risks. In Second Life, you can just as easily attend a lecture or social event, as pictured to the left, as you can stumble into naked avatars propositioning your avatar for sex.
So why would any organization want to be here?
The main purpose, in my opinion, was media coverage. At its height, in early 2007, Second Life was the darling of the mainstream business media. It was flashy, innovative, unique. It had interesting visuals and a futuristic feel to it. An edition of Business Week featured a Second Life avatar on its cover and the program was getting coverage on CNN and in the Washington Post. Reuters even created a staff writer position to cover news in Second Life (with its own avatar, of course).
Sure, there are some other benefits, including rich community engagement. But for my money (building a presence in Second Life can be very costly; companies that islands for corporate or organizational branding purposes would sometimes charge upwards of $200,000), the traditional media coverage was the best benefit.
Second Life Today
And this, TRADOC, is where we fall off the wagon.
Second Life is no longer the media darling. It was sexy; now it is stale. We saw evidence of this in July of this year when Linden Labs, the company that created Second Life, announced a decline in the number of subscribers. Public interest and media attention are on the decline, as evidenced from the Google trends analysis of Second Life:
Excellent question. It is important to remember that with all communications activities, they must be tied back to the fundamental organizational goal; as articulated by Gen. Wallace, Second Life helps recruiting. This is where the audience that they are trying to reach is, after all.
Or is it?
The data says otherwise. Also from Google Trends, the U.S. isn’t even among the top ten places where Second Life is being sought out:
Is TRADOC trying to recruit people in the Netherlands for service? If you look at a city-by-city analysis of where in the world people are into Second Life, the only city in the U.S. that cracks the top ten is San Francisco, which isn’t exactly the hotbed of Army recruiting activities.
It is a good thing that TRADOC is trying something new. Communication is changing and risk taking to play in this brave new world is necessary. But communication efforts must be thought out and must be tied to what the organization is trying to do.
Too often organizations are afflicted with what’s been called GMOOT, or “Get Me One Of Those.” Someone heard of Second Life and said that the Army needed one too.
So to Gen. Wallace, I hope this effort produces some dividends for the Army. I’m just not optimistic. And if it doesn’t, I hope this doesn’t squelch your organization’s efforts to try new ways of communicating.