There has been some buzz on the blogs about former VA Governor (and future Democratic Presidential candidate) Mark’s Warner’s appearance in the virtual world Second Life. A transcript of the apearance can be read here.

The last year has seen more and more marketers and PR folks experimenting with Second LIfe. The hype is pretty breathless. So it was only a matter of time before some big name politicians jumped on the trend. Given the mostly positive coverage, I figured I’d take a look at this from a more critical perspective. Here are my thoughts:

(1) It was a great idea for Warner to give this a try. He is the first big name to dive in and the blog pickups he has gotten alone make it worth the effort. Congrats to his team.

(2) Second Life doesnt’ yet have the critical mass of users needed for these virtual townhalls to be effective beyond the PR stunt value. Second Life currently has 610,000 subscribers. Most Americans haven’t heard of it and would have no idea how to participate. The fact is in person appearances, telephone-based townhall meetings and even online chats are more effective ways to actually have discussions with voters. Those formats are actually accessible and don’t require you to register with and master Second Life.

The first few politicians that dive in will get press and brand themselves as people who “get it” in terms of what is happenning on the web. That is probably all they are really looking for anyway. But after the dust clears I’m skeptical of the real value of these superficial, drop in appearances by politicians.

(3) The content of the appearance wasn’t compelling. Warner was asked some softballs and answered them the way you would expect, saying very little. I think “getting it” online has less to do with using the latest toys than it does talking to people in a real way. Have a conversation and act like a real live human being. It will be interesting to see how things go in the next appearance when Warner promises to take questions from actual people (this first appearance was simply an interview with a moderator).

As John Edwards said at his appearance at Gnomedex:

I’m trying to retrain and recondition myself when I get asked a question to actually answer it — to not say what I’ve been trained to say, to not say what’s careful and cautious.

Giving your stump speech on Second Life isn’t going to do you much good. Just like publishing your stump speech as a blog entry isn’t going to do much good. With all this “new media” stuff, to be effective you’ve got to embrace the spirit of it in addition to mastering the technical details. Just showing up isn’t going to be enough in the long run.

Update: Here is a link to a video clip of the appearance. Like I said, not super compelling.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.