Can Social Entertainment “save” MySpace?

New Myspace_Blog

MySpace made a splash this week with a relaunch that focuses on Social Entertainment instead of Social Networking.  So does “Social Entertainment” mean?  Well according to VentureBeat:

Instead of trying to compete with Facebook as a social network…  the new Myspace will focus on sharing and finding music, television, games, moves, and photos.

The Digerati have written off MySpace for years as Facebook membership surged to over 500MM in recent months.  But as SocialTimes points out, MySpace still “averaged 57.5 million U.S. visitors in September 2010.”  While that is a 24 percent drop from its peak of 75.9 million users in December 2008, it still means MySpace is a major web player.  There is no argument the site hasn’t lived up to the opportunity News Corp envisioned when they bought them, but it still ranks as a significant force.  Consider that with those traffic numbers, MySpace is still more than double the web traffic of sites like Twitter.com, Foursquare, CNN.com and MTV.com.

It is that last site that needs to be the most concerned with MySpace’s refocus.  Remember that Viacom tried to buy MySpace back in the day and they have been fighting with them ever since.  With this new embrace of “Social Entertainment”, MySpace is once again going to battle with Viacom but this time they might have the upper hand.  As PaidContent so aptly points out:

Knock MySpace all you’d like for making a last-ditch effort, but at least there’s some logic underlying its repositioning. Embracing entertainment makes sense considering the site’s origins as a home for musicians and comedians to make a name for themselves.   Then there’s also MySpace’s ties to News Corp., which could put it an enviable position to capitalize on relationships with big-time entertainment assets belonging to Fox or 20th Century Fox. If Rupert Murdoch is serious about reviving MySpace, he should be pushing all his divisions to give over exclusive content add-ons from its franchises. It’s still a great marketing platform, and would really help differentiate MySpace as more than just an aggregator of commoditized content.

Last year I experienced first hand the power of MySpace with Social Entertainment when we partnered with them for the People’s Choice Awards.  It was remarkable to watch as their drove over 1 million fans / friends to the People’s Choice Awards, along with tens millions of votes.

MySpace users have a passion for entertainment that is as unique today as it was in 2005 when the site first burst on the scene.  The problem is that News Corp management forgot about that over the past few years as they tried to be everything to everybody.  With the focused move to Social Entertainment, MySpace is going back to their roots as the “MTV of Millenials.”  I will be in their corner cheering them on.

Don’t Count MySpace Out Just Yet

There is one constant when it comes to Digital Marketing: people are always looking for the “next big thing” while announcing the “end” of the last one.  Lately, the digerati have been increasingly calling out “the end of MySpace” thanks to their latest restructuring and layoffs.  And many are pointing to the visitor growth of Twitter and Facebook as rationale as well.  But to paraphrase Mark Twain, I think:

“the reports of MySpace’s death are greatly exaggerated.”

This is a point I have been trying to make to many of my fellow marketers.  After all, it easy to try to compare MySpace to Facebook…or even to Twitter.  The media does it all the time.  But fewer people take the time to look beyond the headlines to see what makes MySpace a unique property.

First and foremost, we are talking about a site that still delivers over a 50 reach with 18 – 24 year olds in the US.  And there are still almost 3 times as many Teens on MySpace as there are on Facebook.   If your brand cares about reaching youth, there are still few places as strong as MySpace to do just that.

Second, MySpace has emerged as an Entertainment Portal.  While it started as a Social Networking site, that really isn’t what the site is about any longer.  Today MySpace is about music, movies and other forms of Digital Content / Entertainment.  I have a feeling that the new management is going to continue to play up this strength and we’ll see MySpace Music and MySpace Video play an even larger role in the digital entertainment landscape.

Finally, MySpace is a prime example of what Alan Wolk calls “NASCAR Blindness.”  It is a condition that marketers and the media suffer from all the time.  As the chart below from Mashable shows, MySpace might not be a dominant site on the coast, but it wins in the Heartland of America… just like NASCAR.

MySpace versus Facebook

You can’t argue that growth on MySpace has stalled.  But MySpace is still a dominant force in the digital marketing landscape.   They are headed by a group of extremely talented managers.  And most importantly, MySpace is still a force that marketers would be smart to keep an eye on instead of reporting its death.

All Things Digital: Why Jon Miller Went to News Corp / MySpace

Great video from D7: All Things Digital Conference in California that features Jon Miller and Owen Van Natta talking about their plans for MySpace.  Must watch for anyone involved in the digital space to see how two of the biggest players are thinking about things.

How should Brand Managers approach the Social Graphs of Facebook Connect and OpenID?

Over the past week, it would be hard not to notice the debate around social graphs and in particular, Facebook Connect versus OpenID.  The folks over at ReadWriteWeb summed it up best when they wrote:

This battle isn’t about “single sign-on” – it’s about the payload that comes with it (friend networks, personal data, maybe more), it’s about the developer communities, usability and ownership. It’s very important to the future of our user experience online and it’s a fascinating study in contrasts.

The importance was further embedded in my mind after I finished a stellar presentation from the folks at Razorfish where they envision the potential for social graphs for brands.  As they put it:

We believe that portable social graphs coming from Facebook, MySpace, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are going to transform how consumers interact with digital technology and each other. Marketers and web product managers must take notice today.

So what does this mean for Brand Managers?

In my eyes, Social Graphs have the potential to be one of the biggest influences on our Digital Strategies for years to come.

But don’t just take my word for it.  Consider what Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang outlined as key takeaways from the Razorfish presentation.

  • The social graph, when linked with traditional websites will radically change how we find, research, purchase, and support products.
  • Reviews, ratings, and critiques about products will become more relevant as you can start to get information from your own network.
  • Soon, social technologies will be pervasive and will impact every website –even if they choose not to participate
  • Brands, and their interactive marketing agencies, are starting to include social elements in all aspects of their marketing efforts.

Consider these opportunities for brands that Razorfish outlined:

  • Key influencer identification:  Brands make a lot of guesses today to determine influencers.  But imagine the potential if you could easily see the number of Twitter followers a person has, the number of Facebook groups they belong to and the number of posts they do on their blog.
  • Product suggestions through profile scraping:  Amazon gets a lot of praise for their product recommendations.  But consider how much more powerful these reco’s would be if they could also use all the information listed in your online profiles.
  • See reviews from people you know:  Pretty self explanatory.  I’d much rather see reviews from my circle of friends & co-workers than wade through hundreds of reviews from strangers.
  • Consult your friends at the point of purchase:  If your Social Graph is connected to an eCommerce engine, you could instantly ask your friends for advice on a purchase without leaving the buying process.

Obviously the potential of Social Graphs should not be debated.  Instead, the debate should be on which format offers the biggest opportunity for Brand Managers.  Should we side with one format?  Or should we offer consumers both sign-ins as part of our digital brand experiences?  Or should we sit on the sidelines and see what consumers decide?  Or should we use our influence as brands (and holders of marketing budgets) to force the companies to work together to create a common Social Graph for the entire web?

What do you think?

NOTE: For another interesting take on social graphs, you should read the thoughts of Louis Gray of Google Friend Connect.

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A Brand Manager’s Take on MySpace Music

If you haven’t heard by now, the much-anticipated MySpace Music is officially live after getting EMI to come onboard as the final major label on the site.  Though they still don’t have a CEO in place, they do have a rumored $2 billion valuation and some serious buzz at launch.  All the usual tech bloggers like ReadWriteWeb and Techcrunch have great summaries of the site so I won’t go into a rundown here.  Instead, I want to provide the perspective of a Brand Manager looking at this as a way to digitally connect with consumers.

First a little background since I have a pretty long history with MySpace.

  • For starters, when I was working as an Assistant Brand Manager on Secret, we did one of the first-ever CPG campaigns on the site, which included co-branded music page with a then unknown artist named Rihanna.
  • Second, I have some very good friends who work at MySpace, thanks in part to the above campaign
  • Finally, I actually met my girlfriend on MySpace, a surprising fact that has been pretty useful in games of “two truths and a lie.”

So what all this means is that I have a soft spot for MySpace and I’m usually pulling for them with new initiatives.  Thankfully on this latest program, they gave me plenty of ammunition to cheer about.

Here are my thoughts:

MySpace’s key to success will be capitalizing on their brand equity of “discovery”:  When I hear about a new band, MySpace is always the first place I go.  No matter if the band is signed to a major or a complete undiscovered, I know there is a 99% chance they have a MySpace where I will be able to hear a few of their songs.  Theoretically I could do the same with iTunes but it has always been hit or miss if they have new bands.  In the short-term, MySpace won’t be able to win by just promoting big, new releases.  Instead, they neeed to focus on their equity of discovery and promote the up and coming bands like crazy.

MySpace Music won’t win over marketers if it is just another “banner ad” media buy: There has been a lot of debate about the CPM’s MySpace will need to charge in order to make this ad-supported format work.  At the heart of the debate is the fact that current social networking media buy CPM’s are extremely low.  The fact is that if MySpace treats this program like more banner ad media inventory, then they have already lost.  What they need to do is create truly compelling, holistic campaigns that tie bands to brands.  The first appeal of MySpace to me 4 years ago as a markter was that MySpace gave me access to artists I couldn’t afford to sign individual deals with.  They were the gateway for me associating with some amazing music.  MySpace needs to leverage that strength to create some really compelling marketing campaigns that in the end make CPM’s irrelevent.   The type of advertising that Pandora offers on their site is a start, but MySpace needs to go much, much further than that.  Create marketing programs that exist on and off the web.

Amazon.com made a brilliant move partnering with MySpace and providing DRM-Free Music: Honestly until I read about the deal with MySpace Music, I didn’t even know that Amazon offered music downloads.  Now they are going to be a click away whenever I listen to new music.  However, the key to this deal working out for them as well, will be point #1 above.  If Amazon can become the place to buy new, up and coming music, then they can put a serious dent into iTunes market share.  When I hear about a band like Benjamin Del Shreve, I want to be able to go straight to their MySpace page, listen to their songs and buy them if I want.  I want to stop having to flip a coin in the hopes that iTunes might carry the band.

MySpace Music needs to bring the social back to music:  In order for MySpace Music to truly be revolutionary, I think they need to bring the social back to music.  Fred Wilson over at A VC has talked at length about his love of mix tapes and MySpace seems to be listening.  But they need to avoid having MySpace Music be a walled garden where how I listen to and share music is limited.  Don’t make me go to MySpace to use your service.  Let me download an Adobe Air player for my desktop.  Also make it easy for me to share my favorite music with my friends.  Give me a widget on my blog showing my playlist.  Hell, find a way to let that same widget live on Facebook since to me Facebook and MySpace aren’t competitors.  MySpace needs to not make the horrible mistake of acting like a portal and forgetting that the future of the web is social media…not isolation.

Treat MySpace Music like a brand and hire accordingly:  As a huge music fan, I see a lot of potential in MySpace Music.  But I also see them making a couple of mistakes that could have major negative impacts on the site being as revolutionary as they want.  In my opinion, the best thing they could do is hire a CEO who gets not only the Social Web, but also Brand Marketing.  MySpace Music needs to act like a brand, not an Internet Portal.  Don’t just hire a web guy…and please don’t hire a media/music person.  Get someone that can build this into the brand that it has the potential to be.

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