Virtual influencers are on the rise. Metaverse talk is increasing in tech and non-tech circles. And more and more consumers are creating digital versions of themselves and stepping into the virtual world to interact with others.
Some of these virtual influencers will have thousands, or even millions, of followers. And as the various forms of metaverse become more popular, they'll have the ability to serve as an important bridge between brands and consumers.
These consumers — especially Gen Z and younger — will have increasing expectations of diversity in the things they interact with. So as brands become more interested in this evolving arena, they'd be wise to understand an important group of diversity champions within this new world: virtual influencers.
What role will these virtual influencers play in increasing diversity in the metaverse? Let's find out.
Defining the Metaverse – Again
It seems like every week there's a different definition of what the metaverse is. Here's how we currently see it, from our recent article on branding opportunities in the metaverse:
"... a shared 3D world that a number of people can interact within. It's like a video game, but on a much more ambitious scale: a persistent world that you can represent yourself in with an avatar, own objects, and even have property to your name."
The metaverse is not the specific virtual world created by Mark Zuckerberg's Meta (previously Facebook). That's currently known as Horizon Worlds, which confusingly promises users that it helps them enter “the metaverse” — whereas really, it should refer to “a metaverse”.
That said, there are tons of different metaverse projects being worked on right now. And as it makes for a potential $800 billion market opportunity, it's worth understanding.
Metaverse Diversity Is Important For Everyone
While this tech should bring some cool new opportunities for socializing, playing, and doing business, it's also a recipe for trouble, as the Times reports:
"Academics, VR experts and children’s charities say it is already a poorly regulated ‘Wild West’ and ‘a tragedy waiting to happen’ with legislation and safeguards woefully behind the technology. It is a place where adults and children, using their real voices, are able to mingle freely and chat, their headsets obscuring their activities from those around them."
An anarchic metaverse that doesn't represent and protect its users will end up harming itself as well as society. Not only that, a lack of diversity among inhabitants of various metaverses is a problem for brands wishing to participate. In short: it makes for a smaller pool of potential customers and brand evangelists to connect with.
And as Gen Z cares about diversity more than any previous generation, this massive cohort of future consumers and brand fans will expect diverse representation as a bare minimum.
A non-diverse metaverse also harms the growth of the medium itself, impacting everyone involved. According to the WEF:
"A metaverse platform that lacks inclusivity may give new users a bad first impression. For example, if the first thing that female users encounter is sexual harassment or unpleasant comments about their gender, they may lose the desire to return to the platform in the future.
“Such failure to engage certain user groups will hinder the metaverse platform from building the ‘network effect’ needed to continuously attract mainstream users."
So if we want this emerging technology to be successful, it needs to be fair, inclusive, equitable, and diverse. In fact, the topic is so important that the World Economic Forum has launched an initiative to "build an equitable, interoperable and safe metaverse".
How to Promote Diversity in the Metaverse
Is it possible to build an inclusive metaverse? In theory, yes — of course. In the infinite world of pixel-based virtual universes, anything is possible.
But each different metaverse platform has different diversity challenges, depending on who runs it (is it centralized or decentralized?), who its early adopters are, what its cultural norms are, and how it works on a practical level, in terms of features and functionality.
So, there's no rulebook for making it happen. There's no guide to increasing the diversity of the space, and no defined targets as to what exactly constitutes a diverse metaverse.
Thus, we can only take cues from other industries that have become more diverse and support initiatives like Beyond Inclusion, a workforce diversity training program that helps people develop their technical skills for building the metaverse. It's not unreasonable to suggest that having a more diverse set of people building these virtual worlds should lead to positive outcomes in many areas. We can also look at companies like Treatwell, who have been working hard to breakdown gender stereotypes.
The world is still working it out, and hopefully, efforts like the WEF and Beyond Inclusion will level the playing field for everyone.
That said, there's one other group of people poised to make a positive difference in this area: influencers.
What's a Metaverse Influencer?
Like influencers in other fields, metaverse influencers can take on a huge number of forms. They can be real, virtual, or a mix between the two. Let's look at some examples.
“Real-life” metaverse influencers are currently the ones that encourage understanding and use of the technology in its nascent stage.
You could call Matthew Ball, author of “Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everything”, an influencer because he's an evangelist for the technology. Others in the Web3 / Blockchain space can be equally bullish on the tech itself. But these sorts of influencers tend to have their own commercial interests and aren't too relevant to our purpose.
Instead, we want to look at the creators that are likely to pick up large organic followings from their creative work within virtual worlds.
Lil Miquela is a computer-generated Instagram model with over three million followers and has been involved in various high-profile marketing campaigns. Being completely digital, she's a perfect example of someone who could make waves in the metaverse, champion important issues, and partner with willing brands.
SVORA, in contrast, exists as a hybrid between the two worlds. They are a "digital artist, virtual performer, and enigmatic fluid entity". They perform giant interactive virtual raves in a web3-connected metaverse environment. They are, in one sense, a real human being too, who speaks at events (in a mask, with a modulator disguising their voice).
But while real-world activity has a limit on the number of participants, metaverse performances theoretically have no limit. So artists like SVORA could represent the next step in virtual influencers.
How Metaverse Influencers Can Affect Diversity
So how do these creative souls impact diversity within their sphere of influence?
Metaverse influencers will have the power to create their own worlds. They'll build amazing structures, perform concerts, give lectures, and amass followers. They'll hold huge sway over the opinions and behaviors of thousands. This means they'll certainly have the power to bring more (or less) diversity to almost everything they do.
Virtual creators and thought leaders can represent themselves and their work in different ways. The diversity they can promote can be:
Demographic: diversity in background and ethnicity
Cognitive: diversity in thought and mental models
Cultural: diversity in behavior, ideology, and language
Physical ability: diversity in how people interact with tech and represent their bodies
Sex, gender identity and sexual orientation: diversity in identity and relationship dynamics
Socioeconomic: diversity in social status and financial means
Artistic: diversity in their creations and how people experience them
The rules are still being written — but the opportunities for change are available now.
If you run a brand and you're thinking of partnering your diversity efforts with metaverse influencers, there are some important things to know before you start recruiting your virtual brand ambassadors.
3 Tips for Brands Wanting to Work With Virtual Influencers
If you're a brand manager wanting to make your mark in this new world, there are some simple guidelines to follow so you don't end up causing a scandal. Firstly, choose how you're going to do it.
You could launch a metaverse like Nike's Nikeland, or make your mark in an already-established metaverse. You could sponsor a popular influencer in the same vein as traditional influencer marketing — paying for them to showcase your product or brand to those in their virtual orbit.
Or you could even create a virtual influencer yourself, like Knox Frost.
Making your own creations can be pretty resource-heavy, and most brand managers will start their metaverse efforts by partnering with a trusted voice in the space. So here's what you need to know if you want to create or sponsor a metaverse influencer.
1. Keep it on-brand
You can't just pick an influencer with a big following and pay them to make you a success. (This applies to traditional influencer marketing, too.)
Make sure there's a real, believable link between them and your brand values. They don't need to be a super-fan of yours (especially if you've got a niche offering), but if their followers think it's an insincere sponsorship, the trust is lost.
2. Respect the community you're selling to
Virtual worlds are built by their inhabitants, and amongst their digital streets, cities, and empires, there are rules and expectations — just like any real-world group or society.
Sometimes, these will be explicitly laid out when you enter their world, but they could just as easily be implicit, unwritten rules that you only discover after spending time there. If you get it wrong, at best, you'll simply be ignored. At worst, you'll be exiled, and your brand reputation will be damaged.
3. Don't be boring — use the tech creatively
The metaverse offers an infinite world of creativity for anyone participating. You can make and do pretty much anything you can imagine there. So whatever campaign you're thinking of launching — think bigger, weirder, and more unique.
Originality will be a currency in this highly creative environment. Don't try to do the same things that work in a conventional advertising space, or you're likely to be ignored.
As we're on the cusp of a great social and technological change, the doors are open to making positive changes in the virtual world that will have real-world implications.
Diversity isn't just voluntary in building digital communities and entertainment products — it's necessary. Without it, they simply won't gain traction with today's demanding consumers. And if that happens, brands lose out on opportunities to connect with their ideal target audiences.
The responsibility to make this happen lies with the companies building metaverse tech, their inhabitants, influencers, and the brands participating in virtual worlds. It's certainly a challenge, but for those that want to make a difference, the possibilities are there.