Gets A MySpace Makeover

After a decade of targeting teens with celebrity polls, quizzes and horoscopes, is taking the wraps off a revamped, edgier site in hopes of riding the wave of consumer creativity to reach older users.

The new takes cues from hot social network MySpace, video-sharing site YouTube and photo destination Flickr. It encourages users to create and share their own digital content, whether it’s short videos, snapshots or blogs. And Bolt is reaching beyond teens to the sought-after 18-34 demographic.

“There’s a remarkable revolution going on in media consumption for those under 30,” said Aaron Cohen, Bolt’s CEO. “In the end, marketers have to go where the reach is, and the reach is migrating.”

Bolt has fallen far behind top social media sites like MySpace and Facebook. From July to December 2005, its unique monthly visitors fell 60 percent to 1.1 million, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. So, it’s banking on its new focus on creativity and older users to reverse that trend.

While Bolt has attracted advertising from the likes of Nike, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble, it faces the same problem as MySpace and other sites with user content: how to convince advertisers they will not end up with objectionable content. This challenge was highlighted by a recent brief tour of the test version of the Bolt site, which featured a photo of a crude expletive etched on a female’s breasts.

“There’s always a risk with anything you do online,” said Jinenne Sutherland, group director of media at Omnicom’s Organic. “With consumer-generated media, there’s more of a risk. But you need to go where your consumers are and you have to find a way to engage with them.”

In the next month, plans to begin campaigns from movie studios that allow users to “mash-up” scenes to create their own trailers. “Big companies need to understand there’s a tremendously powerful marketing weapon on consumer-generated sites,” Cohen said.