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.”

Do Marketers Always Want Consumer’s To Consume?

In marketing we call our target consumers. Yet not all marketing goals or messages are about increasing consumption. Sometimes marketers want the target market to consume something different, consume less, or simply consume an idea.

Patagonia famously ran an ad with the headline “Don’t Buy This Jacket” on Black Friday. They sell clothing, but their overall mission is, “We’re in business to save our home planet. We aim to use the resources we have–our voice, our business, and our community–to do something about our climate crisis.”

Patagonia balances selling new clothes with its mission. For example, they encourage consumers to consume less by trading in old Patagonia clothes to be resold with its Wornwear program. They call for climate action on Twitter, and share conservation messages on their YouTube channel.

One video features Salvar Una Cuenca running to save a watershed. Another has an employee explaining how to repair a zipper to keep a jacket longer. The message is getting through. In a recent Harris Poll, Patagonia is listed as the most reputable company in the U.S.

Sometimes marketers want consumers to consume more of their product by consuming more but by consuming something different. An example is Campbell’s sharing recipes featuring their condensed soup as a key ingredient.

Campbell’s meets the needs of busy adults giving them quick and easy recipes that while increasing purchase of their soup. They send the message where their target is looking for meal ideas with timely posts on Pinterest like “Get hammy with your Easter leftovers.”

Gatorade is another example. They don’t want their consumers to consume more sports drinks during workouts. They want their target to drink Gatorade over competitor Powerade.

They position themselves as hydration for high school athletes by helping their target tell their sports stories on social media. They created a free app “Highlights” for teen athletes to capture and share pro videos of their best sports moments.

A nonprofit or government agency often wants marketing messages that encourage consumers to consume less such as a natural resource conservation effort. Right now many western states are facing severe droughts. They need marketing messages to get residents to consume less water.

Some public health efforts aim for no consumption. The Truth anti-tobacco campaign has used marketing to reduce teen smoking. In the 1990s, they used PSA TV ads to reach their audience. Now Truth is reaching teens on Instagram and Youtube to reduce teen vaping.

Other marketing messages encourage donations. The nonprofit Dress for Success targets women on Facebook to donate their professional clothes, talents, and time to help other women obtain opportunities and reach economic independence.

What other goals do social media marketing efforts try to accomplish for organizations, businesses, or clients?

To learn more on consumers, target markets and target audiences see “Are You My Audience? 6 Misconceptions About Target Audiences in Social Media and Digital Marketing Strategy.”

Social Media Update: Top Social Media Channels By Category

Multichannel social media strategy: Social media is no longer a small experimental part of marketing. Social media spending represents 15% of marketing budgets and is expected to increase to nearly 25% in five years. Social media is also seen as an essential part of digital marketing which has surpassed traditional with digital ad spending reaching 54% of total ad sales. Today brands must go beyond the top three social platforms or simply continue to use current brand social platforms. As social media plans become more sophisticated with a combination of organic and paid content how do you decide among the over 200 social media platforms? To simplify this process the chart below lists social options in eight categories by key characteristics and top platforms per category.

Audience Size and Engagement: Total audience size is important when selecting a social media platform within which to invest your time and money. Yet tradition measures of monthly active users or unique monthly visitors only tell part of the story. A user could visit a platform once a month and be included in audience size. Engagement is another important factor that looks at how active those users are on the platform. How many users are daily users and how much time are they spending per day or session?

Target Audience Demographics: How active is your target audience on each platform? Define  target audience by demographic characteristics such as gender, education, income, ethnicity and age. Look for social media platforms popular with your target age group. Be sure to look at both monthly active and daily active users by age. A high percent of Millennials may be monthly users of Facebook but if you look at daily usage they may be spending more time on Instagram. If your target is Gen Y, Snapchat may have the highest daily usage.

Target Audience Psychographics: Not all people in a generation have the same interests, therefore it is also important to define target audience with psychographic variables such as, values, beliefs and interests. People interested in crafts, fashion, the environment, or gaming may be active on other social media platforms where those interests are popular such as Reddit, Pinterest, Forums or Twitch.

Target Business Category: Not all purchase decisions are considered in the same social media channels. Therefore also consider type of business. Is the brand B2C or B2B? What industry is it in? Is it a local or national company? Does the brand offer online sales, in-person or a combination of both? The type of business could make other social media channels more relevant to a plan such as LinkedIn, TripAdvisor or Yelp.

Target Communication Objective: Finally, consider the communications objective. A plan to build brand awareness may work best with Facebook, YouTube and Buzzfeed. A plan to improve customer response may work better in Twitter and Messenger for customer support and Google My Business for customer reviews. A B2B lead generation plan may best leverage Blogs, Podcasts, LinkedIn and Slack. A direct sales plan for a multinational fashion brand could work best with Instagram, Pinterest, WhatsApp and WeChat.

Now that you know what to consider in selecting plans. What are the latest social media channels? Bellow is a list of the top three or more social media channels divided into eight key characteristic categories.

Social Networks: These are the websites and apps that connect people sharing personal or professional interests through profiles, groups, posts and updates. Facebook has 2.7 billion monthly users (1.8 billion active daily) and is by far the largest social media channel of any of the categories. LinkedIn is the dominate business/professional social network growing to 722 million users (260 million active monthly).

Social Messaging: Instant messaging platforms are chat applications created around social networks for communication on mobile phones with less limits and more features than traditional texting. Facebook Messenger has grown to 1.3 billion users but is still behind Facebook owned WhatsApp with 2 billion users (1 billion active daily). Other popular messaging apps include WeChat with 1 billion month active users mostly  in the Chinese market. Slack is the business messaging service with 12.5 million daily active users providing opportunities for B2B.

Blogs and Forums: Blogs are websites that contain posts or articles in reverse chronological order that include hyperlinks and usually allow commenting. Forums are online discussion sites where people hold conversations via threads around common interests and topics. WordPress is the top blogging platform with 409 million users viewing over 20 billion blog pages a month. Tumblr (owned by Yahoo) is the short-form blog focused more on photos and video and less text with 463 million blog accounts but usage has dropped to 327 monthly visitors from a previous high of 642 million. Blogger is a simpler platform with less customize options and is owned by Google. Recent stats estimate 60 million monthly visitors to blogger.com down from 167 million in 2017. To find forums try search and directories like ProBoards.

Microblogging: Microblogs are a form of traditional blogging where the posts are limited by content length or file size. The leader in Microblogging continues to be Twitter with 353 million monthly active users (187 million active daily), but this is down 9 million from last year. Pinterest is the social pin board dedicated to visual discovery, collection and sharing that limits posts to single images or video. Pinterest has grown to over 442 million monthly active users. TikTok has grown quickly to 689 million monthly active users. A new entrant in this category is the invite only, real-time, audio-chat app Clubhouse. Clubhouse has grown from 1,500 users in May 2020 to 10 million users in 2021.

Media Sharing: This category is for social media channels developed mainly for the sharing of image or video media. YouTube is the lead video sharing site with 2 billion monthly active users and an average 60 minutes spent per mobile viewing session. Instagram (owned by Facebook) is the quality photo sharing social channel that has grown to 1 billion active monthly users with 500 million active daily. Snapchat is a photo- and video-sharing messaging service in which media and messages are only available for a short time before disappearing. Snapchat’s monthly active users total 283 million with 180 million active daily.

Live Streaming Video: Top live video channels are mainly built into other social platforms.  Periscope is integrated with the Twitter app with last reported numbers of 10 million users and 1.9 million daily active users. Facebook Live is a big competitor with Facebook emphasizing live video in the newsfeed. Facebook claims 8 billion video views per day or 100 million hours (includes all video). Instagram Live works in Instagram Stories which has 500 million daily active users. Instagram launched a new long form video platform IGTV, but reports indicate they have struggle to boost user numbers. For niche audiences Amazon owned Twitch is a live streaming platform attracting gamers with 140 million unique monthly users and 30 million active daily.

Geosocial: Geosocial is a type of social networking where user-submitted (GPS) location data connects users with local people, businesses and events. The innovator in this category is Foursquare, but the platform has dropped to 7 million monthly users for location discovery while its app Swarm has only 2.1 million monthly users for checking-in. However, Swarm users spend an average of ten times longer on the app versus Foursquare. Marketers can leverage Google geosocial features though Google My Business that adds businesses to Google location search and Google Maps and includes ratings and reviews. Facebook Check-Ins are the geosocial feature in Facebook that is good for increasing reach, generating awareness and has ratings and review features. Instagram Location has locations that integrates with Facebook Places. Snapchat offers geosocial features with Snapchat Geofilters.

Ratings and Reviews: Reviews are reports that give someone’s opinion about the quality of a product, service or performance. Ratings are a measurement of how good or bad something is expressed on a scale. Yelp is the innovator in crowdsourced ratings and reviews representing a broad range of interests. Yelp has 132 million active monthly users and over 184 million reviews. For travel related businesses TripAdvisor has 463 million active monthly users and 730 million reviews. This social channel provides reviews of travel-related content and travel forums. Amazon attracts 138 million monthly visitors and has been reported as being the largest single source of Internet consumer reviews. Angi is a ratings and review site with crowdsourced reviews of local businesses is merger between Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor than 22 million monthly users. Ratings and reviews should also be tracked on Google My Business. If you are in the human resources or the recruitment industry, company reviews on Glassdoor are important. Ratings and Reviews are also important on the video sharing platform YouTube as many a Vlogger reviews products and services on their channels.

Social Bookmarking: Social bookmarking sites are online services that allow users to save, comment on, and share bookmarks of web documents or links. Social bookmarking sites have also expanded into content discovery and curation tools. Reddit is one of the top social bookmarking social platforms with 430 million users. Digg is the social news site that aggregates publisher’s streams via peer evaluation of voting up content for sharing. Digg has reached 7 million visitors a month up from a low of 3 million several years ago. Buzzfeed is a content discovery platform with a monthly audience of 125 million on it’s website, but Buzzfeed also creates its own content with popular channels on Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube and offers native advertising opportunities for brands generating 3.2 billion cross-platform content views a month.

Social Knowledge: Social knowledge channels are web-based information exchanges where users search topics or ask questions and get answers from real people. This includes social sites such as wikis and question and answer websites. Wikipedia is the big one with 1.7 billion unique monthly visitors and over 71,000 active contributors to over 6.2 million articles in English. Brands cannot created their own pages, but should monitor for misinformation. Quora is the question and answer site that focuses on higher quality content and attracts 300 million unique visitors a month. Yahoo! Answers was a popular community question and answer site but shut down in 2021 after 16 years.

Podcasts: Podcasts are a series of episodes of digital audio or video content delivered automatically through subscription. Podcast consumption has grown in the US to 90 million monthly listeners. iTunes is the innovator in Podcasting . Other social platforms to consider are SoundCloud, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Audible and Spotify. For the video version of podcasts, called a vlog, YouTube is a top destination. A useful podcast directory is PodBean.

This is by far, not a comprehensive list of social channel options, but it does give an update on the top channels by category to choose the best for your social strategy. What social platforms have you found to be the most effective in your social media strategy? A good first step is to Perform A Social Media Audit and as social spending increases Ask These Questions To Ensure You Have The Right Strategy.