Public Relations in the Metaverse

See what happens before you jump on the virtual bandwagon.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

Advertisment

Is the Metaverse the future of PR?

This blog art­icle will explore poten­tial oppor­tun­it­ies and chal­lenges for the PR industry in the Metaverse.

I’ve been work­ing with imple­ment­a­tion strategies for new tech­no­lo­gies since 2007, and I see the poten­tial of the Metaverse. But I can also see many challenges.

Should the com­mu­nic­a­tions industry dive into the Metaverse — or take it slow to begin with?

Here we go:

Entering a Mixed Reality

I spent part of this sum­mer in Dalarna, a pic­tur­esque and rur­al part of Sweden. My broth­er-in-law brought his Oculus Quest 2, the VR gam­ing plat­form, and we played around. 

My son, who is six years old, took to the tech­no­logy as if it was the most nat­ur­al thing in the world — des­pite the head­set being far too big for him.

The Metaverse, a mer­ger of vir­tu­al worlds, is begin­ning to enter our lives.

Jack-in-the-Metaverse
My son Jack with the Meta Quest.

Wikipedia describes the Metaverse as “a col­lect­ive vir­tu­al shared space, cre­ated by the con­ver­gence of vir­tu­ally enhanced phys­ic­al real­ity and phys­ic­ally per­sist­ent vir­tu­al space, includ­ing the sum of all vir­tu­al worlds, aug­men­ted real­ity, and the Internet.”

The poten­tial of the Metaverse is noteworthy:

Imagine walk­ing down the street. Suddenly, you think of a product you need. Immediately next to you, a vend­ing machine appears, filled with the product and vari­ations you were think­ing of. You stop, pick an item from the vend­ing machine, it’s shipped to your house, and then con­tin­ue on your way.

Next, ima­gine a hus­band and wife. The hus­band offers to go to the store, but the wife can­’t remem­ber the name and type of product she needs. Her brain-com­puter inter­face device recog­nises it for her and trans­mits a link to her hus­band’s device, along with what stores and aisles it’s loc­ated in.”
Source: The Metaverse Is Coming And It’s A Very Big Deal (Forbes).

Gamifying Business

Games will soon be indis­tin­guish­able from real­ity if we main­tain even a frac­tion of our cur­rent devel­op­ment speed.

With his now almost archetyp­ic­al first prin­ciple think­ing, Elon Musk poin­ted out that, not long ago, com­puter games used to look like Pong. Today, games can immerse the gamer in vast and photoreal­ist­ic open worlds. 

Musk goes even fur­ther to ask, “How do we know that this has­n’t already happened?” According to him — we don’t.

The strongest argu­ment for us being in a sim­u­la­tion prob­ably is the fol­low­ing: Forty years ago we had Pong. Like two rect­angles and a dot. That was what games were. Now, forty years later, we have photoreal­ist­ic 3D sim­u­la­tions with mil­lions of people play­ing sim­ul­tan­eously, and it’s get­ting bet­ter every year. Soon we’ll have vir­tu­al real­ity, aug­men­ted real­ity.“
Source: Elon Musk: ‘We’re likely liv­ing in a sim­u­la­tion and Pong is proof’ (Wired).

A bit closer to our poten­tial base real­ity, I’ve hypo­thes­ised what hap­pens to PR when the online world ceases to be flat. Almost all of our exist­ing cor­por­ate com­mu­nic­a­tion has been two-dimen­sion­al; it was two-dimen­sion­al before the Internet and has remained two-dimen­sion­al with the Internet.

The idea is that we’ll see a grow­ing num­ber of applic­a­tions for vir­tu­al real­it­ies (VR), aug­men­ted real­it­ies (AR), and 360-degree envir­on­ments. These real­it­ies will then begin to merge into mixed reality. 

Does the Metaverse seem to be the logic­al con­tinu­ation of that trend — per­haps even a brave new world to counter the Splinternet?

Read also: The Splinternet: Mankind’s Battle for Internet Control

The End of the Flat Web

The Earth is round, and we should­n’t worry about fall­ing off the edge. The web, how­ever, has been con­sidered flat and best viewed through 2D sur­faces. 1Some people believe that the Earth is flat, too. Good luck with that, by the way.

If the ceases to be flat, things are going to be different.

As com­mu­nic­at­ors and PR pro­fes­sion­als, we struggle with con­quer­ing a flat web. We tend to think of the online space as a large print magazine. We still talk about pages, even.

But there are lots of ideas from lots of people of how we all could put these new tech­no­lo­gies to use:

  • Assisting pro­fes­sion­als. Surgeons could have X‑ray vis­ion if the patient’s body has been scanned before the oper­a­tion. Real estate agents could show list­ings to pro­spects without vis­it­ing them phys­ic­ally. Soldiers could be able to see around corners. Why not walk around in your liv­ing room and exper­i­ence how vari­ous interi­or design­ers would choose to dec­or­ate it?
  • Immersive classroom exper­i­ences. Teachers could inter­act with their stu­dents across vast dis­tances and work on prac­tic­al pro­jects togeth­er. Even the idea of col­lab­or­at­ive meet­ings could be dis­rup­ted, chan­ging how we inter­act socially and pro­fes­sion­ally across the web.
  • AI instruct­ors. Imagine hav­ing a vir­tu­al PT with you in the gym, con­stantly ana­lys­ing your form, mon­it­or­ing your vitals, and giv­ing feed­back. Brands could com­mer­cial­ise these types of com­pan­ion­ships across great many ser­vice areas. Why don’t you let a loc­al celebrity avatar guide you to your des­tin­a­tion instead of using a map?
  • 360 storytelling. The Game of Thrones 360 intro trail­er gives us a hint of how to exper­i­ence enter­tain­ment soon. And Facebook has already deployed 360 videos on their plat­form. Will we even dis­tin­guish between movies and games in the future?
  • No more screens. Imagine not need­ing a screen on your desktop, only a key­board, a mouse, and a pair of AR goggles. Then ima­gine not need­ing a tele­vi­sion in your home. Screen size and loc­a­tion become arbit­rary and more of a ques­tion of mood and per­son­al preference.
  • Immersive mar­ket­ing. When buy­ing clothes online, just put on your AR goggles, stand in front of a mir­ror, and swirl to get an accur­ate 3D ren­der­ing of your body shape. Now, you can see how vari­ous sizes will fit you before you buy.

It’s safe to say that we can only begin to ima­gine the vari­ous use cases we’ll see emerge from mixed real­ity technologies.

Facebook and Apple as Prime Movers

With Facebook mak­ing ser­i­ous moves into the Metaverse and per­sist­ent rumours about Apple releas­ing AR glasses, it’s not a stretch to ima­gine that the age of avatar­ism will increase its depth.

Apple-Glass-in-the-Metaverse
Image cred­it: Techweartrend.

Immersion is power­ful. “Form fol­lows function.”

Still, how­ever fun and excit­ing the Metaverse is already prom­ising, espe­cially for kids today, we must remem­ber that occupy­ing men­tal band­width isn’t everything. 

Artificial restric­tion to con­serve men­tal band­width can be at odds with ask­ing users to immerse them­selves further.

Are Facebook and Apple’s strategies to push users towards total immer­sion good for us? Will we be exposed to unfore­seen men­tal health side effects? Are we crav­ing more social media pup­petry — or more authenticity?

Not Meta’s First Dance

We would be wise to remem­ber that the prom­ise of avat­rism has had its fair share of false starts.

Many down­loaded and played around with the app Layar, through which you could see a lay­er of digit­al con­tent on top of the phys­ic­al world. Augmentation was also some­thing Google took a stab at with their Google Glass pro­ject, but only by using a small view­find­er in the upper corner of the user­’s visu­al field.

Meron Gribetz foun­ded Meta Vision in 2014. The com­pany had great ambi­tions and a work­ing pro­to­type. Funding ran out, and the com­pany had to close shop in 2019. It’s not known which com­pany bought Meta Vision’s assets.

Meta Vision - Metaverse - Meron Gribetz
Meta Vision (2014−2019).

The story of Meta’s demise is as much about the aug­men­ted and vir­tu­al-real­ity industry as it is about hard­ware star­tups, their founders, and their often futile attempts to com­pete with bil­lion-dol­lar com­pan­ies.“
Source: The Story Behind Meta, the AR Startup That Just Had Its Assets Sold to a Mystery Buyer (Variety).

With com­pan­ies like Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft inves­ted in the race, the Metaverse is a much more tan­gible pro­ject than it was for a small Silicon Valley star­tup in 2014.

Focus on Comms, Not Tech

Against this back­drop, I worry that brands will become too applic­a­tion-cent­ric for the Metaverse. 

Imagine a real-estate brand run­ning apart­ments and offices. The brand might deploy applic­a­tions from vir­tu­al tours for pro­spects to aug­men­ted envir­on­ments for its com­mun­al areas. Such early devel­op­ments will likely be costly, and the res­ults will likely be rel­at­ively poor from a user perspective.

But we know from past tech­no­lo­gic­al advance­ments that new applic­a­tions tend to be com­mod­it­ised quickly. In some instances, the applic­a­tions are freem­i­um, even. For example, WordPress is power­ing about 37% of all web­sites (62% of all CMS sys­tems) globally.

As a PR pro­fes­sion­al today, I often advise against devel­op­ing avant-garde applic­a­tions for nov­el tech­no­lo­gies. Sure, there won’t be a short­age of cool PR ideas for such applic­a­tions, but we should be mind­ful of play­ing to our pro­fes­sion­al strengths — and devel­op­ing VR- and AR applic­a­tions isn’t one of them.

However tech­no­lo­gic­ally determ­ined our soci­et­ies may be, tech-focused com­pan­ies and star­tups will surely volun­teer to do most of the heavy lift­ing of devel­op­ing these new tech­no­lo­gies, driv­ing adop­tion rates, and pivot­ing into sus­tain­able use cases. Tech com­pan­ies will do all this while fiercely racing each oth­er against rap­id price drops.

Agencies have already pitched ideas for devel­op­ing incred­ible new VR- and AR applic­a­tions. Somehow, we’ve been down this road sev­er­al times before. 

I know that I sure have.

Early Adoption vs High Entry Costs

When should we, as PR pro­fes­sion­als, trans­ition into the Metaverse? 

In the early 2010s, I helped sev­er­al brands devel­op new user com­munity applic­a­tions. These applic­a­tions included gami­fic­a­tion fea­tures, but devel­op­ing these plat­forms required sub­stan­tial fin­an­cial investments. 

A few years later, we could buy white-labelled user com­munit­ies for a dime and a dol­lar per month. 

Today, basic imple­ment­a­tion is often a 5‑minute pro­cess of sign­ing up, upload­ing a logo, and pick­ing out your brand col­ours. And there are no short­ages of avail­able soft­ware sold on the cheap as services.

When Apple releases an AppStore for their forth­com­ing AR glasses, there will be sub­stan­tial PR oppor­tun­it­ies, for instance. 

Will invest­ments in devel­op­ing early applic­a­tions out­weigh the bene­fits of doub­ling down on the con­tents of your com­mu­nic­a­tion? It’s an import­ant con­sid­er­a­tion that deserves priority.

But as a guid­ing prin­ciple, organ­isa­tions should adopt new tech­no­lo­gies when they improve cor­por­ate com­mu­nic­a­tions — and when imple­ment­a­tion makes busi­ness sense.

If noth­ing else, com­mu­nic­a­tion is use­less when leav­ing the mar­ket behind.

Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Some people believe that the Earth is flat, too. Good luck with that, by the way.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
Advertisment

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations obviously; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that it's good to have hobbies outside work.

The cover photo has

Advertisment

.

Subscribe to Spin Control—it’s 100% free!

Join 2,550+ fellow PR lovers and subscribe to Jerry’s free newsletter on communication and psychology.
What will you get?

> PR commentary on current events.
> Subscriber-only VIP content.
> My personal PR slides for .key and .ppt.
> Discounts on upcoming PR courses.
> Ebook on getting better PR ideas.
Subscribe to Spin Control today by clicking SUBMIT and get your first send-out instantly.


Latest Posts
Similar Posts
Most Popular
Advertisment