The Metaverse. The Future of Digital and Social Media Marketing?

There has been a lot of hype over the metaverse. A Google search of the term metaverse returns 189 million results. The company that owns two of the largest social media networks in the world even changed its name from Facebook to Meta in 2021. Yet the metaverse may not be living up to the hype.

Early reports indicate Meta’s Horizon Worlds isn’t meeting expectations. A year old in December 2022, Horizon Worlds has just 200,000 monthly active users, below Meta’s goal of 280,000 from an already lowered initial projection of 500,000. Simply building a virtual world without a special interest, unique selling point, or target community is a challenge.

We should have learned this lesson from the hype over Second Life in 2007 when big brands invested heavily in virtual real estate. Back then founder Philip Rosedale proclaimed, “The 3D web will rapidly be the dominant thing and everyone will have an avatar.”

After 19 years Second Life hasn’t built a mass virtual world but does have 1 million monthly active niche users. It also has graphics that seem to look better than Horizon Worlds. Second Life is also free to join via the web – you pay to own land. Living in Horizon World first requires purchasing $400 Meta owned Oculus headsets and downloading the app.

Screen capture from promotion video on Meta Horizon Worlds Oculus website.
Screen capture from Second Life’s promotion video on its website.

If you build it (the metaverse) they (mass audiences) may not come. Business Insider reports that only 9% of the worlds built Horizon Worlds are visited by 50 users or more. Most users abandon the platform in the first month, and over half of the VR headsets are out of use within six months.

This doesn’t mean that the metaverse isn’t relevant to marketers. It just isn’t a mass media play. There are already existing metaverse niche communities out there. Remember that Facebook’s platform of nearly 3 billion monthly active global users was not created overnight. It also started with a niche audience of U.S. college students.

You don’t need Horizon Worlds to engage in the metaverse. Most of the existing, populated, and active metaverses are game-based browser virtual worlds such as Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft, Avankin Life, IMNU, and, of course, Second Life. These 3D virtual worlds have been around for at least five years with many existing for a decade or longer.

Below is an amazing infographic of the existing metaverse by Nic Mitham of Metaversed Consulting created in part from data from W. James Au at New World Notes. As you can see in the MAU’s below, you don’t need to wait for Horizon Worlds to take off to experiment with metaverse marketing.

The Metaverse Universe by Nic Mitham at Metaversed Consulting.

How are brands using the metaverse for marketing? Vans partnered with Roblox to create a virtual interactive skate park, Vans World. It allowed Roblox users to virtually visit skate parks with friends earning points through game play to spend on virtual Vans sneakers and apparel and to build customized skateboards in a virtual skate shop. Vans World attracted over 48 million visitors in a couple of months.

Nike created Nikeland metaverse in Roblox. In a couple of months, 7 million visited Nikeland to enjoy brand experiences, such as celebrity appearances by LeBron James, games with rewards, and ownership of their own “yard” or personal space to show off their collectibles. Exclusive branded digital products can also be worn on fans’ avatars around Roblox environments to create digital brand ambassadors.

With these examples, keep in mind that 54% of Roblox users are under 12 years old and just 14% are over 25 years old. These demographics may match Vans’ and Nike’s target audience, but probably don’t fit with many marketers’ target customers. Package goods like Tide don’t need to be creating Tideland virtual Roblox laundry rooms to engage fans and sell more detergent.

Dip your toe in the metaverse with “phygital” experiences. Other brands have created merged digital and real-life experiences through the metaverse. During New York Fashion Week Puma launched an integrated physical and digital experience called “Black Station.” Visitors to the website interacted with the brand’s Fashion Week show as if they were there in person. Digital exhibits featured 3D sneakers and NFT holders could redeem tokens for physical pairs of shoes.

Phygital marketing blends digital metaverse and physical real-life brand experiences. Instead of jumping completely into the virtual world, phygital combines the physical and digital experiences that consumers may be more comfortable with including AR/VR and 3D modeling or metaverse experiences that reflect a physical one.

Some of these hybrid experiences are happening on Decentraland. Dentraland is a newer 3D browser-based virtual world built on NFTs and cryptocurrency.  Samsung’s New York flagship store had a physical sustainability fashion show that was simultaneously created in the brand’s metaverse space in Decentraland. This is called a “simuverse” experience. Simulverse is when a physical event is simultaneously played out in the metaverse.

Another phygital strategy is “twinning.” Twinning is crafting digital experiences that mimic a physical one, or vice versa. An example of twinning is when Gucci created physical figurines of its “SuperGucci” NFTs. Or Prada which added NFTs to its limited-edition physical clothes.

A related strategy is “tokenization.” Tokenization is when physical items are reformatted into NFTs on a blockchain. Tommy Hilfiger created NFTs of luxury and exclusive physical merchandise on the Boston Portal marketplace in Decentraland. Their release was timed with the physical world fashion week but hosted in the fashion district of this 3D virtual world.

The bottom line for marketers? The metaverse isn’t mainstream and may never be, at least in the next several years. Instead of going all in, go partially in with “phygital” experiences and by reaching relevant niche audiences in existing virtual worlds. Simply building a brand experience in Horizon Worlds will not make your customers come.

If your target audience is already active in a metaverse then go where they are spending time. This is the same strategy for selecting social media platforms. First, define your marketing objectives and your target audience. Then look at user demographics and psychographics of metaverse platforms searching for a match. Also, go beyond monthly active users (MAUs) and search for daily active user (DAUs) data.

Want to learn more about the broader topic of Web3? Check out my previous article “The Future of Digital and Social Media Marketing With Web3.” Or to learn more about matching target audience to digital platforms see “Are You My Audience? 7 Misconceptions About Target Audiences in Social Media and Digital Marketing Strategy.”

The Future of Digital And Social Media Marketing With Web3.

You’ve probably heard a lot about Web3 and related terms such as NFTs, blockchain, and crypto. What are they? Web3 is still emerging but basically is a decentralized version of the world wide web. Web3 is being built on blockchain technology, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs making the Internet more assessable, secure, and private. The image below by Cointelegraph describes the evolution from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and Web3.

Source: Cointelegraph

Blockchain is a distributed database that maintains a secure decentralized record of transactions. Cryptocurrency is a virtual currency secured by blockchain. Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are assets based on a blockchain with unique identification codes. NFTs can represent physical assets like artwork, real estate, or a ticket to an in person event. They can also be used to represent digital artwork, in-game items, or access to special privileges.

How does all this impact digital and social marketing communications? Web3 will give users more ownership of their data and how it is used. This means marketers will have less access to data from consumers and will need more creative strategies to reach their target audiences. They’ll need to be more transparent about their data practices and will need to provide incentives to collect data from consumers.

HubSpot predicts that as Web3 takes hold there will be a shift from large social media platforms earning profits from content creators to content creators owning and controlling their own content and profits. This means marketers may need to shift from purchasing ads on platforms like Facebook and YouTube to forming more relationships with content creators.

Cryptocurrency and NFTs offer new forms of incentives for brands, their customers, and their audience. Brands could create their own crypto and unique digital assets such as NFTs to reward consumers for sharing their data, spending time on the brand website, responding to surveys, or helping to create new products and services.

Web3 opens up creative possibilities way beyond traditional rewards programs. Gamification rises to new levels when rewards can come via brand tokens based on crypto. As we head into a cookie-less future this may be the new way to collect consumer digital data. It can also help marketers plan for the third-party cookie phaseout.

A cookie is the data generated by a website and saved by your web browser to remember information about you. For years cookies have meant that consumers don’t have to reenter information when visiting websites and they can receive more customized communications and offers. It has also enabled marketers to collect enormous amounts of data about consumers which makes targeting more effective and efficient.

Yet growing concern over Internet privacy and the emergence of Web3 is leading to a phase out of third-party cookies. For example, Google announced a phaseout of its third-party cookies in late 2023. Safari has blocked third-party cookies by default since 2020. In June 2022, Firefox rolled out total cookie protection by default on all its browsers signaling the shift from third-party to first-party data.

Source: Firefox

Experts say marketers will have to increase their first-party data strategy by enhancing data collection and management. This includes more transparent communication with customers and making a case for the value and personalization they will receive for sharing their data with the brand. Salesforce has recently announced a product that may make this easier. NFT Cloud will enable Salesforce’s customers to mint NFTs using their CMR and offer them as rewards or sell them on current brand eCommerce websites.

Another option is to turn to new emerging identity solutions like Unified ID and IdRamp. They allow advertisers to reach people who have opted-in to tracking. Yet, marketers will need to make the case to users why they should opt-in. What value will they receive in exchange?

Even then, there may be a sizable part of the population who will simply decide they don’t want to be tracked on the Internet anymore. Marketers also need to prepare strategies to reach people without tracking them. Melinda Han Williams, Chief Data Scientist at Dstillery says, “The good news is you don’t need to know who someone is to know whether they’d be receptive to your message. Today’s artificial intelligence (AI) enables marketers to choose best impressions rather than the best users.” We don’t need to know everything about a user to target customers effectively.

Some examples of brands leveraging Web3 are Nike, the NBA, and Chipotle. Nike purchased RTFKT Studios in 2021 and began making NFT sneakers. Their first collection called CryotoKicks Dunk Genesis sold 600 pairs in 6 minutes for a total of $3.1 million. Once brand fans own them, they can customize them using skin vials, created by different designers that add special effects and patterns.

The NBA created virtual trading card NFTs featuring brief highlight reels of top players. The cards can be bought and sold online building the NBA brand community around collecting and trading cards of fan favorite teams and players.

Chipotle offered rewards for the first 30,000 fans that visited their metaverse restaurant in Roblox. They were given vouchers for burritos at real-life Chipotle restaurants.

How will your brand shift your digital and social strategies to prepare for Web3?

The Anatomy of a Social Media Plan: How It Has Changed Over the Last 10 Years.

Anatomy is the study of the structure or internal workings of something. This can apply to the human body, plants, or a subject such as “Machiavelli’s anatomy of the art of war.” Over the years the “anatomy” or structure of the strategic use of social media in marketing communications has changed.

When I first began integrating social media into marketing communications plans for clients it was still a novel side project. Most clients used experimental budgets to fund brand social media activity. We would present the traditional advertising, direct marketing, and PR as our main recommendations with some social media ideas.

When I began teaching social media marketing it was the first time, I created a strategic plan focused only on social media. I developed a strategic framework for that first course back in 2011. Social media has evolved, and the framework still applies, but the structure has grown

Anatomy of A Strategic Plan

Anatomy is about knowing the structure of something, and this can occur on several levels. The first level or structure of any strategic plan is goals, objectives, strategies, tactics, and KPIs or metrics.

Anatomy of A Strategic Plan

Goals are long-term changes you’d like to see while objectives turn those goals into measurable metrics within a specific time frame. Strategy is the approach you will use or the way you will meet the objectives. Tactics are what you will use to implement the strategic approach. Finally, KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are metrics you use to measure the performance of individual tactics.

The most common mistake I have seen in strategic plans, in the past and today is confusing objectives with strategies, tactics, and KPIs. The objective of a social media strategic plan should not be “Improve brand social media,” “Open a brand TikTok account” or “Gain 1,000 social media followers.” No matter which organization or company you are working for your purpose in creating a social media plan is to help achieve larger goals and objectives.

Opening a TikTok account is not an objective. The objective is to increase sales, raise market share, attract investors, add volunteers, grow attendance, boost downloads, etc. Opening a brand TikTok account is one tactic, part of a bigger strategy that may help achieve these larger objectives. Social media is no longer experimental. Today companies spend 15% of their marketing budgets on social media and expect real results for that money.

A company may have a goal to grow the number of younger customers. Their objectives could be to increase sales to 16–24-year-olds by 20% this year. A strategy may include using social media to engage with younger consumers. One tactic to implement the strategy could be to open a brand TikTok account. A KPI of that tactic could be the number of followers.

Anatomy of A Social Media Plan (Circa 2012)

When I taught my first Social Media Marketing course in 2011, the tactics available to use in a Social Media Plan were limited compared to what we have today. Social media was growing and valuable but there were fewer tactics available to implement strategies.

Early strategies and tactics in social media focused on organic content. Paid was not a necessity and not as available or sophisticated as it is today. Growing brand communities delivered results. Many brand messages were “Follow us on Facebook” and they celebrated milestones such as reaching a million followers or fans. Before algorithm dominance, more fans meant real increases in reach and results for both KPIs and plan objectives.

Anatomy of A Social Media Plan - 2012

The basic tactics of social media included real-time brand social media conversation. This is the brand interacting with its brand community in real-time through social media monitoring. Scheduled brand organic social media content was also important. The brand creates its own content to post on its feed.

Social media plans also emphasized curated brand-related third-party social media content. Finding and sharing content created about the brand by media is still effective. Finally, consumer-generated brand social media content was an important component. Early strategies featured consumer contests like Lay’s Do Us A Flavor. These tactics emphasized owned, shared, and earned media.

According to Gini Dietrich’s PESO media model, Owned Media is brand-created content, Shared Media is consumer-generated content, Earned Media is content created by the news media, and Paid Media is advertising, both traditional and new media.

Anatomy of A Social Media Plan (Circa 2022)

Over the last decade, social media use by consumers and companies has grown. As a result, social media news feeds grew crowded, and platforms introduced algorithms to prioritize posts. For most platforms that meant emphasizing personal posts over company posts. Organic reach plummeted and a brand follower or fan was no longer as valuable. In response, paid media entered the mix and three new tactics have emerged.

Anatomy of A Social Media Plan - 2022

The first new tactic was paid social media brand content in the form of social media advertising. To reach followers, fans, and other social media users, brands could now pay to have their posts appear in people’s feeds. Brands were not happy at first but quickly saw the value in social media ads being highly targetable for efficient and effective ad buys. This was the first wave of new social media tactics under the category of paid media.

Influencers have always been part of social media. In the early days, we talked about the value of being a thought leader for company management. We also had brand evangelists, advocates, or brand ambassadors who voluntarily posted about their favorite products and services. Brands engaged these superfans with gratitude and sometimes rewards.

Then online influence reached a new level. Certain people became social media famous reaching numbers of fans brands used to celebrate that matched or surpassed the reach of media companies. Influencer Marketing emerged with brands paying to reach an audience through an influencer’s social media account.

Brands purchase posts and campaigns from mega-, macro-, micro-, and nano- influencers by buying ads through influencer marketing platforms. This was the second wave in social media plan tactics and the second form of paid media.

The latest tactic to emerge in social media plans is social commerce. Early forms of social media advertising paid to appear in feeds with non-commercial content. The social platforms had restrictions on not making the post too much like advertising. For example, brands had to get creative with posts such as saying “Link in bio” to get people to a website from Instagram.

Today social media platforms have added shoppable ads where users can buy a product or service without leaving the app. Social commerce is when e-commerce happens through the social network. Instagram Shoppable Ads was one of the first options.

Now Facebook Shops enables brands to create online storefronts on Facebook and Instagram. Other social media commerce options include Snapchat, TikTok, Pinterest, and Twitter. This is the beginning of the third wave of paid media social media tactics.

What changes have you seen in the last decade in your social media plans and strategies? For other ways, social media has changed see “What Has Changed And Not Changed In Social Media.”