The metaverse—a digital realm that is expected to transform the internet in coming years—is in early stages of development. But that doesn’t mean small businesses can’t take some steps now to prepare for it.
“Businesses need to be where their customers are,” says David Azar, founder and CEO of Outsmart Labs, a digital marketing agency in Miami. “Now is the time to investigate how your small business could benefit from the metaverse so that, as your customers begin to explore it, you can be there to greet them.”
Essentially, the metaverse will merge virtual, augmented and “mixed” reality, offering a fourth option for reaching consumers beyond traditional retail, online and mobile platforms. To understand what the metaverse could look like, experts suggest playing Fortnite or Minecraft, video games rooted in the virtual world.
The idea is to enhance the physical world experience with a virtual one—and that’s already happening in small ways. Consumers today can go to a retailer’s website, download an app and virtually try on glasses, sample different shades of lipstick, or eyeball how that outdoor furniture looks on their patios.
The idea is to enhance the physical world experience with a virtual one—and that’s already happening in small ways.
Technology experts, including those at Meta, formerly Facebook, say it will be at least a decade before the metaverse gains widespread adoption. But there are foundational steps small businesses can take now to prepare for what is shaping up to be the next big thing:
1. Research, and repeat.
Just staying abreast of how the metaverse is developing and advancements in virtual and augmented reality can reduce the learning curve you’ll face when it’s time for your business to start embracing those technologies.
Mitch Goldstone, co-founder of ScanMyPhotos.com in Irvine, California, keeps up on the technology by using the Muck Rack media database to follow technology journalists and influencers. Any time “metaverse innovations” is flagged in an article, Goldstone gets an alert.
“As soon as news and social media conversations occur, I see it, learn more insights and update our strategic plans,” he says. “This is fast-changing so it’s vital to stay current.” He also tracks relevant trade shows like the annual Consumer Electronics Show for groundbreaking developments in the space.
2. Ensure connectivity.
One key first step for a small business is to make sure they have the internet connectivity that will allow them to support the metaverse, says Steve Latham, CEO of Banyan Hills Technologies in Duluth, Georgia.
Businesses will need the internet network that provides them with the speed and bandwidth to leverage the virtual- and augmented-reality tools that will allow them to provide metaverse experiences to their customers.
“It will need to be reliable; otherwise, this other stuff won’t be possible,” Latham says. “The metaverse is going to involve looking at rich, high-definition virtual reflections of ourselves. That means creating and maintaining a network inside your business that connects to the internet reliably.”
3. Identify third-party experts.
Technically preparing for the metaverse is not a do-it-yourself exercise, and talent is only beginning to emerge. Latham’s advice? Plug into your local university system, specifically graphic design and software engineering programs that are grooming students who, through gaming, are natively familiar with the technology.
Many of the programmers and developers are younger and amenable to working as independent contract-based workers, instead of for a large corporation—a potential plus for small business.
“This predilection toward people wanting to work for themselves means small businesses have a much higher chance of finding an independent developer or small development group to work with than ever before,” says Kevin Sumrall, director of operations for Chameleon Collective NFT, a purveyor of digital art with headquarters in Houston and Memphis. “When combined with the speed of the metaverse evolution, there is a real chance that small businesses can make progress in leaps and bounds.”
4. Show and tell.
How does one invite customers to the metaverse? “Start with the simplest step,” says Will Colón, co-founder of Open Pixel Studios, an animation business in Springfield, Massachusetts. Colón suggests placing an ad or QR code within a virtual space that will lead consumers to the business’ website. “You’re still going to need a third party to place those ads, but it’s a start.”
Sumrall suggests businesses create a single basic product that’s three-dimensional and can be offered on an augmented-reality platform.
“Pick out a product that requires the least development possible and get it in the hands of consumers,” he says. “Let them test it out on your website and give their feedback. This introduces the business owner and the consumer to the new platform with very little effort.”
While the metaverse and best practices around it are still a work in progress, experts agree the technology bears watching. But Latham offers a cautionary note.
“As small businesses, we have to be careful about where we place our bets,” he says. “Moving all the chips in feels a little risky at this point. But it’s good to be ready for it.”Print this article
I hate the constant use of this buzzword metaverse. There is no one metaverse so by saying the metaverse it makes no sense. There are already multiple ones out such as rec room, VR chat, and neos. The one I'm assuming you're speaking of is the one from Facebook AKA horizon worlds.