A few months after opening its platform to outside application developers, the company plans to announce today that it will let advertisers directly manage, through a self-service tool, their branded profiles on MySpace. This is a vast change from the tightly controlled, often laborious process brands previously had to endure to have a presence on the social network. It's also a reaction, MySpace said, to advertisers' desire to use the community more as a standing customer-relationship tool rather than a three-months-and-split campaign tool.
The move "is a fundamental shift in the way we view this business," said Bryce Emo, senior VP-head of sales at MySpace. "We want advertisers and clients to have control so they can have a more active relationship with clients."
The idea is to eliminate much of the pain of using the social network, which should, of course, get more people to use it. Previously if a marketer wanted to launch a brand profile on MySpace, it had to go through a rather cumbersome process of sending all of its assets to MySpace designers, who would try to interpret the advertiser's vision for the profile, send that interpretation back to the client, wait for it to send back additional revisions, and so on and so on. Now advertisers will have access to a self-service tool to upload assets and design profiles, allowing marketers to change up the content in that profile at any time.
It "streamlines efficiency and creative control," said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, which has tested the product. But more important, he said, it moves beyond what historically has been the role of a MySpace profile -- as a promotional tool -- to the idea of MySpace as an opportunity for a dialogue, an idea Mr. Schafer recently raised in a blog post.
MySpace maintains that it never charges advertisers to create profiles; rather, it makes money off the ads marketers buy to direct people to the profiles. The business model won't change under the self-service arrangement, although MySpace says it will be adding traffic guarantees. It's unclear exactly how much additional revenue the self-service plan will create for MySpace -- if any -- but Mr. Emo's goal is for MySpace to become another necessary venue for advertisers as they work out their brand-marketing strategies. So just as a marketer would buy print, TV or search ads to support a product, it will have a presence on MySpace.
The deal requires MySpace to place a certain amount of trust in advertisers. MySpace will rely on them to do quality-assurance testing and to ensure such technicalities as their assets rendering properly on all browsers. MySpace will, however, continue to monitor brand profiles for content.
When asked about the importance of such a move, several interactive-agency execs suggested it was a good one in theory but questioned MySpace's relevance. The social network's growth has started to flatline, and the buzz around social nets has migrated to Facebook and other properties and tools.
A MySpace spokeswoman said the company is "extremely happy" with its market position (it remains No. 1 in the U.S.) and that it had its highest ever unique visitor count in March -- 73 million, according to ComScore. "Competition is healthy for the entire industry," she said. But then she added, "We're double the size of our closest competitor."