It’s a sign of the state of the social network world that one of the most anticipated movies of the fall is The Social Network, an account of the rise of Facebook. Just three years ago, MySpace would have been the social network likely to get a movie. A movie that might capture its current situation, however, is I’m Still Here, the mockumentary about Joaquin Phoenix’s alleged tumble from the heights of celebrity into obscurity (and hip-hop).
MySpace, in fact, remains big, attracting 61 million unique users in July, according to comScore, second only to Facebook’s 146 million among social networks measured by the researchers. And it’s trying to escape the looming shadow Facebook inevitably casts with its 500 million-strong global user base. To do so, it seeks to improve its usability; focus on its core audience of youth; and emphasize the sharing of music and entertainment — all while reminding people that it matters, despite the buzz focused on Facebook, Twitter and newer platforms like Foursquare.
“Not all social media is created alike,” said Nada Stirratt, chief revenue officer at MySpace. “MySpace is a social-activation platform. We’re drop-dead amazing at getting consumers and creators to participate.”
What Twitter and Facebook do really well is act as communications platforms. MySpace, on the other hand, said Stirratt, creates “experiences around stuff consumers are rabid about and tap a brand into those. It’s a different kind of consumer and consumer behavior.”
The differentiation, she pointed out, can be seen in the status prompt that greets MySpace users. On Facebook the question asks, “What’s on your mind?” On MySpace it’s, “What do you want to share?”
One of the net’s efforts, to develop programs around music, is aided by MySpace’s close ties with the music industry: there are over 5 million bands on the network. The idea is to complement its traditional strength in the area of entertainment content, including video and gaming, said Stirratt.
Wendy’s this month became the official sponsor of MySpace Music’s Get Close program, a competition that gives fans the chance to see the net’s featured musicians perform live. With creative from The Kaplan Thaler Group, its first contest asked fans to submit videos of their commitment to community improvement for a chance to see John Legend. The program helped push Wendy’s MySpace friend totals over the million mark. It now has a larger fan base there than on Facebook.
“Because of MySpace’s reach and the inventory and creative units they have that Facebook doesn’t, we group it along the lines of Yahoo, AOL or MSN,” said Jason Lowe, precision marketing manager at Wendy’s, which has worked with MySpace for the past two years on different programs.
Other brands boast similar success stories, particularly when it comes to MySpace weaving advertising with entertainment content in integrated programs. HP products were placed in several episodes of the the social network’s reality series, “Married on MySpace,” and the payoff was that HP has more than 1 million MySpace friends. Coke has attracted over 1 million fans to its “Formula for happiness” campaign that is tied to MySpace’s Secret Shows concert franchise, which allows fans to vote on which cities should host selected bands’ live performances.
“They still have a deep connection when it comes to music discovery,” said Amanda Richman, managing director of digital at MediaVest, which has done MySpace programs for Wendy’s, Walmart and Coke. “They’re repositioning around being the social experience and bringing content to the forefront and helping brands be part of that.”
MySpace can still work well for brands looking to spread other types of content too. Razorfish recently ran a campaign for a client it declined to name that included a widget distributed on both Facebook and MySpace. The widget drew far more downloads on Facebook, but MySpace users interacted far more after downloading the widget, according to the agency.
“The way they’re trying to use it is to make it easier to let people share content,” said Joe Mele, managing director of media and marketing for the West at Razorfish. “The MySpace feed has an opportunity to make it easier to discover content and get content out there.”
But Stirratt, who joined MySpace last October from MTV, still has an uphill battle. The perception of MySpace among the tech community, for instance, is low. Influential blogs like TechCrunch mostly write about management turmoil at the company, which lost co-president Jason Hirschhorn in June, CEO Owen Van Natta in February and sales and marketing head Jeff Berman in August 2009. Things aren’t much better in the ad world, which is squarely focused on Facebook as the biggest opportunity in social networking. Twitter holds more interest, too, as an emerging communications platform.
At EVB, which specializes in getting brand content for clients like Skittles passed around by a youth audience, MySpace rarely factors in decisions, according to CEO Daniel Stein.
And Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, believes creatives have little incentive to do anything beyond standard awareness advertising on MySpace because there’s little buzz there. (Never underestimate the cool factor in advertising.) What’s more, both agencies and clients often fall prey to what they know: They’re all on Facebook, but most regard their MySpace accounts as relics of a bygone digital age.
“It’s a perception problem, but it’s also reality,” Schafer said. “It’s kind of languished. It’s just around. It’s just there.”
See also: “MySpace – A Place for Pereira & O’Dell”