Cisco’s Approach to Second Life

I recently watched John Chambers press conference in Second Life at Cisco’s annual Cisco Live developers conference and wanted to offer some thoughts on the event.

Earlier in the year I made a few predictions for how I felt the so-called world of ‘social media’ was going to unfold through ’08. Regarding Second Life I wrote,

Although there is a decent chance that Second Life will simply die and go away, I am going to defy popular logic and say that it will actually crawl out of the trough of disillusionment as the technology gets better, integration with the regular Web increases, and a more realist perspective on its potential facilitates more niche, targeted applications.

I feel that Cisco’s virtual press conference was a great application of Second Life for the following reasons:

1. Second Life is inline with Cisco’s Core Strategic Vision

Cisco’s mantra, “The Human Network,” basically expresses the underlying strategic vision for Cisco moving forward. During the press conference Chambers was pretty explicit in expressing Cisco’s vision that the next stage in information-communications technologies would be network-focused and the next stage in the social applications of the Internet would be focused on collaboration – ergo, the Human Network.

At any rate, for Cisco to walk the walk as far as their core strategic vision is concerned they really need to be in exploratory spaces like Second Life that are pushing the envelop on network-based collaboration and sociability.

2. It is Good PR

I know all the naysayers claim that the reach in Second Life is not worthwhile from a cost-benefit but if you segment by vertical I think it makes more sense for high-tech groups like Cisco to engage in the space. As Eric Krangel from Sillicon Alley Insider explains, “for a company like Cisco, Second Life’s tech-loving users are a rich pool of potential developers and wannabe Cisco certified engineers.”

Not only did they hit a good targeted audience via Second Life but they also got some decent media pick-up in the trades (Computerworld, PC World, Sillicon Alley Insider, etc.).

3. It makes sense from a brand perspective

This is probably a little redundant with the first point I made (or maybe a subsidiary point to the first point I made) but if Cisco is going to be a leader in the networking technology industry and beyond, they really need to take chances like this even when there is no guaranteed ROI – and with an annual revenue of over $35 billion they can afford it.

4. Social media is a good fit for their evolving business focus

The Linksys purchase was a milestone in their gradual shift to focus on the end consumer (a point Chambers made in his Q&A). Although the Second Life tactic in this case was far more targeted on a niche audience, their general engagement in social media is a good fit for the direct-to-consumer focus that is surely beginning to unfold in their overall marketing strategy.

Chambers Speaking in Second Life

Now I think there were some clear areas of opportunity in the execution of their strategy. For one, the press conference could have been a bit more dynamic. In general it was just John Chambers standing on a podium. There were times when the visual image might as well have been static.

One of the advantages to the Second Life medium is the potential for visual expression. As Chambers talked about his vision, it would have been great to see a holographic Star-Wars type presentation compliment the things he was saying.

Second, the archived video of the event is offered via an embedded Quicktime player with no interactive functionality. I would have loved to use a widget to embed the video in this blog posting but no such luck. I ran a query to try to find the event on YouTube but again, no such luck. They could have used a few more

Third, I went into Second Life and had some problems activating and viewing the videos (albeit I don’t have a great deal of experience with video in Second Life so unfortunately I don’t have any recommendations here for what they could have done better – it may just be a current limitation with the Second Life platform.

Having issues with video in Second Life

Finally, they should have clearly used PRWeb to publicize their press conference – both before and after the event. Our blog reach is second-to-none in the industry and they could have embedded a video of Chambers speaking in their post-conference announcement.

Overall however these are all nit-picky tactical issues. For all the reasons I mentioned before, I love the fact that Cisco is experimenting in the space and they are showing themselves to be a thought-pioneer in social media by continuing to take chances.

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8 Comments

  1. on July 10, 2008 #

    Thanks for the insightful post. Given this week’s flurry of virtual world news from the likes of IBM and Google, virtual worlds are definitely far from dead!

    http://blogs.cisco.com/virtualworlds/comments/one_small_step_for_an_avatar_one_giant_leap_for_virtual_worlds/

  2. Scott
    on July 15, 2008 #

    Very interesting read, I tend to dismiss Second Life as a business marketing tool because its a little clunky interface-wise, requires a decent amount of setup to install and seems too “game-like” to reach the average business professional. Definitely an interesting medium, though, we seem to be inching closer and closer to Neal Stephenson’s Metaverse.

  3. Jiyan
    on July 16, 2008 #

    Hey Autumn, thanks for chiming in (for those that may not know, Autumn is the gal behind Cisco’s new media strategies).

    Scott, thanks for sharing your perspective. I agree that Second Life does have some usability issues and a bit of a bridge to cross but hopefully its long-term applications are realized.

  4. Jiyan
    on July 16, 2008 #

    No one commented on my avatar (second picture) down??

  5. Scott
    on July 16, 2008 #

    Actually sat down to watch the recording, I’m very impressed! What a great demo of the online press conference concept.

    One comment, the part that kept bringing me out of the ‘virtual experience’ was the blank faces not resonating with the energetic voice presentation. I imagine with all the user-generated content on Second Life there must be a tool that could sync lip movements to voice and maybe generate dynamic facial expressions?

  6. Jiyan
    on July 24, 2008 #

    Good point Scott and I couldn’t agree with you more. Hopefully someone from SL is listening!

  7. on August 6, 2008 #

    Is murder possible in Second Life? I’ve never signed on, but it seems to me that the risk of assassination–or at least heckling–would be very high for this type of high profile event. Did they have security guards to restrain the crowd? The people in the crowd look very well behaved.

  8. Jiyan
    on August 7, 2008 #

    I’m not sure. I don’t believe so however in 1993 there was a notorious incident in a MUD that prompted freelance journalist Julian Dibbell to write an article entitled, “A Rape in Cyberspace.” For more information go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Rape_in_Cyberspace