Should your institution hold virtual open houses in SecondLife (SL)?

July 10th, 2006 Karine Joly 6 Comments

Karine's SL AvatarYou probably don’t have enough time for your first life, so you might have not managed yet to check out SecondLife (SL).

The online virtual world/game has generated a lot of buzz lately not only on the blogosphere but in mainstream media. So, at the end of last May, I decided to have a quick look for myself (and, well for the team, too :-)

I haven’t written about my experience before (although I shared it on a Skypecast a few weeks ago), because I got to admit that I’m still puzzled with the possibilities and the limitations of this virtual world.

As pointed out earlier by Dan Karleen on his blog, some educators have already started to use SL in their classes while marketers, businesses and conferences organizers are staging virtual happenings under SL’s virtual sun.

What’s different in SL is the possibility to create anything, promote it and sell it to its residents in exchange for Linden dollars, this world’s currency — avatars animated by real people with real money who register an account with SL.

Beyond the academic applications already explored by several institutions, I can see interesting opportunities for colleges and universities in SecondLife to attract and meet prospectives by organizing virtual open houses.

High School seniors’ avatars could come to these events and ask their questions to your admission staff’s or student ambassadors’ avatars. They will get valuable answers while keeping their anonymity (even though this generation has no problem showcasing their entire social life including the bad and the ugly on myspace and facebook, some of them can still get shy when it comes to the college admission process ;-) They could even attend one of your institution’s classes held in SL to get a better idea of your academic programs. This type of open house would definitely give you a competitive advantage with international students or out-of-state students who cannot afford a visit in the real world.

I have to add that your institution would also look very cool and cutting-edge.

So, what would it take to make such virtual open houses work in SL?

More residents – Even with more than 300,000 residents at the time of this writing, I don’t think SL has the critical mass to get significant traffic, especially because the world is split between the adult (residents 18 and over) and the teen (13-17) grids. This specific divide between adults and teens doesn’t help as some high school seniors will be considered as teens and the others adults.

Programs in computer game design
– If your institution has such programs, don’t wait. You have to be in SecondLife. Chances are your future and current students are already there. For other programs, I believe we would need to wait until SL gets mainstream – which would probably requires an easier user-experience (closer to the point-and-click experience on the Web)

Voice instead of instant messaging
– In SL, communications between avatars are only done via the game instant messaging application. I’ve heard and read that voice over internet protocol is in the plans and should happen soon. When slow typers will be on equal grounds with their faster counterparts, exchanges will become easier. That’s what I’m calling online interactivity, the next best thing after face-to-face interactions ;-)

Admission staff training
– When you’re not a gamer, it can take a while to get used to moving around and doing stuff in SL

A PG location
– Lots of adult (like in adult movies) activities are going on in SL, so you should definitely check out the neighborhood before scheduling your open house even on the adult grid. Get a place rated PG or a private (yet pricey) island.

Good promotion inside and outside SL
– In-world promotion, although possible via SL advertising agency, newspapers or event calendars, won’t probably reach everybody. If you were to hold such a virtual open house, you would definitely have to get the word out on your website or blog without forgetting to provide a quick link (a SLurl – SL direct links to in-world locations) to your open house.

What do you think?

6 Responses

  1. Dan Karleen says:

    Hi Karine,

    Love the avatar! I assume it’s yours. :)

    You did a great job covering the bases here. Below are a couple thing I’ve been mulling lately relating to recruiting opportunities in Second Life.

    1) Some schools are already holding classes in SL, where there is a special discount for educators. It seems natural for institutions who are already holding classes in SL also to recruit in SL. This is not to suggest that cross-promoting your school from Second Life to first life isn’t a bad idea regardless.

    2) Adults aren’t banned from Teen SL; they’re just relegated to certain areas. So while there is the opportunity to set up a recruiting outpost in Teen SL, I haven’t heard about anyone trying it yet.

    3) What about the idea of engaging your school’s media students in a project to build a virtual university in SL, where an institution can hold virtual recruiting sessions that to some extent mirror real campus visits? This kind of development effort could open opportunities for the institution far beyond the needs of recruiters.

  2. Drew Olanoff says:

    Great piece, SecondLife is on fire right now and the idea of virtual meetings and interaction is a piece of web 2.0 that could end up tying it all together.

  3. Karine Joly says:

    First, thanks Dan and Drew for your comments.

    Dan, yes, this is my SL avatar (the orangey jacket is a big give-away ;-) Now, about your points:

    1- In my post, I linked to the list of the classes offered this past semester, the list is compiled by Pathfinder Linden. This might be easier for these institutions to deep their toes into “Recruiting a la SecondLife.” However, I’m not sure a single class in SL is enough to win over a future freshman. I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure it will take a lot of work to convince our higher ed admission folks.

    2- My point wasn’t really about the rules of engagement on the different grids in SecondLife. Beyond the administrative hassle admission offices will have to go through to get their events going on the Teen Grid, the cut-age for the Adult Grid (18 years old) makes things even more difficult. I guess admission events would have to be held on both grids, unless Linden Labs open a special grid for higher ed.

    3- I like the idea. I actually had another crazy idea similar to yours after reading “Marketing to Avatars” from the Harvard Business Review about a month ago: rebuilding a replica of your university campus, so students can really get a good idea of how it is, and maybe even go through orientation in SL before they arrive.

    When/If SL gets mainstream, anything is possible. I guess at some point we could also create a private college with real college professors, grades and degrees. The hardest thing would probably to get it accredited, but who knows what can happen in the future with critical mass.

  4. Shannon says:

    Hey.. I’m working in the Undergrad Admissions office at Penn State and I’m also *very* much involved in Second Life. I really do think that SL presents some amazing opportunities for recruiting students and connecting with potential students. I’m extremely interested in being a part of any meetings that might be held on this topic and I’d love to be a part of any projects in SL involving Penn State. My SL av is “Micala Lumiere”. Please feel free to IM me in game!

  5. Karine Joly says:


    That’s a great idea. Let me see if we can set up a meeting in world. I’m pretty new to SL, but I’m very interested in learning what you think about it as an admission person.

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