When IBM’s Metaverse Campus Was Flooded With a Labor Union Protesters Including a Large Angry Banana
I recently chatted with Samantha Cole of Vice for her article “The Corporate Metaverse Can’t Compete” and am kicking myself for forgetting to mention the wackiest example of emergent social behavior in a corporate-sponsored metaverse experience — that time IBM’s official campus in Second Life was flooded with labor protesters from IBM’s Italian branch, including a sign-waving banana:
Most of the activity seemed to be concentrated on the IBM Italia region on the corporate campus– unsurprising, since the protest is over a paycut impacting Italian workers of the company. In any case, they continued streaming in, and the leaders kept count of unique visitors. At the end, the Uni Global Second Life spokesman told me they’d counted 1850 in all.
What IBM management thinks of all this is still unclear; I talked to several staffers on campus during the strike, and they declined comment. A senior IBM staffer watched the protest from a distance, but when I asked to take a screenshot, he promptly vanished into the metaverse aether.
IBM’s Second Life presence wasn’t just a marketing/PR stunt; thousands of employees used it for remote meetings every week; IBM staff were also behind a ultimate unsuccessful attempt to make Second Life interoperable with OpenSim. Instead of engaging with the avatar protesters, which would probably we the wiser path, I later found out from an IBM staffer that they were under strict orders not to engage with them at all.
In any case, the takeaway for companies now: If you do plan to have a metaverse platform presence, prepare for this and even more chaotic user-driven events to happen there.
For many companies, the thought of letting people run roughshod over their hard virtual work would be untenable. Unpredictable humans will do unpredictable, and potentially unsavory, things to your nice sterile VR world or shiny new brand activation. In 2006, after it opened a news bureau in Second Life, CNET learned this the hard way when a protestor pummeled a live interview with custom-made flying penises.
But the risk of flying penises has to outweigh the payoff of a truly interactive space. Customization and control over one’s own experience—in a social way, beyond the same 10 pre-programmed hair, nose, or outfits to choose from—is central to immersion…
The few instances of successful campaigns worked with users in already-existing spaces, instead of trying to force people into boring new virtual malls. And they know their audiences. In spaces like Walmart Land in Roblox (not to be confused with VRChat Kmart, the unsanctioned project where people LARP as Kmart employees), there’s not a lot of aggressive Walmart branding or stuff to buy. There’s just Roblox games that kids would enjoy, and live musical events with Gen Z artists. In L’Oreal’s brand activation in Second Life, the company placed replicas of its cosmetic products within an already popular user-generated world called Greenies [above].
“If I was going to leave you with any conclusions, it would be, don’t take Meta’s framing for what it is,” Au said. “Corporate engagement is simple. You just have to respect the community and the platform, and understand the medium. It’s a totally different thing than traditional social media. It won’t be the dominant thing, it will be a large part of it.” What worked on Instagram probably won’t work in an interactive, live world.
Have a Great week from all of us at Zoha Islands/Fruit Islands