If I Were CEO of MySpace...

A Three-Step Plan to Goose a Flagging Titan

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Craig Daitch
Craig Daitch
To this day, when asked which book influenced my decision to embrace marketing as a career, I reference former Nike and Starbucks CMO Scott Bedbury's "New Brand World." While the book itself is eight years old, and the examples that I found to be most salient are well grounded in the world of brick and mortar, there are still multiple lessons to be learned from his anecdotes.

Take for example Bedbury's passage regarding his meetings with Levi's in the late '90s, where, after being complacent in the marketplace for so long, former CMO of Levi Strauss Gordon Shank admitted that Gap had gotten the best of Levi's. Shank said, "Growth hides a lot of mistakes. For seven years we could literally do no wrong. Along the way we took our eyes off of what was happening all around us. It embarrasses me to say this, but we did not fully acknowledge the Gap as a major competitor until a short while ago."

MySpace unique visitorsEnlarge
MySpace Unique Visitors

Fast forward to 2010, and one could easily edit Gordon Shank's quote, replace his name with recently ousted MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta, and use "Facebook" instead of "Gap" as the competition.

Actually, News Corp. all but admitted it in so many words when its internet business manager Jonathan Miller said at last year's Web 2.0 summit in San Francisco, "The thing you see in this space more than anything else is that, if you don't keep innovating and moving forward, you get in trouble. You can't stop. And MySpace stopped."

Yes, complacency kills businesses, hence the clichéd (yet relevant) geek phrase "Always in beta." We have to always look towards improving our experiences between brand and audience, whether it's product or customer-relations based. Yet, while complacency is a killer, nobody could have prepared MySpace for the war they're now finding themselves fighting on many fronts. I've comprised my three recommendations on how MySpace can recover from diminishing relevance in the social sphere.

1. Acknowledge Facebook as competition.
When Van Natta declared Facebook was not the competition and was ridiculed by the blogosphre for his statement, I actually half agreed with him. But no, Facebook isn't entirely out of the picture for MySpace. Facebook has shown a magnetic ability to passively become the "it" social media destination, which has made it nearly impossible to ignore amongst one's peers and family members. Its ubiquity as an "all things to all people" network, coupled with a perceived higher level of integrity and engagement, has kept membership fresh as it hovers around 400 million active users. While Facebook was the social network that promoted privacy through the walled garden legacy it was founded on, MySpace was the antithesis. In my opinion, it makes as much sense for MySpace to play the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" charade with Facebook as it would to watch Burger King ignore McDonald's. Yes social media is ingrained in sharing among brands and consumers, but sometimes brand identity takes precedence. This is one of those times. This leads to ...

2. "Discover or be discovered" requires more than a tagline.
For anyone who originally had a MySpace profile, the most exhilarating feeling occurred a few moments after pressing the "submit" button on registering. No, not being befriended by Tom, that novelty wore off quickly. I'm talking about the 15 seconds of fame. It used to be that, shortly after receiving your email confirmation, your profile picture would materialize on the MySpace home page. That 15 seconds was the definition of empowering. Within moments, your inbox was flooded with friend requests, and while considered superficial by today's standards, the evolution of "discover or be discovered" should be a priority in the resuscitation of engagement within MySpace. And speaking of engagement ...

3. Go on a (strategic) spending spree.
Look, I'm no Rupert Murdoch, I assure you, I've tried, but one of MySpace's biggest hurdles is its loss of cool factor. For all intents and purposes, it's gone. I can remember arguing with my former Organic colleague and still very good friend James Kim over the value of MySpace's community and how it was tied directly into its relevance as a sustainable entity that will transcend time. "Nobody would ever abandon a thousand friends," I said confidently. I was wrong. Way wrong. Because the definition of "friend" vs. "commodity" quickly became one in the same in their world, and commoditizing friendship, especially when it is as superficial as it is on MySpace, sucked the value out of connecting.

So, with that said, make strategic investments internally and externally. Embrace the ability of crowdsourced spam blocking. Create or pay for community leaders to voluntarily report profile abuse in the form of senseless comment spam -- or create expiration dates for commenting altogether. Anything that detracts from the simplicity to read relevant comments from your community members shouldn't be tolerated.

Which all relates back to why MySpace needs to evolve the core pieces of its social networking proposition: site and sound. As for site, MySpace has let the CSS hacks run amok. Take a lesson from a smaller, niche social media site, Virb.com, in how to empower a community through profile individualism while still retaining some sense of brand standardization. Better yet, buy Virb. By giving too much control to profile developers, MySpace has, in essence, ruined its brand standards. Take control back, know you'll lose more members, but the fix will help in the long run.

While visuals have never been MySpace's core strength, its integration of music players and its importance in helping community members create unique profiles through the music they stream has always been important. However, just like Virb has reinvented the beautiful social network profile page, niche music-based social networking sites such as bandcamp.com and thesixtyone.com are reinventing how music is sold and played online. As an entertainment platform, MySpace needs to take a long look at how it can reestablish itself as a destination for musicians. For now, the long tail is beginning to get the best of it.

Last but not least, MySpace needs to explore how we communicate. The evolution of online social networks has changed significantly over the last six years. Integrated video cameras in monitors and laptops are changing the way we network online. Sites such as tinychat.com, stickam.com and the mildly offensive chatroulette.com (which deserves a separate blog post altogether) have integrated video-based chat rooms into the very fabric of social networking. A Stickam acquisition may sound lofty, but it has pieces that could help MySpace compete again: a three month trajectory of positive growth and a technology platform that makes multi-person video chat fun.

MySpace still accrues unique visitor numbers that exceed 40 million, yet it's seen a yearly decline of 13%, according to Compete.com. Concurrently, Facebook continues to grow. To come full circle, I'll leave you with a final thought from Scott Bedbury, as he once said, "A great brand is a story that's never completely told."

MySpace has seen some dark chapters in recent times, but the story is far from over, and I fundamentally believe that.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Craig Daitch currently leads the Activation team at Converseon as its Senior Vice President, manages his own pop culture social bookmarking site, Hipstr, and tweets regularly at @cdny.
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