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06 Sep, 2010

Life, Love and Work Go Multi-Dimensional by Claire Burdett

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Coaching Articles|Personal Success|PR

Earlier this year, the world’s first ‘virtual divorce’ thrust an intriguing debate into the limelight when Amy Taylor ‘divorced’ husband David Pollard after she discovered him cavorting with a prostitute in virtual reality game Second Life. The couple spent so much time playing the game, that when she found him at the computer watching his 3D character having sex, she considered his online infidelity as real as if it had taken place in the bricks and mortar world.


Sceptics view dealings in such online games as a poor substitute for ‘real life’ interactions. Yet the impact of virtual worlds cannot be underestimated. So far, over 15m people have established avatars in Second Life alone, with membership increasing by around 70,000 people a day. In June 2009, market research firm Strategy Analytics predicted global membership of virtual worlds would increase from 186 million today to 640 million by 2015 (as reported in Virtual Worlds News).

That’s a staggering one hundred million people per year, creating characters for entertainment, engagement and business. Online multiplayer gaming such as Xbox LIVE is also increasing in popularity, allowing people from across the globe to interact in real-time. We’ve even seen the first ‘virtual murder’; a Japanese piano teacher was recently arrested on suspicion of killing her ‘virtual husband’ after becoming enraged when he divorced her unexpectedly in an internet game.

This explosion of growth raises some interesting questions about the nature of relationships in cyberspace – and virtual worlds are just one part of the ever-expanding, sophisticated world we inhabit online. From Match.com to mysinglefriend®, Sugardaddie.com to ratemybody.com, the digital environment plays cupid for a vast array of relationships. To some extent, email and texts have replaced the love letter, instant messaging has become a substitute for telephone calls and social networking is now key to social contact. These days, we’re just as likely to give potential dates a poke on Facebook, Skype Chat them up or tweet sweet nothings to attract their attention.

Clearly, many of us now view the internet as crucial to modern-day communication –and not just in our personal and social lives. From a professional perspective, the web – and Web 2.0 in particular – has fundamentally changed the way we do business.

The way we meet and interact online with people from across the globe is now myriad, and for every sort of reason known to humankind, including love, lifestyle, social interaction, sex, friendship, and business. With over 40 million members, business networking tool LinkedIn demonstrates the internet’s importance to how we make successful contacts, while socially and for business we meet people and connect on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the like, and we use email and instant messaging for work just as much as in our private lives.

In marketing and media terms, the explosion of online communications has come as both a blessing and a challenge. In publishing, it’s little surprise that media use via the Internet is displacing traditional forms such as printed newspapers. In the developed world, we now get an increasing amount of our news and entertainment online, and education via mobile phones has really started to take off in developing worlds, such as Africa, a trend that is bound to increase the following the landing of the fibre-optic undersea cable at Mombasa on the East African coast earlier this year.

Marketers continue to spend more online than on traditional channels – . As we discuss in ‘WTF Can Social Media do for Your Business?’, Forrester Research’s recent five year forecast predicted that by 2014, 21% of marketing spend in the US will be on interactive tools and services. Overall advertising in traditional media will continue to decline in favour of more effective online methods – with social media, email and search highlighted for particular growth. Basically, if your business isn’t using these tools (or you haven’t got time to implement them properly, in which case talk to us) you are going to lose out because we now truly live in the world of the virtual consumer, where most purchasing decisions are oinfluenced by what peers say online.

As BazaarVoice reports:

•  Online social network users were three times more likely to trust their peers’ opinions over advertising when making purchase decisions. (”Social Networking Sites: Defining Advertising Opportunities in a Competitive Landscape,” JupiterResearch, March 2007)
•  Two thirds of UK social networkers (66 per cent) are more likely to buy a product as a result of a recommendation, compared to 52 per cent of non-social networkers. (Royal Mail’s Home Shopping Tracker Study, September 2007)

These stats are even more important now than when they were discovered two years ago because 2009 was the year that social media truly went mainstream, allowing people to do what makes them feel most comfortable – trusting people ‘like them’:

•  One small e-retailer, AlpacaDirect.com, found that letting customers post reviews directly onto the site led to a 23 per cent increase in sales on reviewed items.
•  Customers who browse ‘Top Rated Products’ pages spent 19 per cent more per order on Bass Pro Shops’ site and 63 per cent more per order from PETCO, according to data provided by the retailers.
•  Another PETCO number: allowing shoppers to sort products within a category by customer rating led to a sales increase of 41 per cent per shopper.

We only need consider our sphere of influence when making purchasing decisions. We research online, bank online, shop online, book holidays online. From branded emails and online customer service to consumer feedback, staff training and social media activities, brands have countless opportunities to form relationships and start a two-way dialogue in new and often unexpected ways. And not just from our laptops, computers and mobile-enabled netbooks either.

As I reported in 2007 in WTF magazine, the Japanese have long been using mobile phones to make purchases using virtual currency, and the trend has continued and expanded with iPhone apps like Redlaser, which allows you to scan a barcode and tells you whether you can get it cheaper elsewhere, as well as, apparently:

• Check online prices for a DVD player.
• Scan films at the store and beam them to your TiVo.
• Scan a book and check for reviews.
• Scan the milk and add it to your grocery list

Ok, yes, that is US-side, but increasingly t rends are global, not just US based, and the swing in power and influence from West to East is becoming ever more marked as we move in to the 21st century. For marketers such as ourselves who ride the trends and tap into the zeitgeist, the possibilities are endless – and a lot can be achieved, even globally, with minimal budgets so long as you are clever and consistent. Built around two similar sounding words, the recent ‘Compare the Meerkat’ campaign used an effective and quirky viral concept to boost brand awareness, drive traffic and enable cost-effective search. A series of excellent digital executions include YouTube clips, a Facebook page and amusing Twitter feed, along with a full spoof microsite. The campaign’s success is evidence that by adopting an integrated approach driven by personality, brands can maximise the potential for engagement.

For charities too, the online world has tremendous power to influence through the ability to form relationships with people on an individual basis, on a mass scale. In essence, so-called ‘virtual interactions’ can make a real tangible difference to people’s daily lives. By using Twitter as a driving force for event organisation and providing information on Facebook pages and Vimeo’s video community, Twestival was able to provide clean water for over 17,000 people earlier this year. This is just one of many examples of social media’s power to drive change by appealing for people to join together.

It’s clear that in developed and developing countries, the online world has penetrated every part of our existence. From Facebook to LinkedIn, email to ICQ, all are controlled by real people, with real feelings, instincts and motives. Our lives and relationships are a complex series of online and offline interactions – and we can no longer see the virtual and real worlds as separate spheres operating independently. We live our lives in a post-digital age; the Internet is no longer an alien concept to be dabbled with on occasion, but something that pervades our entire lives from top to bottom.

My eldest, for example, was home with period pains recently while I was working in London. I wasn’t physically present, but I might as well have been as she maintained a constant conversation with me and whinge at me pretty much on an ongoing basis… How? Via Facebook, of course, and MSN on our two netbooks.

And the rise of reality TV in all genres, for example, is a guilty pleasure that is doubled when, like immediately following Xfactor last night, when the whole nation landed on to Social Media simultaneously (all the main terms were trending on Twitter within minutes) to discuss it, debate and rant about it, and, most importantly, make sure their views were very clearly heard by Simon Cowell!

Degrees of separation? No, we’re heading for total integration, as virtual and real come together and blend to make one multi-dimensioned world.

Written by Claire Burdett – The Media Marketing Co

2 Responses to "Life, Love and Work Go Multi-Dimensional by Claire Burdett"

1 | Jurgen Wolff

September 10th, 2010 at 8:28 am

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One of the upsides of all this is that it can raise the level of quality of products and services–it’s getting harder and harder for incompetent or dishonest traders to hide. It also puts the onus on all of us to raise our game because the size of the pool of our competitors grows daily as geographical location matters less and less. Supposedly the phrase “May you live in interesting times” is a Chinese curse, but we have to find a way to make it a blessing!

2 | Olga Levancuka

September 20th, 2010 at 9:11 pm

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Awesome article Claire,

I shall share it with my clients who are still treating the internet with caution, … and by that I mean business owners I work with (as surprising as it might sound).

Many thanks,
Olga.

PS I’ve made amazing connections, got customers and made new great friends via Linkedin, twitter and ASmallWorld… – just confirms your statement:
“we’re heading for total integration, as virtual and real come together and blend to make one multi-dimensioned world”

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