Rafting companies have feelings too!

I’m always slightly annoyed by friend requests from people that I don’t know at all, but it’s especially annoying when they aren’t even people really. In various social venues, especially on Twitter, I’ve gotten used to being followed by, or getting friend requests from, or whatever, various obvious spammers, who are pushing some website or product or fuzzy “brand”, and who don’t actually know me at all and aren’t interested in me except as a pair of generic eyeballs, and aren’t presenting themselves as people, but just as URLs leading to advertising pages. I automatically reject these, and if I’m in a grumpy enough mood I also block them (or the equivalent, if any, on non-Twitter sites).


The other day on SL Bloggers, I got a friend request from RAFTWET Jewell, a name I was pretty sure I’d never heard before. I went to her page on the site, and found an ad (with URL and toll-free number) for some California rafting-trip company, and a bunch of search-engine fodder keywords (“Rivers, Oceans, Waterfalls, Streams, Water, Rafting, Paddling, Extreme Sports”).

I nearly dismissed this with a sigh as the arrival of spamming on Ning, but when I read a bit further down the page I saw that there had been some attempt to put a real personality behind the self-described “company-placed avatar”. There were some personal notes (although sometimes using “I” and sometimes “we” in a rather confusing way), some talk about a love for dancing and having fun learning to make videos. So rather than just ignoring the friend request and looking for some Ning equivalent of blocking, I left what I hope was a polite message on their comment thread:

Thanks for the friend request; unfortunately I don’t really make friends with corporate avatars who exist only to sell me things. :) If any of you nameless people behind RAFTWET would ever like to talk, drop me a line!

I thought that was sort of friendly, and that I might even get a followup from someone with a name not directly related to the company. But that’s not what happened!

Instead Ms. Jewell posted this on my comment wall:

i want to apologize for my friend request. i did not mean to intrude. i am one avie, one person. i have never hidden the fact that i work for the rafting industry in california. its in my profile and in all the blogs that i do.

in the rl world, i work w/ some of the most creative artists and musicians in our lifestyle division and most of them are on the my front page of myspace. i came to educate about rivers and recreation in california, but as i became part of the sl community, i wanted to do more.

economic conditions have hurt and are threatening the life and soul of this place, so i want to try to help as many businesses and people here to thrive and prosper. then they will stay and keep creating.

i am now a builder w/ a little psy store on the mainland. i sell my sculptures. vendors that use my store use it for free. contact me to talk if you want, but you could have ignored me… your comments hurt… they really did. but i cant let you think im hurting ppl here. thank you for listening; i leave you in peace.

And this on her own:

sigh… one avie, one person (not nameless, just need privacy from avies who hurt others) … not sure why she didnt just ignore me…
but, it really hurt my feelings.
only thing im “selling” is awareness of world wide river conservation and clean recreation.
its in my profile, my blogs, too… never hid that fact.
i leave you in peace and wish you well in all life.

Now I certainly hadn’t intended to hurt any real live person! So I replied:

I’m so sorry! I didn’t realize there was a single person to be hurt behind the AV. :) Somewhere on one of your sites that I read (I can’t find it now of course) I got the impression that there were multiple people behind the AV, sort of “whoever Marketing has assigned to Second Life this month” sort of thing. If you really are a single person, I apologize deeply for having hurt you, and would love to talk to you one-on-one inworld sometime.

Still, though, isn’t it sort of odd to be a “corporate AV”? I mean, if you had a new opportunity and changed jobs tomorrow, wouldn’t there still be a “RAFTWET Jewell” in SL, placed by the same company but with someone else behind her? I would feel strange friending a company rather than a person that way. :) I hope you can at least partly understand that feeling; I’m sure I’m not the only person that feels that way. It’s no reflection at all on you personally, or anything that you’ve said or done; it’s the whole notion of being friends with a “company AV” that feels odd. From a marketing point of view, I think the notion of a “company AV” taking part in social spaces is a mistake; it would be better for each employee to have their own personal AV and be social in that context. Time will tell if I’m right. :)

I’m somewhat puzzled about the nature of your company: are you a for-profit enterprise that sells river trips in California (as the ad at the top of your profile suggests), or are you a group committed to river conservation? I’d be interested in hearing more about that.

And apologies again for any unintended hurt I may have caused.

I don’t have a reply back from her yet, but I hope to, and I hope we can come to an understanding that fixes any hurt feelings on both sides.

Am I just strange that I find the idea of interacting with a “company-place avatar”, whose name is the name of their company, pretty weird? Or do other people feel that way as well? I mean, I can see a place for a company-identified AV functioning in a support or information role inworld, but the idea of being “friends” with PepsiCo Darkstone or CocaCola Poppy or something just seems wrong.

Someone acting so officially and explicitly on behalf of a corporation would be under all sorts of odd constraints (could PepsiCo Darkstone ever admit to drinking anything but Pepsi?); it would be hard to know whether to take their statements as coming from a real person, or from the corporate mission statement. It would be really awkward to interact socially with someone when (and no offense to RAFTWET personally here) you’d be constantly thinking “do they really believe what they’re saying here, or are they just being paid to say it?”, “do they really like that outfit, or was it designed by their marketing department?”. And if the person changes jobs someday, am I going to have to get to know them all over again?

I dunno, maybe it’s just me, and this kind of thing is the Future of Socially Aware Marketing. What do y’all think?