The current status of Myspace is this: The pioneering social media once-giant just might get the last laugh when all is said and done.
You're laughing, aren't you?
Admit it -- you were one of the countless people ready to witness Myspace die a slow death. After hitting its peak in 2008 with more than 75.9 million unique visitors a month, Myspace experienced a rather fast descent into the back of the minds of most -- thanks to a new kid on the block by the name of Facebook. Just a little more than a year ago, Myspace found itself in the middle of a complete free-fall and was poised to find itself forced completely off the social media map.
But just as it was about to hit the devastatingly hard concrete of social media obscurity, it started to breathe again. Young investors Tim and Chris Vanderhook decided it was time to give Myspace a second chance. Buying the fledgling site for a mere $35 million, the two savvy entrepreneurs quickly partnered with entertainment mogul Justin Timberlake -- and people started to listen. And as with everything else he touches, Timberlake started to make MySpace sound good.
"There's a need for a place where fans can go to interact with their favorite entertainers, listen to music, watch videos, share and discover cool stuff, and just connect," Timberlake said at a news conference. "Myspace has the potential to be that place. Art is inspired by people and vice versa, so there's a natural social component to entertainment. I'm excited to help revitalize Myspace by using its social media platform to bring artists and fans together in one community."
Earlier this year, the Myspace team proudly announced that it had signed up 1 million new users in the span of a month. Monthly traffic was rising -- and it still is. "For the past few years, it's always been 'My-who?' when anyone mentions the former social networking giant," says Steve Knapp, director of brand activation at Carmichael Lynch. As an advertising executive, Knapp has pioneered programs in social media for companies such as Nike, General Mills, and Northwestern Mutual.
"Marketers tend to forget over 29 million people visited Myspace last month," Knapp says. "That's more than Pinterest, Tumblr, or Spotify. What's more, most people already know the brand. Myspace was likely was the first social experience where you connected with friends, discovered new bands, or maybe even 'friended' brands. Now armed with a massive catalog of free music, people and marketers alike need to understand the reasons to come back. I'm not sure what it is yet, but there is scale and focus. Maybe if Justin Timberlake starts making sales calls, more brands will take notice."
So while the general public continues to laugh and make snide comments about MySpace, more and more media and advertising executives are beginning to take notice. Now more than ever before, there seems to be rather strong evidence that it's time to get serious about Myspace yet again -- and here's why.
A new focus
We all remember the days when Myspace was downright cool. "Back in the day, Myspace's audiences were having fun with this new toy called the internet," recalls Desmond Marzette, a creative strategist at Zambezi who works on brands such as Beats by Dre, 2K Sports, and Li Ning. "It was really the first time you could share with the world your goals and your interests."
That said, Marzette notes that, as we all know by now, Myspace was eventually beat at its own game in terms of social networking. "Yet, Myspace is now back on my radar, specifically because of the entertainment focus it's taking," he says. "I think that's the best strategy for keeping the Myspace brand relevant. They might never be able to regain the same audience they once had. But they might not want that same audience anyway."
Indeed, Myspace seems to have effectively found a way to retool and reposition itself via an interesting mix of video and games and -- last but not least -- music. "People like to act snarky about Myspace, but the best thing they have going for them right now is that they are not trying to be Facebook anymore," says Seth Lieberman, founder and CEO of Pangea Media, developer of the SnapApp marketing platform. "It's growing again to the tune of 20 million or so unique users a month, and to me, that's a big number worth taking notice of."
An ever-changing audience
Returning to its social music roots, Myspace and its users are now looking to consume information rather than share it. All indications are that the company is seeking out a young audience, perhaps as young as the original target it once pursued back in its heyday. And signs of a Facebook backlash among this younger target just might play perfectly in the hand of Myspace.
"Facebook is the place where their grandparents go," says Shane Ginsberg, who leads Organic's new business efforts and works with brands including Anheuser-Busch, Intel, Microsoft, Nike, VeriSign, Hilton, Pepsi, and Constellation Wines. "It's starting to look like Myspace is becoming a counter-revolutionary move for certain kids who want to own and control their own music and their own experience. Myspace is targeting a core group who are crazy about their music. Unfortunately for them, there are about 15 other places doing the same thing."
A much needed retooling
On the surface, Myspace is, at the very least, looking and sounding good.
"Myspace used to be a Penelope of shit," recalls Ginsberg, who worked on the first-ever branded integration on Myspace for "X-Men" back in 2006. "There was a time when they seemed to be in a race to monetize every inch of space they had. Plus, you had every teenage girl displaying her desire for self expression. It just became a jungle of bad. I used to say Myspace was demonstrating 'second-hand information framed by third-hand design.'"
"Myspace is now retooled in a very interesting way from a user experience," Ginsberg continues. "It is now fairly clean in terms of content and design and downright elegant as an entertainment discovery engine."
"Myspace is now offering a lot more creativity that Facebook doesn't," Lieberman adds."If you want a creative interactive campaign on Facebook, you have to do it on your own brand page and spend money getting people there to see it. I was just checking out Myspace and was quite impressed by a BET sponsorship that is quite effective on their home page. They are really doing a good job of focusing on content and wait for their users to come seek it out."
Myspace's integration with Facebook and Twitter is also helping immensely when it comes to growth numbers. "Myspace is growing again, and that is no small feat," Lieberman says. "That can be really hard to do when you are that big and have that kind of history. The sharing of content across different platforms is clearly working, and if I were them, I would keep doing what I was doing if the numbers kept going in the right direction."
A musical advantage
MySpace has full licensing deals with thousands of record labels and has a library of 42 million tracks -- far more than new competitors such as Spotify or Rhapsody. Its "secret shows" have taken countless fans by surprise with some of today's biggest acts.
To sweeten the deal, the new Myspace player offers unlimited, on-demand listening to both established and unsigned artists, personalized radio modes and a rather good recommendation engine.
"Artists are constantly trying to find a new way to connect to their audience, and Myspace is prime to be a leader when it comes to that particular need," Marzette says. "New artists especially want to connect with a consumer and give them an opportunity to buy merchandise or purchase tickets or watch a live stream of them recording their new album. I feel like if Myspace wants to stay alive in the social networking field, it's going to turn out bad. If they want to stay alive via the use of entertainment content and distribution, they could be leaders for sure.
"I like the idea that Myspace can come to your city and put on a free event," Marzette adds. "All you have to do is go out and tell your friends. But from what I can see at this point, I think they will need to widen their net a bit in order to be successful. The opportunity has to be bigger than just targeting kids and their mobile phones that are just looking for the next cool song. They need to go after that family looking to plan their next cool movie night, or movie buffs looking for more than just show times."
A whole new attitude
Media executives seem to agree on at least one thing when it comes to Myspace: It must not now -- or ever -- try to compete with the Facebooks and the Google Pluses of the world. The general consensus seems to point to a losing battle. Myspace needs to continue with a complete reset of the brand, open itself up to a wider audience, and offer a wholly different product than it once did.
"I think if they can land one big high-profile client, other marketers would come a clamoring," says Zach Smalley, connections supervisor at Cole &Weber. "Myspace needs marketers, and Facebook does not. I think Myspace is much more willing to work with smaller brands at this point. No matter what, it's going to be a slow upturn growth. It's not going to be any sort of overnight flip-a-switch type of deal where everyone gets back on the Myspace bandwagon."
"Myspace is the underdog right now, and when you are the underdog, you are willing to do more creative and aggressive things to win customers, clients, and users," Lieberman says. "Now that Facebook is public, they have more to lose. They can't be as aggressive and flexible as before. I would have to say that the book is still being written on Myspace.
"Ultimately, everything is going to hinge on user growth," Lieberman adds. "You can have the best content, the best advertisers, the best functionality, the best integration -- but if there is no one there, it's not going to matter at all. Right now, they are driving more unique users, which is both encouraging and really cool. I root for them -- what can I say?"
Tricia Despres is a freelance writer.
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