Public Relations and the Metaverse
Public Relations in the Metaverse
What can Web 3.0 Metaverses mean for Public Relations professionals?
On a recent communication webinar someone asked me if their company should be present in "the metaverse"... You could easily claim this is a question triggered by the "shiny new object" syndrome that professionals can have. But for some of us, the metaverse, as heralded by companies like Facebook, is nothing new at all.
There's a generation of Public Relations professionals out there that were actively present and actually working in Second Life, over 15 years ago. Developed and owned by Linden Lab, Second Life launched on June 23 (hey, that's my birthday!) - in 2003 and saw rapid growth for some years.
I was working at IBM as Public Relations Manager at the time and can remember town-hall meetings in our virtual headquarters there. The metaverse had official country embassies, universities who delivered real teaching certifications, a newspaper called The Alphaville Herald (the first "virtual free press") and there were even virtual riots.
The current metaverses are open-source public blockchains designed to enable the digitisation of assets and identity functions. Focusing strongly on digital identity, digital assets and smart contracts, they aim to build a network of smart properties and create an open ecosystem where digital assets can circulate freely.
Digital assets are programmable assets that exist as electronic data. In a blockchain-based metaverse, the credit of a house, a car, a financial instrument, a piece of art and even your intellectual property can be converted into digital assets and circulate on the metaverse blockchain.
Well-known examples are Decentraland and The Sandbox.
The case of Decentraland is interesting because it's managed by a DAO - "Decentralized Autonomous Organization". The Decentraland DAO owns the main smart contracts and assets that make up Decentraland - the LAND Contract, the Estates Contract, wearables, content servers and the Marketplace. It also owns a significant portion of MANA (the currency of the metaverse), which allows it to be truly autonomous and fund various operations and initiatives across Decentraland.
Last November, a Canadian investment firm that focuses on decentralized finance (DeFi) called Tokens.com purchased nearly $2.5 million worth of virtual land on the platform Decentraland.
Brands in the metaverse
Nike has concrete plans for a virtual space called NIKELAND. The company has partnered with Roblox, an online gaming platform that offers over 24 million virtual experiences with a focus on immersive content. NIKELAND will be modelled on the company's real-world global headquarters and interspersed with games, sports activities and, of course, a digital showroom.
Lindsay McInerney, who has a global innovation role at beer producer AB Inbev, was recently quoted on Sifted .eu saying: "The future of sports, media, and entertainment is virtual". Some 2.5bn people already take part in the virtual economy. This is where the world is moving to and brands will need to find places to be in the virtual world in parallel to where they are in the real world."
The role of the Public Relations professional.
As with other technological developments that can drastically affect an organisation's reputation, we need to play our role as public relationship builders. We need to understand the dynamics of virtual communities and their peculiarities. We need to navigate the rather complex stakeholder maps in the blockchain space and ensure that the organisation is prepared for public and open communication with its virtual audience.
To do this, it's time for our profession to experience metaverses in practise. It's not enough to "start a campaign" because a brand has "set up shop" in Decentraland or The Sandbox. We need to look further and deeper and discover the differences between the real and virtual worlds of communication. There's much to learn and let's face it, we're traditionally not the fastest profession for integrating new technologies. Let's not waste time and start exploring.