Meet Amy Smadga
Advertisers like IBM and American Express are talking about their presence in Second Life. Reuters opened a news bureau in Second Life to cover the events there. And, someone became a real-life millionaire from profits earned in Second Life. Over two million people around the world have become a part of Second Life. Folks who work at my traditional agency partner keep asking me "What is Second Life?" It's a virtual world, I'd say. But I didn't really know what that actually meant.
I went online last night and became Amy Smadga. It took me almost two hours just to get a user name, customize my look, and get off Orientation Island. It was about 9:30 p.m. EST, and of the five or so folks who were on the island at that time, three weren't wearing clothes. Hmmm. Wasn't there a Broadway show with a song about how great the Internet was--but only for adult entertainment? I digress. I don't want to move into "too much information" territory and there is a teen Second Life for those under 18. When I was on, about 17,000 people were active out of the two million.
Second Life is a new Web 2.0 media darling, and we as media planners and buyers must sort through the hype and advise our clients. That's why I had to check it out for myself. And I acknowledge that while it is an amazing, surreal experience, it is nowhere near its peak of usefulness as an advertising vehicle. It is, however, a great example of the new media world that is evolving before our eyes, and how we must try to keep up and adapt.
First, only tens of thousands of people are there at any given time. These microcosmic audiences are a new trend across many niche media as people's interest in traditional mass media begins to wane. Another example may be a newsletter about scrapbooking that may only have a subscription list of 50,000, with only 37,000 average opens in a month. In order for an advertiser to move its product, just reaching that amount of people probably won't show much to the bottom line. Media planners and buyers have to be aware of many more media than in the past and then try to aggregate these smaller audiences into a critical mass that can matter. The main challenge is how to do this while maintaining some labor efficiency. (It's not as if agencies are fairly compensated for the work required for online planning and buying either, in most cases.)
Then, across all media, we must look more critically at the numbers. A site may report a monthly audience of five million users in a month, but how many of those are transient, one-page-view visitors? Do those visitors have enough value to be counted? Is that one of the reasons why site-reported numbers can almost be double that of syndicated research?
The currency of digital media, despite strides made to date, is still not solid. Syndicated data varies widely from sites and competitive syndicated sources. The Internet is old enough now that there should be enough consistency in audience behaviors to get more solid planning metrics to understand these audiences.
We need to continue to be demanding of our partners and get a better sense of the audiences they offer our clients firsthand. "Opportunity to see" and projected reach and frequency will be losing their value as planning metrics very soon, I predict. As everything moves, digital, real measurement is possible and we should be able to keep up with audience fragmentation and be even more accountable to our advertisers. I know this sounds like a big move, but don't be intimidated. We can do it. And if it all seems too much, we can just go into Second Life and fly away for a while.